Out of the Blue

A Saddened Spring

“Where have all the flowers gone?”

By Deborah Salomon

April means spring and spring means happy times, right? Nature slips into renewal mode. Off go the sweatpants, on go the shorts. Kids start riding the bikes Santa brought. That was when winter was winter, spring was spring, summer was summer. Summer was hot but not as hot or as long. Droughts were as dry but didn’t last for years, creating enormous forest tinderboxes that burned animals and their habitats.

Warm spring rain moistened the earth instead of flooding neighborhoods.

The seasons didn’t get mixed up or blown around by hurricanes and tornadoes. This past January the temperature hit 70 for several days, summoning daffodils from my clay pots and buds from the tree branches.

I had hay fever in February.

Fifty-eight years have passed since Rachel Carson predicted, in Silent Spring, that if their use went unchecked, pesticides would kill the insects and birds that chirp to life this time of year. Her advocacy led to banning certain pesticides for agricultural purposes.

Now, even more dire consequences exist. I must change the channel when the polar bear appears, stranded on an ice chunk broken off by warming temperatures. I can’t stand to think what is happening, even though I won’t live to see the calamity. Or maybe I will, if the ostriches don’t pull their heads out of the sand soon.

April 22 means Earth Day, which has an especially poignant meaning, since it occurs four days before the anniversary of my daughter Wendy’s death in 1991. She was a militant Earth child, vegetarian, animal rescuer, protester and, as the simple stone marking her grave reads, “A friend to all living things.”

When I visit that grave in a small, verdant cemetery in Carrboro . . . a clearing in the woods, appropriately . . . I don’t leave flowers. Instead, I spread sunflower seeds for the birds and creatures, sometimes deer, who scatter when I drive up.

Nobody wants to take global warming seriously — too frightening, I guess, although Jeff Bezos just donated $10 billion to address climate change. The problem hit hard in July, during commemorations of the moon landing. Fifty years ago, from outer space the astronauts noticed how thin and vulnerable the atmosphere appeared — nothing more than a halo surrounding the only planet, of perhaps millions, that is known to support life. This halo alone separates humanity from killer forces. Unlike the daffodils and trees, it is not renewable. Gone is gone.

What a bummer, Deb. Everybody else is out celebrating spring, washing their cars, cleaning out their garages, planting their gardens, lighting barbecues and you’re hugging trees.

That’s what people called Wendy: tree hugger. Salad head. She played guitar in coffee houses, and sang Pete Seeger’s anti-war lyrics:

“Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?”

This is a different kind of protest against a different kind of war . . . a war against nature, an assault on the delicate layer meant to protect us from not-so-slow destruction.

A war against spring.

The “environment,” encompassing global warming, is already an election issue. “Clean it up,” one side chants. “Just a hoax,” the ostriches repeat.

A hoax? Tell that to the polar bear, forlornly hanging on to his hunk of melting ice.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

The Creators

Man of the Earth

According to acclaimed plantsman Tony Avent, the universe has plans for you — and your garden

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

For someone who has spent much of his life hunched over the earth, his fingers threading through soil, rocks and roots, Triangle plantsman and nursery proprietor Tony Avent spends an awful lot of time talking about invisible energy and the unseen hand of the universe. Listen closely and you will hear him say things like: The universe has plans for you, and you can’t fight them; The plants tell me where they want to go; and The energy of the world speaks to us all.

This kind of talk may sound hokey until you visit Avent’s Juniper Level Garden in Raleigh, a place so magical and mysterious that it is not hard to believe that a divine force once struck this ground and caused all manner of flora and fauna to spring forth. But, in reality, that is not what happened. The truth is less supernatural and much more natural. Avent’s 28-acre garden was once a sprawling tobacco field, and when he set out to tame this land 30 years ago he did so with nothing but a shovel and a suspicion that something otherworldly could happen here. He was right.

Avent’s Juniper Level Garden and the on-site Plant Delights Nursery, where the garden’s specimens are grown and propagated, have become the nation’s standard bearer for garden horticulture. Avent has forged a career as a well-known and charismatic spokesperson for a movement dedicated to growing and developing gardens instead of simply planting them. His formal career began after graduating from NC State University with a degree in horticultural science before working his way toward the position of landscape director at the North Carolina Fairgrounds. Soon, he found himself on plant expeditions across the United States and in countries like South Africa, Mexico, China, Croatia, and Thailand. Along the way, he has given nearly 1,000 lectures, published dozens and dozens of articles, been featured in national media, and appeared on television alongside Martha Stewart on channels like HGTV and NBC.

With all that travel and so much glitz and glamour, what has kept Avent’s hands dirtied by his native soil in Raleigh? Perhaps it is the fact that the region’s climate and geography are so amenable to his work.

“This garden can grow the best diversity of plants anywhere in the country outside the Pacific Northwest,” Avent says. He is standing on a pathway in the middle of the garden on an early afternoon in February. Spring may be a few weeks away, but the garden feels surprisingly dramatic and alive. “We designed the garden so that something is always blooming, always green, always living,” he says. “The garden is always in transition. It’s always changing.”

The we he mentions refers to himself and Michelle, his first wife and high school sweetheart, who passed away in 2012 after a long battle with cancer. The two of them had known one another since they were children, and their families had been in the area for centuries. As a matter of fact, one of Avent’s ancestors began operating the ferry that crossed the Cape Fear River in 1775, thus the name of Raleigh’s Avent Ferry Road. Avent and his late wife purchased the house that is now used for the garden’s offices in 1988, along with 2 acres of surrounding land. They had hoped for peace and tranquillity, but that was not quite what they found.

“When we first moved here, nobody in this part of the county knew what a muffler was,” Avent says. To counteract the noise from the road in front of their home, Avent spent his evenings after dinner digging out a place for a huge grotto with a waterfall, an area of the garden so elegant and alive with plant life that it appears to have been here forever. The sound of falling water does not just shut out the noise of traffic; it shuts out the noise of the world. Perhaps that makes it easier for Avent to listen to what the universe is telling him.

Michelle’s death had him reeling, but, according to Avent, “sometimes the universe has other plans.” His late wife had urged him to remarry after her passing, so nearly two years after her death, Avent found his way to online dating, where he eventually began chatting with a local woman. She turned out to be much more local than he could have ever imagined. He and his current wife, Anita, have known one another since they were in Sunday school as children. Her grandfather worked a farm only a few miles away from Avent’s garden enterprise. Even their parents had known each other for decades.

It is also the tutelage, tragic death, and legacy of Avent’s mentor J.C. Raulston that keep him tied to this place. Raulston was an acclaimed horticulturist and the first director of the North Carolina Arboreteum. Avent was one of Raulston’s students at NC State, and he studied Raulston and his work closely.

“Working with him was the first time I had somebody who thought like I did,” he says. Avent designed Juniper Level Gardens as an homage to Raulston’s arboretum, and the two gardens seem to be in conversation with one another. Although Raulston perished in an automobile accident in 1996, to Avent, he never seems out of reach. “I can feel his energy in his garden at the arboretum,” Avent says. “And I can feel it here. It made sense for me to stay here.”

The roots of this world traveler and plant adventurer run too deep to be moved, or transplanted.

None of this really seems to surprise Avent. He possessed a passion for plants from a very early age, and his life’s first major disappointment set him on a course that would find him nurturing a single plot of land into something steady and permanent.

Avent was fascinated with plants and greenhouses as a young child, and in his early teens, he begged his father to take him to visit what he believed was the premiere garden in the world: Wayside Gardens in Greenwood, South Carolina. He was certain of the garden’s beauty because he had been receiving their mail-order catalog and would spend hours studying it. But when he and his father arrived after their journey south, Avent found nothing but a brick warehouse to which plants were shipped and from where they would be shipped again once they were sold.

“I was so devastated,” he says, “and I remember thinking, When I grow up I will build a place that no one is ever disappointed in when they come visit.

With the recent announcement that Avent and his wife have gifted Juniper Level Gardens to NC State University, Avent has assured that not only will people never be disappointed in his garden, he has assured that they will be able to visit it in perpetuity, a plan that perhaps the universe saw coming. That is important to Avent because he wants the energy of this place to be felt by others.

“I get energy from everything out here,” he says. “I never wear gloves, and now it has been discovered that the electrical energy in the soil is touching you, you’re feeling it. This energy can’t be created, and it can’t be destroyed. It’s always going to be here.”

No matter where he goes, the universe has decided that Tony Avent will always be here too.  PS

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

Simple Life

Life in the Slow Lanes

In praise of the snail’s pace

By Jim Dodson

The TED Radio Hour recently hosted a fascinating program devoted to the art of slowing down.

The program began with a public TV producer from Norway describing how a historic passenger train rigged with multiple wide-angle cameras documented the passing landscape during its daily run between Bergen and Oslo for seven hours and 14 minutes.

There was no voiceover or narrative explanation of the journey — merely the peaceful countryside passing in real time.

The train documentary became a runaway sensation.   

What might sound like an elaborate April Fool’s joke turned out to be a ratings bonanza when an estimated 1.2 million Norwegians — roughly one-fifth of the country’s population — tuned in to watch Bergensbanen (The Bergen Line), giving birth to a new concept called “Slow TV.”

Since that time, similar programs have devoted eight straight hours to Norway’s “National Firewood Night,” 18 straight hours to salmon fishing, more than eight hours to people knitting and chatting, 60 hours to Norwegian hymn-singing and five-and-a-half days to passengers on a cruise ship.

The producers discovered, in essence, that viewers are longing for something authentic, something that minute-by-minute matches the pace of actual living, not manufactured “reality” shows that simulate or distort events in real time. In a world forever speeding up, Norwegians seemed eager to slow down and smell the roses — or at least watch them grow.

Another TED stage segment featured an efficiency-driven professor from The Wharton School of Economics who learned a valuable lesson in the art of procrastination — how “slowing down” can be a boon to personal creativity — from a pair of his business school students who took six months just to come up with a name for their proposed business idea, right up to the project’s deadline.

The company name the students finally came up with was Warby Parker, which evolved into a billion-dollar eyewear firm that was recently named the world’s “Most Innovative Company,” proving the timeless maxim that all good things come in time — and often require lots of it.

Among other insights professor Adam Grant gleaned from the experience — including his own subsequent efforts to teach himself to procrastinate — is that putting something aside often aids in refining the outcome; that human beings possess a better memory for incomplete tasks that stay active in the mind than hastily produced results; and that, in the end, our biggest regrets are not what we failed to accomplish — but what we never took the necessary time to try to do well.

“What some people call procrastination,” professor Grant says, quoting screenwriter Adam Sorkin, “I call thinking.”

In a world where feedback is as instantaneous as a nasty tweet, the faster we move through our days, the professor concluded, the less inclined we are to pause and reflect on methods that might produce a better outcome.

As one who has consciously been “slowing down” for years, it was reassuring to discover there are others in the world who believe there is great value — not to mention improved perspective and sanity — in taking the time to do the job right, to slow down and think it through, to measure twice and cut once or simply stop and buy some of those proverbial roses, whatever cliché works for you.

Pausing to think about this, I do believe it was the house and garden I built on a forested hill in Maine two decades ago that brought this important lesson home to bear.

The year it took to clear the land and rebuild the ancient stone walls that once defined an 18th-century farmstead gave me time to conceive and refine the plans for the house, which took an additional nine months to actually construct with the help of a pair of skilled post-and-beam housewrights. Creating the interior of the house (which I largely did on my own — building walls and floors, custom designing and making bookshelves and the kitchen cabinetry) also underwent several revisions and took at least three more months to complete than planned. In the end, just about everything about that house pleased me and suited my young family perfectly.

In a sense, the forest around us and the ambitious landscape garden I subsequently set out to create conveyed an even more enlightening lesson about the value of taking one’s own sweet time.

Nature keeps her own clock, and a northern woodland can’t be rushed into leafing out in spring or fading away in autumn. Summer’s lease in Maine may seem all too brief while winter can feel maddeningly endless. And yet, as I learned, watching the seasons come and go at their own pace was like attending a seminar in the art of Slow TV, a chance to absorb the beauty and spiritual messages of a living world that follows an ancient dance as old as the stars.

Any gardener worth his composted cow manure understands that the life of a garden is a slow-moving and somewhat mysterious affair, relying on faith, patience and years, if not decades, of learning about plants and their needs from others who are wiser than you about the art of coaxing living things from the soil.

Even my work as a journalist and author — always facing one kind of deadline or another — reminds me of the importance to take my time and get the story right.

At the end of summer in 2017, I set out to travel along the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to Augusta, Georgia. I calculated that a three-week jaunt investigating the historic towns and people who reside along arguably America’s most historic Colonial-era road would give me a wealth of material for a book on the very road that brought my European forebears — and possibly yours — to the Southern frontier.

As of last week, I’ve officially clocked more than 2,500 miles traveling the 780-mile road and am now starting into my third year of researching the astonishing life of this ancient American pathway, constantly learning new things and unearthing stories that demand time to pause and take a deeper look, to linger and reflect, to pursue new leads and find the facts.

It’s been an unexpected and bewitching journey, to say the least, something akin to a personal Chautauqua that has immeasurably enriched my life and understanding of America. I shall almost hate to see it reach its conclusion, probably sometime in early summer when I finally cross the Savannah River at Augusta.

For the record, I’ve rewritten the book’s prologue and first five chapters at least half a dozen times already, discovering as I do how the work comes a little more alive and compelling each time out, proving strength resides in careful (and sometimes slow) revision. Hopefully, my brilliant young editor at Simon & Schuster will agree, whenever he finally gets the book.

Not for the first time, traveling the Wagon Road has also reinforced my self-awareness that I am a natural slow-lanes traveler who will always choose the winding two-lane roads if at all possible.

If past truly is prelude to the future — or at least the present — this instinctual habit was likely encouraged by my first job as a cub reporter at the Greensboro News and Record in the late 1970s. Placed in command of a DayGlo orange AMC Pacer staff car, my task was to find colorful characters and interesting feature stories for the Sunday paper in a 50-mile circumference of quiet countryside around the Gate City, a job that took me along winding back roads from Seagrove to the Blue Ridge.

Looking back, I realize those slow road adventures were an education unto themselves, a great way to begin my writing career. It was maybe the most fun job I’ve ever had.

All of which may explain why, as the world seems to speed up with each passing day, I remain a committed slow-lanes traveler who is in no particular rush to get where he’s going. What I supposedly lose in time by avoiding interstates and super highways, I gain back double in terms of perspective and peace of mind by passing through beautiful countryside and small towns where time moves at a slower pace. Come spring, roadside produce stands seem to whisper my name.

Recently I flew a long way on an airplane, about a dozen hours in the air each way.

I took the slow way there and back.

In normal times airports are noisy places with folks rushing frantically about. But once I’m in the air, locked in a silver bird soaring as high as 40,000 feet above the Earth, it’s such a pleasure to read an entire book or simply sit and think about life as I gaze out at continents of clouds.

On this trip, I discovered that one of the video channels featured its own version of Slow TV — 45-minute film loops showing either a serene rainforest or the restless ocean on the craggy Northwest Coast.

I watched both films — twice.

Someday I may graduate to “National Firewood Night” or 60 hours of Norwegians singing hymns, but for now that rainforest and restless sea worked their magic on my high-flying soul.

“Does anything actually happen in that movie,” my curious seatmate was compelled to ask at one point, unplugging from his action thriller.

“Not much,” I admitted. “Isn’t it great?” PS

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at jim@thepilot.com.


From Our House Behind the Churchyard, After a Storm

An hour after the storm, tree

limbs still sway, their green-leafed

twigs moving like the limbs

of swimmers in a sapphire sea.

Thunder booms in the distance

but they go on waving,

as if the lightning and the rain

are dear friends, departing. Beams

of brilliant light make gold

the ground and polish the branches

as puddles glitter beneath blades

of grass, silently sipping.

And high above the skittering

clouds, a red-tailed hawk circles

the churchyard, its wings

cupping the sodden, cerulean air

like a parishioner reaching

for a communal cup of wine.

— Terri Kirby Erickson

The Shimmering Art of Louis C. Tiffany

Classic lamps on display at Reynolda House

By Jim Moriarty

Due to health precautions related to COVID-19, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art closed temporarily in March and the opening of “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light” was delayed. For information regarding the reopening of the museum and its exhibits please visit www.reynoldahouse.org.

While on one hand it could seem as though Louis Comfort Tiffany was born with a silver glasscutter in his mouth, the son of the founder of Tiffany and Company created, over his lifetime, an entire genre of decorative art so ubiquitous, so singularly chic and stylistically distinctive that his name alone has come to represent the thing itself. It is the de rigueur description of any leaded glass shade. Say “Tiffany lamp” and you need say no more. All the rage one day, passé the next, fashion may be fickle, but the art endures.

The intimate gallery space at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem will house an exhibit of Tiffany’s finest work on loan from the Neustadt Collection at the Queens Museum in New York. The traveling exhibition was to open in late March and continue through June 21 before it was overtaken by events.

“The decorative arts are accessible to everybody,” says Phil Archer, Reynolda’s director of Program and Interpretation. “To have a gallery with the light actually shining through the works of art will be new for us and make it a very magical space. It just fits at Reynolda because of the natural setting of the gardens. We wanted the exhibition in the spring for that reason. Come and see all the flowers, then come inside and see all the flowers.”

The show, when it’s able to open, will be comprised of 20 of the most celebrated examples of Tiffany’s lamps and, interestingly, three forgeries that serve to demonstrate the difference between faux Tiffany and authentic works. There will be a display demonstrating the steps in the creation of the lampshades and biographical information on the key personnel at Tiffany Studios — chemist Arthur J. Nash and designers Clara Driscoll, Agnes Northrop and Frederick Wilson — who all made meaningful contributions to the artistry of the lamps.

Also part of the exhibit are five Tiffany windows and, separate from the exhibit, a display of Tiffany vases purchased by Katharine Reynolds on view in the Reynolda House itself.

The role of Driscoll, née Clara Wolcott, who was in charge of the “Tiffany Girls” in the glass cutting department and is responsible for the design of two of Tiffany’s most remarkable lamps, Wisteria and Dragonfly, only came to light in the first decade of the 21st century when Martin Eidelberg, an art history professor from Rutgers University, discovered her letters archived at Kent State University.

“She was an Ohioan, so her papers ended up at Kent State,” says Archer of the letters Driscoll sent home from New York. “The family evidently had almost a chain letter system where Mom would send a letter to Clara, she would send it to her sister who would send it to the brother and they would all add to it. It was better than group texting.”

While Tiffany may not have been solely responsible for every design, “The concepts were Tiffany’s,” says Archer. “The aesthetic was Tiffany’s. The kind of color palette and the combination of colors and details and opacities were Tiffany’s. It’s almost like Mozart writing a piece and then conducting the orchestra. He’s not playing any of the instruments. Everybody else is making the music but the original concept is his. They bring a lot of creativity to how they play it — though that may not be an exact metaphor because some of the concepts, like the Wisteria lamp, were Driscoll’s.”

Born in 1848, the slight, delicate son of Charles Louis Tiffany could have slid seamlessly into the family business. “He had every opportunity to take over from his father and be the lead jeweler and luxury goods maker in New York,” says Archer. “The primrose path was laid out for him.”

When the younger Tiffany was enrolled at Eagleswood Military Academy in New Jersey, he met and studied under the painter George Inness. The effects would be profound. By the age of 19, he had become a founding member of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors and had begun to exhibit his work at the National Academy of Design. He traveled to Europe and North Africa and would be particularly influenced by what, at the time, was called the “Orientalist” style.

“When I first had a chance to travel in the East and to paint where the people and the buildings are clad in beautiful hues, the pre-eminence of color in the world was brought forcibly to my attention,” Tiffany said later. One of his better-known paintings, Snake Charmer at Tangier, Africa, expressed Tiffany’s interest in the play of light and color. It was exhibited at Snedecor’s Gallery in New York in 1872 and later at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It remained in Tiffany’s personal collection until 1921, when he donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While still painting, Tiffany drifted into design and decorating. At the same time, he had become enthralled by the possibilities of glass as an art form.

“Tiffany hated modern glass because it was too clean,” says Archer. “He wanted glass like archeologists were digging up in Syria and Lebanon. It was like opals. It had color and shimmer. He hired chemists to really develop all of these different colors and ranges. The beauty that he found in that glass and trying to replicate it becomes the story.”

Tiffany didn’t paint on glass — “staining” it only rarely, usually in faces — he painted with glass. The use of metallic oxides allowed for the development of the range of colors that distinguish his work.

“Standing by the glass workers, he had them fold the glass on itself and pinch in places to achieve the effect of magnolia blooms in a window of his library at the Tiffany Mansion,” writes Julia Tiffany Hoffman, a great-granddaughter. “A pulled rod of glass was slightly melted and scrolled on the glass to effect vines, stems and spiderwebs. Louis used just the right color combination of paper-thin glass bits to achieve a painterly quality . . . Molten glass was pressed thin and then stretched to effect the impression of light shining on snow. When working on a window, he would have his glass house make sheets of glass that had several colors running through them, then find the perfect area and orientation to express the petal of a tulip or the leaf.”

In addition to the inspired glassmaking, the creation of Tiffany’s lamps was aided by the innovative use of copper foil. “Instead of having heavy lead connectors,” says Archer, “they were able to use much, much finer connectors. There’s a lot of artistry in the creation of the glass, and there’s artistry in the cutting and piecing it together.”

Tiffany was also receiving commissions decorating American palaces for Gilded Age royalty like Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Henry and Louisine Havemeyer. He decorated Mark Twain’s house in Connecticut and the interior of the old Lyceum Theatre on Park Avenue South in New York. He collaborated with the famous — and infamous — architect Stanford White on a house for the Tiffany family. He did the Ponce de Léon Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida, and Chester A. Arthur’s White House.

“Tiffany would design from soup spoon to chandelier,” says Archer. “He was creating almost complete works of art in these houses. But upper middle-class people could afford the lamps. They ended up propelling Tiffany Studios financially. In his lectures, Tiffany almost never referred to his lamps. He would talk about these huge projects and the large windows. The lamps were sort of the bread and butter.”

Tiffany believed nature should be the primary source of design. “Every really great structure is simple in its lines — as in Nature — every great scheme of decoration thrusts no one note upon the eye,” he wrote. Having outlived two wives and three of his eight children, in his final years Tiffany’s ultimate project was his estate on Oyster Bay on Long Island — Laurelton Hall, 84 rooms on 600 acres. He designed every nook, cranny and garden.

Punctuality and orderliness were valued traits. He owned seven white linen suits, one for each day of the week. A tennis player and avid photographer who never saw a speed limit he wanted to obey, the giant of Art Nouveau attempted to stick his finger in the dike of modernism with the establishment of the Tiffany Foundation, devoted to helping aspiring artists.

“Paintings should not hurt the eyes,” he cautioned them. By the time Tiffany died in 1933, much of his wealth had evaporated in the crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. Laurelton was sold in 1945, and the land subdivided.

In 1957, the largely abandoned great house, containing some of Tiffany’s finest windows, burned to the ground. It took two days to melt the art of a lifetime.  PS


Quail Trail

In search of the elusive northern bobwhite

By Susan Campbell

For some of those fortunate enough to have lived near open piney woods or adjacent to large farm fields, the iconic call of a bobwhite quail was once a familiar sound. But, as with so many of our bird species, this once prolific songster has diminished across the Piedmont and Sandhills of North Carolina.

Bobwhites measure between 8 to 11 inches beak to tail and have very cryptic brown, black and white markings that make them almost impossible to see on the ground in the grassy habitats they call home. The male has a bright, white eye stripe and throat. It is he who constantly announces his territory through a repeated “bob-white” call. The female is smaller and a bit drab, with a buff eye throat and no crest. This stout bird is well equipped with a short sharp bill, strong legs and sharp claws that make it an ideal avian for foraging at ground level for insects, berries and soft vegetation.

Bobwhite males can be heard trying to attract a mate using their loud repetitive calls in the spring. The female will reply with a four-syllable whistle of her own. Following breeding, the pair creates a domed nest concealed in tall grasses, and the hen lays up to 20 pure white eggs. There is a period of approximately 25 days of incubation before the young hatch.  Hens will renest if the eggs are eaten or destroyed. Upon hatching, the chicks will immediately follow their parents; learning how to hunt bugs and determine which shoots are the most nutritious. As a group they are referred to as a covey. The family will stay together through the winter and may join with other families to form coveys of 30 or more birds. When alarmed at an early age, the young will scatter and freeze to avoid predators. Once they can fly, they explode into flight in a blur of wings, startling anyone or anything who comes upon them.

Quail were a very popular game bird throughout North Carolina until not that long ago. Since the 1980s, when their numbers began to decline, they have become very challenging to find, especially in the Piedmont, except on game preserves where they are stocked. A combination of factors is believed to be responsible. Not only have open woodlands and agricultural fields with hedgerows become scarcer but ground predators such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons and free roaming domestic and feral cats have increased. Also, the timing of rainfall can significantly affect breeding productivity. Too much rain too early may inundate nests and dry conditions when chicks hatch may result in insufficient food.

These days, hunters still occasionally find coveys in the wild in the forests and fields of the Sandhills Game Land or the vast acreage of longleaf pine on Fort Bragg. It requires a well-trained bird dog and a good deal of patience. However active quail management is occurring locally. Opening up forested habitat using prescribed burning as well as removing undesirable vegetation and replacing it with quality cover plants are two of the best strategies to help boost the population. Recent efforts by biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and at Fort Bragg along with assistance from local Quail Unlimited chapters are resulting in gradual increases in northern bobwhite in limited areas. We certainly hope this trend continues so that before much longer the springtime calls of the bobwhite will once again be heard throughout the region.  PS

Susan would love to hear from you. Send wildlife sightings and photos to susan@ncaves.com.

The Omnivorous Reader

Mountain Men

One exceptional life in politics, another in music

By D.G. Martin

In 58-5, two North Carolina mountain boys graduated from local high schools, made their ways to college, and then went on to very different high-profile careers.

Rufus Edmisten moved from Watauga High School in Boone to UNC-Chapel Hill, headed for a career in politics. Joseph Robinson left Lenoir High School for Davidson College on his way to musical performances at the highest level.

Coincidentally, both men recently published memoirs that show how the combination of hard work, high ambition, audacity and luck can lead to success.

Edmisten’s That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life describes how he grew up on a farm near Boone, tending cows and pigs, and working fields of cabbages and tobacco. After Chapel Hill and a round of teaching high school in Washington, Edmisten entered law school at The George Washington University and secured a low-level job on Sen. Sam Ervin’s staff. He soon became one of the senator’s full-time trusted assistants in the Watergate-Nixon impeachment matter.

His book’s opening pages take readers to July 23, 1973, when he served President Richard Nixon with a demand for Watergate-related records. This key moment ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation under the threat of impeachment and was a launch pad for Edmisten’s political career.

Edmisten returned to North Carolina in 1974 and mounted a successful campaign for attorney general. His triumph over a host of prominent Democrats gave notice he would run for governor someday.

That day came in 1984, when Gov. Jim Hunt ran for the U.S. Senate, and a host of Democrats lined up to run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Edmisten won in a brutal primary runoff against former Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox and then lost the general election to the then-Congressman Jim Martin.

Some believe he lost, in part at least, because he made disparaging remarks about barbecue. His version of that incident is, by itself, worth the price of the book. But Edmisten says it was Ronald Reagan’s “sticky coattails” that “swept both me and Jim Hunt away from our dreams. We were not alone, either. The sweep was broad and far reaching.”

After the loss, Edmisten felt crestfallen and abandoned. “The ache in the bottom of my stomach was so great nothing appealed to me except finding some dark place to crawl away and hide,” he writes. “I swear I saw people cross the street so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.”

However, he came back from that defeat and won election as secretary of state. How he then lost that position in disgrace and the lessons learned from that sad story make for the most poignant part of the book.

His situation came to a head in 1995. A report by the state auditor and articles in the Raleigh News & Observer alleged the misuse of employees and a state car, abuses by subordinates, and improper hiring practices.

In this deluge of criticism, Edmisten announced he would not run for re-election and, he writes, “I actually thanked God my daddy had died before this mess started.”

Why did it happen?

In a chapter titled “Hubris,” he confesses, “It was nobody’s fault but my own.”

Edmisten writes that it was the excessive pride that arose from his long years at the center of public attention that led to his troubles. He warns, “Once hubris gets a foothold it grows incrementally and accelerates until it is expanding exponentially, and in leaps and bounds takes over.”

This lesson about the dangers of hubris is not the end of the story. In inspiring chapters, Edmisten chronicles how his wife and friends led him back into the practice of law and other areas of service. His wife told him, “We are not going to whine.”

“At the age of fifty-five,” he writes, “I put aside all petty things and began a new life.”

In his new life, Edmisten lives in Raleigh practicing law and giving gardening advice on a weekly radio show. He gives us another lesson: It is never too late to turn an old life into a new one.

Robinson’s memoir, Long Winded: An Oboist’s Incredible Journey to the New York Philharmonic, asks: How did a small-town boy who never attended conservatory persuade one of the world’s greatest conductors, Zubin Mehta, to give him a chance at one of the world’s most coveted positions in the New York Philharmonic, one of the world’s greatest orchestras?

Growing up in a small North Carolina town like Lenoir might not seem to be the best background for an aspiring classical musician. But the mountain furniture community had the best high school band in the state. When Robinson was drafted to fill an empty oboe slot, his course was set.

He loved the oboe so much that his Davidson College classmates called him “Oboe Joe.” However, Davidson’s musical program lacked the professional music training that Robinson craved. Nevertheless, he stayed at Davidson, majoring in English, economics and the liberal arts. His focus on writing and expression gave him tools to win a music position at the highest level.

His success at Davidson led to a Fulbright grant to study in Europe and the opportunity to meet Marcel Tabuteau, who, Robinson says, was the greatest player and oboe pedagogue of the 20th century. When Tabuteau learned that Robinson was an English major and a good writer who could help write his book on oboe theory, he agreed to give him oboe instruction. Those five weeks with Tabuteau, Robinson says, “more than compensated for the conservatory training I did not receive.”

Years later, however, after moving through a series of journeyman teaching and performing positions at the Atlanta Symphony, the North Carolina School of the Arts, and the University of Maryland, Robinson still had not achieved his aspiration to land a first oboe chair in a major orchestra, but he did not give up.

When Harold Gomberg, the acclaimed lead oboe of the New York Philharmonic, retired, Robinson audaciously applied. When finally granted an audition, he prepared endlessly. He was ready for the hour and 20 minutes of paces the audition committee demanded. Afterward, he was confident that he had done very well.

But the Philharmonic’s personnel manager, James Chambers, after saying how well the audition went, reported that music director Zubin Mehta judged Robinson’s tone “too strong” for the Philharmonic. Robinson was not to be one of the two players who were finalists.

That should have been the end of it, but Robinson writes, “I knew that winning a once-in-a lifetime position like principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic was like winning the lottery.”

At 3 a.m. the next morning, using all his liberal arts writing and persuasive talents, he wrote Chambers explaining why his tone might have seemed too strong and, “You will not make a mistake by choosing Eric or Joe, but you might by excluding me if tone is really the issue.”

When Chambers read the letter to Mehta, they agreed that it could not have been “more persuasive or fortuitous.” Chambers reported that Mehta said, “If you believe in yourself that much, he will hear you again.”

Robinson’s final audition was successful. His “winning lottery ticket,” he writes, “had Davidson College written all over it.”

From 1978 until his retirement in 2005, he served as principle oboe for the New York Philharmonic. Living in Chapel Hill, he can still bring an audience to tears when he plays the beloved solo “Gabriel’s Oboe.”  PS

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. and other times. To view prior programs: http://video.unctv.org/show/nc-bookwatch/episodes/


Creature Discomfort

Not all pets are created equal

By Bill Fields

Among the sounds of a North Carolina childhood that linger many years later and hundreds of miles from where I heard them: sausage frying on a weekend morning; a lawnmower starting up and piercing the late afternoon quiet; a neighbor mom calling her daughters home at dark; the pop of ball in glove, over and over, once my arm got strong enough to make it happen.

But sometimes, out of nowhere, this one: Dad in the backyard at the end of the day, shaking a bag of cat chow like he was keeping rhythm in a swing band. It was the felines’ dinner bell, and they ran toward my father as if it had been a month since their last meal. That he diluted their milk with water from the hose mattered not.

Lucy and Linus arrived first, about the time I started school, kitten siblings from a litter belonging to one of Dad’s co-workers. Lucy was black and white; Linus was a gray tabby. It being the 1960s, and pet ethics not being what they are today, Lucy grew up to have a lot of kittens herself, her maternity ward usually a cardboard box from the ABC store. The stars of her offspring were Tuffy and Fluffy, each white with black accents. Fluffy’s fur was softer than a baby blanket, but she gave no quarter when wrestling Tuffy on my parents’ double bed, the cats’ favorite daytime playground.

Linus was a handsome boy, strong and athletic, until the big ice storm in the late 1960s, when he scaled a longleaf pine next door and was frightened to return to terra firma, choosing to howl a desperate howl overnight to the dismay of every house on the block. Once the sun was up Dad climbed a ladder, its rungs coated slick, to rescue him. Linus thawed out in front of a heat duct and thereafter seemed particularly grateful for the crunchy grub distributed daily at dusk.

If a boy didn’t have a pet dolphin in that era he surely had a dog, yet my canine experiences weren’t happy — certainly not like one nearby family who possessed an assembly line of dachshunds or another with a beloved beagle. We got Skippy, a midnight-black cocker spaniel, when I was in first grade but gave him away not long after we got the pet, when he kept nipping at passersby on Ridge Street.

I loved Peanuts, a Chihuahua puppy acquired when I was still in elementary school. Peanuts could well have been with me until I graduated from Pinecrest, if not for his early and unfortunate demise. My father created a flap in the little dog’s cardboard-box residence, but it got caught in the entryway one day while I was at school. I found Peanuts when I returned home from classes. He was trapped in the flap, his fate already clear.

Years later, as a grown man, I would have temporary co-guardianship of a couple of dogs, friendly cocker spaniels in one case and sweet but undisciplined Labradors in the other. The Labs were amazingly determined and creative when it came to anything involving food, to the point where they could even chew through a tin can. They forced us to tape shut the refrigerator door, lest we come home to a royal mess. With the bigger, stronger Lab on a leash one evening, it nearly dislocated my right shoulder when a squirrel suddenly appeared.

In the last couple of decades of my mother’s life — when she lived alone and could have, by any measure, used some company — I occasionally told her I had a cat or dog coming her way for a Christmas present. These teasings were not something that made her smile; her pet-managing days were long over.

I now wonder if mine aren’t, too. Occasionally my partner and I wish there were such as thing as Rent-a-Corgi, where one could enjoy a dog (the breed her family had when she was a child and that I have also liked from afar) for a couple of hours, then return it before any dog bites, bathroom accidents or vet bills.

If I were to ever own a cat, I am certain its cuisine would resemble that of my childhood felines rather than of the pets owned by a woman for whom a friend of mine cat-sat a decade ago. There were three dozen cats in a big house, and each got its individual can of wet food in its preferred flavor. The feeding stations were as long as the serving line at a K&W Cafeteria.

I helped with the horde one evening. I confess, without remorse, to not being worried if a cat that was supposed to receive tuna primavera instead dined on shredded wild salmon. And I walked out into the winter night thinking perhaps the only creatures in my house should be on Animal Planet.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at williamhfields@gmail.com.

Good Natured

Yoga to the Rescue

Helping yourself to age gracefully

By Karen Frye

The lights are soft, and the room is warm. Everyone is quietly lying on their yoga mat. The teacher enters the room and announces, “Lights are coming on.” On that note, everyone stands in the middle of their mat. Suddenly you realize that the room is surrounded by mirrors. Oh no! You have to look at yourself for 90 minutes. Painful!

The class begins with a breathing exercise to get more fresh oxygen into the lungs to circulate throughout the body during class. During this “Pranayama” breathing exercise, you notice that your busy mind is beginning to calm down, and a sense of focus and peace is now taking over. This is a form of meditation, an open-eye, moving meditation. You have to listen to the teacher carefully, and move your body correctly (as much as possible) to achieve the benefits from the yoga postures. This process does not include thinking, just looking at yourself and trying. Every class is a beginners class, no matter how long you have been practicing yoga.

Hatha Yoga began thousands of years ago. It is popular all around the world, but had its start in India. Everyone can do yoga. You are never too old, too stiff or too out of shape to start. The comment I hear most often from the people is how they’re “not flexible,” and my reply is, “That is exactly why you need yoga!”

The fascia in our body is like a web of fibers made of collagen and elastin. These fibers are strong and stretchy. The fascia goes from head to toe; it’s what holds us together and upright. As we age, our fascia becomes stiffer and tighter. Working out with weights, running, and just about every physical activity that builds muscle and makes us stronger also tightens the fascia. It can become like beef jerky. When you do yoga, you stretch your muscles and go deeper to stretch the fascia, too.

Keeping the fascia healthy is crucial to aging gracefully. You will also be stimulating and toning your body’s vital organs and glands.

Yoga is one of the best anti-aging things you can do for yourself. Some of the health benefits are: increased sense of well being; boosting the immune system; calming the mind; improving balance and flexibility of mind and body. There are cardio and strength benefits as well. If you choose to do hot yoga — which is my love — the heat promotes sweating, and sweat removes toxins from the body.

We are fortunate in this community to have a variety of yoga studios and wonderful teachers to guide you on this journey, if you choose. The hardest thing about a yoga class is getting yourself there. Give it a chance and you’ll fall in love with how your body and mind feel after you practice. It is a wise investment in your health and a lot of fun, too!  PS

Karen Frye is the owner and founder of Nature’s Own and teaches yoga at the Bikram Yoga Studio.

The Accidental Astrologer

Straight Talk

Finding fault in the stars is for April Fools

By Astrid Stellanova

Excuse me, Star Children, but not everyone has been behaving. Allow me to draw you a map of your thoughts, which are more confusing than Rand McNally ought to allow:  bat@#!t — as in going off road and heading straight for the state of chaos.

Yes, you have crossed that line.

Yes, you have used March madness for more than 30 days as your excuse. Nobody’s buying it. Besides, it’s April.

Don’t be a fool. Get. A. Grip.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

You have been sprinkling a little sarcasm on evah-thang. Sugar, it seems to be the main spice in your life. Since you’ve ignored my advice, maybe I can interest you in some freshly ground sarcasm: Just for kicks, play it straight. There’s a lot of serious drama to resolve, and you have got to get down to business.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

There’s a Fred Mertz for every Ricky Ricardo, and a Thelma for every Louise. Seems you have figured out the friendship shtick that keeps some (including you) laughing, but you will have to find your true center.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Always hug your enemies, so you know how big to dig the hole in the backyard! In this case, you have got a conflict that doesn’t have to end in tragedy. But you knew that, and you just postponed the inevitable. Shovel not required.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Too glam to give a sweet patootie. You are that, and also secretly up against the realization that you do give a patootie. Your cool and contained image is very different from what you are feeling. Sync it up.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

They love you like biscuits love gravy. You love them back. But you feel taken for granted. Air this, get it out, get it over, and enjoy time with your inner circle. Make somebody else wash the dishes, Darlin.’

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Criminal intent. That is what you have been nurturing since you found out that someone close to you hasn’t owned up to something. Don’t let this keep simmering. Vent, discuss, resolve. 

Libra (September 23-October 22)

Everything may happen for a reason, but WTF? Did you actually intend for others to view you as a total jackass? No, you thought that nobody but you knew what had gone down. They know. And they are waiting for apologies.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21

The dramatic lie you tell yourself goes like this: Goodbye, Cruel World!  But you aren’t going anywhere. And nothing is really so bad that you cannot sort it out. When you stop kvetching, Sweat Pea, you’ll see.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Run like your children are looking for you. A conniving acquaintance thinks they have got you in their control. If you cannot face them, then save yourself, Darlin’, because they always talk you into mistakes.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

Alexa, open the bottle of pinot. Alexa, take out the trash. When Alexa truly starts being useful, you can relax your control on the control panel. But until then, practice makes perfect. Maybe practice waiting this one out, Sweet Thing.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Acting like a bunch of skeeters on crystal meth? Or minnows about to meet Jaws’ open mouth? But you didn’t see it, Honey Bun, and nobody did. Calm down, and consider that sometimes the biggest virtue is to wait.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Mama needs her juice, Honey. I take one look at your star chart and realize you just wanted to slurp down a little happiness and get some rest. Worship at the temple of the plump pillow, and let life settle.  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.