Spring in the Pines

A place where wonders abound

Story and Photographs by Todd Pusser

A longleaf pine forest on a warm spring day is a magical place.

Bright sunlight dances across clumps of wiregrass, setting the forest floor ablaze with golden hues. The sweet, trilling whistles of a Bachman’s sparrow carry across warm southerly breezes heavy with the scent of pine. Red-cockaded woodpeckers flit from tree to tree, searching for grubs. The loud, harsh “keeer-r-r-r” of a soaring red-tailed hawk echoes from high above.

Wildflowers bloom. Dwarf iris, cloaked in petals of vivid yellow and violet blue, provide wonder to those that look carefully. Patches of sandhill lupine, replete with hairy leaves and pale blue flowers, attract bees and rare butterflies. Pineland phlox add a splash of pink to soil blackened by a recent fire.

On sloping hills of sand, underlain with moisture-retaining clay soil, yellow pitcher plants stretch up toward a Carolina blue sky. Looking like something straight out of a James Cameron movie, pitcher plants are the most spectacular floral wonders of the Sandhills. Standing 4 feet tall, their modified trumpet-shaped leaves hint at an extraordinary lifestyle. The pitchers are carnivores. Releasing a scent of sweet-smelling nectar, a pitcher plant lures insects from near and far to its cavernous maw. As insects crawl down the pitcher’s funnel, fine hairs trap them inside. The insects eventually fall into a pool of rainwater that has accumulated deep inside. There, digestive enzymes slowly break the insects down, providing life-sustaining nutrients to the pitcher plant.

At the base of a longleaf pine, a fox squirrel, the size of a house cat, stands at attention — its white paws and ears contrasting sharply with a fur coat the color of midnight. When it comes to ripping open green longleaf pine cones to reach the nutrient-rich seeds inside, size matters. As the largest tree squirrel in North America, fox squirrels are the only ones capable of that feat.

Left: Longleaf Scenic Sandhills Gamelands

Middle: Pine Barrens Treefrog at Sunset

Right: Dwarf Iris


Next to a fallen tree, beneath a clump of wiregrass, a northern pine snake lies quietly coiled. As beautiful as it is rare, the powerful, non-venomous constrictor is among the state’s largest snakes. Feeding on abundant small mammals, the black and white serpent spends as much time underground as it does above.

Among the rolling hills of sand, a patchwork of shallow, blackwater streams meanders across the landscape. Beneath water stained the color of strong tea, unique and endemic fish swim. Colorful pinewoods darters, just 3 inches long, hunt the shallows for aquatic insect larvae. A male sandhills chub excavates a nest in the sandy substrate in hopes of enticing a female to deposit her eggs. Where currents have deposited piles of leaves along the bottom, Sandhills spiny crayfish lurk.

As dusk approaches, in dense tangles of vegetation bordering the streams, the calls of pine barrens tree frogs resonate. Red bats take to the air to hunt moths while the incessant calls of a chuck-will’s-widow echo through the pines.

Indeed, a longleaf pine forest is a repository of biodiversity. Unfortunately, intact, healthy longleaf pine forests are just as rare as many of the animals that call them home.

At the time of European colonization of the North American continent, majestic longleaf pine forests stretched nearly unbroken from Norfolk, Virginia, to Florida and all along the Gulf Coast to East Texas — an estimated 90 million acres in total. Today, less than 3 percent remains, most of which are just scattered trees. The vast forests have been converted to agricultural fields, housing developments and strip malls. The longleaf pine forest is among the continent’s most threatened ecosystems.

Left: Lupine and Sunburst

Middle: Yellow Pitcher Plants

Right: Fox Squirrel


Fortunately, in the North Carolina Sandhills, there still are a few places where it is possible to see a healthy, functioning longleaf pine forest. Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve, as well as the nearby Calloway Forest Preserve, provide opportunities to explore and hike among mature longleaf. The entirety of the world’s largest military base, Fort Liberty, is longleaf pine forest — as is the 63,000-acre Sandhills Gamelands, managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. These tracts of land are precious, and should be enjoyed and celebrated at every opportunity.

To step into a healthy longleaf pine forest on a warm spring day is like stepping back in time, where nature is alive and thriving, unencumbered by the excesses of humanity.

Birds sing. Flowers bloom. A warm wind blows. And fox squirrels play.  PS

Naturalist and photographer Todd Pusser grew up in Eagle Springs. He works to document the extraordinary diversity of life both near and far. His images can be found at

Focus on Food

Focus on Food

Hold the Sugar

The sweet, sweet world of cakes and frosting

Story and Photograph by Rose Shewey

American buttercream frosting is what happens when you leave your toddler unattended in the kitchen with access to baking supplies. Too harsh? Well, let’s look at the basic recipe together. To frost a medium-sized layer cake, you need about 2 cups of butter mixed with — brace yourselves — 2 whole pounds of powdered sugar. That’s two bags of sugar! I’m genuinely curious who the first baker was to not just contemplate this mélange, but actually go through with it. It would never cross my mind to use even one-half the amount of sugar this recipe calls for in pretty much anything — mainly because I like to taste flavors other than, you know, tooth-achingly sweet. In case you were wondering, American buttercream is practically what is referred to as “mock cream.” Enough said.

Now that I have trampled all over your family tradition, you might be wondering: What frosting could possibly be better than the one Nana has been making for over half a century? It depends on what you need it for — “better” being a relative and subjective term anyway. To make a stable cream takes a bit more effort, involving more ingredients and equipment (a double boiler, for example), which can be intimidating to some. Frankly, though, I have relied on various types of simple, fluffy, cream-based frostings or, more recently, cake creams made with silky, rich mascarpone, for all sorts of frosting endeavors, and for layering cakes. Mascarpone holds up wonderfully at room temperature. It wouldn’t be my first choice at a sweltering midsummer picnic, but then again, what doesn’t sweat, melt or disintegrate when Dante’s Inferno takes hold in North Carolina during July and August? Exactly.

While actual cake recipe options can be a bit overwhelming, I tend to stick with my top three tried and true choices, one of them being this grain- and gluten-free cake recipe that stays fresh and dewy for many days thanks to the addition of yogurt. I have adapted this recipe many times over but this lemony, sunshiny variation — my tribute to springtime — is a family favorite. Goodbye winter, hello spring!

Gluten Free Lemon Cake with Mascarpone Cream

(Makes 10-12 servings)

Cake ingredients

4 eggs

3/4 cup full-fat milk

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

3 cups almond flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

zest of one organic lemon

Frosting ingredients

16 ounces heavy whipping cream

1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered sugar, to taste

16 ounces mascarpone cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350F and line the bottom of two 6-inch springform cake pans with parchment paper. Grease the sides, if needed. Add all wet ingredients to a large bowl and whisk until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients, then add the entire contents to the wet ingredients. Stir to combine and divide the batter between the two springforms. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow cakes to fully cool down, release from springforms and divide each cake into two layers (four total) and set aside.

For the frosting, chill a large mixing bowl (metal or glass) for about 20 minutes. Add heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, then add mascarpone and continue whisking until smooth. Distribute cream evenly between layers and frost the outside of your cake. If the cream feels a little soft, chill for 10-20 minutes and resume working on your cake.   PS

German native Rose Shewey is a food stylist and food photographer. To see more of her work visit her website,



Harbingers of Spring

Return of the red-winged blackbirds

By Susan Campbell

For some, the sound of spring is the song of the American robin, our melodious and most familiar songster. But for me it has always been the sounds of red-winged blackbirds. As a beginning birdwatcher in New York State, migration begins a lot later than here in North Carolina. And some of the first returnees riding the warmer winds back north are red-wingeds. The “chuck”-ing coming from the ribbons of birds as they passed overhead was the very first sign that winter was losing its grip. Not long after, I would be greeted by the first males giving their loud “konk-a-ree!” songs from the tallest of the cattails in the nearby marsh.

Red-wingeds get their name from the bright red epaulets on the wings of the adult males. These patches are actually set off on the black wing by a patch of yellow feathers just below. Otherwise the birds are completely dark. Females, not surprisingly, are quite drab. Their brownish, streaky appearance is superb camouflage against the tall grasses in the wet habitat that they tend to inhabit. Young birds are also entirely streaked, which makes them harder to spot as they learn their way in the world, well into their first winter.

These blackbirds can be found inland in our state year round. However, in the winter months, they gather in large flocks so they are not widespread. Aggregations of thousands of birds can be found closer to the coast from late fall into early spring. But by now, they are returning to local bottomlands, lakes and ponds to breed. Red-wingeds are unusual in that they are a species that is polygynous. Males may have a harem of mates within the territory that they defend. Experienced males will pair with two or more females as early as mid-March. Females will create substantial nests in low vegetation by weaving wet leaves and shoots together to form a dense cup. They will add mud to the inside and then finally line it with fine grasses before laying two to four pale eggs with dark streaks.

Although blackbirds are generally known to feed on seeds, of both native and agricultural origins, in the summer they hunt mainly insects. They are known to probe at the base of aquatic plants with their slender bills and are very capable of prying insects from the stems. Young red-wingeds, like so many species, require lots of protein. It is the mother birds that forage for the family. Males spend most of their time defending their territories from high perches, singing throughout the day and fiercely chasing interlopers that venture too close.

As abundant as these birds may seem to be, their numbers have been declining for several decades. It is likely due to the continuing loss of wetland habitat throughout their range. Additionally, terrestrial predators are on the rise in areas where they breed — including cats. If you have red-wingeds in your neighborhood this spring, consider yourself lucky, and be sure to get out and enjoy their antics as well as that unmistakable song.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to hear from you. Feel free to send questions or wildlife observations to

In the Spirit

In the Spirit

Dissecting a Cocktail

Shannon Mustipher’s Lorikeet

By Tony Cross

When Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails hit the stands five years ago, I had just become familiar with the book’s author, Shannon Mustipher. I found Shannon on Instagram and immediately became a fan. Her extensive knowledge of rum was highly impressive from the get-go, but it was how she was able to get the information across that lured me in. The relatability in her delivery is uncanny. I purchased Tiki right away and couldn’t take my eyes off it.

A few months after ordering her book, I hosted a cocktail class, and one of the drinks I taught was her Lorikeet cocktail. The crowd I was entertaining was a blast and up for anything, so I thought that this rye whiskey-based cocktail, Shannon’s spin on the Jungle Bird classic, would be a treat. The spice from the rye pairs nicely with the banana liqueur, cinnamon syrup and pineapple juice. What I love about this cocktail is how you can convert those who aren’t fans of whiskey while turning on whiskey fans who don’t do tiki.   




2 ounces rye whiskey (preferably Rittenhouse)

1/2 ounce banana liqueur
(preferably Giffard Banane
du Brésil)

1/4 ounce cinnamon syrup

1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

6 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

4 dashes Angostura bitters


Orange twist

Pineapple spears



Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake hard for 5 seconds and strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed or pebble ice. Top with more ice and garnish with orange twist and 2 pineapple spears.   PS

Tony Cross owns and operates Reverie Cocktails, a cocktail delivery service that delivers kegged cocktails for businesses to pour on tap — but once a bartender, always a bartender.

Art of the State

Art of the State

Gateway to Mysteries

John Beerman deeply sees and paints the natural world

By Liza Roberts

Before John Beerman paints a landscape, he studies the place that’s caught his eye and picks a particular day and time. Maybe it’s a low-lit evening in fall, or maybe it’s a morning hour that only exists over a span of days in spring, when the angle and energy of the sun provides a certain glow. And then he goes there, day after day, at that appointed hour, building his painting bit by bit until the moment is over — the hour has passed, the shape of light has changed, that bit of season is gone.

One spring morning not long ago, he arrived at a field at Chatwood, the Hillsborough estate owned at the time by his close friend, the author Frances Mayes. Beerman arrived well in advance of his chosen hour, because it takes some time to set up his easel. He has a wonky system of clamps and slats to hold boards in place that will serve as a perch for both his canvas and his paint. His paint is of his own making, too: It’s a homemade egg tempera, created with pigment and egg yolk that he keeps in an airtight jar.

To accompany him on one of these plein air excursions is to realize that Beerman doesn’t just look like Monet at Giverny, with his straw hat, wooden easel, linen shirt and leather shoes, but that he sees like Monet: He views the natural world with the same kind of reverence. Beerman studies the landscape as if it had a soul, character and moods. He learns its nuanced beauty out of a deep respect — and only then does he paint what only he can see.

“I have always found the natural world a gateway to the greater mysteries and meanings of life,” Beerman says. At a time when the world faces so many problems, he says, “it’s important to see the beauty in this world. It is a healing source.”

Beerman has often ventured to notably beautiful places around the world to find this gateway. To Tuscany in springtime, coastal Maine in summer, the glowing shores of Normandy or the estuaries of South Carolina. Recently, he is choosing to stay closer to his Hillsborough home. “Sometimes I feel rebellious against going to those beautiful places and painting those beautiful sights,” he says. “My appreciation and love of the North Carolina landscape continues to grow. I feel we are so fortunate to be here.”

This year, so far, he has been painting the views from his studio windows. “I am struck by the idea that every day the sun moves across the sky, the seasons change,” says Beerman. “I’m looking at one house in five different versions throughout the day.”

The particular house on his easel now is a millhouse currently under renovation. He has a bird’s-eye view of the millhouse from his second-story studio, but it constantly evolves with the men working on it and the light that suffuses it. What Beerman is painting, though, isn’t “a house portrait,” but an attempt to capture “the luminosity of that particular light.” Also compelling him is the energy of the project at hand: “The guys working on the house are just as interesting to me,” he says, so he has begun to paint them into the scene, even though figures have rarely appeared in his landscapes.

The ability to revisit the subject of his fascination day after day as he completes a painting is a refreshing change, he says. Typically, he’d paint small oil sketches in the field, then bring them back to the studio to inspire and inform his large oil paintings. Here, he can continue to study parts of the house, the men and the project that elude him; he can “get more information” as he goes.

Left, Middle: White House from Studio Winter Sunny Morning, 2024 15.75 x 17.75 in. Oil and acrylic on canvas 

Middle: Winter Dusk from Studio Window, 2024 11.75 x 11.75 in. Oil on linen.

Right, Middle: White House from Studio Winter Morning with Figure, 2024.
15.75 x 17.75 in. Oil on canvas

Right: Rooftop and Trees from Studio, Winter Sunny Morning, 2024 11.75 x 11.75 in. Oil on linen.


But if his proximity to his subject has changed, Beerman’s essential practice has not.

“I’ve always felt a little bit apart from the trend,” he says. “I love history. And one also needs to be in the world of this moment, I understand that. I’m inspired by other artists all the time, old ones and contemporary ones . . . Piero Della Francesca, he’s part of my community. Beverly McIver, she’s part of my community. One of the things I love about my job is that I get to have that conversation with these folks in my studio, and that feeds me.” Beerman’s work keeps company with some of “these folks” and other greats in the permanent collections of some of the nation’s most prestigious museums as well, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and governor’s mansions in New York and North Carolina.

The paintings that have made his name include celebrated landscapes of New York’s Hudson River early in his career (he is a direct descendant of Henry Hudson, something he learned only after 25 years painting the river), of North Carolina in later years and of Tuscany, where he has spent stretches of time. They all share a sense of the sublime, a hyperreal unreality, a fascination with shape and volume, space and light, a restrained emphasis on color and an abiding spirituality.

“Edward Hopper said all he ever wanted to do was paint the sunlight on the side of a house,” Beerman says. “And I so concur with that. It’s as much about the light as it is about the subject.” A painting of the lighthouse at Nags Head includes only a looming fragment of that famous black-and-white tower, but it’s the glow of coastal sun Beerman has depicted on its surface that make it unmistakably what and where it is.

“With some paintings, I know what I want, and I try to achieve that. And other paintings start speaking back to me,” he says. Beerman’s talking about another painting, of a wide rolling ocean and a fisherman on a pier. As he painted it, childhood memories of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, came into play: “In this old rowboat, we’d go over the waves. And in doing this painting, that came in . . .  ahh, maybe that’s where I am. Sometimes it bubbles up from memories that are right below the conscious.”

The rhythm of the work he has underway now suits him well, he says: “I’ve traveled a good bit, but I’m a homebody. I like cooking on the weekends, and making big pots of this or that. I love being able to walk to town, or ride my bike to town.”

And he’s eager to stick close to his chosen subject. “I love the long shadows of the winter light,” he says. “I want to capture it before the leaves come back on the trees. I have that incentive: to get in what I can before the leaves come back.”

Whatever he’s painting, Beerman says he’s always trying to evolve: “One hopes you’re getting closer to what is your core thing, right? And I don’t want to get too abstract about it, but to me, that’s an artist’s job, to find their voice. I’m still in search of that. And at this time in my life, I feel more free to express what I want to express, and how I want to express it. I don’t feel too constrained.”  PS

This is an excerpt from Art of the State: Celebrating the Art of North Carolina, published by UNC Press.

April Bookshelf

April Bookshelf


Table for Two, by Amor Towles

Millions of Towles fans are in for a treat as he shares some of his shorter fiction: six stories based in New York City and a novella set in Golden Age Hollywood. The New York stories, most of which take place around the year 2000, consider the fateful consequences that can spring from brief encounters and the delicate mechanics of compromise that operate at the heart of modern marriages. In Towles’ novella Rules of Civility, the indomitable Evelyn Ross leaves New York City in September 1938 with the intention of returning home to Indiana. But as her train pulls into Chicago, where her parents are waiting, she instead extends her ticket to Los Angeles. Told from seven points of view, “Eve in Hollywood” describes how Eve crafts a new future for herself — and others — in a noirish tale that takes readers through the movie sets, bungalows and dive bars of Los Angeles. Written with his signature wit, humor and sophistication, Table for Two is another glittering addition to Towles’ canon of stylish and transporting fiction.

What the Mountains Remember, by Joy Callaway

It’s April 1913, and Belle Newbold hasn’t seen mountains for seven years, not since her father died in a mining accident and her mother married gasoline magnate Shipley Newbold. When her stepfather’s business acquaintance Henry Ford includes the family in one of his famous Vagabonds camping tours, the group is invited to tour the unfinished Grove Park Inn. Belle is unexpectedly thrust into a role researching and writing about the building of the inn — a construction the locals are calling The Eighth Wonder of the World. As Belle peels back the façade of the inn, the society she’s come to claim as her own and the truth of her heart, she begins to see that perhaps her part in Grove Park’s story isn’t a coincidence after all. Perhaps it is only by watching a wonder rise from ordinary hands and mountain stone that she can finally find the strength to piece together the long-destroyed path toward whom she was meant to be.


The Early Days of ESPN, by Peter Fox

There is a forever dramatic moment on the evening of September 7, 1979, when Peter Fox and colleagues threw the switch to change sports television and maybe even sports forever. This book chronicles the curvy, crazy, giddy days of riding ESPN’s early rocket into business history. It’s about the people, the daydreams and the nightmares.

A Really Strange and Wonderful Time: The Chapel Hill Music Scene 1989-1999, by Tom Maxwell

North Carolina has always produced extraordinary music of every description, but the indie rock boom of the late ’80s and early ’90s brought the state fully into the public consciousness while the subsequent post-grunge free-for-all bestowed its greatest commercial successes. In addition to a slate of excellent indie bands like Superchunk, Archers of Loaf and Polvo, this was the decade when other North Carolina artists broke Billboard’s Top 200 and sold millions of records. A Really Strange and Wonderful Time features a representative cross section of what was being created in and around Chapel Hill between 1989 and 1999. It documents local notables like Ben Folds Five, Dillon Fence, Flat Duo Jets, Small, Southern Culture on the Skids, The Veldt and Whiskeytown.

The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War, by Erik Larson

On Nov. 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the fluky victor in a tight race for president. The country was bitterly at odds: Southern extremists were moving ever closer to destroying the Union, with one state after another seceding, and Lincoln powerless to stop them. Slavery fueled the conflict, but somehow the passions of North and South came to focus on a lonely federal fortress in Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter. Larson offers a gripping account of the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter — a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals.




The History Channel: This Day in History for Kids, by Dan Bova

What could be a more perfect gift for a teacher or a birthday than this fact-a-day encyclopedia?  Packed with tiny tidbits of history, this is the gift that keeps on giving. (Ages 8 and up).

What’s Inside a Bird’s Nest?, by Rachel Ignotofsky

Whether as a coffee table book or as a sit-with-me-read-together, this stunningly beautiful nature book is always the right choice. Lovers of the outdoors will find a treasure trove of information about eggs, nests, birds and the life cycles of our feathered friends. (Ages 4-10).

Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Learns to Ride a Bike, by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

It just doesn’t get any cuter than Frank and Bert, and now Bert is learning to ride a bike. It may be a rocky road — with a few stops for supreme silliness — but these two friends will work it out. Usher in springtime with this fun read-together. (Ages 3-6).

Poemhood: Our Black Revival, by Amber McBride, Erica Martin and Taylor Byas

Just in time for National Poetry Month comes this stunning collection that includes contributions by poets both contemporary and canon. Audrey Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks and Phyllis Wheatley sit on pages beside Kwame Alexander, Ibi Zoboi and Ama Asantewa Diaka. Covering themes of pain and joy, frustration and community, this collection is an important addition to any poetry shelf. (Ages 10 and up).

If You Want to Ride a Horse, by Amy Novesky

Step on up. Hold the reins firmly but loosely. Settle in the saddle, spine to spine, and breathe. If you want to ride a horse, you have to be willing to fly. This lovely picture book anthem is a must for horse lovers of all ages. (Ages 3-8).  PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally.

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

The Color of Music

Symphony of Secrets plucks at the heartstrings

By Anne Blythe

(Photograph By David Bickley)

Brendan Slocumb, a composer-turned-novelist with deep ties to North Carolina, hopes to one day be “the Stephen King of musical thrillers.” That’s what the author of Symphony of Secrets and The Violin Conspiracy told Katie Buzard, an Illinois Public Media arts writer, in a 2023 interview.

With two books in his repertoire from the past two years and a third due out in 2025, the gifted writer is well on pace to keep up with the “King of Horror,” whose first three books were published in a three-year span. Slocumb’s most recent, Symphony of Secrets, has been chosen as one of the 2024 selections for North Carolina Reads, a statewide book club created by N.C. Humanities, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, because of its exploration of “racial, social and gender equity and the history and culture of North Carolina.”

The book is set mostly in New York but features visits to Oxford and the Granville County public library. Building on some of the same themes from his first book, Slocumb continues to explore the torment of institutional and everyday racism in his second as he toggles between the present day classical music world and the 1920s and ’30s in New York.

The novel opens with Frederic Delaney, a deflated early 20th century composer whose plummet from stardom was almost as rapid as his meteoric rise, going through his pre-concert ritual 16 hours before his death — Champagne poured into two glasses and a toast to a photograph of his as yet unidentified collaborator.

We are quickly introduced to professor Bern Hendricks, a musicologist at the University of Virginia who has been consumed with Delaney (a composer of Slocumb’s invention) for much of his life. He knows every piece, all the operas and songs to the most minute detail.

Bern is deep into one composition, enjoying the layering of the alto and tenor saxes over the French horns — and the “French horns’ epic battle with the trombones, when the horns fought for supremacy, but the trombones would, in just seconds, kick their asses” — when he is summoned by the august and influential Delaney Foundation. It’s the organization that shaped Bern’s life from his early days in Milwaukee as a “poor bologna sandwich-eating kid with a beat-up French horn” to the respected academician he has become.

The foundation has uncovered what is believed to be the original draft of Red, a long-lost Delaney opera and an enigma of modern American music. It doesn’t take much coaxing to lure Bern from the Charlottesville campus to the foundation’s plush New York offices, even with the hush-hush of it all. His task is to authenticate Red, the final piece in Delaney’s Rings Quintet, a series of operas inspired by the yellow, blue, black, green and red rings of the Olympic flag.

What he discovers, though, with the help of Eboni Washington — a brilliant, sassy coding whiz from the Bronx — is a gripping history with the potential to destroy both the reputation of the composer Bern idolizes and the foundation interested in preserving an untarnished image of Delaney.

Central to the plot line is one of the most interesting characters of Slocumb’s Symphony: Josephine Reed, a neurodivergent Black woman from North Carolina with a gift for music. She arrives in New York in 1918 with a small, crumpled piece of paper in her gloved hand. We find out why she has traveled all that distance when she rounds a street corner and hears “a trombone, a clarinet and then a trumpet lifting itself up like a benediction, blessing the air with a run of notes that Josephine breathed in like the smell of the earth after a spring rain.”

She hears the sounds of the city — the subways, elevator doors, automobiles, the wind blowing through tunnels — in musical scales. “The wind whistled in a wavering B-flat up to an F-sharp,” Slocumb writes.

What further sets Josephine apart is how she sees music in colors: pinks, blues, greens, hints of brown, red and more. She has an innate vision and makes distinctive doodles on composition manuscripts that lead to the creation of masterpieces for which she never was credited — Delaney was. It was a photograph of Josephine that Delaney saluted shortly before his death.

Reed becomes a captive in an industry that devalues her because of her skin color and uniqueness. Though she eventually sheds her fragility and finds the confidence to stand up for herself, Josephine’s life comes to a tragic end. With her death, the story of the true composer of the celebrated Delaney operas remains buried until Bern and Eboni find a shipping trunk in the basement of one of Josephine’s distant relatives, and the real source of the operatic sensation that won global acclaim is unearthed.

Slocumb, who grew up in Fayetteville and got a degree in music education from UNC Greensboro, plucks at the heartstrings of his readers throughout Symphony of Secrets. In this fast-paced and galvanizing musical thriller, he reminds us that what’s past is, indeed, prologue, that white supremacy, cultural appropriation and access barriers that existed in the 1920s persist.  PS

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades covering city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and many wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place to live.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(March 21 – April 19)

Let’s get right to it: The new moon and total solar eclipse in Aries on April 8 may well clean your fiery little clock. If you’ve been dodging a difficult conversation or wavering on a big decision, ready or not, this cosmic punch will set things in motion for you. On the other hand, if you’ve been showing up for the hard work, trust that the universe is rearranging itself in your favor. But consider adding “patience” to your birthday wish list.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Use your context clues.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

There is no short straw.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Unsecured objects may be dislodged.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

You’re rage-cleaning again.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Look under the couch.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Ever tried binaural beats? Pink noise? Whale sounds?

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Repeat: Tending to my needs helps everyone.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

It’s time to flush the system.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Work from top to bottom.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Three words: peppermint, sage, ginger.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

It is decidedly so.  PS

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla.



Cash on the Hoof

The painted ponies that have been haunting the streets of Southern Pines for weeks now will be sold at auction, online, on Saturday, April 6. Proceeds benefit the Carolina Horse Park. For details on how to do what and when to do it, visit

Jazz on the Grass

Bring a blanket, some folding chairs, a picnic basket and a roll of $20s to enjoy the cash bar and the Hornheads’ Kenny Holmes and his saxophone on Sunday, April 7, on the Boyd House grounds at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines. For information go to

Bloomin’ Is Back

The Garden Club of the Sandhills will reprise its “Blooming Art” exhibition at the Campbell House Gallery, 482 E. Connecticut Avenue in Southern Pines on Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday, April 28, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Juxtaposing floral designs and the work of local artists, the 2024 exhibit will feature interpretations by members of the Southern Pines, Olmsted, Pinehurst, Linden and Sandhills garden clubs, as well as professional floral designers including Carol Dowd of Botanicals Fabulous Flowers and Orchids, Mary Furby of Thistle and Moon, and Bill McPhail of Always Flowers by Crenshaw. Tickets for the event are $20 and available at Sandhills Woman’s Exchange and DuneBerry in Pinehurst, and at J. McLaughlin and the Campbell House in Southern Pines. Tickets may also be purchased at and at the door.

Bipartisanship? You Bet

In 1948 a program to rebuild war-ravaged Europe was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Democratic president. What came to be known as The Marshall Plan, named after its architect, Secretary of State George C. Marshall (who, coincidentally, had become a Pinehurst resident by the time he was named recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953), lasted four years, allotting over $13 billion dollars (roughly $165 billion today) for the reconstruction effort. The Marshall Plan: Against the Odds, an award-winning PBS documentary, is scheduled to be shown at the Sunrise Theater, 250 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines, on Monday, April 29, at 7 p.m. Executive producer Eric Christenson will introduce the film and take questions. Students of history, arise.


One if by Land, Two if by Sunrise

The Sunrise Theater’s “The British Are Coming” April film series features Four Weddings and a Funeral on April 4, Hot Fuzz on April 11, A Fish Called Wanda on April 18, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels on April 25. All shows begin at 7 p.m. at the Sunrise Theater, 250 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines. Here’s to W.H. Auden and french fries up your nose.

Clenny Creek – Heritage Day

The Moore County Historical Association will hold its annual Heritage Day showcasing the 1820s Bryant House and the 1760s McLendon Cabin on Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be tours, farm petting areas, live music and food. The Bryant House is at 3361 Mt. Carmel Road, Carthage. For information call (910) 692-2051 or go to

It Doesn’t Look a Day Over 450

Gather together and you may hear the story of the world’s oldest longleaf pine at its annual birthday bash on Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., beginning on the Weymouth Woods Boyd Tract meadow. There will be turpentine demonstrations, games, food trucks and an exhibition of a prescribed burn — not involving the food trucks, of course. For information visit

Book It

The authors who will be appearing live and in full color during the month of April at The Country Bookshop, 140 N.W. Broad St., in Southern Pines, include Joy Callaway (All the Pretty Places) and Melissa Ferguson (How to Plot a Payback) on Thursday, April 11, at 6 p.m.; Tom Maxwell (A Really Strange and Wonderful Time — The Chapel Hill Music Scene 1989-1999) on Tuesday, April 16, at 6 p.m.; Kathleen DuVal (Native Nations: A Millennium in North America) on Wednesday, April 17, at 5 p.m.; and Jill McCorkle (Old Crimes) on Tuesday, April 23, at 5 p.m. There will also be a virtual chat with Becca Rothfield (All Things Are Too Small) on Monday, April 22, at 12 p.m.

A Rose Is a Rose

David Pike, the owner and president of Witherspoon Rose Culture, in Durham, will speak on the five essential steps in the care of roses in the Burlingame Room of the Ball Visitors Center, Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst, on Wednesday, April 24, at 10:30 a.m. Witherspoon is a third generation-owned company caring for some 80,000 rose bushes in over 2,600 gardens in North Carolina and Virginia. Sponsored by the Sandhills Horticultural Society, registration is required. The fee is $10 for non-members and $5 for members. For additional information go to

Dance Like Everybody’s Watching

One of America’s most famous and dynamic modern dance ensembles, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, makes its debut performance on the stage at the Bradshaw Performing Art Center’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst, on Friday, April 19, at 7 p.m. Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2024, the company has toured the world, performing in more than 600 cities in 66 countries, representing the United States at arts festivals in more than 40 countries, and touring throughout North America, South America, Asia and Europe. Now under the leadership of artistic director Michael Novak, they’ll perform three classic Paul Taylor works, “Airs,” “Syzygy” and “Promethean Fire.” For tickets and more information go to

(photograph by Paul B. Goode)



April in Augusta

Golf’s glorious pilgrimage

By Bill Fields

When the time comes when I don’t get to cover the Masters, I’m sure spending the first full week of April somewhere else will feel strange.

The 2024 edition will be my 39th trip to northeast Georgia in the spring. I’ve been every year starting in 1985 except for 2002, when I was writing a fun story about other places that share the name of the major championship’s host city and visited several of them during Masters week.

Augusta, Iowa, featured the not-so-scenic Skunk River. A course in Augusta, Illinois, had greens the size of a throw rug. I observed a tournament of ordinary golfers on Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Kansas, which meant I missed Tiger Woods successfully defending his title. But I believe that having been on hand when Woods won his first green jacket, in 1997, and his fifth, in 2019, make up for that absence 22 years ago.

Given that it’s a week or so in Augusta on each assignment — I was credentialed as a photographer for the first 11 and a reporter for all the rest — that makes almost 10 months of my life there. Outside of locations where I’ve lived, I haven’t spent that much time anywhere else.

I regret not having taken a photo of the places I’ve laid my head down for those couple of hundred nights in Augusta. In the 1980s, we called the Knights Inn the “purple palace” for the color of the bedspreads and curtains of its “medieval themed” rooms. I spent more than a few nights in rental-house beds usually occupied by small children. A ceiling fan crashed to the floor in a den where we were watching a basketball game on TV. One home in an upscale neighborhood was overpopulated with ceramic wildlife and jungle-cat artwork. I had a Tiger painting on my bedroom wall, on tasteful velvet. In recent years, I’ve stayed in a clean but spartan (no closet, just hooks on the wall) hotel on the western outskirts of ever-growing Augusta.

Whatever the quirks of the temporary quarters for a particular Masters, you’re usually up early and back late. The work, whether with a camera or keyboard, has been rewarding.

I have wonderful memories of my years as a photographer, the satisfying images having supplanted the stress of trying to be in the right place at the right time, at an event where, unlike most golf tournaments, photojournalists must work outside the gallery ropes, finding shooting positions among the large galleries. In a large photo on my wall by friend and longtime colleague Stephen Szurlej — a wide angle of Augusta National’s 18th green as Jack Nicklaus finished his stunning 65 on Sunday in 1986, taken with a remote camera — there I am on the front row of spectators at the rear of the putting surface having scrambled into position on the historic afternoon. You can just see my left arm and hand steadying a telephoto lens and dark brown hair spilling out of a green visor. It was a long time ago.

If I had to guess how many words I’ve written in Augusta over the decades on a deadline of one sort or another, I venture it’s close to 100,000, the length of a novel. Sometimes those words came easily, but on other occasions it was like trying to two-putt from 60 feet on a slick, sloping surface — you’re happy when the task is completed.

I’m glad I got to experience those Masters of the 1980s and ’90s, before so many holes were lengthened in reaction to how far the ball was going thanks to inaction by those responsible for equipment regulation. Sure, things were more manicured than they had been in the 1930s, ’40s or ’50s, but the design was still largely as it had been for Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and some of the other greats who walked the fairways in the mid-20th century or before. Now, the walks from green to tee are longer, less natural. Augusta itself has grown like the course, and it isn’t so sleepy the other 51 weeks a year.

Still, come Sunday evening, after a week when the flowers and shrubs have popped and memorable shots have been played, golf has been the language and currency of a city, and a champion full of pride is filling out a sport coat in that distinct shade of green, what has changed yields to what hasn’t.  PS

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