How many bird’s nests in that tree?
Walking closer, I notice it’s not bird nests I see.
Those are amalgams of twigs, needles, sticks, and gray grassy things clumped together in round balls, all nestled atop bare tree branches.
I walk this path every day, and have for seven years.
How did I never see this?
A second question springs forth: what is this T.h.i.n.g.?
My writer mind imagines an alien deposit left every Tuesday after midnight.
Ah, Story begins. I smile.
Four miles and five Siri e‑mails later, I arrive home.
Google informs the mass is ball moss, or tillandsia recurvata. Botanists call it an epiphyte—fancy way of saying it’s a non-parasitic plant that lives on other plants. More bromeliad than moss; a percher, not a sapper. Translation: ball moss sits on tree branches but never sucks away its host.
Some people disagree, claiming ball moss kills every tree it nests.
Some nests looked massive, others teeny as embryos. To my virgin-noticing-nature-eyes, each pom-pom appeared glorious.
I looked down and cheered. An orphaned wad lay on the ground. The sticks felt spiky and sharp but strong. The natural world excels. Again.
Our most recent Yule featured ball moss as the table centerpiece. It lasted from Christmas and well past New Year’s Day.
I waved them away then realized three things ball moss taught me:
My thumb’s not black.
Growth offers pleasant possibility and an expanded life, especially for a strong ego.
Noticing nature changes a life.
Poet Mary Oliver nailed it with this: “there are moments when the veil seems almost to lift and we understand what the earth is meant to mean to us.”
I’ve held onto this story for three months, awaiting Spring’s arrival. Now, she’s waking up, winking green in our oak trees.
She’s also birthing yellow tree pollen. Which delivers allergy agony.
That’s next week’s blog post. Today, I sniffle, dab my eyes and walk on, watching as beautiful ball moss disappears into nature’s arms.