By Any Other Name

It still feels like home

By Bill Fields

Not long ago, to go with an application and prove that I am who I said I am, I had to retrieve my birth certificate. There are no surprises on it, mind you. I was born at what was then called Moore Memorial
Hospital on a May morning much longer ago than seems possible. But my birth year isn’t as jarring as my footprints on the reverse side, which are so tiny they can’t possibly belong to someone who has gotten his money’s worth on shoe leather since high school.

Although the legal paperwork of my coming into the world clearly notes that it happened in Pinehurst, sometimes I don’t know where I’m from. 

Let me explain. I have lived nearly six decades telling folks:

“I was born in Pinehurst.”

“I was born in Pinehurst but grew up about five miles away.”

“I was born in Pinehurst and grew up in Southern Pines.”

“I grew up in Southern Pines.”

“I grew up around Pinehurst.”

“I come from a town about 70 miles south of Raleigh.”

“Moore County.”

“Between the mountains and the beach.”

I suspect I’m not the only person to go through this geographical twister because what is a hometown? Is it where you were born? Where you were raised? Where you currently live? The tagline for this monthly column states that I am a native of Southern Pines, but am I really? 

My first days were in the 28374 not the 28387 and, for six months after graduating from college, I rented above what is now Dugan’s Pub a small apartment with factory-office carpeting and radiators that hissed an angry song on cold nights. A few years later, I lived in a cottage in Aberdeen that was lovely notwithstanding the electrical fire that started late on a November Saturday night and made me nostalgic for the vocal — but safe — heat in my $150-a-month home above the bar. 

If I am talking to golfers about my roots, “Pinehurst” is my go-to because they know where it is. Occasionally I elaborate and say I was born a couple of par-5s away from Course No. 2. But until I entered my teens, Pinehurst might as well have been Pittsburgh, so rarely did I visit. The village was what we skirted en route to my grandmother’s house in Jackson Springs on Sunday afternoons, an opponent for the Southern Pines Blue Knights and a bit of a mystery to someone who rarely ventured farther west than Knollwood Fairways on Midland Road.   

Pinehurst felt a little less foreign when I found out about “Fields Road,” a street named for a family with some connections to my dad. The road sign would have been a great backdrop for a selfie if there had been such a thing back then, but discovering it didn’t shake my identity as a kid from Southern Pines.

Arriving at Pinecrest reinforced how cloistered each town in the southern part of the county was. In those early weeks of sophomore year, I met — and became friends with — students who lived only a handful of miles from me: farm-strong football players from West End; Pinehurst folks who knew the quiet of a locals-only summer; a boy who had been the “Red Devil” mascot for Aberdeen High. 

The way the area has grown over the last couple of decades, town-limit markers don’t mean much on the commercial strips as franchise yields to franchise where U.S. 1 turned the corner onto Highway 15-501 and so much development seemed to follow. The core areas of the distinct dots on a map remain, certainly changed but recognizable, like the passport photos over one’s lifetime. 

For the last three decades, during which New England has been home but not home, I have an out when it comes to an explanation: “I live in Connecticut but am originally from North Carolina.”

Many times, though, I can’t resist making the finer distinction as well, pointing out that where I was born is not where I was raised. I didn’t need my name on my street to know it was mine.   PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

A Grave Conversation

Technically speaking, it’s a different world up there

By Clyde Edgerton

My parents were born in 1902 and 1904 into homes without electricity. That kind of describes a starting point regarding my relationship to modern technology.

I remember an old Model T truck we kept in our backyard when I was a child. To start the engine, you inserted a crank into a hole below the radiator in the front grill. Then with the ignition turned on (after you’d primed the engine with the choke) you turned the crank until the engine started.

Our truck was equipped with a wooden trough across the back end of the truck bed — where the tailgate goes. At the end of the trough was a circular saw. You could jack up the back of the truck, place a saw-belt around a tire or axle, the belt would turn the saw, and you could cut firewood from logs.

My grandfather (born 1870) used to cutting wood with an ax, thought the contraption was unnecessary. Once, when he saw a neighbor cooking on a grill, he said, “We used to cook inside and go to the bathroom outside. Now they’re turning that around.”

After automobile electric windows, air conditioning and automatic transmissions came along in the ’40s and ’50s, my father and mother would have nothing to do with them (until the ’70s).

Now, on many days, I think about sitting by my father’s grave in Durham and having a conversation with him. He died in 1980.

“Daddy, how’s it going?” I would say.

“Nothing much happening on my end. How’s it going up there?”

“Right much happening on the technology end,” I’d say.

“I figured that might be coming. What about on the morality end?”

“Not much there . . . that seems to stay kind of constant. But on the technology part, I was just thinking about how when you bought a car for the family you always wanted the windows that were rolled up with a handle, no air conditioning and a straight transmission.”

“Oh yeah, I didn’t like the extras. But go ahead and feed me some new facts about technology, maybe politics, economics.”

“Let’s stay with technology,” I’d say. “No, wait a minute. On the politics: Do you remember Garland Fushee? The man who lived next to Tee Rawlings, service station?”

“Of course. How could anybody forget Garland Fushee?”

“Well, think about Garland being president,” I’d say.

“Garland Fushee?”

“Yes sir. Remember about how much Garland loved golf, and how much he would have loved to tweet about people he didn’t like?”

“Garland wasn’t a bird,” Daddy would say.

“Oh, that’s right. Sorry. Tweeting is something people do now. It’s connected in a roundabout way to technology. Connected to advances since the computer.”

“Computer? I remember that computer on campus at Chapel Hill back in 1971. Remember when we went in that building for a drink of water and you showed it to me. It filled up a room.”

“I do remember that. By the way, here in Wilmington, we buy water now — those who can afford it.”

“You buy water? What in the world?” Daddy would say.

“Long story,” I’d say. “It gets us over into economics, always connected to politics. Turns out our water problems are good for business.”

“How so?”

“Bottled-water business is looking up. And an upriver business releases chemicals into the water and a bunch of downriver businesses benefit: funeral homes, cremation services, pharmacies, hospitals, tombstone makers, florists.”

“Oh, I see. Hmmmm. Sounds like they’re finally backing off on regulations.”

“That’s the idea.”

“All in all, looks like I may have checked out at about the right time.”

“You could say that, Daddy. We’ll chat again in a few years. See how things are going.”

“Let’s do that, Son. See you then.”

And then I’d hop in my car and drive it back to Wilmington. In less than a decade it may be driving me. A lot of technology in a couple of lifetimes. PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Old Friends

And a shared passion for the outdoors

By Tom Bryant

Jim Dean passed away peacefully in his sleep right before last Thanksgiving. I wrote this column a couple of years after he retired from his job as editor of Wildlife in North Carolina. The piece was to appear in an outdoor-related supplement to Business North Carolina. The supplement never ran, and I’ve held the story until now. Jim was my good friend and fellow sportsman.

“Let’s see, Tom, favorite trip. Man, that’s going to be hard. There’ve been hundreds of ‘em.” Jim was standing in front of his antique oak filing cabinet when I asked him to tell me about what he thought was his favorite adventure.

“But there was one.”

He hesitated and his eyes glowed as he began talking in a low voice. You could hear the longing for those old friends and the excitement of the trip.

“It was 1970 and my first time fishing out west. We did it right, Henry’s Fork on the Snake River. A. J. Johnson, his son, Alvin, and Reid Bahnson were with me. I remember it like yesterday. I prayed for days before the trip that if the plane had to crash, it would crash on the way home, not on the way out there. You know, I still remember the price of that plane ticket; and ironically, it cost more then than it does now, $742 round trip. The last time I flew out to Yellowstone, the fare was around $500 or so.

“What a time we had. We’d fish till 10:00 in the evening and be back at ‘em by 5:30 the next morning. We were indeed fortunate because during the 10 days that we were there, the Feds opened Lewis River in Yellowstone Park for fishing. We motored in on the Madison River and then rowed for miles up the shallow Lewis to catch fish like never before.”

Jim was indeed in the heart of trout territory. The Madison provides some of the finest fishing for wild rainbow and large brown trout in the country. And the Lewis River that flows south out of Lewis Lake into the Snake also has trout in abundance. I can only imagine the fish that were caught on a fly-fishing adventure of a lifetime.

Jim Dean and I go way back. We both broke into the newspaper business at the same property, The Times-News in Burlington. Jim later moved to Raleigh, and after a time, took over the helm of Wildlife in North Carolina. During his tenure with the magazine, he also became famous for his articles in such magazines as Field & Stream, Sports Afield, and Gray’s Sporting Journal. 

We were in Jim’s den, which any outdoorsman would give his last bamboo rod to own, reminiscing. “I was real lucky when I started at the Times-News,” Jim said. “Bill Hunter hired me and I couldn’t even type.”

In those days, the newspaper industry was famous for its writers. Most were individuals who had their own little idiosyncrasies, to say the least, and Bill Hunter fit the mold.

“My first assignment was to cover, I think for a Sunday paper, a girls’ softball team. It took me all morning to write a 6-inch story. In the meantime, Bill had put together a feature, two pages of sports, wrote the heads and sent them up to composing without proofing. He was the consummate professional, and I was indeed lucky to work for him. But you know, Tom, that whole paper was full of pros. Howard White, the editor, what a prince. You see that old filing cabinet over there? That piece came out of the Times-News. There was a bank of them against a wall, and in a modernization effort, the paper bought all new metal cabinets. Howard asked the staff if anyone wanted to buy one. I think I made 80 dollars a week when I signed on, and it took about every cent from week to week. Although back then, you could buy a week’s groceries for $20.00; but man, I wanted that cabinet. I asked Howard if I could pay for it in a week or so, and he said take it on home.

“That was a different era. Howard; Jim Lasley; Conner Jones; Bill Hunter; Essie Norwood, the society editor; the composing room, remember that crowd? Reading lead type produced on linotype machines upside down and backwards. You know, Tom, I can remember those days easier than I can remember last week.”

I watched as Jim got up to make another cup of coffee.

“I’ve had a great life,” he said over his shoulder. “I’ve always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”

Jim Dean had a varied and exciting life. He was born at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia in 1940. His father, William Dean was from Roanoke Rapids; and his mother, Margaret Geneva Brown Dean, was from Woodland, North Carolina. Jim lived at West Point as a youngster while his father, a West Point graduate, taught math there until he went overseas in 1943.

Jim graduated from Roanoke Rapids High School and received a B.A. in English from the Virginia Military Institute. He then attended the University of North Carolina as a special student in journalism.

“You know, while I was at Carolina, I gained what was the equivalent of a journalism degree in a couple of semesters. I don’t believe they have that program any longer.”

Early on, Jim joined the army and was stationed at the Pentagon in Washington and later at Ft. Holabird in Baltimore. It was while he was stationed in Baltimore that the fly-fishing bug bit and he began writing about his experiences.

“My hero was Joe Brooks, the fishing editor of Outdoor Life,” Jim said as he sat back down with a full cup of coffee. “I’ve probably read everything that gentleman has written.”

“When I was 20 years old, I called Joe and told him that I was interested in outdoor writing and wondered if he could give me some advice on how to get started. He invited me to his house!

“I spent the day with that gentleman, and he opened a lot of doors for me. He taught me a ton, and I kept up with him for years.”

All this experience worked for Jim. When he was named editor of Wildlife in North Carolina in 1978, he wrote regularly for the publication, collaborating with associate editor Larry Earley to produce a book titled Wildlife in North Carolina, which featured articles, photographs and artwork published during the magazine’s 50-year history. In 1995, UNC Press also published a collection of his “Our Natural Heritage” columns titled Dogs that Point, Fish That Bite. In 2000, Jim also published The Secret Lives of Fishermen, a second collection of columns.

Jim has been a regular contributor to various outdoor magazines. In 2001 he was named contributing editor to Field & Stream where he wrote a regular bimonthly column entitled “Out There.”

“Tom, I’ve learned a lot about writing for these magazines. When I got started, not many people were doing what I aspired to do and that was to be a regular writer for a national publication. With the help of my old buddy Joe from Outdoor Life, I soon figured out that most magazine editors live on the edge of desperation. They are looking for a story to fill space. It doesn’t have to be artsy, just good. And if the editor asks for 2500 words, give him 2500 words, not 2600. And better yet, give him art! I became an accomplished photographer pretty early in my career. If you send an editor a complete package, edit plus photos and it’s halfway good, he’ll use it. Come on back here and check out my office.”

Jim’s office was outfitted just like you would expect. Old girly calendars from the ‘60s hung on the walls.

“I got these calendars out of A.J. Johnson’s country store up in the mountains.” Jim said. “They were hanging in my cabin up on Wilson’s creek, but I moved them down here when I gave up that place.”

Fly-fishing reels were all over the table, and Jim told me that they were for his trip coming up in a week or so. “Some of my old buddies from out west are going to meet me in Belize and we’re going to do a little bone fishing.”

Jim also has a cabin on the family farm close to Oxford. I read about it in several of his columns in Wildlife in North Carolina.

“Real primitive,” Jim said. “No running water or electricity, for that matter; but there is an old cast-iron wood cook stove that will put these modern inventions to shame. The farm is about 400 acres with a couple of good bass ponds. I used to bird hunt regularly; but like everywhere else, the quail have disappeared.”

Along with his skills as a writer, Jim also is an accomplished painter, using watercolors as his medium. He also carves duck decoys that would rival the early masters.

We walked back into the kitchen and I asked Jim about a photograph that was on the counter. It was of a pretty girl smiling into the camera as if she knew a secret about the photographer.

“That’s my daughter, Susan. Believe it or not, she has two children. She looks like a child herself. Susan lives up in Evington, Virginia. I also have a son, Scott, who lives in Dayton, Ohio. He graduated from North Carolina State and is a meteorologist.” The pride that every father has for his children was evident as Jim talked.

“These kids have meant everything to me. We’re great friends.”

“Tommy, I’ve been real lucky and have had a super life. Good friends, a great family, and the time to do what I love, and that’s to enjoy the great outdoors.”

I packed up my stuff, and we headed out on the back deck overlooking a carport that housed an old Bronco from the ‘70s, a four-wheel drive SUV, and a wrapped-up Harley Davidson motorcycle.

“I love my Harley,” Jim laughed. “I think I surprised everybody when I bought that thing. Call it my late life crisis. I think I’ll take it out for a spin this afternoon.”

As we were saying our good-byes, I asked Jim about his upcoming trip to Belize.

“I’ve never been down there, and I can’t wait to try out the bone fishing. We’re also going after permit. It’s gonna be a great time.”

And in perfect form, he ended our visit in true Jim Dean style.

“I also plan on hanging around in a hammock under those palm trees and drinking something cool and tall with one of those little umbrellas sticking out the top.”  PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.

From Eagle Springs to Antarctica

Todd Pusser’s magical photos are a portrait of our wild and endangered world

By Jim Moriarty • Photographs by Todd Pusser

If you’re going to photograph something as low as a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, you have to get right down there with it so it’s no surprise to find Todd Pusser stretched out on his stomach somewhere in the Sonoran Desert, nose-to-nose with a snake at sun up. That may not be your idea of a good time but, to him, it’s hog — or maybe Gila monster — heaven. At its best, photography isn’t about pushing a button, it’s about pulling on heartstrings, even if the subject is a bit cold-blooded.

One of the 44-year-old Pusser’s exploring buddies is Gary Williamson, a 73-year-old retired Virginia state park ranger. “I love the way he would compose his shots,” says Williamson. “We’d see a snake stretched out and, if it was late in the day and there was a pretty sunset starting to form, he would lay right down with the sunset in the background and the snake in the foreground, whether it was a harmless snake or a venomous snake. Instead of just a close-up, he’ll have the habitat in the background. He has one of a scarlet kingsnake in burned pinewoods in South Carolina. It shows the burned ground and the tall longleaf pines and a beautiful scarlet kingsnake on a charred log. To me, those kind of photographs are far superior to just a close-up of an animal. Todd’s pictures really tell a story.”

That story begins with a paper and pencil and a bucket of glue. With their closest neighbor a mile away, the adopted son of Larry and Dayle Pusser, had a black lab named Midnight and hours to spend in the woods around their Flowers Road home in Eagle Springs. “I was always the kid flipping logs, looking for frogs or snakes. I made notes of everything I saw. I’d see a red-tailed hawk and I’d make a note of what time I saw the hawk. I was taking field notes at eight, nine years old,” he says. “I wanted to document it. I think that’s how I got into photography. I just wanted to be able to remember it.”

The glue was Larry’s Carpets in West End, the family business. “My dad was a carpet man. It was a family-run business. Mom handled the paperwork and dad did all the physical labor. He worked non-stop until he got the job done. It wasn’t 9-to-5. He’d be there at 6 a.m. and it might be midnight before he got finished. Everybody knew my father. Probably 80 percent of the homes in Pinehurst, he’s done. He had the contract for the Pinehurst Hotel, the Country Club. He did all the carpet there in the ’80s.”

And Todd could have qualified for membership in the hod carriers’ union. “Mostly I was the guy who brought the tools in. He didn’t trust me to lay carpet. Occasionally, he’d let me put pad or glue down. Or a patch. I was patching artificial grass and I laid my finger open and dad was, ‘Just stick it in the bucket of glue and keep working. And don’t get blood on the carpet.’” Todd laughs. “I think he wanted me to inherit the business, but the work was just too hard.”

Sharks seemed easier. Go figure.

“The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau is what really got me interested in the world’s oceans,” says Pusser. He went to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, stuck his nose into pharmacy, got it bloodied by organic chemistry, and decided being a deck hand on the Calypso (or a facsimile thereof) was preferable to filling prescriptions anywhere on dry land. When he wasn’t putting on his great pumpkin display — an Eagle Springs Halloween tradition that attracted thousands and raised money for the Cameron Boys Home — he started taking summer classes in Morehead City, majored in biology, minored in marine science and specialized in pestering whale biologists at the Smithsonian Institution in the Pacific Northwest. “Three days after graduating I was on a research vessel (the Oregon II) in the Gulf of Mexico doing contract work for the government on a marine mammal survey looking for whales and dolphins,” he says. “I started seeing things like sperm whales. I saw killer whales in the Gulf of Mexico. No one really had any idea killer whales were there at the time. All kinds of dolphins. I was a contract worker for a lab in Mississippi and then I was doing contracts for labs in San Diego and Seattle and Miami. I was going all over the place doing these marine mammal surveys. That’s kind of how I got into the field.” All the time he was taking pictures.

“I was getting photos of animals that had never really been photographed in the wild before, a lot of weird dolphin species,” he says. Other groups began hiring him, including the International Whaling Commission out of the United Kingdom. It was doing surveys in the Antarctic. Pusser figured, hey, why not?

“I’ve made eight trips down there now,” he says. On the first trip for the IWC, he was surveying minke whales. That led to a position as a lecturer for a high-end tour company out of Seattle, defunct after the tourism business fell off a cliff post 9/11, called Society Expeditions. “I was lecturing on their ships taking small groups of people to remote areas of the world. We did this in the Arctic and the Antarctic, the Russian Arctic and the Bearing Sea. Obviously the photo opportunities were incredible,” he says, particularly the Antarctic. “There’s 150,000 penguins, King penguins, that stretch as far as the eye can see. Totally unafraid of people. They never had predators. It’s pretty amazing to be next to those birds.”

Pusser honed his photographic skills the hard way, “trial and error, mostly error,” he says. He mastered his craft in the pre-digital, home-run-or-pop-foul days of 35mm slide film. “I never took any kind of photography class,” he says. “I would study photographers I admired. At the time there was a guy who worked for National Geographic named Flip Nicklin. He was their whale photographer and I really liked his work. And there was another guy named Franz Lanting who was doing a lot of work in jungles and using flash with his photography, which was unheard of with nature photography at the time. It almost had kind of a studio feel to his photos. I really tried to emulate that with my work. I come from a biological background where you studied the behavior of animals and I think that helps with your photography because you’re able to anticipate action or know what an animal is going to do to really kind of capture the personality of the animals, not just a quick snapshot.”

Of course the switch from film to digital was inevitable and, in some cases, desirable. “I was not an easy convert,” says Pusser. “The main reason I started switching to digital was for underwater. Let’s say you’re in the Bahamas and you’re interacting with spotted dolphins — I used to do trips down there almost every year — you have 36 images on your roll of film. You’re there and you’re taking pictures and you hear that last frame and the film rewind in your camera. Get back to the boat. Get out of the water. Dry off. Open the back of your housing. Pop the camera. Pop the film canister out. Reload. You have 30 minutes invested in doing that. By then the behavior you’re trying to photograph is over. Now I stick a 64-gigabyte or 128-gig card in a camera and I’m under water all day. You miss fewer shots.”

So, about those sharks. “One of my favorite shark dives is actually off the coast of North Carolina,” says Pusser. “There are a lot of wrecks off the coast and there’s a species of shark that aggregates there called a sand tiger shark. These are big sharks, 8-10 feet long. They have really large teeth that stick out of their mouths. They’re not afraid of divers. If you sit real still they’ll come right up to you. They’re great subjects to photograph.” How close does he get? “As close as I can,” he says. “If they’re bumping my lens, I’m happy.”

The subject doesn’t have to be a shark or a blue whale to pique Pusser’s interest. “I do tend to try to photograph the more obscure animals that get ignored by other wildlife photographers,” he says. In 2006 he was part of an international team doing a survey on China’s Yangtze River trying to locate an endangered dolphin. The species had been in the river for millions of years but its population had been reduced to a handful by the river’s constant cargo ship traffic and a billion people trying to eke out an existence on its banks — often employing fishing methods lethal to the dolphin. “It was a monotypic genus, meaning it was the only member of that genus. There was nothing else like it anywhere on the planet,” he says. “We spent nearly two months going back and forth on the Yangtze River looking for this dolphin. We declared it extinct in 2006. First dolphin to go extinct at human hand.”

Pusser returned last November from a similar five-week trip to Mexico surveying an endangered porpoise, the vaquita, that’s being killed as by-catch in the northern Sea of Cortez where the Colorado River flows into the Gulf of Baja. “It was kind of a Hail Mary effort by a group out of California to bring them into captivity and breed them,” he says. “There’s a fish, totoaba (a type of croaker), that gets to be like 250 pounds. The fishermen there catch this fish using gill nets and take the swim bladder. Then they send this bladder to China for medicinal purposes. The bladder sells for more than cocaine. So the vaquita, they’re mammals. They swim into a net, get tangled up and drown. The government says you can’t set a gill net but they can come out in an evening, set a net and buy a pick-up truck with a fish bladder. I first did a survey there in ’97, again in 2008 and again in 2015. In 2015 there were like 50 left.” Pusser puts the number closer to 30 now.

“The project managed to capture an adult female but unfortunately she died. The stress of captivity was just too much for her,” says Pusser. “This was a huge blow for the conservation community. I fear the vaquita will soon be added to the long and ever-growing list of species humans have wiped off the planet.”

His camera and his curiosity have taken Pusser to over 30 countries and into every one of the world’s oceans. “Initially, I was only photographing aquatic subjects sharks, whales, dolphins,” he says. “I’d come back here (North Carolina) between projects. I never explored the state, outside of the Sandhills, when I was a kid or a teenager. So, I started networking.

One of the people who entered his orbit was Jeff Beane, the collection manager for herpetology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who became one of Pusser’s closest friends. “He opened my eyes to a lot of things I ignored as a kid. So now I spend a lot of my time documenting biodiversity and conservation issues across the state,” says Pusser who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia now but remains a regular contributor of both photographs and stories to Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. “We have incredible biodiversity for a temperate region. We have the highest mountains east of the Mississippi; we have a lot of rivers; we have natural lakes; we have the ocean which has the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current; we’re on a major migration route.”

And, as it turns out, he’s just as enthralled with crawfish, chubs or squirrels as blue whales.

“Fox squirrels are probably Todd’s favorite mammal and for years he had never gotten satisfactory photos of one,” says Beane. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Anytime Pusser saw a fox squirrel, he chased it. “Once he ran through the woods after one in a suit and tie and another time he ran after one in his underwear,” says Beane.

The latter happened when Pusser, in the field with Beane, was trying to photograph an undescribed salamander endemic to the Sandhills and slipped down a muddy creek embankment, sinking in up to his waist. After removing his wet jeans, he saw the squirrel. “I used to say he was always either too overdressed or too underdressed to get good fox squirrel photos,” Beane says — a condition that has since been remedied.

One of Pusser’s writing and photographic projects is scheduled to run as a three-part series in future issues of Wildlife in North Carolina. “There’s this really interesting fish behavior I found out about a few years go and I’ve been trying to document because it’s spectacular,” says Pusser. “In the spring we have two or three species, what are called chubs, that build these nests. If you’ve ever been fly fishing in the mountains, you walk through any creek or stream, you’ll see these mounds of rocks when the water is low. You’ll think maybe people are doing it but these fish, the males, build these nests. They’ll entice a female. They spawn over the nest. They aerate the eggs. They move the rocks around and they guard the nest. But what’s interesting is you have all these minnows and at the right time of year, they light up. Neon yellows, florescent colors. It’s like a corral reef. People don’t associate tropical reef color with a cold mountain stream.”

Another one of his passions, picked up from Williamson, is champion trees. “Each state has state champions and they might qualify for a national champion,” says Pusser. “The world’s largest longleaf pine, up until this past year, was on Highway 220 between Candor and Asheboro. It was over 12 feet in circumference and 150 feet high. It snapped during a strong thunderstorm. Now the largest longleaf is somewhere I think in Alabama or Mississippi.” The village of Pinehurst has a Darlington Oak that might be a state champion. “Come outside the Drum and Quill, turn left and you go to the next left,” says Pusser. “It was growing there probably before Pinehurst was created.”

Williamson and Pusser track down champion trees together. “One tree I showed him was a hollow yellow poplar and it’s a national champion,” says Williamson. “I got inside it and he handed me a couple of strobe lights to put on either side to give the interior a little bit of light.”

Shining a little bit of light is Pusser’s specialty. “You don’t have to save the world, just try to get people to appreciate what’s in their backyard,” he says.

It’s a message he enjoys spreading. “There’s a lot of joy in seeing something yourself,” says Beane, “but when you can show it to somebody else who appreciates it, that’s really special.”

And there’s photographic evidence, to boot. PS

For more information visit Todd Pusser’s website at:

Jim Moriarty is senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at

The Road to Greatness

Along a historic American highway, the heart and soul of a nation is revealed

By Jim Dodson

Over the past few months I’ve been traveling the Great Wagon Road, researching a book about the 18th-century route that brought generations of Scotch-Irish, English and German immigrants to the American South, including both branches of my family.

Roughly following the so-called Great Warrior’s Path that lay along the eastern slopes of the Appalachian mountains from Pennsylvania to Georgia, used for millennia by native American peoples for hunting and warfare, the Great Wagon Road stretched more than 800 miles from Philadelphia to Augusta, Georgia, and was said to be the most traveled road in Colonial America.

Thomas Jefferson’s daddy mapped and named it, and a young George Washington cut his teeth scouting and fighting Indians along it. Dan’l Boone traveled the Road from North Carolina to the unexplored frontiers of Kentucky and Ohio, while three major wars that shaped our national identity were conducted along it: the French and Indian War followed by the American Revolution, and a dozen critical battles of the American Civil War, most notably the bloodbaths at Antietam and Gettysburg.

By my rough count at least three presidents and more than a dozen colleges and universities grew up along the Great Road, as I first heard a Salem College history professor call it 40 years ago, not to mention a dozen of Eastern America’s most important towns and cities, home to social visionaries and inventors who created everything from the Conestoga wagon to Texas Pete hot sauce and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

Most of the early Quakers who populated Guilford and Alamance counties also made their way to a new life in these parts by traveling the Great Wagon Road, a branch of which was called the Carolina Road that took others (including my English and Scottish forebears) to Hillsborough and the coast.

Though I’m not yet halfway on my travels from Philadelphia to Georgia, thus far it has been a trip full of rewarding surprises, unexpected turns, fresh insights and inspiring encounters. In my quest to know more about where we collectively came from — and how this remarkable road shaped the nation we inhabit today — I’ve already traversed a dozen major battlefields and museums, attended lectures and church services, hung at the elbows of area historians and academic scholars, spent hours in local archives, historical associations and historic sites, investigated iconic forefathers and forgotten heroes, unapologetically played tourist everywhere I could, checked out the hokiest roadside attractions and sampled local cooking every chance I got. 

What a simple pleasure this project has been — not to mention a refresher course on the power of American democracy during one of the most divisive years in memory.   

For perspective, try Googling  “What Americans Know About Their Own History” and you may be deeply alarmed to learn what we collectively don’t know about our past and how our democracy was designed to work. Various polls over the past decade have shown, for example, that 67 percent of Americans have no idea what the purpose of the U.S. Constitution is for — or what exactly an “amendment” means. Another recent poll indicated more than half of high school graduates thought the 4th of July celebrated the end of the Civil War, another that the majority of Americans couldn’t simply name the three main branches of American government. 

The estimated half million frontier settlers who came down America’s first great “highway” beginning in the early 18th century — Ulster Scots, German Lutherans, Moravian bretheren, Amish and Menonite farmers, Presbyterian and Anglican preachers, and Eastern Jews — had no prescient awareness of the diverse nation they were collectively creating. The vast majority were simply ordinary folks who’d crossed oceans to seek a fresh start, religious freedom and a piece of the New World they could claim as home.

In the process, the native peoples of North America were largely marginalized and exterminated, a tale as old as the hills, and an entire race was enslaved — mistakes we are still struggling to come to terms with and compensate for today. 

For this and other reasons, my desire to travel the “Road that made America,” as a prominent Pennsylvania historian called it during a long lunch conversation, has been building in me for at least two decades.

That’s why my travels along the Great Wagon Road have been such a soul-stirring pleasure — a much-needed reminder of why America has always been great and simply needs to get back in touch with the values and principles that drew our forebears to a wilderness in the first place.

In Philadelphia, I dined at the historic City Tavern where the Sons of Liberty plotted the birth of a nation. I sat for a golden hour in a sunlit pew at Christ Church where Washington, Franklin and Betsy Ross worshipped, chatting with a fellow who lives and breathes the values of Benjamin Franklin, American’s first true Renaissance man

At Lancaster, I dove deep into Amish culture and found myself trying to eat my way through the nation’s oldest farmers’ market and discovering the origins of the revolutionary Conestoga wagon that carried pioneer Americans across the continent. Just down the road in York, where in 1778 the Second Continental Congress signed the Articles of Confederation (a prelude to our Constitution), I sat in on a delightful night of local historians spinning tales about a town where the American Industrial Revolution essentially began.

On a cold morning in late November, I attended the 154th reading of Abe Lincoln’s extraordinary Gettysburg Address with a distinguished Lincoln biographer, standing on the very spot in the National Cemetery where Lincoln gave the most inspiring speech in American history. Afterwards, I lunched with the nation’s leading Lincoln impersonator — a biology teacher from Illinois — who told me that “playing Lincoln” had profoundly changed his life in a dozen different ways. The next morning, I walked the famous battlefield at dawn where the course of the Civil War changed over three days in July of 1983. I could swear I heard drums.

Two weekends later, my wife and I joined a slow-moving line of cars inching across five miles of soulful Potomac countryside simply to drive — sans headlights — through the annual illumination of the Antietam National Battlefield, the 29th year that more than 1,500 area Scouts and volunteers have placed 23,000 luminaries on the tranquil killing ground where more Americans died on a single day than in any other battle. The next morning, we attended services at the oldest Episcopal church in West Virginia, just across the river in Shepherdstown, a gorgeous little Potomac town where the wounded of Antietam shared Trinity Church on alternate weeks going forward — the Union wounded one week, the wounded boys in butternut and gray the next. 

In Hagerstown, Maryland, where the German wing of my family got off the GWR to head west to a new life in Cumberland and West Virginia, we attended a wonderful German Christmas market and spent an hour learning about the Colonial origins of Christmas in America during a walking tour of town-founder Jonathan Hager’s original stone house. Our guide was a retired career military man named Max Gross whose love of local history was flat-out contagious. “We are a blend of so many diverse cultures and people in America,” he said, explaining how various aspects of Christmas traditions really came from a dozen different cultures ranging from Poland to Turkey. “We think of these traditions as uniquely ours, but we are the splendid sum of so many cultures and people who came together in a wilderness to form the greatest democracy in history.”

I could go on indefinitely about the diverse and lovely Americans I’ve met on my little odyssey through time and history, the sacred places I’ve walked, the many surprising things I’ve managed to learn, and even the hokey tourist traps I’ve explored with boyish glee.

For this correspondent, the year ahead holds the promise of more spiritually enriching encounters with people from all walks of American life,  a lesson of civic renewal  among people who love their towns and communities with a passion that is palpable, a devotion that is true. Despite our present differences, their Great Road ancestors, I suspect, would be proud of how far they — and we — have come.  PS

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

January Books


Direct Fire, by A.J. Tata

A thriller that cuts to the heart of our cyber-security threat. When Jake Mahegan receives a distress call from Gen. Savage in North Carolina, he rushes to the commander’s home — and walks right into an ambush. Joining forces with Savage’s combat JAG officer, Mahegan follows the trail to a killer, a Syrian refugee-turned-terrorist who vows to avenge the bombing of a Syrian wedding by killing as many Americans as possible. Terrorist cells are gathering in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hackers are emptying the nation’s banks of millions of dollars. And their final act of vengeance will bring the whole world to its knees. 

Munich: A Novel, by Robert Harris

Hugh Legat is a rising star of the British diplomatic service, serving at 10 Downing Street as private secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Rikard von Holz is on the staff of the German Foreign Office — and secretly a member of the anti-Hitler resistance. The two men were friends at Oxford in the 1920s, but have not been in contact since. Now, when Legat flies with Chamberlain from London to Munich, and von Holz travels on Hitler’s train overnight from Berlin, their paths are set on a disastrous collision course. Robert Harris, author of Conspirator: A Novel of Ancient Rome, places characters of historical importance — Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini, Daladier — at the heart of an electrifying, novel you can’t put down.

The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn 

With captivating prose Finn crafts a novel about a woman who watches her neighbors through the telephoto lens of her camera. After witnessing a brutal attack, her attempts to contact the authorities turn her life into a nightmare. A fantastic thriller where nothing is as it seems.

Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland 

A gripping novel by a CIA insider about an agent tasked with identifying Russian spies living in plain sight. After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her — her job, her husband, even her four children — is threatened. Vivian becomes torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion. A frightening glimpse into what may be happening today. 

The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence in a sleepy little English village. The chalk men are their secret code — little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same. In 2016, Eddie gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his childhood friends get the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead. This is a suspense novel of the highest rank where every character is wonderfully compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

The Black Painting, by Neil Olson

There are four cousins in the Morse family, long fractured by the loss of a cursed Goya painting, when their grandfather summons them to his mansion at Owl’s Point. The family finds the old man dead, his horrified gaze pinned on the spot where the painting once hung. As suspects mount in this literary mystery, cousin Teresa hopes to solve the puzzle of the painting and her grandfather’s death, but to do so she must uncover ugly family secrets, and confront those who would keep them hidden.

Green, by Sam Graham-Felsen

Boston, 1992: “House of Pain” is on the radio, Arsenio Hall is on TV, and Bill Clinton is in the White House. The city’s school system is largely segregated and former working-class neighborhoods are in the early stages of gentrification. Dave (or, as he longs to be called, Green) is the white boy at the mostly black Martin Luther King Middle School, where he is lonely, constantly taunted, and desperate to fit in. Dave’s life takes a sudden turn for the better when he befriends Marlon, who lives in the public housing around the corner from Dave’s own gentrified block. Marlon confounds Dave’s assumptions about black culture: He’s nerdy, neurotic and a Celtics fan whose favorite player is the white, skinny Larry Bird. Together, the two boys seem almost able to resist the contradictory personas forced on them by the outside world. But as the school year progresses, challenges arise in the form of girls and bullies, family secrets and national violence, and Marlon and Dave struggle not to betray themselves or each other in this coming-of-age novel.

Fire Sermon, by Jamie Quarto

A daring debut novel of obsession, lust and salvation by the highly lauded author of the story collection I Want To Show You More, Qurto charts with bold intimacy and immersive sensuality the life of a married woman entirely devoted to her husband, Thomas, their two beautiful children, and to God. Devoted, that is, until what begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James transforms into an erotically charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.


Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill, by J. Randy Taraborrelli

If the Bouvier women personified beauty, style and fashion, it was their lust for money and status that drove them to seek out powerful men, no matter what the cost to themselves or to those they stepped on in their relentless climb to the top. Based on hundreds of new interviews with friends and family of the Bouviers, among them their own half-brother, as well as letters and journals, Taraborrelli paints an extraordinary psychological portrait of two famous sisters and their ferociously ambitious mother.

The Meaning of Birds, by Simon Barnes

One of our most eloquent nature writers explores how birds achieve the miracle of flight; why birds sing; what they tell us about the seasons of the year; and what their presence tells us about the places they inhabit. The Meaning of Birds muses on the uses of feathers, the drama of raptors, the slaughter of pheasants, the infidelities of geese, and the strangeness of feeling sentimental about blue tits while enjoying a chicken sandwich. Barnes explores both the intrinsic wonder of what it is to be a bird and the myriad ways in which birds can help us understand the meaning of life.

Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin: A Founding Father’s Culinary Adventures, by Rae Katherine Eighmey

In this remarkable work, Eighmey presents Franklin’s delight and experimentation with food throughout his life. At 16, he began dabbling in vegetarianism. In his early 20s, he convinced his printing press colleagues to forgo their breakfast of beer and bread for porridge. He applied his scientific discoveries to the kitchen and ate with curiosity in France and England on his diplomatic missions. Franklin saw food as key to understanding the developing culture of the United States, penning essays presenting maize as the defining grain of America. Stirring the Pot conveys all of this Founding Father’s culinary adventures, demonstrating that his love of food shaped not only his life but also the character of the young nation he helped build.

The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers

From the best-selling author of The Circle and What Is the What, a heart-pounding true story that weaves together the history of coffee, the struggles of everyday Yemenis living through civil war, and the courageous journey of a young man — a Muslim and U.S. citizen — following the most American of dreams.


Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Sometimes you feel pink and sparkly; sometimes you feel just the opposite.  Sometimes you want to ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?  Sometimes you want to make your room awesome (and sometimes I wish you would just want to make your bed!). Sometimes you are brave and sometimes you are tentative, but whatever you are, you are awesome. From the author of Uni the Unicorn, in this celebration of girl power no obstacle is too high, no dream too big, and no wish too grand for a strong woman. (All ages.) 

I Am Harriet Tubman, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Chris Elipoulos

A few years ago, best-selling author and History Channel host Brad Meltzer, motivated by his own experience raising three children, decided to offer them a different kind of hero. He was tired of the princesses and reality stars that people looked up to, and knew from his love of history that there were incredible real world heroes that children would be fascinated by and look up to. The Ordinary People Change the World series was born as a way to give today’s kids the right role models and to encourage them to live heroically. Harriet Tubman, the newest addition to the series, is an American hero who had a pivotal role in the fight against slavery and will become the first African-American woman to have her face appear on American currency when the $20 bill is revamped in 2020. (Available January 16. Ages 6-10.)

Upside-Down Magic: Dragon Overnight, by Sarah Mlynowski, Emily Jenkins and Lauren Myracle

Nory, Elliott, Andres and Bax are classmates in Dunwiddle Magic School’s Upside-Down Magic class. In a classroom in which students all have magical abilities, lessons are unconventional, students are unpredictable, and magic has a tendency to turn wonky at the worst possible moment. Dragon Overnight, will be published Jan. 30 and is the fourth book in the fun Upside-Down Magic series.  Meet the authors Friday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. at The Country Bookshop.  This event is free and open to the public. (Ages 7-10.) PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally.

Dark Side of the Moon

As ironic as it is, this month’s total lunar eclipse is a highlight of 2018

By Astrid Stellanova

Oh, my, Star Children! We are in for a treat on January 31st, when there will be a total eclipse of the full moon. If that isn’t a bang-up way to start the New Year, then I don’t know what is.  Take a moon bath under the stars! Hoot and holler and raise your voices up! Star gazers say this cosmic event will bring mothers and working women into the limelight. Watch for this to be a recurring theme all year long. Ad Astra—Astrid

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

You don’t need to keep looking in the rearview mirror. All good things lie ahead, Sugar. Memory lane is closed. And what you have lying straight before you is worth focusing on. Meanwhile, there is a great opportunity for investing in yourself and a new idea in the new year. Don’t let that escape you — take the off ramp!

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Well, look at you social caterpillar! You have broken into a tough circle of friends that only took about a thousand forevers. But you were patient and they finally saw that one of you was worth ten of a lot of people.  You’re well loved, Honey Bun.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

You sayin’ your Jaguar can’t make it up the driveway at your mountain place? Or you’re allergic to all metals but platinum? Sugar, that is something called a humblebrag. Nobody else has told you, so I have to. It is true you have been prosperous. And that you have especially fine taste. Just say a little bit less about it

Aries (March 21–April 19)

Somebody bamboozled you pretty good. Looked like you couldn’t tell a skunk from a Billy goat. Well, they reckoned wrong. You’ll get your chance to settle the score but don’t let it concern you. The view ain’t worth the climb, Honey Bunny. 

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

There is one somebody who gets under your skin and makes you lose your ever-loving mind. You know who and when. You have got to stop the blame game, hurling insults faster than Kim Jong-un. It might be a game to them but it is bad for your constitution, Sugar. 

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

You’ve been showing too many teeth. Makes people nervous, and that completely undermines you. Stop trying so hard to be liked. You don’t have to work that angle. If you can stand in your truth, they will admire you, anyhow. You are likeable enough, Sally Field.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Let’s get some lumbar support for you, since you’re having a lot of trouble with your backbone. The thing is, you let a situation get out of control because you felt a lot of misplaced sympathy. But what they need from you is leadership. That might require you to be a lot firmer than your Beautyrest mattress.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Yep, your little plan fell into place, which either puts you in the catbird seat or the litter box. You were cunning and scored a win. But is this a game you really want to win? Ask that question. Also, a friend from your past needs a pal. It would be good karma just to let them know you remember them.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Can’t never could, Sugar, but don’t kill yourself. It is also true that flop sweat ain’t becoming. During the holidays you may be asked to step up and take on a social role that you have never especially wanted. But it will be growth for you. And a toehold inside a door that has been closed for a very long time.

Libra (September 23–October 22)

You speak Southern? Then you know not to look over yonder for something right under foot. Focus is all you need to find your heart’s desire. And even though you feel like you have given all you have for a mighty big goal, you have something important and don’t even recognize it.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

Hunh? Darling, you brought a cup of Ramen noodles to a knife fight? I don’t know what got into you lately, but you have had this idea that life is a spectator sport. Well, what are you planning to do with the rest of this special life? This month is a good time to ask yourself if you are going to keep chasing after unicorns.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

It was not your fault that all the effort you made last month didn’t pan out. So move on, Sunshine and enjoy the show. There’s a whole new opportunity right before you, right this second, to become the person your Mama always knew you could be. Nobody can eclipse your bright lights this month.  PS

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.


Look for the charismatic, aquatic Pied-billed Grebe in winter

By Susan Campbell

Here in North Carolina, winter is the season for spotting waterfowl. Inland, in addition to Canada geese, birdwatchers have a shot at seeing more than a dozen species of ducks on local lakes and ponds. If you are looking closely, you may notice a very small swimmer, one that is often solitary in its habits. This would be the charismatic pied-billed grebe. It is the pied-billed that has the largest range of five grebes found across North America.

The pied-billed grebe is a compact waterbird in a family of birds that are expert swimmers and divers. In fact, you will never see a grebe on land. Their legs are placed so far back on their bodies that walking is very difficult. Not surprisingly the word “grebe” means literally “feet at the buttocks.” But these birds can readily dive to great depths to forage for aquatic invertebrates such as crayfish as well as chase down small fish.

However, they are not the strongest fliers, having relatively small, rounded wings. I find it amazing that our wintering individuals come from as far away as the upper Midwest or even central Canada.

The pied-billed grebe is smaller than a football with shades of gray and a white underside.

Pied is defined “as having two or more different colors.” As its name implies, this bird has a silvery gray bill with a black band. It is very stout. The jaws of these birds are also very strong, and more than compensate for what they lack in bill length. Cracking the exoskeletons of insects, shrimps and clams is no problem for this beautiful swimmer, as is hanging onto slippery minnows. Another interesting detail of this bird’s anatomy is that it has an extremely short tail with bright white, undertail coverts that make it possible to identify this bird at a distance.

These little birds have some interesting behavioral adaptations that are well worth watching for. For one, they have the capability to sink below the surface if the situation warrants. Somehow, they are able to control the buoyancy of their plumage and so can readily absorb water to increase their weight and quickly disappear from sight. Likewise they can swim with their heads just below the surface so as to not be seen. And they can even employ a “crash dive” to evade predators, pushing themselves downward with their wings and kicking hard with their feet.

One other well-known trait of pied-billeds is that they eat large quantities of their own feathers. It is thought that they create a large but porous plug in the gut that traps dangerous fragments of certain food items from entering the intestine. They even feed feathers to their young.

You can look for pied-billed grebes on any body of still or slow-moving water. Larger creeks, marshy ponds or even larger lakes in our area may host these little birds from October through March. However, individuals may give themselves away by the long, loud series of variable chatters, bleats or coos that they make in late winter or when advertising their territory to the occasional interloper. Either way, these birds sure deserve a good look any time, even though they are not that large — or very colorful.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife observations and photographs at

Queen of the Air

Amelia Earhart, George Putnam and their high-flying love affair

By Bill Case

They called it an autogiro. This unusual flying machine was something of a hybrid between an airplane and a helicopter. Like an airplane, it possessed wings and a propeller. But the wings were so stubby, they seemed a design afterthought. While resembling a helicopter with its horizontal rotary blades whirling atop, the aircraft was powered differently. It did not fly very fast — typically 80 miles per hour — and held only enough fuel to safely fly two hours at a stretch. But, flown by a proficient pilot, it could take off and land in an area no bigger than a suburban back yard. Before November 11, 1931, it is doubtful anyone in Moore County had observed, in flight, an aircraft requiring virtually no runway for its operation. That was one reason why on an Armistice Day mid-afternoon, well over 1000 people flocked to the dirt and grass airstrip known as Knollwood Field (now Moore County Airport) to hail the arrival of an autogiro.

Despite its novelty, such a sighting wouldn’t ordinarily have created such a stir that stores and schools in Pinehurst, Southern Pines, and Aberdeen would close. The pilot flying the aircraft was the one causing most of the hubbub — 34-year-old Amelia Earhart, one of the most famous women in America.

It had already been a long Armistice Day for the slender Kansas native. At daybreak, she had flown out of Charlotte, piloting her ungainly aircraft two hours east before setting down in a field five miles north of Fayetteville. Wearing the leather jacket, scarf, jodhpurs, and boots she typically donned in the air, Earhart was whisked by a welcoming committee into Fayetteville’s downtown by open car. There she was feted by thousands of adoring citizens who cheered the waving pilot as she slowly passed by.

At the conclusion of the parade, the soft-spoken but confident Earhart addressed an all-ears crowd at Fayetteville’s Market House, even putting in a good word for the Beech-Nut Packing Company’s chewing gum. George P. Putnam, a promotional genius who was newly wedded to Amelia, had arranged for Beech-Nut to sponsor her three 1931 hopscotching autogiro tours. The company’s emblem was prominently emblazoned on the fuselage. All the fuss in Fayetteville had put her behind schedule as the throng at Knollwood Field waited impatiently to catch sight of Earhart’s “flying windmill” on the horizon.

This was the famous aviator’s first visit to Moore County, though her husband was no stranger to the Sandhills. Dorothy Binney Putnam, George’s ex-wife, had spent considerable time here. In fact, until Earhart’s recent marriage to Putnam, she and Dorothy had enjoyed a close friendship, sharing among many things their mutual love of the outdoors. Elegant and statuesque, Dorothy’s affection for the wilderness had been kindled during family vacations near Carthage where in 1901, her father Edwin Binney, the founder and inventor of Crayola Crayons, had purchased a 1,300-acre plantation deep in the pine forest. The property featured a rambling antebellum plantation house with a second floor balcony that provided a magnificent view of the home’s surroundings. The spread was called “Binneywood.” It is uncertain why Connecticut-based Edwin selected Carthage for a vacation home though it probably had something to do with the proximity of the North Carolina mining operations that supplied raw materials for Crayola.

Dorothy Putnam had regaled Earhart with tales of the wonderful times she and her two sisters had enjoyed at Binneywood. Dorothy’s diary entry during the 1908 Christmas season at Binneywood describes an eventful and festive holiday atmosphere: “Up at dawn to go wild turkey hunting. Home at nine, then chopped trees, then quail hunting-good luck. Made fudge and sipped chocolate by fire.”

Despite the estate’s remoteness and their status as seasonal residents, Edwin Binney, known as Bub, and his wife became integral members of the Carthage community. They farmed, planted a peach orchard, reactivated the estate’s milling operation, and hosted country dances at Binneywood featuring rousing strains of banjoes and fiddles.

A particularly splendid event happened at the old plantation during the Christmastime of 1910 when Dorothy, a Wellesley grad, and George Putnam, whom she had met during a two-month western camping trip, announced their engagement. They married the following October. The newly wedded couple spent an extended honeymoon in Central America. Like Earhart, the two adventurers reveled in experiencing exotic and unfamiliar surroundings. The trip inspired Putnam to author his first book, The Southland of North America, with his new wife eagerly collaborating.

Then 24, Putnam had not yet joined the family’s renowned publishing concern, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, deciding instead to publish and edit the Bend Bulletin, a newspaper in faraway Bend, Oregon. It was an ideal place for the Putnams to begin their married life, indulging their penchant for the outdoors with horseback rides and camping trips into the recesses of the Cascade Mountains. Putnam proved to be an independent newspaperman and an advocate for progress by penning editorials urging that women be afforded the vote. He was even elected the town’s mayor. Dorothy also became a force in Bend’s civic life, raising funds for causes ranging from the Red Cross to fighting cancer. A tireless advocate for women’s suffrage, in 1912 she became the second female (after the governor’s wife) to vote in Oregon.

The Putnams’ first child, David Binney Putnam, was born in 1913. Soon thereafter, they moved to Salem, Oregon’s capital, where he took a post as secretary to the state’s governor while still retaining his position as the Bulletin’s publisher. During World War I, Putnam enlisted in the army which resulted in the couple’s moving to Washington, D.C. After his father died, Putnam decided to join the family business and they relocated to Rye, New York where Dorothy bore a second son, George, Jr. (“Junie”) in 1921.

Ensconced with G.P. Putnam’s Sons, George’s career skyrocketed as he became the company’s go-to spokesman. He was increasingly away on an unceasing quest to unearth new stories. Longing for adventures of her own, Dorothy seized the opportunity to travel with son David on a 10-week oceanographic expedition to the South Seas of the Pacific in 1925. She reveled in her role as a scientist on the voyage while 12-year-old David recorded a narrative of his experiences that Putnam published under the title David Goes Voyaging. The book was a surprising hit.

The elder Putnam embarked on his own expedition to Greenland in 1926. “I practiced what I published,” he wrote. David tagged along with his father. The expedition proved a success and provided the fodder for the young teenager’s second book, David Goes to Greenland. A second father-son expedition to Baffin Island followed in 1927 resulting in David’s third book. When he got back, Putnam immersed himself in bagging the rights to Lindbergh’s story for G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Home in Rye, Dorothy stayed socially active, entertaining explorers such as Admiral Richard Byrd. Will Rogers said that one “couldn’t snare an invitation [to Dorothy’s parties] unless you had conquered some uncharted territory.” But she was restless and bristling at being the one generally left behind to tend the home fires. With all the time apart, the couple increasingly led separate lives and the ties of their union began to unravel.

Still vibrant at age 38, Dorothy yearned for passion in her life. She found it in 1927 in the person of George Weymouth (“GW” in Dorothy’s diary), a handsome and polished sophomore at Yale who had been tapped to tutor David at home. Though guilt-ridden by her infidelity, Dorothy nevertheless thought it unjust that men usually got a pass. “Why is it there are so many men who consider love outside the bonds of matrimony the privilege of the male only?” she asked in her diary. When Dorothy discovered evidence that her husband was also having an affair, she penned that his dalliance lightened “my sense of fidelity.” Dorothy’s affair with GW was in bloom at the time Amelia Earhart came into the Putnams’ lives.

Earhart’s unlikely emergence occurred in 1928 in the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight. An American heiress, Amy Phipps Guest, made it known she was personally bankrolling the first flight across the Atlantic with a woman onboard. Guest acquired a Fokker plane and rechristened it the “Friendship.” Then she set about finding the right female to make the journey.

When George Putnam got wind of Guest’s quest, he offered to take charge of the search. If Putnam could position himself as the one to choose the candidate, his publishing company would have the inside track on the woman’s story. Having already enjoyed remarkable success promoting non-fiction first-person adventures, including Byrd’s Skyward and obtaining the rights to Lingbergh’s story, the gambit was right up Putnam’s alley.

Earhart was a natural candidate. She had learned to fly in 1921 while living in Los Angeles. She was particularly attracted to the challenge of achieving aviation “firsts.” Two years after her first flying lesson, Amelia established a new high altitude mark. She’d also flown in air shows. In 1923 the young pilot became the first woman granted a certificate by the aeronautics branch of the Department of Commerce, the precursor of the Federal Aviation Administration. After moving to Boston in 1928, Earhart joined the local chapter of the National Aeronautic Association. When George Putnam summoned her to New York in May 1928 for the most important interview of her life, she was leaving behind a job that had nothing whatsoever to do with flying. She was employed as a social worker at Boston’s Denison House.

The attraction was nearly instantaneous. “Before I had talked to him for very long I was conscious of the brilliant mind and keen insight of the man,” wrote Earhart. Putnam knew Earhart would be perfect for the “Friendship” flight. Not merely a proficient pilot, she was a promoter’s dream. Slender, with short curly blond hair, she was attractive in a tomboyish yet feminine way. Another bonus was the young woman’s uncanny resemblance to Lindbergh —not just physically, but also because of her direct but soft-spoken manner. Soon the announcement came that Earhart had been chosen. Delayed two weeks by poor weather, the venture’s participants, chief pilot Bill Stultz, co-pilot Slim Gordon, Earhart, and Putnam were forced to hole up in Boston’s Copley Plaza Hotel to wait out the storm.

Putnam asked his wife to join the group. He figured Dorothy’s adventurous, free-spirited personality would make her a conversational match with Amelia. His assessment proved correct. The two chatted like schoolgirls concerning their shared interests in theatre, literature, fishing, and horseback riding. Finally the weather cleared and the “Friendship” was aloft. The flight turned out to be most challenging. An engine kept cutting out and the crew lost their radio connection. “Friendship” was blown off course, and even before land was sighted the engines began sputtering as they ran short of gasoline. Though Bill Stultz thought he was landing in Cornwall, it was actually Wales, but the plane and crew had arrived safely.

Though she had been little more than a passenger, the flight catapulted Earhart into stardom. It was the beginning of a life loaded with personal appearances, parades, and speeches. After celebratory tours, first in England and then America, she holed up in Rye at the Putnam home adjacent to the posh Apawamis Club’s golf course. Under George’s direction, she commenced writing the book that would be called 20 Hrs., 40 min.: Our Flight in the Friendship.

Aviation’s budding superstar found time for fun in Rye. She and Dorothy shopped, swam, and attended upscale social occasions. It was Dorothy, not George, to whom Amelia dedicated 20 Hrs., 40 min. In her book Whistled Like a Bird — The Untold Story of Dorothy Putnam, George Putnam, and Amelia Earhart,” Sally Putnam Chapman, Dorothy and George’s granddaughter, wrote, “had it not been for my grandparents, Amelia would not have moved in the circles she did.” Dorothy introduced Amelia “to a glittering array of celebrities, artists, adventurers, and socialites.” With her newfound celebrity and the success of her book came financial rewards. It became abundantly clear that Earhart would never return to her previous life at Denison House.

Her relationship with George Putnam was also deepening. Within a month of Earhart’s arrival in Rye, an entry in Dorothy’s diary notes, “George is absorbed in Amelia and admires and likes her. Maybe he’s in love with her.” Eventually, she became convinced that her husband and the flier were “a couple.” Putnam certainly was smitten. His later writings indicate he considered Amelia the epitome of chic. Reminiscing after her death, he wrote, “I think she really did not realize that often she was very lovely to look at.” He gushed about, “her beautifully tailored gabardine slacks,” and “the tapering loveliness of her hands [that] was almost unbelievable.” Apparently Vanity Fair agreed. The magazine shot a fashion spread of Earhart that hit the newsstands in 1932.

Dorothy terminated her ongoing affair with GW in August 1928, although the two remained friendly. Nevertheless, her diary entries do not suggest she yearned to be reconciled with a husband she no longer loved. She broached the subject of divorce and, though George made an attempt to patch things up, that effort seemed halfhearted since he remained in constant contact with Amelia.

By June of 1929, after discovering another affair with Frank Upton, a flier and war hero, Putnam informed his wife that he too wished the marriage to end. Despite the fact that Earhart’s relationship with Putnam had become an open secret, Amelia invited Dorothy to accompany her in July as the first female passengers to fly coast-to-coast in a Transcontinental Air Transport commercial airplane. Pleased to be included as part of an aviation first, Dorothy accepted. She and her husband’s lover remained cordial during their trip. A week later they were together in the Galapagos Islands on a deep-sea dive. That excursion marked the end of their social time together though both women thereafter invariably professed respect and admiration for one another.

After nearly getting cold feet, Dorothy obtained a Reno divorce from George on December 19, 1929. She remarked that day in her diary, “How scared and empty I feel!” She sought to remake her life with her two children and Upton, her new husband, in Fort Pierce, Florida where her father had invested in local real estate. She purged her sadness by building a Spanish-style home on an 80-acre tropical wilderness.

At the time, Earhart told a friend that she was fond of Dorothy and considered the divorce “a shame.” But her primary focus was on bolstering her status as America’s foremost female aviator. She cemented that position with her vagabond solo round-trip transcontinental flight in 1929. Putnam kept her busy at each stop, scheduling lectures, personal appearances, and newspaper interviews. Earhart also started an organization comprised solely of women in aviation which became known as the “Ninety Nines.”

After resigning from the family business and joining another publishing company, George Putnam turned his attention to relentlessly pursuing marriage with Earhart. Reluctant to forego her independence, she turned him down at least twice. In February 1931, Earhart finally accepted his proposal, but with conditions. She wrote to him, “On our life together, I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself so bound to you . . . I must extract a cruel promise, and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together (and this for me too).” Putnam accepted her terms. Some believe that her mention of an open marriage (as well as a suspected subsequent affair with Gene Vidal, Gore’s father) signaled that the couple’s union was more of a business arrangement than a true romance. But David Putnam later observed, “In the privacy of their home, they [his father and stepmother] were lovingly demonstrative.”

Earhart’s forceful establishment of the marriage’s terms undercut the impression of some that Putnam was the puppet master in the relationship. George himself later acknowledged that often Amelia held the upper hand, writing that she was “endowed with a will of her own, [and] no phase of her life ever modified it, least of all marriage.”

In any event, the newlyweds’ fledgling marriage was off to a good start as Amelia and her autogiro made their way into Moore County airspace. Tightly squeezed into the open cockpit of her Pitcairn PCA-2, Earhart peered through her goggles attempting to locate the airfield. As it was a pet peeve of the aviatrix that many of the new airports sprouting up like spring dandelions lacked identifying signage, Earhart was pleased to spot the word “PINEHURST” displayed in giant letters on the roof of Knollwood Field’s hanger.

The gathered onlookers, including the mayor and commissioners of Southern Pines, representatives of Pinehurst, and Mrs. W.C. Arkell, wife of the Beech-Nut Packing Company vice-president, watched as she flawlessly executed her landing. Perhaps the person most gratified by Earhart’s appearance was the manager of the airport, Lloyd Yost. A celebrated pilot himself, just nine days before, he had instituted shuttle flights from Knollwood Field to Raleigh, boasting that the new shuttle cut travel time from New York to Pinehurst down to six hours. In his wildest imagination, he could never have conjured up better publicity for showcasing the service than having the world famous Earhart drop in. Yost personally greeted his fellow pilot and made certain he was photographed alongside her.

Earhart apologized for keeping everyone waiting and cheerfully set about signing autographs. She did not linger long. Her stop at Knollwood was primarily for refueling with no time allotted for parades or lengthy speeches. Within a half hour she was airborne again. Amelia made good her return to Charlotte and would be back in the air the next morning destined for Spartanburg where thousands more would greet her.

Not one to rest on her laurels, in May of 1932, Earhart emulated Lindbergh’s triumph by becoming the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic. The wind blew against her the entire way and, running low of fuel, she was forced to abandon her planned destination of Paris, landing instead in the field of a nonplussed Irish farmer. Though Amelia’s star had never waned since her “Friendship” flight, her solo trip across the ocean propelled “The Queen of the Air” into a still higher galaxy.

A busy 1933 summer beckoned, what with an upcoming meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt and a transcontinental air race, so George Putnam and his new wife, Amelia, decided to take some time for themselves. The Sandhills drew them back in March when they holidayed together in Pinehurst at the Carolina Hotel. The stay was presumably coupled with a visit to George’s mother who had taken the Schaumberg House on New York Avenue in Southern Pines for the season.

One consequence of the Earhart-Putnam marriage was that George’s two sons, David and George, Jr., developed a mutual affinity with Amelia. In Whistled Like a Bird, Chapman writes, “When the boys visited, she [Amelia] made sure to set aside time for horseback riding, sailing, picnicking, and swimming.” And the Putnam boys happily returned the affection their stepmother demonstrated toward them.

Other notable flights followed for Amelia, but they paled in comparison to the imposing 29,000-mile round-the-world flight she started planning in 1936. After one jettisoned attempt, she tried another in June 1937 with mechanic Fred Noonan aboard her Electra aircraft. George, David, and his new wife Nilla saw Amelia off from Miami. After completing 22,000 miles of the journey, Earhart and Noonan spent the final layover of their lives in New Guinea. During the next leg to the Howland Islands, radio contact was lost with the airplane, and Earhart and Noonan were never heard from again. A two-week U.S. Navy search over 360,000 square miles found no trace of them. Putnam refused to give up hope, desperately enlisting psychics for assistance, all to no avail. Amelia was declared legally dead in 1939.

A devastated Putnam wrote an homage to his wife entitled “The Sound of Wings.” He remarried in 1939 to his third wife Jean Marie Consigny, but it only lasted five years. He would marry one more time, to Margaret Havilland. Despite his advanced age, Putnam served in World War II in an intelligence unit. Thereafter, he and Margaret operated a resort in Indian Wells, California prior to Putnam’s passing away in 1950 at age 62. His sons, David and George, Jr., led productive lives. David flew B-29’s in World War II and enjoyed a flourishing real estate development career in Fort Pierce before dying at age 79. George, Jr. served in the Navy during the war, and survived the torpedoing of his ship. He owned construction and citrus businesses in Florida, and lived until 2013.

A decade after the engagement of George Putnam to his daughter, Dorothy, Edwin Binney and his family shifted their attentions from North Carolina to Florida, and the creator of Binneywood sold it in 1920. The plantation house burned to the ground thereafter. By Way Farms now operates an equestrian-related facility on the site.

Dorothy would successfully remake her life in Fort Pierce, involving herself in organizations related to women’s rights, aviation, gardening, and conservation. She relished the serenity of her tropical home and orange grove, which she named “Immokolee.” But her marital life was anything but serene. Upton suffered from a serious drinking problem resulting in a rapid end to that union. A third marriage also failed. She finally found contentment in her fourth marriage with Lew Palmer, the orange grove’s manager. She died at age 93 in 1982, but not before sharing with granddaughter, Sally Chapman, the diary of her turbulent but fascinating life. Sally now resides at the cherished Immokolee. She too has a Moore County connection as she is the wife of John Chapman, son of Pinehurst golf great Dick Chapman.

The exceedingly remote possibility that Earhart somehow survived a crash and lived on in the South Pacific is just one of the more recent theories that have kept the lost pilot frozen in time in our minds. Captured in smiling black and white photographs and newsreels, she remains the tousle-haired, rail-slim, modest but fiercely independent heroine who flew over the pine trees into Knollwood Field 86 years ago. PS

Pinehurst resident Bill Case is PineStraw’s history man. He can be reached at


It is deep January. The sky is hard. The stalks are firmly rooted in ice.    Wallace Stevens, “No Possum, No Sop, No Taters”

Begin Again

Perhaps it’s true that the best narratives are cyclical, taking the reader on a figurative journey that ultimately leads them back where they started, yet, through some alchemical reaction, altogether transformed. Like the fool’s journey, or the legendary ouroboros eating its own tail.

Which brings us back to January.

Outside, a pair of cardinals flits between the naked branches of a dogwood and the ornate rim of the pedestal birdbath. You think of the piebald gypsy cat who used to visit, how he would balance on the ledge to take a drink. Months have passed since you’ve seen him, but that drifter has charm. You’re sure he’s napping in some cozy sunroom, patiently waiting for the catkins and crocus, for the cheerily, cheer-up, cheer-up, cheerily return of the robin. The warmth of your own smile stretches across your face, and in this moment, all is well. 

On this first day of January, you imagine the New Year unfolding perfectly. Steam curls from your tea mug as an amalgam of flavors perfumes the air.

Cinnamon bark, licorice, ginger and marshmallow root . . .

Giving yourself permission to luxuriate, you reach for a favorite book of poems. “To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June,” said German author Jean Paul. You turn to a dog-eared page, can almost smell the honeysuckle and wild rose. You’ve read this poem many times, yet, like you, it is brand-new.

Blue Moon with Honey

Henry David Thoreau could wax poetic on “That grand old poem called Winter.” Perhaps it’s not the easiest season to weather, but from darkness comes light. Behold phloxes and hellebores, snowdrops and winter-blooming iris, and on Wednesday, Jan. 3, until the wee hours of Thursday, Jan. 4: the Quadrantids meteor shower. 

Named for Quadrans Muralis, a defunct constellation once found between the constellations of Boötes and Draco, near the tail of Ursa Major, the Quadrantids is one of the strongest meteor showers of the year. Although a just-full moon may compromise viewing conditions, you won’t want to miss a chance to see this celestial event.

Twelfth Night (Jan. 5), the eve of Epiphany, marks the end of the Christmas season and commemorates the arrival of the Magi who honored the Infant Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Seeking a hangover cure following this night of merrymaking and reverie? Ginger tea. And don’t be shy with the honey dipper. The natural sugar will help your body burn off what’s left of the wassail.   

January’s blue moon falls on the last day of the month. Reflect upon the ways you let your own light shine on this rare and energetically powerful night. Like attracts like. What are you calling in for 2018?

To Your Health!

Traditionally served in a large wooden bowl adorned with holly and ivy, wassail is a hot alcoholic cider that spells celebration. Many recipes call for port, sherry and fresh-baked apples, but here’s a simple (un-spiked) version for you. Start now and wrap your hands around a mug of hot wassail within the hour. Serves four.


2 cups apple cider

1 cup orange juice

Juice of one lemon

2 cinnamon sticks

6 cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


Combine all ingredients in a large pan.

Bring to simmer over medium-low heat. 

Reduce heat. Continue simmering for 45 minutes. 

Ladle into mugs and enjoy.

There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues.  — Hal Borland