• Shainna M. Callaway

The Day It All Clicked

Updated: Mar 2

I have always had a love of nature and an interest in the plants, trees, and wildlife that surround us. I did not know it would to be my life’s work, but looking back, I knew enough to document most of it. I couldn't ask for a better way to serve a purpose, and I'm grateful to be given this path.


The backstory would be that I had encountered quite a few trees in my life that were covered either in Spanish moss or English ivy. These were two plants that if I saw them, I would destroy them if they were within reach and on my property. I thought they killed trees and that I was doing the world a service. Perhaps they do kill trees, but they also have a purpose as the saying goes, "it takes all kinds.”


On arriving in Italy, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I chose to not take advantage of all that this wonderful and historic country has to offer and kept myself at home almost the entire time to quietly make my baby more comfortable. But Italy has its own quirks, and their houses are not set up the same as in the United States of America. We developed a mold problem that ran rampant throughout every room. Everyday, I would find another treasured item that I had to part with by either throwing it away or stashing it in the garage to deal with after I gave birth. I could not make myself use bleach or other harsh cleaners... call it paranoia or OCD or what have you, but I could not use it while I was carrying my child.


My landlord and I communicated in hand signals, our native tongues, and sometimes with translations. Lots that needed to be said was lost in these miscommunications. So for that first rainy winter season, I had no idea what to do to prevent more mold from occurring and kind of just prayed my way through it. Ian, my husband, was away for most of these months and when he came home, I would ask him to make an effort to rid some of the mold. We didn't know what we know now, so the mold seemed to just come back worse after each cleaning. Eventually, I gave birth to my son and nursed him to a healthy size before I really began to make an effort on cracking the code on dealing with the mold.



Here are some photos of random mold growth found inside the house.


First of all, the day my landlord propped open a window and spoke to me in Italian, if I could flashback and have it all over again with subtitles, I think he was telling me that the windows throughout the house need to be opened and the air needs to circulate for the moisture to evaporate, which I learned from Fabiola, my lovely friend and neighbor, a little later on in time. I thought he was trying to tell me to crack just that one window to stop the mold from forming on the kitchen ceiling, but it only made the heat escape the kitchen during a freezing cold winter season; and so, I thought he didn't understand the depth of my concerns. Hindsight being 20/20.


After doing as much research as I could about mold growth in homes and how to combat it, I thought, “what about plants?” I mean, we already had dehumidifiers which filled up to maximum capacity overnight. We had at least ten damp buckets around the house which I had to dump and refill every other week. I used tea tree essential oils in homemade sprays as a solution for cloth furniture that would get dusted with mold repeatedly. I had used mold prime paint to cover some wooden shelves I wanted to salvage. Our kitchen ceiling was repainted at least three times during those months. We purchased a dozen plastic tubs that have a foam seal to store items, such as my recipe books and shoes and such, around the house without having to be wary of them falling prey to the mold. I had found out at some point that the clorox wipes we had used to clean the mold was actually feeding it and causing it to spread, so we switched to straight bleach or the Italian antimuffa spray. I had also become aware of the need to vent the entire house often and have been keeping that fairly regular. But even with all of that, our efforts seemed to be in vain as we were still losing the battle against the mold popping up in random unthinkable places. In the end, the plants are what saved us.


I read about the kinds of plants that could help with absorbing humidity, filtering the air, and preventing mold spores from spreading. I had around 50 or more plants in place at the start of the following raining season. What did it for me was that I, the person that detested and instantly attacked on sight, had purchased and placed inside my home Spanish moss and English ivy.


It wasn't just those two types I ended up with inside of my home. I have aloes in here to absorb some of the excess humidity. I never really liked aloe plants because my mother had me try use the gooey inside of the leaves to heal wounds, but all it seemed to do was just feel like there was slobber on my body that never dried. I also have peace lilies in here to filter the air and stop the spores from spreading. I mean, peace lilies just weren't my style as far as a flowering houseplant was concerned. Especially because they are toxic if eaten by a child or pet, so I had never even given them anything more than a once over glance. Lastly, I have a bounty of tillandsia (air plants galore) to soak up every last bit of moisture in the air. Until now, I thought air plants were the kind of thing that people who didn't have the patience for watering or repotting a houseplant bought to pretend that they liked plants similar to the way that one can own a hamster for a pet.


I realize now that all that distaste was something wrong with me because these little heroes saved my family from the devastation that had been consuming our home. I felt a connection to God like he was trying to show me that in his infinite wisdom there is a purpose for every living thing. It enriched me, this knowledge, with a desire to seek out and learn more about the world around me. I want to see what other delights I have missed because of my prejudices and preconceived notions.


I have this quest to challenge what I already know with what I can find out and in this journey I aim to continue documenting and photographing my discoveries. This path takes me into gardens and forests around the world to find the purpose of life through plants and what they might mean for us. I hope this adventure is as enriching for you as it is for me.


Much love and kind regards, Shainna 🌼

A butterfly from the day we moved into our lovely home.

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-Shainna Mathilda (Dusoe) Callaway