The Creators of N.C.

Red Clay and Jewels

Jaki Shelton Green captures the beauty and cruelty of humanity

By Wiley Cash    Photographs by Mallory Cash

To read the work of North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green is to know exactly where her inspiration comes from; it comes from the red clay of Orange County, North Carolina, where a little girl leaves footprints in the dirt as she follows her grandmother down to the water’s edge, fishing pole in hand; it comes from the silence of held breath as parents hide their children beneath the pews of a darkened church while the Ku Klux Klan encircles the building; it comes from the peace and grandeur of a community-owned cemetery on a warm winter day when the past, present and future stretch out on a continuum that can be seen and felt. You can open almost any page in Jaki’s numerous collections of poetry and plant your feet firmly on that same red clay, witness the suffocating fear of racial terror, and feel the healing energy of the dead as they gather around you.

I’ve known Jaki for years, mostly as a fellow writer at various festivals across the state. I’ve also hosted her for my own literary events when I needed the kind of in-person power that only a writer like Jaki can bring. To witness her read her poetry is akin to witnessing a god touching down on Earth to opine on the beauty and brutality of humanity. But I had never visited Jaki’s home, nor had I ever joined her on her native soil in Orange County.

When my family and I pulled into the driveway of the neatly kept ranch home where Jaki lives with her husband, Abdul, she immediately opened the door to her writing room and welcomed us with a wide smile. Inside, morning light poured through the windows on the east side of the room. In the center sat a long table where Jaki’s laptop was open as if she’d just paused in her work. Books were stacked throughout the room, not as if they were being stored, but as if they were being read, the reader having taken a break here to pick up another volume there. Art adorned the space: paintings, framed jewelry, sculpture, photographs.

I smiled as my eyes took in the room.

“Jaki, this is exactly where I thought you’d live,” I said.

“You should’ve seen it when I bought it,” she said. “I think it had been condemned, but this was the house I wanted. My family begged me not to buy it.”

It was nearly impossible to believe that this place so clearly suffused with peaceful, creative energy had ever been absent of life, but perhaps that speaks to the regenerative power of Jaki’s spirit.

“Years ago, I bought this house just before Thanksgiving,” she said, “and then I got to work on it. By the holidays I was ready to host our family Christmas party.”

Jaki took a seat at her writing table while my wife, Mallory, unpacked her photography gear. I followed my daughters into the living room, where Abdul set down a small cradle full of handmade dolls for our daughters to play with. He and Jaki have a 3-year-old granddaughter, and they are used to having small children underfoot. Later, as Abdul prepared breakfast for Jaki’s 105-year-old mother, who lives with the couple, he patiently listened as my first-grader shared with him the moment-by-moment intricacies of her school day while my kindergartner crawled on the kitchen floor, answering only to the name “Princess Kitty.”

“How did you and Jaki meet?” I asked him.

He smiled. “I was working in a furniture store, and Jaki came in. It didn’t seem like anyone else was interested in helping her, so I asked her what she was looking for. She said, ‘I don’t need help, brother. I know how to look for furniture.’”

He finally got Jaki to share that she was in the market for a fainting couch, and that only made him more interested in her. “I found out she was a poet,” he said, “and I went to the bookstore and bought some of her books, and then . . . ” He smiled and shrugged as if nothing more needed to be said.

Throughout the house, framed photographs of family members lined the walls, some of them recent pictures of grandchildren, others weathered black and white portrayals of family members who have been gone for decades. Jaki’s voice drifted into the living room, and I could hear that she was talking about her daughter Imani, who passed away from cancer in 2009 at the age of 38. I never met Imani, and I only know her through Jaki’s heartrending poem “I Want to Undie You,” but as I looked at the photographs throughout the house, I wondered if I was seeing photos of Imani at the same moment her mother was evoking her name. Jaki, as if sensing my search, called to me from her writing room.

“Do you want to go out to our family’s cemetery where Imani is buried?” Jaki asked.

“Of course,” I said, sensing that we were being invited into a sacred space. “Will it be OK if I ask you some questions out there?”

“That’s probably the best place for it,” she said.

We left Abdul behind to serve breakfast to his mother-in-law, and Jaki climbed into the passenger’s seat while Mallory squeezed between the girls and their car seats in the back. Jaki turned and looked at them. “So, you girls like jewels?” They nodded, and she opened her hand and dropped gorgeous, polished rocks into theirs.

The private cemetery where Jaki’s ancestors and other community members are buried sits just a mile or so up the road. Forests bordered the cleared land on both sides, and across the gravel road a crane stacked felled trees in a lumber yard, the low rumble of its engine edging through the air.

Jaki and I sat down on a bench that had been placed by Imani’s headstone by Jaki’s two surviving children. Jaki looked at the markers around her, the names on them so familiar that she didn’t even have to read them to know who rests there.

“I will never forget standing out here when my father was being buried, and my mom looked at Sherman (Jaki’s first husband) and me and said, ‘It’s all right, because y’all are going to have a baby next year.’ And we did.”

Jaki grew up in a close-knit community called Efland less than 7 miles away, where two A.M.E. churches anchored the community. Her family members were active at Gaines Chapel A.M.E., and it was there that Jaki was first encouraged to write by her grandmother, even though she wanted to be a scientist or an oceanographer.

“I was fascinated by the stories around me,” Jaki said, “especially what was happening on Sunday morning. As a child I would sit there and make up stories about people, and my grandmother gave me little notebooks to write in. I was very nosy, but I’ve come to understand that writers should be nosy. We should be nosy about everything.”

According to Jaki, she was not only nosy about the people in her congregation, she was nosy about the world around her, constantly asking questions like, “Where does the rain really come from?” and, “What makes dark dark?” You can see the questions in her poetry. In “I Wanted to Ask the Trees,” about the trauma of lynching in Black communities, she writes:

I wanted to ask the trees. do you remember. were you there. did you shudder. did your skin cry out against the skin of my great uncle’s skin.

“I want to tell stories of the South that are being erased and forgotten while reminding people that what’s nostalgic for some Southern writers is absolutely terror for others,” Jaki said. “White people talk about hound dogs in one context, but when we think about hound dogs we think about full moons and lynchings. When people talk about coon dogs, the coon was us.”

When I asked Jaki why she left the South as a young person, she made clear how complicated her exodus was for her and her family. She was kicked out of public school in Orange County for organizing and participating in a walkout after Black students demanded equity during school desegregation. Before readmitting her, the board of education insisted that she sign an affidavit promising that she would not participate in or encourage any acts of civil disobedience. Her parents, themselves active in political and social issues, saw the board’s demand as an infringement on their daughter’s rights. She was readmitted, but being branded a troublemaker made life harder than she deserved.

After being offered an academic scholarship to a Quaker boarding school called George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Jaki headed north. For the first time in her life she was living outside the South and away from her family, surrounded by young people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and classes. “It took me leaving to really look back and see the entire landscape,” she said.

Although she’d written poetry from an early age, leaving home and encountering the work of Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni made clear to Jaki the urgency of putting herself and her people on the page. Though away from home, she understood that life continued on in rural Orange County, the cycles of birth and death and political upheaval and cultural change never ceasing.

“If we don’t tell ourselves who we are, then someone else will tell us who we are,” she said.

Jaki and her first husband returned to the South after starting a family because they wanted their three young children to know their great-grandparents, to experience their wisdom and love, to know the place that had forged the lives of their ancestors.

Sitting in the cemetery where so many of those ancestors and Jaki’s daughter have been laid to rest, Jaki is clear-eyed about the journey that saw her exiled from public school in Orange County to visiting public schools across the state as North Carolina’s first Black Poet Laureate.

“There’s nothing magical about how I’ve arrived at this place,” she said. “It’s called working hard. It’s called having determination about what you want, and really knowing who you are.”

The little girl who wanted to be an oceanographer became a writer instead, still asking questions about the world around her, still investigating it, continuing to draft poetic reports on the place she has always called home, the landscape where inspiration takes root and ideas are born, nurtured, and recorded.

Wiley Cash is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, is available wherever books are sold.

The Accidental Southerner

Edgar Allan Poe

Overcoming the misfortune of being born in Boston

By Nan Graham

One truth about the South can be found in Truman Capote’s famous quote: “All Southerners go home sooner or later . . . even if it’s in a box.” So too, I believe, it is true that once in the South, Northerners — or those from someplace else, as I call them (to avoid the Y word) — become “Accidental Southerners.” Even if here temporarily, they are profoundly and sometimes unconsciously affected by the haunting strangeness of our part of the world.

One such person is Edgar Allan Poe. Though born in Boston in 1809, Poe traveled the Southern theater circuit with his actress mother, Elizabeth, down the Eastern Seaboard from Norfolk to Charleston. She may have even played at Thalian Hall in Wilmington. I like to imagine toddler Edgar and his siblings in tow backstage. Later, the orphaned Edgar grew up in Richmond, Virginia, with foster parents, the Allans. Though New England born, Poe always considered himself a Southern gentleman.

A student in the first class at the newly opened University of Virginia under its founder and president, Thomas Jefferson, Poe was a good student but a wretched gambler. His foster father’s refusal to pay off his gentleman’s debt (a serious violation of a gentleman’s code of honor) resulted in the young Poe being ousted from the university. He eventually joined the Army, served in South Carolina as a private, then returned to college at West Point.

His career at West Point was as brief as that at UVA. First semester he received 44 offenses and 106 demerits. His second term shows a lack of improvement: In only a month he managed to accumulate 66 offenses. And the final straw? The story goes that Edgar Allan Poe showed up for “a dress parade wearing only his cartridge belt . . . and a smile.” The incident remains undocumented, but persists to this day, perhaps because it’s a great and hilarious anecdote.

Mr. Allan left the impoverished Edgar out of his will despite having left a sizeable inheritance to his illegitimate son . . . a son he never met.

Poe’s contribution to American literature cannot be discounted as a mere writer of horror stories. His impact on American letters is major. His is the first authentic American voice among the young country’s other writers whose works were, for the most part, pale imitations of Europe’s literature. He is the first original American author and the first widely famous Southern author.

Among his accomplishments, Poe wrote the first detective story (and detective, Inspector Dupin) in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” inventing the genre we are addicted to even today. His ratiocination (what a word!), a method of solving a mystery by logical deduction and reason, cleared the path for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.

Poe was the very first American literary critic. He was also an early developer of the short story form. “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” remain classics.

Why his claim (and mine) that he is a Southerner, despite his Boston birth? Mother Elizabeth had the good sense to die in Richmond and thus sealed Poe’s fate to be brought up a Southerner. Reared by his foster family in Richmond, he always considered himself a Virginian.

Women have been long idealized in the South, and few writers have been more obsessed with women than Poe. He lost his mother, wife and foster mother to tuberculosis. According to Poe, the death and loss of a beautiful woman was the most elevated of all subjects for poetry and literature. We see this theme repeatedly in his works: “Annabel Lee,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Berenice” and “The Raven.” The writer’s focus on lyricism and language usage is also very Southern.

Much has been written on Poe’s sense of place, famous in Southern literature. His setting for “The Fall of the House of Usher,” in the phantasmagorical and swampy tarn, could be the low country South at its creepiest. Poe knew the Carolina low country. His short story “The Gold Bug” is set in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, where he was stationed as a soldier — an island which today sports names like Raven Drive and Goldbug Avenue to honor the poet.

My last reason that Mr. Poe is really a Southerner?  He married his first cousin when she was 14. I won’t even touch that one!   PS

After 25 years of broadcasting commentaries for Wilmington’s PBS station, 40-plus years of teaching, and authoring two books, storytelling is still a passion for Nan Graham.


Love, American Woodcock Style

There’s hope for the pudgy and short-legged

By Susan Campbell

February is the month for love and, for the American woodcock, this is certainly the case! By mid-month this pudgy, short-legged, long-billed bird of forest and field is in full courtship mode. However, most folks have no clue since their unique singing and dancing occurs completely under the cover of darkness.

American woodcocks, also called “timberdoodles,” are cousins of the long-legged shorebirds typically found at the beach. Like plovers, turnstones, dowitchers and other sandpipers, these birds have highly adapted bills and cryptic plumage. Woodcocks, having no need to wade, sport short legs that they use to slowly scuffle along as they forage in moist woods and shrubby fields. This behavior is thought to startle worms and other soft-bodied invertebrates in the leaf litter and/or just below the soil surface. Their long, sensitive bills are perfect for probing and/or grabbing food items. And camouflaged plumage hides woodcocks from all but the most discerning eye.

Speaking of eyes, American woodcocks have eyes that are large and very uniquely arranged on their heads. They are very high up and far back, allowing them to see both potential predators above as well as food items in front and below them.

Beginning in late winter, male American woodcocks find open areas adjacent to wet, wooded feeding habitat and begin to display at dusk. They alternately do their thing on the ground and then in the air. A male begins by walking around in the open area uttering repeated loud “peeent” calls. He will then take off and fly in circles high into the sky, twittering as he goes. Finally, the male will turn and drop sharply back to the ground in zigzag fashion, chirping as he goes, and then begin another round of vocalizations.

In the Piedmont and Sandhills of North Carolina, displaying begins on calm nights in December. Some of these males are most likely Northern birds that have made the journey to the Southeast for the colder weather. They may just be practicing ahead of their real effort — in early spring back up North. Regardless, females visit multiple spots where males are known to do their thing before they choose a mate. So, it behooves the males to display as often as possible to impress as many females as possible during the weeks that they are on the hunt for a mate.

Although long hunted for sport, it was Aldo Leopold, the renowned conservationist, who implored sportsmen to better appreciate these little birds. They are well adapted for a forest floor existence, hidden from all but their mates come this time of the year. And, on rare occasions, from birdwatchers keen on getting a glimpse of the American woodcock’s antics.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted at

In the Spirit

Just the Two of Us

Cocktails you don’t have to post on social media

By Tony Cross

This month is for the couples. Yes, love is in the air . . . or is it the sound of greeting card and chocolate companies rubbing their hands together, ready to rake in millions? Maybe it’s both.

Regardless, Valentine’s Day is one of, if not the busiest nights of the year if you’re in the restaurant business. I always recommend not going out the night of. Chances are, the establishment of your choosing will be slammed, the menu will be limited (and probably overpriced), service will be spotty, and you’ll feel rushed. Instead, go out the weekend before or after and, on Valentine’s Day, stay home and cook.

Making drinks together can be fun, especially if you keep it simple. Below are some suggestions for you two lovebirds to tackle. The first is very valentine-y. The rest are uncomplicated and varied — a little something for every romantic taste bud.

Bitter French

This is a cocktail from bartender Phil Ward. It’s a subtle spin on the classic French 75 cocktail. The addition of Campari gives this drink a slight bitter flavor, which tastes incredible. If I happen to have strawberries in my fridge, I’ll muddle one while whipping this up. It’s a nice compliment to an already great classic.

1 ounce Plymouth gin (It doesn’t have to be Plymouth, but know that this gin is soft and not very juniper-forward. You know, juniper . . . the reason people who hate gin, hate gin?)

1/4 ounce Campari

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Dry Champagne or any dry sparkling wine

1 grapefruit twist

If you’re going to include a strawberry, muddle in a cocktail shaker. Shake all ingredients (minus grapefruit twist and Champagne) with ice, then double-strain into a Champagne flute or cocktail coupe. Top with Champagne. Express oils of grapefruit twist over cocktail and discard.


The original recipe from this classic only calls for three ingredients: cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice. However, to me, adding just a touch of rich simple syrup gives this cocktail a better mouthfeel.

2 ounces cognac (Remy Martin works fine, but use Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac if you can get it)

3/4 ounce Cointreau

3/4 ounce lemon juice

1 barspoon rich simple syrup

Rich simple syrup: Combine two parts sugar to one part water in a pot and stir over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Let cool and refrigerate. It keeps for up to a month.

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard for 10 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail coupe. No garnish.

Brandy (or Gin) Alexander

This is a classic dessert cocktail. If cognac isn’t your thing, substituting gin makes this drink worthwhile. May I recommend Sutler’s Spirit Co. out of Winston-Salem? When it comes to crème de cacao, please don’t use the cheap stuff. You can get Tempus Fugit’s online if it’s not available in your local ABC store. Trust me, the difference is well worth the time in ordering it. When using gin, I like to keep the recipe equal parts, but feel free to play around with the measurements.


1 1/2 ounces cognac

1 ounce crème de cacao

1 ounce heavy cream



1 ounce gin

1 ounce crème de cacao

1 ounce heavy cream


Combine all ingredients (minus nutmeg) with ice and shake hard until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Grate nutmeg over cocktail.

Dark ‘N’ Stormy

Easiest drink on the list. Grab a bottle of Gosling’s Dark Seal Rum, quality ginger beer, a few limes, and you’re good to go. If you want to try something different, Jeffrey Morgenthaler has a great little recipe using Chinese Five Spice. Google it.

2 ounces Gosling’s Dark Seal Rum

4 ounces ginger beer

Lime wedge

In a Collins glass, add rum, fill with ice and top with ginger beer. Squeeze lime wedge over drink before adding. Give a brief stir with a spoon and enjoy.


Some of you may be rolling your eyes, but have you had a proper Cosmo? This drink is no joke and, if made correctly, it’s strong and delicious. There are many versions out there and this is mine. To any of you guys or gals who have already sworn off making this because of its pink hue, remember, it’s just a damn drink.

1 1/2 ounces citron vodka (If you’re like me, and only have a bottle of Belvedere in the fridge, that’s cool, too.)

3/4 ounce Cointreau (You may substitute Grand Marnier, but if so, scale back to 1/2 ounce — to me, it’s a bit rich.)

1 ounce cranberry juice (Ocean Spray is just fine.)

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Lime wheel (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake hard until chilled. Double strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish that bad boy if you’d like.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.


Driving for Dumplings

When you’re running on empty

By Jenna Biter

We hit the foodie jackpot one afternoon almost two years ago. It was a bitter, wet day. Icy rain pelted the already frozen streets of Chapel Hill. We shuffled down unsalted sidewalks, trying not to slip while hastily searching for shelter. “Dim sum! Let’s go there,” I said, pointing to a red neon sign with a bloodless, frostbitten index finger.

My husband, Drew, and I ducked into the dive, sloughed off our coats and plunked down at a four-top beneath a black and white wallpaper of what I assumed was historical Shanghai. After a flip through a laminated menu, Drew ordered the orange chicken, I opted for the sesame, and we picked dumplings to share — a No. 1, the pork soup dumplings.

I dove in. One of the dumplings burst in my mouth. “Oh, hot, hot!” My internal temperature wheeled from frigid to blistering. I immediately poked for another. The flavor was so full and delicious the scalding liquid couldn’t stop me. “How do they get the soup in there?”

Drew wasn’t listening. “I’d request these for my last meal,” he said.

“Pork soup dumplings — so good, it’s impossible not to moan while eating them,” a Yelp review said.

Recently Drew attended a going-away party at some watering hole next to a Food Lion in a strip mall. We moped inside, sacrificing our introverted couple’s night for The Electric Slide blaring above a dance floor sardined with people wearing glow-in-the-dark free-drink wristbands — an atmosphere fit for a reboot of The Twilight Zone. There was a stale smorgasbord of plastic baskets with tater tots, limp French fries and soaking-wet wings.

We glanced at each other, down at our watches, back at each other.

How long do we have to stay? said his eyes.

Without being rude? my eyes replied.

“An hour,” I said.

Drew did the mental calculations. “An hour and a half to Chapel Hill gets us there at 8:30.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Dumplings?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “It’ll be late, but . . . ”

A colleague slipped out the door, breaking the invisible seal. We were in his wake, thanked him for the cover, and dashed to our truck. By 8:40, we plunked down at our four-top, waved away the menu and ordered our usual: pork soup dumplings and a few dishes in a supporting role.

“Oh, hot, hot!” I yelped, the dumpling bursting in my mouth as I poked around for another. “How do they get the soup in there?” I asked.

“I’d request these for my last meal,” Drew said between slurps.

The restaurant was empty except for a family of three socially distanced and catty-corner from us. “We’ll take an order of the pork soup dumplings,” the man said.

“Sorry,” the waiter replied. “We’re out.”

My dumpling slid sadly down my throat. What does he mean, ‘Out?’ How could that be? The magical little pouches are no different than any other dish. I believed down in my gut that pork soup dumplings materialized by wizardry or a magical snap of the fingers.

The man’s shoulders sagged.

“Do you normally run out this time of night?” His wife asked.

The waiter nodded. “Usually after 8.”

I stared at Drew. “We drove an hour-and-a-half to get the last order,” I whispered. He raised his eyebrows and snatched another dumpling between his chopsticks.

“Lucky us.”

And always worth the gamble.  PS

Jenna Biter is a writer, entrepreneur and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at

Illustration by Meridith Martens

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Say what you will about Aquarians. That they’re headstrong. Paradoxical. Emotionally detached. But if there’s one thing to admire about this enigmatic air sign, it’s that they’re hell-bent on seeking the truth. In other words: You won’t find them drinking the Kool-Aid. This month, cut your favorite water-bearer some slack as they navigate some rather turbulent tides. Give them space. Give them time. They’re sure to come out shining.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

At this point, suffering is a choice.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Does the word “squirrel” mean anything to you?

Taurus (April 20 – May 20) 

With great risk comes, well, you’ll see.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Two words: trigger warning.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

No need to intervene. Read that again.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Yes, it’s shiny. Very shiny. But is it merely a distraction?

Virgo (August 23 – September 22) 

Eat the cake.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Ask again later.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Just walk away. It doesn’t matter what they think.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Let the candy hearts do the talking.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Put your phone on silent. It’s time for some “you time.”  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. 

Golftown Journal

It’s a Llamaversary

Talamore’s trademark is in its fourth decade

By Lee Pace

When Philadelphia businessman Bob Levy ventured into the Sandhills three decades ago to launch a golf venture halfway between the Pinehurst Resort bastion to the west and the Pine Needles/Mid Pines juggernaut to the east, he was savvy enough to understand the need to have a clever and engaging marketing hook.

Levy remembered a story in Golf Digest in the 1970s about Chi Chi Rodriguez playing a course in Mexico with his golf bag strapped across the back of a donkey and thought a similar beastly caddie idea might work at Talamore Golf Club. He did some research and learned that a llama would be a better idea for the climate of the Sandhills, and thus Talamore opened in 1991 with golfers having the option of hiring a llama to schlep their golf bags around the Rees Jones-designed course.

Photographs of the llamas doing their thing appeared in hundreds of newspapers and golf publications as the club opened its operation just off Midland Road, halfway between Pinehurst and Southern Pines, and Levy’s marketing staff later created a logo featuring the outline of a llama with a flagstick emanating from his midsection. Displayed in green and yellow, the mark had a striking resemblance to the map-and-flag trademark of a certain golf club in Augusta, Georgia.

Talamore staff thought it something of a badge of honor when the club received a cease-and-desist letter from Augusta National’s legal team. The llamas are no longer used as caddies, but they reside in a pen near the 13th green and are a popular diversion and “selfie” fodder for visiting golfers.

“Everyone knows our llama logo,” says director of golf Tag Leon. “We still use it — just not in green and yellow. We were not going to do battle with those guys. But it’s a cool image. We’ve sold a lot of merchandise with the llama over the years.”

Talamore and its sister property on the north side of Midland Road, Mid South Club, were 1990s entrants to the Sandhills golf derby, playing off a bustling golf economy nationwide and the burgeoning popularity of an area that hosted a U.S. Open, U.S Senior Open and U.S. Women’s Open that decade.

Talamore was conceived as a daily fee/resort course amid the early 1990s golf boom and remains so today. Mid South is a 1994 Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay creation originally known as Pinehurst Plantation and planned as the centerpiece of a gated residential community. It changed owners in the early days and was later rebranded as Mid South, and then picked up by Levy in 2004 as a companion course to Talamore. Mid South remains a private club, but guests in the hundred lodges built over two decades at the two addresses have access to the course.

Both courses and the club facilities have undergone extensive renovations in the 2016-17 window, each now sporting Bermuda greens and updated dining and drinking facilities.

“I’ll put our two courses up against anyone,” says Matt Hausser, the general manager over the two courses who started as an assistant golf pro in 2003. “Both courses are in fantastic shape — fast greens and good fairways. It’s a great one-two punch. Mid South has a lot more water, and Talamore has more rolling topography and makes you play a lot of shots. You get a different feel at each course.”

Rees Jones has extensive personal history in the Sandhills and remembers as a kid staying at the Holly Inn when his father, noted architect Robert Trent Jones, visited to attend golf architect meetings and work on the redesign of Pinehurst No. 4 prior to the PGA Tour visiting in 1973, and on the collaboration with Willard Byrd on the design of the Cardinal Course at the Country Club of North Carolina. Rees designed Pinehurst No. 7 in the mid-1980s and immediately afterward was commissioned by Levy for Talamore, the name coming from a Gaelic word meaning “land of great value.”

“Anytime you get an offer to design a golf course in Pinehurst, you get pretty darn excited,” Jones says. “I couldn’t wait to come back here and do Talamore. The land is very rugged. It has an awful lot of character. It lent to a very dramatic golf course. Strategy is a big part of the game at Talamore. In Pinehurst, you’ve got to build character and challenge, there are so many good golf courses.”

The Mid South course winds around a half dozen lakes, the most noteworthy the one providing the anchor for the ninth and 18th holes and the double-green complex. The par-5 ninth runs right-to-left and downhill into the green, and 18 turns left-to-right into the green. There’s a safe approach on both holes and a more aggressive line as well. The clubhouse sits on a plateau overlooking the green complex and the lake.

“This is a dynamite golf course,” said Seay, Palmer’s longtime design associate who lived in the Sandhills area from 1964-68 while working for Ellis Maples on the design and construction of the Country Club of Whispering Pines and Woodlake Country Club. “It’s everything a golfer could want. It’s one of the best we’ve done. Every hole nestles right in. From one hole to the next, you do not find a similar piece of ground. The variation in contour is remarkable for an area thought to be flat. That’s one of the charms of this golf course.”

Mid South and Talamore operate a golf packaging business and can house golfers in villas clustered around the clubhouses and set golfers up with tee times at other area courses. Golfers are feted in-season with Monday and Thursday night pig-pickings at Talamore, and in 2022 Talamore will have installed 10 Toptracer stations and a short game area with a 12,000-square-foot putting green. The new amenities will turn the practice range into part game emporium and part sports bar, giving golfers an interactive and social experience during twilight and evening hours.

“We can sleep 400 people on property,” says Hausser. “We’re giving them more reasons to get on property and stay on property. It will be a great hangout spot.”

Consider the irony: Toptracer’s ball-tracking technology and array of virtual golf courses allow a golfer to tee it up on many world-renowned courses. Imagine playing the harrowing par-4 fourth on Pinehurst No. 2 from a virtual hitting bay just 3 miles away. Pinehurst and its U.S. Open venue have a lot of history, for sure, but Talamore and Mid South are forging new ground in remaining relevant. PS

Golf writer Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills since the late 1980s and has authored a dozen books about clubs, courses and the people who’ve made it special over more than a century.


Triple Play

The North Carolina Symphony will begin in tranquility and shift into high-octane energy in its “All Strings” concert featuring three selections: Novellette No. 1 by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst; and Souvenir de Florence by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The performance will be Thursday, Feb. 3, at 8 p.m., at the Robert E. Lee Auditorium, 250 Voit Gilmore Lane, Southern Pines. For tickets and more information go to

A Chance to Be Presidential

The Carolina Philharmonic presents Presidential Keys featuring David Osborne’s romantic piano offerings at the Bradshaw Performing Arts Center, Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst, on Saturday, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m. Osborne has performed at the White House for Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama. For additional information call (910) 687-0287 or go to

Another Classical Sunday

The Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities will continue its Sunday music series on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. with University of North Carolina School of the Arts faculty Kevin Lawrence on violin and Dmitri Shteinberg on piano in the great room of the Boyd House, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines. Cost is $25 for members and $35 for general admission. For more information go to

It’s Not Yellowstone, But…

The painted ponies will stampede — if stampeding can take a couple of months — through the streets of Southern Pines for another year. These imaginings of 16 artists will graze all of February and March and will be auctioned off to the highest bidder on April 9. Proceeds benefit the Carolina Horse Park. For further information visit

Freedom Fighter

Bestselling author Kate Moore will talk about her book The Woman They Could Not Silence, the story of Elizabeth Packard who, betrayed by her husband of 21 years when he has her committed to an insane asylum, fights for her own freedom and the freedom of others. Moore will discuss her book on Tuesday, Feb. 22, from 2 – 3 p.m. at The Pilot, 145 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Southern Pines. For information call (910) 692-3211 or go to

Try, Try Again

Postponed in January, poet and N.C. Literary Hall of Fame member Marsha Warren will present “Freedom Park: The Inspiring Story of How a Monument to Freedom is Built while Confederate Statues are Coming Down” on Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines. The cost is $15 for Weymouth members and $20 for non-members. For further information go to

Puppy Love

Roll over and join the “Furever Yours” Valentine’s Day Gala hosted by Caring Hearts for Canines on Friday, Feb. 4, from 6 – 9 p.m., at the Pinehurst Resort, 1 Carolina Vista Drive, Pinehurst. The cost is $60 for a night of dancing, good food, adult beverages and a silent auction to support the dogs rescued by Caring Hearts. For more info visit

The Naturalist

The Bucket List Fish

The wish of a lifetime comes true

Story and Photographs by Todd Pusser

I suppose my bucket list is different than most. Firmly in the grip of middle age, with likely more life behind me than in front, my list has remained constant since the days of my youth. Unsurprisingly, for those who know me, most of the items revolve around natural history in some form or another, and frequently involve travel to remote locations to see rare or poorly known animals. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to check off a few items from the list but one, in particular, holds a special place above all others.

It all started back in the early 1980s when, as a 12-year-old kid, I stumbled upon a photo in National Geographic Magazine of famed shark researcher Eugenie Clark, clad in a wetsuit and scuba tank, grasping the tall dorsal fin of a whale shark off Baja, Mexico. Such behavior is frowned upon today but, back then, the sight of a person grabbing onto the world’s largest fish and taking it for a ride a hundred feet below the ocean’s surface, down into the abyss, sparked my imagination. I wanted more than anything to see a whale shark in the wild, and above all else, I wanted to swim with one, up close and personal, in its own element.

Fast forward to 1996. While standing on the flying bridge of a research vessel over 100 miles off the west coast of Florida, I encountered my first whale shark. The shark, nearly 40 feet in length, cruised gently beneath the placid surface of the Gulf of Mexico, its white polka-dot body practically glowing in the brilliant blue water, as it passed by within a stone’s throw along the starboard side of the ship. To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. I was completely over the moon with joy, having seen the beast of my youthful dreams.

Over the following 25 years, I encountered the immense fish a dozen more times in such varied locations as Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and, once, off the coast of my home state of North Carolina. However, all of my sightings were made from the vantage point of steel decks on large ships, high above the surface of the sea. I never had the opportunity to actually get into the water and swim with these amazing animals. My National Geographic moment eluded me, until recently.

Isla Mujeres is an island located off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It is here, in the clear blue water surrounding this tiny speck of land, that the largest known gathering of whale sharks on the planet was recently discovered. Upon learning this, my partner, herself a marine biologist, and I hopped onto a plane and headed south to observe this phenomenon for ourselves.

Capable of reaching lengths of over 45 feet and weights approaching 15 tons, a whale shark owes its common name to its immense size. Admittedly, it’s a name that can be quite confusing to the average person. Is it a whale or a shark, or some strange hybrid between the two? A whale shark is in no way related to the warm-blooded mammals known as whales, but rather is a cartilaginous fish — one of over 530 species of sharks currently known to science.

Understandably, some may question the sanity of wanting to swim with a fish the size of a school bus. However, whale sharks have extremely small, pointed teeth, and feed primarily on zooplankton and tiny fish, unlike the more carnivorous habits of their famous cousin, the great white shark.

Whale sharks flock to the waters off Isla Mujeres each summer to feed on the eggs released by spawning schools of false albacore tuna. A thriving tourist industry has built up in the area, and thousands of people have experienced the thrill of swimming with these gentle giants.

During our week there, we encounter well over 300 whale sharks, an astonishing number for such a rare fish. Though global whale shark populations are unknown, the species is considered endangered. At one point, as our boat drifted quietly on the calm Caribbean Sea, we could see whale sharks, with their immense polka-dot dorsal fins breaking the water’s surface, clear out to the horizon.

Donning a mask and snorkel, I finally have the opportunity to slip into the water among the sharks. Lying motionless at the surface and staring out into the infinite blue, I find myself unconsciously humming the theme to Jaws.

After a few minutes, near the edge of my vision, a dark shape appears. As it nears, I take note of the large mouth set on the front of a square-shaped head, and an immense body covered in a unique pattern of white spots. Powered by a tail spanning over 10 feet from tip to tip, the enormous fish swims closer and closer. Raising my underwater camera, I frame the shark in the viewfinder and press the shutter as it swims by within arm’s reach, completely ignoring me. Never before have I been so close to such a large creature.

Enthralled and feeling more than a bit humbled, I continue to watch the leviathan as it swims slowly out of sight, disappearing into the infinite blue void — a childhood dream, carried nearly four decades, finally realized.  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

Look Gnomeward, Angels

The secret life of Rassie Wicker Park

By Claudia Watson     Photographs by Laura L. Gingerich

It was dawn, the hour when the sun’s rays bloom golden through the forest treetops and the birds speak to an invisible world. The air was chilly and leaves crunched underfoot as I stopped to pick up a hawk’s feather tangled in wisteria along a trail in Rassie Wicker Park. Over the bridge and into the woods, I followed the tiny brook into a naturalist’s nirvana — an area to explore, lush with native ferns, fluorescent moss, inkberry, sweet pepperbush, laurels and hickory.

Minutes later, the woods fell silent when a jay’s squawking signaled alarm. I checked my surroundings and was drawn to a path the deer had shaped through a jumble of vines and briars. Working my way through, I found the massive upturned hollow base of an ancient hickory festooned in lichens. I placed my hands on a large burl to steady myself and peered into the dark cavity.

Staring back at me was a diminutive chap with a long white beard wearing a well-worn yellow cowboy hat. He had a slight hitch in his gait, presumably because he wore only one blue boot, on his left foot.

I pulled back, not sure of what I was seeing.

“No need to be fearful,” he said with a wink. “My name is M.T. Chamber and a hundred thousand welcomes.” He pointed to a nearby log. “Please, stay and sit for a while.”

I obliged, though I’m not sure why.

Without warning, the hollowed-out stump suddenly became a lively amphitheater. Dozens of colorfully capped tiny beings appeared out of nowhere, waving their hands, and welcoming me.

“We’re forest gnomes,” explained Chamber, charmed I believe by my wonder and confusion. “A subrace of the common gnome,” he clarified.

“What’s with the colorful hats?” I asked, believing as I did until that very moment that all gnomes wore only green or red.

“We forest gnomes prefer to take on the colors of our world — the pokeweed, the walnut hulls, and those pink, purple and yellow flowers at the Big Garden. They all make unusual dyes. Our friends, the foxes and squirrels, donate the fur we weave into our hats, where we keep our most prized possessions,” he said, giving a firm tug to the wrinkled brim.

“Some in our clan are 200 years old,” he boasted. “As a poet of some renown, I use my gnome de plume, M.T. Chamber, but in the community, I’m called Hop Along.” He pointed to his one bare foot.

Strum Stetson, alias Tex — a noted songwriter, I would learn — took center stage and sang his hit single “Gnome, Gnome on the Range.” It’s a ballad recalling a treacherous journey by ship over the Great Water and later by wagon to this woodland, Rassie Wicker Park, the land they’ve called home for eons. Curious and impulsive, these pocket-sized gnomes take up adventuring and jubilantly eke out a life wherever they land.

Now, nearly 100 forest gnomes inhabit the park, from the verdant valley edges of Board Branch brook and the magnolia garden to the upland zones of the longleaf pine savanna. Their primary purpose is to nurture and protect the Earth, including animals and humans.

Underground burrows and holes in old trees provide cozy homes. They share an elaborate tunnel system with their friends — moles, mice and rabbits — and use it for inconspicuous travel within the realm. Aside from their work as craftsmen and tending to the forest, they spend their days gathering mushrooms, nuts and berries for the long winters.

A voice hollers from the side. “Don’t mistake us for all work and no play. It’s dancing, singing, and telling jokes we love,” says Frobby, the ale-maker. “You missed the winter solstice celebration at the Great Moss Stump where we soaked up the last of the warm sunshine.” Maybe next year.

Then, Chamber told me, to celebrate the New Year and, in lighthearted recognition of their characteristic large noses, they held their annual snoring contest, aided by abundant ale consumption. This year’s award went to Tolkyn Snuddlemoor, the clan’s storyteller.

The gnomes go where their impulses lead them but remain respectful to others in the clan. They promote peace in the domain and are rarely ensnarled in disputes. However, on occasion, human activity may need to be addressed. That falls to the village elders, who meet irregularly up on The Hill. Since settling in the forest, most members of the gnome clan rarely make their presence known. But there’s always the exception.

“Some people carry an unusual energy,” Chamber explained. “We’ll observe them to determine if they’re a threat or if they’re peaceful. The elders decide if we should make contact, like today.”

Chamber pointed to a fellow in a broad-brimmed orange hat. “That’s Milkweed. He keeps watch at the Big Garden. There’s been a lot of digging activity there, which was of great concern. But they’ve cleared out the litter from the old landfill and planted an abundance of flowers and trees. They’re good stewards of all the living creatures — bees, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, little frogs, and, of course, gnomes.”

Chamber jumped from the tree to stand beside me. He removed his big yellow hat and pulled out a translucent rock that glowed like the sun.

“It’s come a long way,” he said, placing the rock in my hand. “It’s a treasure from our homeland to the guardians of the Big Garden and offers great protection. Keep it safe. Put it under your hat.”

With a boisterous toast to our meeting and a hoisting of ale, the gathering of gnomes was gone as suddenly as it appeared. Staring into the quiet dark of the hollowed stump, I knew the true magic that fills this realm.

Though the gnomes of Rassie Wicker Park are tiny, they have extraordinary power unique to the enchanted realm. Remember, they are shy. They will use their fade-away power and disappear if they are spotted, leaving only a figurine behind. Once you pass, their spirit will return. Enjoy the moment of discovery, and let it bring you joy. But please leave the figure behind so others can experience the same delight.

If you’re lucky, here are some members of the gnome clan you may see.

M.T. Chamber

Aliases: Hop Along, Boot

Height: 2 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, yellow hat

Expertise: Cowboy lore

Special abilities: “Hop Along” has trouble walking, but he is good at herding caterpillars. He is a renowned poet who authors cowboy poems and enjoys reciting them in the Ale Hall.

Strum Stetson

Alias: Tex

Height 1 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and closely cropped beard, yellow Stetson-type hat, brown boots

Expertise: Songwriter

Special abilities: Writes and sings his own original country music ballads. Though Tex has never been to Texas, he hopes to make it as far as Nashville one day. His first ballad, “Gnome, Gnome on the Range,” remains popular today. He recently released “Country Roads, Take Me Gnome” on tiny streaming services.

Pollyanna and Dollyanna

Aliases: Sin Twisters

Height: 2 1/2 inches, each

Forest gnomes, female, flowing golden hair, coin and gem necklaces, red hats, blue dancing shoes

Expertise: Dancing, singing, teaching, joy

Special abilities: These twin sisters are affectionally called the Sin Twisters for their ability to turn bad into good. They embody the original spirit behind Rassie Wicker Park, transforming “Going to the Dump” into “A Walk in the Park.” Though once believed to be a sinful waste of energy, these active sisters prove that dancing is a terrific exercise for the body and uplifts the soul.

Frobs Dreazielbub

Aliases: Frobby, DZ

Height: 2 inches

Forest gnome, male with an ale gut, white hair and goatee, ruddy nose, droopy yellow hat, orange boots

Expertise: Ale maker extraordinaire

Special abilities: Frobby is often welcoming friends to his Ale Hall, located one street off the main trail. He’s known for his uncanny ability to identify any ale from smell alone. When he has a new batch, he holds raucous parties and invites the whole neighborhood.

Hagby Bukwert

Alias: Haggy, Mustachio

Height: 1 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, red cap, brown-as-the-mud boots

Expertise: Nature Trail Inspector

Special Abilities: After a rainstorm, he enlarges minor trail washouts until they are repaired by park maintenance. Haggy perches in a tree hollow near the pavilion to observe morning dog walkers and Tai Chi participants. One member of the Tai Chi group has an identical beard, mustache, and cloak but no hat, so some gnome affiliation is suspected.

Forrest Fahrenheit

Alias: Sparkie

Height: 2 inches
Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, a flushed purple nose, red Fire Chief hat, yellow boots

Expertise: firefighting, flame dousing, hot stuff

Special abilities: Forrest Fahrenheit is Rassie Wicker Park’s First Responder. He is on 24/7 alert to keep the forest safe from the dangers of fire. He shuts down out-of-season fireflies or the unexpected appearances of old flames. Young couples need to heed him if they let sparks fly, or he may show up to douse the flames.

Officer Krumpke

Alias: Occifer

Height: 1 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, shaped like a fire hydrant, white hair and beard, wide-brimmed green hat, navy blue boots

Expertise: law and order and policing the park

Special abilities: Officer Krumpke is punctual and begins his daily patrol outside the police station on the long brick trail. Though he seldom finds problems, when he walks the west side, he befriends youthful gnomes who gather around him, dance wildly and sing funny songs.

Chauncy St. Richland

Alias: Mayor

Height 2 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, dark green pointy hat with a perforated brim, blue boots.

Expertise: Forest treasure preservation

Special abilities: Top elder of the forest gnome clan, he can be found perched in the central office up on The Hill where he works on the day’s essential business activities before mixing with the community to share his wisdom and advice, sometimes over a mug of ale. He inspires all to save and protect the forest’s treasures.


Alias: Wiz

Height: 2 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, orange pointy hat with an exciting twist, and green boots.

Expertise: fortune-telling, astrology

Special abilities: The Wiz is the Professor of Prophecy. A world-class astrologer and seer, he obtained his advanced education at Avignome University in France. While other soothsayers read tea leaves for guidance, the Wiz, being of the forest, prefers to read pinestraw for inspiration. “One day others will also consult the pinestraw,” he predicts.


Alias: Milkweed

Height: 1 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair, beard, wide white mustache, orange sombrero, tightly laced black boots to keep the fire ants from biting his feet.

Expertise: Caterpillar farmer and butterfly identification

Special abilities: Milkweed spends most of his time in the Big Garden. He roams the area by foot (versus the tunnel system) to watch the native flora and fauna. Sometimes he works on his balance skills while standing atop the big rock. He enjoys visiting with the butterflies and shows the monarchs the freshest milkweed. He assists in their first training flights before migrating to Mexico.

Sir William

Alias: The Bard

Height: 2 1/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair, pointy white beard and mustache, ruffled collar, black hat with a small white feather, black boots.

Expertise: Playwright and author

Special abilities: Sir William writes Elizabethan plays and organizes performances for the community, held at the Amphitheatre-in-the-Round at the old hickory stump. Nearly everyone in the forest gnome community has had a role in his plays. An early work, “Gnomio and Juliet,” received wide acclaim and, disturbingly, became an animated film. The attention caused him to be more careful with his manuscripts. He’s working on a new play about the inner conflict of a little piglet who ponders life’s choices as he matures into a Hamlet.

Pursey Moneypocket

Alias: Jingle

Height: 2 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, tall yellow hat with its crown pulled forward, black boots.

Expertise: Treasure collection and preservation

Special abilities: As a coin collector and silversmith, Pursey descends from an ancient line of numismatists. A close friend of the mayor, they spend long hours talking about the treasures of the forest. Weather permitting, he sheds his clothes and frequents wishing wells and garden fountains, diving for coins that were offered in exchange for a wish.

Tolykn Snuddlemoor

Alias: Tall Tales

Height: 2 1/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, green hat with a bulge at the top, yellow boots.

Expertise: Storyteller

Special abilities: At dusk, he travels between tree hollows to visit the children and read gnome adventure tales from the book that he hides under his cap. This calms the children as they snuggle for bed. He’s also been spotted at the Ale Hall where he rehearses his tall tales with his friends.

Bernie Family

Alias: Beanie’s Bunch

Height: 1 inch to 2 1/2 inches

Forest gnomes, male, female, animal

Expertise: Family business

Special abilities: Melanie is the milliner and Bernie is the haberdasher. They design and sell gnome hats, offering a variety of styles — plain, patterned, buckled, buttoned, pleated, or puckered. The hats are guaranteed not to frizz, fuzz, or fade. Buster Brown, the pig, and Tagg, the dog, welcome shoppers.

Claudia Watson is a regular contributor to PineStraw and The Pilot. A special thanks goes to M.T. Chamber, the poet and potter, who wishes to remain anonymous.  PS