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Wednesday, 26 December 2007 00:00

A little moss, hopefully, is forever

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By Stephanie Wampler

A thick, green sheet of moss is growing across my roof. When I first noticed it the other day, driving home, I grimaced. I thought, “Somebody’s going to have to get up there and spray it off. We’ll get rid of it, but it won’t be gone forever. Oh, no. It’ll come back, next year and the year after and the year after that.

Eventually, we’ll have to have a new roof, and I feel sure that we won’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a new roof. And even when we’ve gotten a new roof, the moss will still be waiting, perhaps glad to sink its little roots into fresh shingles.” Altogether, seeing the moss covering the roof did not produce the happiest of thoughts.

But, at the same time, there was also a little part of me that was secretly glad to see the moss on the roof. That part of me sees the moss as a little messenger from Mother Nature herself. “You can spray all you want,” she says, “you can get a new roof. You can get lots of new roofs, as many as you feel like getting. But I’ll be back. Just give me time.” And I know that she’s right. Years and years and years from now, I know that I will have given up the fight and the moss will still be patiently waiting. It doesn’t mind waiting, and it will outlast me. In the end, the moss and the rain and the forest will win out, and my house will be nothing more than a depression in the ground. And then, one day, the earth will slide or erode, and even that depression will be gone.

On the surface, that’s not exactly a cheery thought, but to me, in a way, it is. I’m seeing my house and my property as a tiny player in a much larger game. For quite a while, I have been worrying about all the new subdivisions here in the mountains. Just in the past few months, the papers have announced big new developments that will have hundreds or thousands of homes. One of them is supposed to be perched on a mountain overlooking Waynesville. One of them is going to abut the national park and take over thousands of acres of forest, farmland, and homes. In interviews, the developers professed to be keenly aware of the beauty of the land and the heaviness of their responsibility to it. One of the developers, if I remember correctly, commented on the magnificence of the forest he was going to put homes in, and as proof of his commitment to maintaining the forest, noted that his plans called for preserving half of it.

It may just be me, but I have a suspicion that half a magnificent forest may have lost some of its magnificence.

I know that it’s a complicated issue. Landowners and developers have the legal right to do what they want with their land, especially in a county that has so few land-use regulations. Farmers and homeowners certainly have the right to sell their property to anyone they want, and I admit that if someone offered me several million dollars for my land, I would be hard-pressed not to sell. The new homes will mostly be sold to newcomers, and I cannot forget that I was once a newcomer longing to live in the mountains. Certainly I have no more right to be here than anyone else. Furthermore, new land development provides a myriad of jobs, from construction work to real estate sales, and of course, we all need jobs.

However, even with these considerations, there is something in me that doesn’t like the new developments. To some degree, nearly all of us are here because of the beauty of these mountains. The land itself may be split into parcels which are owned by different people, but even so, there is something about the mountains that transcends all the deeds recorded in the courthouse. There is something about them that belongs to us all. We are all part of the undulating ridges that stretch to the sky, the heavy mists that droop over the peaks and hang down into the coves, the grey woods of winter that give way to the deep greens of summer, the solitary bird that glides above it all. In the mountains we come face to face with things that are bigger than ourselves, our souls connect with nature herself, and our identities and our worlds are lost in the loveliness around us.

When I am driving home after a stressful day, I can look up into the endless ridges, vast, soft, quiet, and unchanging, and I forget the petty problems that so often consume my life.

The mountains are sacred ground, it seems to me, and the very idea of lifting a bulldozer against them seems a sacrilege. The thought of someone sitting in an office in a city somewhere, drawing up plans for mountain golf courses and homesites seems to me to be arrogance of the highest sort. A half-deforested hillside cluttered with homes is not “the mountains.” It is, at best, a sort of half-truth that is vaguely interesting and does nothing for the soul.

So, no, I don’t care much for the new developments, but at the same time, I am very much aware that once upon a time, a bulldozer pushed out the pad and driveway for my home. It is a complicated issue in which, I guess, all sides are a little right and a little wrong. It depresses me to think about it.

Which brings me back to the moss on my roof. I am saddened by new developments destroying forests and mountainsides, but at the same time, I know they won’t last forever. I like to think that one day, the mountains will finally tire of all of our houses and roads and feeble attempts to tame them. They’ll stand up slowly, and with a gigantic yawn, they’ll stretch themselves out and shudder, and all of our little masterpieces will slide down the hills forever. One day, many, many years from now, the mountains will be pristine again and a living image of the beautiful.

I won’t be around to see it, and it is hard to imagine, but at those times when I am most saddened by the all the “progress,” all I have to do is look at my roof. The thick, green moss is still there. Sure, we’ll get rid of it this year and next and the next, but it is patient. The moss has all the time in the world, and it will win in the end. I won’t be around to see it, but it makes me glad nonetheless.

(Stephanie Wampler is a writer who lives in Waynesville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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