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The moss lady of Knights Hill
Moss Lady - Samples
Melissa Neshe Smith, who is sometimes called “the moss lady,” holds up several of her moss and stick sculptures. The moss can be kept alive by misting with water when it gets dry. Smith, who grew up in Connecticut, lives in the Knights Hill community. - photo by Salley McInerney

Spending an afternoon with Melissa Neshe Smith is a little like having a therapy session you didn’t know you needed.

You travel through the community of Knights Hill, looking for the landmark she has given you -- a church -- and you arrive at her modest home in the woods. You’ve come to talk about the sculptures she makes with moss, fallen limbs, and whatever else she may find in those woods.

You head home a couple of hours later, smiling at the things she’s said, loving her creative spirit, even her easy response to her cellphone being on the blink.

The cellphone sits on a kitchen countertop; its screen is dark.

“Heck, yeah,” Smith says, “everything is going to be fine. You know, faith is believing everything is going to be all right.”

Some people call Smith, 47, “the moss lady.”

“I’m from the woods. Meaning I was always outside as a child. I’d go outside and build forts. It helped me a lot, especially after my mama died. I think I felt like the trees wouldn’t leave me. They would be there forever.”

If you frequent the Kershaw County Farmers Market on Saturdays, you’ve probably seen Smith under a white tent, surrounded by her sculptures.

The sign at her set-up says “Mimi’s Moss.” The letters are made of moss and sticks and the name “Mimi,” Smith explains, is what a sister called her as a child.

Smith is anything but shy. Her smile is big. She laughs at herself. Her hands are always busy, waving in the air as she talks.

“I’ve been a pharmacy technician and a phlebotomist,” she says, laughing. “I even sold cemetery lots.”

These days, Smith is hoping to get a job at the new Marshalls in town, opening Thursday. Meanwhile, she identifies herself as an “artist, moss gatherer and forest forager.”

About a year and a half ago, Smith moved from Norwalk, Conn., where she was raised, to Knights Hill. The land she lives on has been in her family for generations.

“I was having kind of a struggle, so I said, ‘Let me go home.’ ”

Smith, who is a mother and grandmother, is divorced. “Life happens,” she says, standing on her back porch.

The woods stretch out beyond her. She smiles and opens her arms wide. She says she rediscovered “the forest and riverbanks” when she returned home, finding “solace and peace” in her walks.

“When I am out in these woods, I am safe and I am solid. I can be out in these woods for hours.”

Smith walks in the woods most mornings, gathering the tools of her trade -- moss and wood.

“I can be out there for hours. I’m just praying and walking and the Lord gives things to me… Gathering moss and treasures of unique pieces of wood from fallen trees has become my passion… These are my babies. They say, ‘Melissa, come pick me up and take me home so you can create me so I can go home with someone… It has helped my spirit, my body, and it has cleared my thoughts and expanded my imagination.”

On Smith’s back porch, a table is covered with sticks and limbs. Big, small. Thick and thin.

Inside Smith’s home, in the living room, is a collection of moss and wood sculptures.

Smith reaches for one. “This one I call my fairy house.”

Another one, she decides, looks a bit like a creature -- perhaps a caterpillar.

Her favorite? “Every one of them!”

“I’m an artist,” Smith says.

“I just look at my moss for a while and then I just create, but really, it’s the Lord’s thing.

“It’s the Lord’s beauty and with this type of world we’re in now, people are so fast and not paying attention to what God has given us. So, I share what He gives me. I share it. You have to share. You may not know what has just happened to a person and you give them some beauty.”

Smith does not tell customers what to do with their sculptures -- where to put them or how to interpret them.

“I can’t tell people what to do with their pieces. I just want to give them the beauty. Once you get it home, all you have to do is just mist it when it feels dry. And just love it.”

The afternoon is coming to a close. Smith laughs when asked if there is anything else she would like to say.

“Well, I’m single and I’m looking for a husband. Hopefully he loves moss and doesn’t mind walking in the woods.”

And hopefully her cellphone will get fixed.

It sits on the countertop.

Smith looks at it.

“Everything is going to be fine,” she says.

Heck, yeah.

(To suggest story ideas, email McInerney at salley.mac@gmail.com.)