Small Gifts

There’s an old saying that good things come in small packages. So do amazing acts of kindness

By Jim Moriarty     Photographs by Tim Sayer

It’s the season of our better angels. But warmheartedness isn’t only expressed by that larger-than-usual tip or that unexpected check and, thankfully, it doesn’t appear just once on a calendar. Our communities are populated by the generous of spirit who give without fanfare and often go unnoticed, though never unappreciated. How fortunate are we to live in a land of small kindnesses? There are not enough pages in this magazine during an entire year to show everyone who helps with their hands or their time or their talents. What follows is a tiny slice of that circle, a sliver of grace, shown here to represent the rest. You know who your are, and so do we.


Tom Burke

Tom Burke is a specialist. He specializes in bonding.

Burke and his wife, Trudy, moved to Pinehurst from Boston 24 years ago after touring the South looking for just the right spot to retire. She was a registered nurse, and he was a salesman for a trucking and shipping company. Intending all along to work a while longer, when they got here she took a job at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. “I was looking through The Pilot and saw that Pine Needles Golf Club was looking for semi-retired people who could walk four to five miles a day,” says Tom. “Exercise, that’s what I wanted.” That’s what he got. Then, one day, Trudy came home from the hospital and said they were looking for volunteers to rock babies.

Fresh from the experience of rocking his own grandson, Burke was keen on the idea. “I went over and applied,” he said. “It’s wonderful. It’s really very soothing.” Of course, baby-rocking is but a tiny subset of the huge number of volunteer jobs at the hospital — and a coveted one at that — but no one does it better than Burke, who has logged 993 baby-hours since 1998. “They give me whoever’s cranky,” he says with a smile. “I get there at 2 o’clock. Get my gown on. Wash up and scrub. I sit down and they put my baby in my arms and I rock them for two hours. It’s unbelievable. I would say 85 percent of the babies are asleep within five minutes. Even the ones that have problems. You can feel it, as soon as they put them in your arms. It’s strictly the human bond. We just completely relax.”


Ken Loyd

Ken Loyd learned to play the piano as a boy in Momma Gaddis’ house in Atlanta. “I would sit down and just plunk out melodies, or try to,” says Loyd of the rickety old piano in his grandmother Kate Gaddis’ living room. “My father heard me playing two of his favorite songs, ‘Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech’ and ‘Dixie.’ I was just playing them with one finger but he thought I had possibilities.” That led to 10 years of lessons. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, Loyd took a job teaching third grade at Farm Life School, a career that lasted 33 years. The piano became a teaching tool. It’s also a gift, one he shares in the lobby of FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital’s Outpatient Registration.

Loyd began volunteering to play at the hospital shortly after the piano was donated in 2000, before he quit teaching. “I’d leave school as soon as I could because there wasn’t much point playing there after 5 o’clock,” he says. “When I did retire, I started coming in the mornings. This is a nice balance in my life. I volunteer at some nursing homes, too. Do sing-a-longs at two or three places.

“This sort of distracts people from the medical reasons they might be there,” he says. “I think it gives them a little bit of comfort, a little peace of mind. I don’t know what people’s favorite songs are, but after playing for 57 years, you do sort of know the kinds of music that appeal to people.” He’s got a playlist that’s over 300 songs long.

“I probably see more smiles than the doctors do.”


Peggie Caple

Some people help with a hammer and a screwdriver. Peggie Caple wields a deft ballpoint pen. Caple, who still lives in the house she built next door to where her parents lived in West Southern Pines, worked in the Sandhills Community Action Program in Carthage, the Moore County Schools and at Sandhills Community College, where she was the director of financial aid, retiring from the college after 21 years. A hospice volunteer for over a decade, Peggie began working with the Sandhills/Moore Coalition for Human Care six years ago screening and assessing need.

“I love it because that’s helping people who are in need in our community,” she says, sitting at a table in the basement of the Trinity AME Zion Church, another beneficiary of her service. “The applicants come in and I talk with them and see what we can do to help them. We provide food, free clothing and sometimes some financial assistance. But it has to be an emergency, a real need. We want to help them get on their feet. People who have lost jobs or for some reason their life has gone downhill and they just need a helping hand. I enjoy working with an agency that offers that helping hand.”

Christmas is her favorite time of year. “I wish we could have Christmas all the time,” she says. “People seem much nicer. A little nice goes a long way. I welcome that.”


Tom Palmquist

Sometimes stuff just needs to be done, and when it does, Tom Palmquist is your guy. After a 20-year management career in Flint, Michigan, working directly for General Motors and another 10 for subsidiaries of the Chevrolet division, Palmquist and his wife, Carol-Ann, retired to Pinewild following the recommendation of some friends from his native western Pennsylvania. “We moved here shortly after retirement, built a home and moved in May of ’02,” he says. Palmquist began volunteering at Community Presbyterian Church but got hooked on the Boys and Girls Club after just a few visits, and now routinely puts in as many as 300 hours during the course of the year.

“They’re doing a great job with kids,” he says. “They have so much energy. You go in there when the kids are in there; it’s just unbelievable. They’re working so hard to move that energy in a positive direction with all kinds of reinforcement. I just think it’s an excellent program.”

Palmquist reinforces with a paintbrush. “A lot of it comes down to painting,” he says, laughing at his handyman role. “We painted the interior of the old building, for the most part. And I painted for them down at the facility they use in Aberdeen. And repairing things. Ping-Pong tables. They had a sign out at the end of the street between the ballfields on Morganton Road. The hurricane blew it right out of its frame and broke it. So, I’m working on that. I have it at home in my garage, trying to patch it, see if I can save it and put it back where it belongs. Things come loose here and there. Shelves. I don’t know that you can call it carpentry work. I’m not an expert. And I don’t get into anything like electricity or plumbing. A flashlight with three batteries is about my limit.”


Stephen Fore

Food trucks are all the rage these days, but few ever dished up more manna than What’s Fore Lunch? When Hurricane Matthew devastated the interior counties of North Carolina, Stephen Fore, a Southern Pines native, local chef and food truck entrepreneur who got his first Easy Bake Oven when he was 5 years old, hit the road for Lumberton.

Fore got a call from Ron Scott, a local attorney who had been sending supplies to Rock Church of God. “I’m up early. I get the message at 4:30, by 6 a.m. the ball is rolling,” says Fore, who talked to store managers at Fresh Market and Lowes Foods. “Within 2 1/2 days, we started serving. We got there at 10:45 Saturday morning and by 1:30 we had delivered 650 plates. People who didn’t have power. People who were displaced from their homes. They were getting put up six to a room in a motel. So, we did a spaghetti plate dinner with green beans and yeast rolls. Coke and Pepsi donated 600 sodas.”

With the anonymous backing of a local doctor, Fore returned a week later. “We said we’d be serving by 4 o’clock. A mother with about a 6-or 8-year-old daughter and a son walk in at about 3:35. We’re doing cheeseburger, mac and cheese, green beans, yeast rolls, just another big spread. So, this mother comes in a says, ‘Is it time yet?’ Someone says, ‘No, honey, we’ll be ready in about 20 minutes.’ We’re running back there. To get food ready for 800 people in about an hour is tough. I brought some extra chicken, so I ask, ‘Can I make you a sandwich or something?’ The mother looks at me and says, ‘That would be awesome. My daughter hasn’t eaten today.’ It was 3:30 in the afternoon. I make a chicken sandwich. The little girl comes back about five minutes later, says that was the best chicken she’s ever had and she wants to know if she could have another one. I said, ‘Sweetheart, you can have as many as you want.’”

It’s a long way from over. Fore is trying to raise money by Dec.15 so the kids affected by the flood in Lumberton can have something resembling a Christmas. “They have nothing. Literally nothing.”


James Johnson

James Johnson grew up in the Bronx, New York, but in March 1971, he was in the 196th Infantry, a member of the Americal Division, fighting to stay alive at Chu Lai, a base in Central Vietnam. “We tried to get them to let us go back in the field but they wouldn’t let us go,” says Johnson, a Purple Heart recipient. “Three-thirty in the morning we got overrun but we held the hill until we could get out.”

A disabled veteran, Johnson volunteers an hour a day, making food pickups in his white Toyota truck for the Boys and Girls Club, delivering kindness in cardboard boxes. “I go to Fresh Market five days a week, pick up at 10 in the morning and I’m back by 11 o’clock. I do Outback and Bonefish on Tuesday. Every other week I do Olive Garden,” he says.

It’s all part of the plan. “Let them see that there’s more important things in life, there’s a lot of skills and jobs out there you can get,” he says. “You don’t have to do drugs. You don’t have to be around bad people. Go somewhere where you can learn something.

“Help somebody else that’s in need,” he says. “It’s like in the war, the Vietnamese people needed food. When you had extra canned goods, you would give it to them. You see how the little kids run up to you and they speak to you. You’ve got something nice, you just turn it loose. You’re not looking for anything in return. Like the Lone Ranger would do. ‘Hi-Ho, Silver. Away!’ You came to do a good deed and you took off. And that’s the way it is with me. I just come to do something good and go away. I’m not looking for anything in return.”

Photo by John Gessner

Richard and Inge Hester

Having moved from Jeffersonville, in southern Indiana, seven years ago to get closer to the grandkids in Carthage, Richard and Inge Hester fell in love with a little red building with a long handicap ramp. It’s the one in back of the Sandhills/Moore Coalition for Human Care, where they’ve been ringing up bargain priced treasures and necessities — not necessarily in that order — two days a week for the past six years.

“We fell in love with the Barn, if you can believe that,” says Inge.

“I do the lifting and carrying,” says Richard.

“I’m the finance manger,” says Inge. “He doesn’t really care about the cash register.”

Not all the castoffs that come through the Pennsylvania Avenue door are in, well, pristine condition. Richard pulls a vacuum cleaner out of the corner to show it off. “I took that home,” he says of his private workshop. “Cleaned it completely. Put a new bag in it. Test it. Make sure it works. I sold a Dyson this morning.”

“Twenty-five dollars,” says Inge. “You can’t beat that.”

Richard honed his skills working for Caterpillar Inc. for 33 years. “I like to tinker,” he says. “There’s a testing area back there where I test VCRs, stuff like that. Small appliances, I take home and fool with. I can’t pass a tool up. I’ve got wood lathes. An old chair comes in, take it home, fix it up. Bring it back.”

Anything that hangs around too long goes on the ‘free’ table. “If we have to haul it to the dump, then we have to pay for it,” says Richard. Money is supposed to come in, not go out.

The niche they fill is need. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in it,” says Inge. “It’s a good cause, a really good cause.”  PS


How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? – Dr. Seuss

Nature Whispers

According to Celtic tree astrology, those born between Nov. 25 and Dec. 23 draw wisdom from the sacred elder. Highly intelligent and energetic, elder archetypes are known as the “seekers” of the zodiac. Variety is this sign’s spice of life, but they’re most compatible with alder (March 18 – April 14) and holly types (July 8 – August 4).

Narcissus — aka daffodil — is the birth flower of December. Those familiar with the Greek myth know that Narcissus was a beautiful hunter who fell so deeply in love with his own reflection that it killed him. Speaking of hunters, the sun remains in the astrological sign of Sagittarius (the Archer) until the winter solstice on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Consider gifting your favorite Sagittarian with a potted daffodil, a vibrant spring perennial that carries messages of rebirth, clarity and inner focus.

December birthstones include zircon, turquoise and tanzanite — all blue, the color of communication and truth. In 2001, a 4.4 billion-year-old piece of zircon crystal was found in Jack Hills, an inland range north of Perth, in western Australia. Known as the “stone of virtue,” this ancient stone offers grounding and balancing energies to those who wear or carry it.

Kissing Bough

The ancient Druids believed that the mystical properties of mistletoe could ward off evil spirits, while Norse mythology rendered it as a symbol of love and friendship. ’Tis the season, and nothing spells romance like cutting a sprig of it from the branches of a sacred oak, apple or willow. During the early Middle Ages in England, mistletoe was used to ornament elaborate decorations made of holly, ivy, rosemary, bay, fir or other evergreen plants. Kissing boughs, as they were called, symbolized heavenly blessings toward the household. If you find yourself standing beneath one with someone you adore, consider it a heavenly blessing indeed.

Winter Solstice

As we approach the winter solstice — the longest night of the year — we look up to the planets and the stars to gain insight into the final hours of 2016. The Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 13, until the earliest hours of Wednesday, Dec. 14. Although a full moon will make viewing conditions less than ideal, the possibility of sighting upward of 120 meteors per hour is reason enough to add the Geminid shower to your list of things to do this month. You’ll also want to note that Mercury goes retrograde from Dec.19–31. This will be a good time to review plans and projects. Test your soil. Think about next year’s garden, reflecting on the crops that fared well — or didn’t — in 2016. Consider waiting until Mercury goes direct on Jan. 1 to order seeds.

I Heard a Bird Sing

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December.

A magical thing

And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring

Than we were in September,”

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December.

— Oliver Herford, From Welcome Christmas! A Garland of Poems
(Viking Press, 1955)

Home for Christmas

Worldwide religious art backdrops the holiday in Whispering Pines

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner


Centuries before Santa, Rudolph, Alvin and Frosty, decorating for Christmas meant festooning the Madonna, Baby Jesus and saints with ribbons and greenery. The custom endures at the lakefront residence of Emi and Colin Webster.

“Christmas is a religious holiday, after all,” Colin observes, still allowing a 13-foot tree to dominate a living room with an 18-foot ceiling.

Now, their sons grown, only one small St. Nicholas remains.

Aside from respecting the sacred, the Websters’ interest springs from art collected while living, working and traveling the globe. For openers, Emi was born in Chile of British/French/Chilean lineage, schooled in England, Argentina, Germany and Switzerland. She met Colin, of a similar Scottish/European background, in kindergarten, in Chile, where their parents had attended each other’s weddings.

“Then we went our separate ways,” Colin says. He reconnected with Emi, an advertising executive, on holiday in Spain in 1986. They married the following year, honeymooned in Wales (where the collecting began) and settled in Chile.

“Before that, I had a bachelor’s pad,” Colin continues. After marriage “I looked at life differently.” Subsequently, as an executive at Proctor & Gamble and other multinationals, Colin was posted on six continents with artifacts to prove it.


Made sense to acquire treasures, small and enormous, while employers subsidized shipping.

But with such glamorous options, how did they land in Whispering Pines, on a 4-acre peninsula jutting into Lake Thagard?

After an early retirement Emi and Colin (who had also lived in Miami) investigated places to settle. Colin’s father purchased a house in Southern Pines in 1980; Emi and Colin visited often, deciding that after 13 moves and many schools the U.S. was better for their sons’ education. They bought a home in 2001, later 100 acres with the intent to build, which they decided would involve too much maintenance. Then one day they saw a For Sale sign on the prime peninsula property and snapped it up based on the view, knowing the house could be transformed — an understatement, since Colin, bored with retirement, had become a home-builder familiar with the finest materials and workmanship, while Emi had turned to real estate brokerage.

No architect or interior designer was required to almost double the existing 3,500 square feet by extending the footprint beyond the core and rearranging interior space to suit their needs and fit their furnishings, which include two glass-topped coffee tables with turned bases made by Colin. By working round the clock, the renovation and additions were completed, unbelievably, in 30 days, while the family lived on the upper floor.

“I didn’t have a kitchen so we ate take-away for a month,” Emi recalls.

The finished product includes park-like landscaping, a saltwater pool, pool house with dining area.

Colin’s method: Never start without a plan in hand. Don’t figure out as you go. Living in the house for several years had uncovered what needed changing. Being an accomplished woodworker helped. When Colin couldn’t find the right mantel he built one.

The result appears rather formal, slightly European, described as British Colonial, with Georgian overtones and a flash of Latin fire, yet comfortable — a place where the dog can stretch out on a sofa upholstered in High Point.

“This is how we grew up, surrounded by Spanish things,” Colin says. “You develop an affinity for them.”


Their most treasured “things,” however, remain museum-quality art, with Colin and Emi enthusiastic docents: A Peruvian Madonna painted, in part, by Jesuits in the late 1600s dominates one living room wall facing an equally massive archangel over Colin’s mantel. Shelves and tables hold santos — figurines of saints common in Catholic South America. Another Peruvian Virgin Mary greets guests in the entrance hall, while a wall niche resembling a shrine displays a French Madonna flanked by Venetian lanterns.

Colin brought back exquisite Russian Orthodox icons during an era of political unrest, when their value had plummeted, also Byzantine/Greek paintings and triptychs originating in churches or monasteries.

Colin is especially proud of a 16th century Spanish bargueno, or traveling desk, with carved and inlaid olivewood drawers, that would travel with a nobleman’s retinue.

From farther east they obtained a hand-sewn Egyptian panel, brass and copper urns from an Arabian bazaar. In the family room, built-in shelves hold their collection of pre-Columbian pottery.

Persian rugs on polished cherrywood floors delineate paths from area to area.

America, their adopted homeland, has not been neglected. In his office, Colin, a Civil War buff, displays a camp chair with battle names, including Appomattox, carved into the frame; also a Union Colt musket and functioning post-Confederate “machine gun” with bullets, manufactured in 1898 — one of only 10 in the U.S.

Delft liquor-bottle miniatures representing houses in The Hague, once given to passengers on KLM, and Royal Doulton Toby face jugs from Colin’s grandmother line the shelves of a kitchen hutch.

The kitchen itself, with a clear sight line past the family dining room to the lake, is more restrained than luxury food preparation palaces. Colin added panels to the serviceable 24-year-old double Sub-Zero and used a smooth electric cooktop instead of the requisite Viking or Wolf gas range. But two oversize ovens were necessary for Christmas and Thanksgiving meals attended by family and guests, served from a dining room table with a garland running down the center, composed of berries and greenery, designed by Carol Dowd of Botanicals.

“Emi likes things that are very natural, organic,” Colin says. “We use wreathes and put tons of greenery (alongside) their stuff,” which complements the ecclesiastical mode better than glitter.


Decorating the skyscraper tree with ornaments commemorating family events, topped by an angel from Germany, takes about two days. Magnolias and fresh flowers are added before the Websters’ famous Christmas party, where the space accommodates 100 guests.

On Christmas Eve the family gathers for a traditional Argentinean breaded veal dish and mince pies imported from England. Christmas morning, Colin and Emi sleep in while the boys unload their stockings, including ones for Bantu, the dog, and Panda, the cat. Later in the day, while the surround sound system plays Christmas music inside and out, guests arrive for a turkey (sometimes ham or roast beef) dinner ending with flaming English Christmas pudding.

Decorations stay in place until Twelfth Night, Jan. 6, when they are packed and stored, leaving the Madonnas, Magi and santos on their own.

“Afterward, the house seems so empty,” Emi says. Because, although they call their home Amancay, after an Andean day lily, . . . this is a house built for Christmas.”  PS

Lady of the Pines

How Southern Pines artist Doris Swett created the most enduring image of the longleaf pine, leaving a legacy of helping others in her native Sandhills

By Bill Fields

Two weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, on a front page dotted with war-related stories — the death of a Navy sailor from Vass, donations for the Red Cross, requests for civilian defense volunteers — The Pilot’s Dec. 19, 1941 edition looked different for another reason too.

Gone was a banner of a captain and county map inside a ship’s wheel that had been used as the newspaper’s banner for a dozen years. The nautical theme was replaced with a nameplate that better reflected the publication’s location and also added some cheer at a grim time.

“In due keeping with a festive Christmas season,” the newspaper wrote, “The Pilot this week dons a new banner heading and nameplate, especially designed for the paper by a local artist who has won fame for her etchings of long-leafed pines of the Carolinas and Florida. Miss Ruth Doris Swett, Southern Pines native and daughter of the late Dr. William P. Swett, one of the county’s pioneer builders, executed the original drawing of the pine needles, the compass and the map of Moore County which will adorn the top of The Pilot’s front page from now on.”

Swett’s creation, debuted between pleas to buy defense stamps and bonds on a paper that sold for a nickel, was a stylish upgrade from the cliché clip-art look of its predecessor. For generations of residents and visitors, the pine bough-adorned nameplate — whose map included the hamlets of Samarcand, Jugtown and Niagra — symbolized the Sandhills like Midland Road, Stoneybrook or yielding to the left on Broad Street.

That Swett could connote such an effective sense of place when The Pilot commissioned her to revamp its look 75 years ago was no surprise. She was part of one of Southern Pines’ foremost pioneering families. Weary of Northern winters, Dr. Swett and his wife, Susan, moved to Southern Pines in 1892, only five years after the town was chartered. In addition to his medical practice, Swett, a Vermont native, grew peaches, organized the Southern Pines Country Club and was a leader in Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Ruth Doris, known to family and friends by her middle name, was born in Southern Pines on Jan. 11, 1901, the youngest of five children. Two of her siblings died young: Mabel Lois was only a year old when she passed away in 1898; William Louis passed away at 16 in 1907.


After Susan Swett’s death in 1915, Dr. Swett married Grace Moseley, in 1918. “Aunt Doris was very young when her mother died, and her father was very concerned about her being by herself,” says Doris’ great-niece, Mary Ruth Prentice. Sadly, it was a short union. While Doris was attending St. Mary’s School in Raleigh, Dr. Swett died suddenly of heart failure at age 67 on April 13, 1921, as he was rousing guests from their rooms at the Southland Hotel when a fire ravaged downtown Southern Pines, destroying a block of wooden buildings.

The Medical Society of North Carolina had a meeting later that month in Pinehurst, where another Sandhills physician, Dr. W.C. Mudgett, praised Swett. “He was sincere, ethical, honorable, despising that which suggested commercialism,” Mudgett said, “forgetting himself and considering only the greatest good for his patients . . . He died in the very manner in which he had expressed the hope that his final summons might come: still active, still in service.”

Doris and her stepmother grew very close, the duo once going on a two-year grand tour of the world before the Great Depression devastated the family finances. “They were well-off, and then they pretty much got wiped out,” says Prentice, who inherited some of the poetry books her great aunt purchased on her global adventure. “Her stepmother, ‘Molee,’ we called her, was a lovely lady. She became blind, and Aunt Doris really took care of her in her last years.”

Despite the family traumas, Doris Swett developed into a serious and talented artist. She studied at Chouinard Art Institute in California and the Art Students League of New York, and under painter and lithographer Margery Ryerson and South Carolinian Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, a leader in the Charleston Renaissance. William Charles McNulty, a printmaker and editorial cartoonist, was also an influence.

Swett worked in various media but specialized in etching, The Pilot reported in a 1935 story, “after inspiring associations with George Elbert Burr in Arizona.” Burr (1859-1939) was a well-regarded American artist known for his Western landscapes who did illustrations for Harper’s, Scribner’s Magazine and Frank Leslie’s Weekly. Swett came to know Burr after he settled in the 1920s in Arizona. The desert and mountain vistas of his adopted home were frequent subjects for his drypoint, a printmaking method in which an artist scratches an image on a metal plate — often copper — with a diamond-tipped needle, or stylus.

Like Burr, Swett focused her drypoint on familiar scenes, the tall trees of her native North Carolina as well as central Florida, where she sometimes wintered and for a time taught etching at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Swett’s art was frequently mentioned in The Pilot’s pages during the mid- to late-1930s and early 1940s. The Sandhills Book Shop sold prints of her work. “Etchings including her distinctive Pines,” read a 1938 advertisement for the store in The Pilot. “We have them in many sizes, suitable for framing, or for gift cards.”

During this period, Swett’s work was exhibited in Charlotte, New York and Boston. One of her etchings of western North Carolina served as the frontispiece for a 1936 book on Beech Mountain folk songs and ballads. That spring, her drypoint prints were part of a show at the Smithsonian National Gallery in Washington, D.C., where Swett drew high praise from critic Leila Mechlin, former longtime editor of The American Magazine of Art.

“Without restricting herself to any one kind of tree, Miss Swett has undoubtedly specialized in transcribing the long-needle pine of the South and has done it beautifully,” Mechlin wrote in the Washington Evening Star. “There is something very graceful about these typically Southern trees with their tall straight trunks and magnificently tassled heads. But they are not easy to etch, for they combine both strength and softness. Their long leaves are like needles, but against the sky they appear as soft as velvet to the touch. It is just this combination of strength and lightness that this young etcher gets in her plates — especially in prints showing single branches and plumed twigs.”

Eighty years after Mechlin’s favorable critique, Denise Baker, a Whispering Pines artist who works in drypoint and is a retired Sandhills Community College art instructor, agrees.

“Her drypoints are exceptional,” Baker says. “I feel her style was very indigenous. It was very much like a sense of place, where she was at the time. It takes physical strength to do a drypoint because you have to get the needle down in the metal but still have that fluidness of line, which she was so very good at.


“The woman had to have incredible strength to do the beautiful work in that medium,” Baker continues. “If you’re a painter, you get to watch it in progress. But when you’re working on a metal plate, until you put the ink on and it goes on the press, you don’t really know if all those hours you’ve spent are coming to fruition.”

Swett put aside her art to concentrate on caregiving and church in the post-war years, her younger relatives recalling a generous spirit.

“She was extremely kind,” says Prentice, who grew up in Red Springs. “Of the three great aunts who would come visiting, she always made you feel important — your dolls, your stories were important. She was a very elegant and soft-spoken lady, very loving. I never saw anger in her.”

Swett’s great-nephew David Barney remembers her as a quiet person, smart, with a keen sense of humor. “She had been a fine tennis player at one time,” he says, “and you could tell she had been an athlete. I didn’t spend a lot of time around her, but I admired her and wish I had known her better.”

For many years Swett lived with her stepmother and an aunt, Alice Southworth, in Briarwood, a rambling Spanish Mission-influenced house on Weymouth Road in Southern Pines that had been built as a seasonal residence for Southworth. Filled with antiques, the home had a central skylight in a sitting room but lots of gloomy corners.

“My younger brother and I loved roaming around that house,” says Prentice, “thinking we could find treasure or hidden places.”

Swett died at age 65 in Moore Memorial Hospital, on April 12, 1966, of a heart attack, two days after being admitted. She was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery alongside her parents and other family members, including her stepmother, who had passed away three years earlier. “Extremely shy and retiring,” The Pilot concluded in its obituary of Swett, “she literally devoted herself to helping others in a mission of kindness and quiet piety.” Swett’s sister, Katherine, the last surviving child, died at 80 in 1968.

Following Doris Swett’s death, her Pilot nameplate remained in use for another 33 years. In a typographic makeover of the newspaper, The Pilot replaced the Swett design starting with its Sept. 2, 1999 edition. An updated map inside a compass, sans a pine drawing, was utilized. “We’ve introduced a bolder, simpler nameplate,” wrote then-editor Steve Bouser, “taking care to preserve the flavor of the old.”

Three of Swett’s drypoints — “Florida Pine,” “The Lone Palm” and “Long Leaf Pine” — are in the Fine Prints collection of The Library of Congress. Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill has Swett’s “A Winter Park Pine” and “Via Tuscany Pines” in its collection. Several Swett prints have sold at auction in recent years for between $100 and $500. At a reunion about a decade ago, relatives chose as dozens of their great-aunt’s signed prints were divided up among family members.

“One of my cousins brought lots of pieces and we all were able to get something,” says Barney. “I’m really glad that happened, because it’s extraordinary stuff — the delicacy and form of my aunt’s work is really wonderful.”

And it appeals because of more than technique.

Says Prentice: “I was born in Pinehurst. I look at those longleaf pines, and it takes me right back home.”  PS

Oh, Christmas Tree!

How North Carolina became the fertile crescent of the Fraser fir

By Ross Howell Jr.

Chances are the tree you decorated for your home this holiday season is a descendant of natives in the North Carolina mountains.

The Fraser fir, Abies frasieri, owes its name to an enterprising, “indefatigable” botanist, a Scotsman named John Fraser (1750–1811). Fraser was born in Tomnacross, near Inverness, Scotland, and moved to London in 1770. There he pursued various trades before — through frequent visits to the Chelsea Physic Garden, founded in 1673 as the Apothecaries’ Garden — he hit upon his true interest, horticulture.

Fraser took up a career in botanical exploration and collecting. After returning from his first voyage to Newfoundland in 1780, he founded a commercial nursery in London to sell the plants he brought back. On later expeditions he trekked the Appalachian mountains, following Native American hunting and trading trails, becoming the first European to discover the Rhododendron catawbiense, which he was able to propagate in England, selling the plants for “five guineas each.”

During his career Fraser would travel the world, locating plants for clients as diverse as William Aiton, the director of  The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to Catherine the Great, empress of Russia. Fraser is credited with introducing his eponymous fir, along with about 220 other plant species from the Americas, to Europe. His sons continued in their father’s business, and his grandson John would be elected a member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The firs John Fraser discovered grow wild only at high elevations — 3,900 feet and higher — in the Appalachian chain from northern Georgia to southwestern Virginia. Mature trees may reach a height of 30 to 40 feet. Their needles are flattened, like the native hemlocks growing at lower altitudes. From September through November, they bear cones upright on their branches, like candles on a nineteenth century Christmas tree.

North Carolina is the center of the Fraser fir’s habitat, and that’s important. According to, trees can be found wild in nine counties of the Old North State, but in only one county in Georgia, and in only two counties in Virginia and Tennessee. That’s it.

Sadly, like our native hemlocks, Fraser firs are under attack. The number of trees in the wild is being diminished by acid rain, by air pollution, and especially by nasty little creatures called balsam woolly adelgids (whose equally nasty cousins have put native hemlocks at risk). These insects have wiped out whole stands of the Fraser fir, leaving behind only “skeleton forests” on the high slopes of the mountains.

Of course, we don’t clamber over bare rock faces on the steep pinnacles of western North Carolina to harvest Fraser firs today. Remember I said it was likely the tree in your house is a Fraser fir? Just how likely is it?

The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association notes that more than 50 million Fraser firs are grown in our state, and they represent 90 percent of all the trees grown in North Carolina for use as Christmas trees. These commercially grown Fraser firs can get hefty — as tall as 80 feet, with a trunk diameter of a foot and a half.

When you’re relaxing at home this holiday, say, just minutes before Santa’s to arrive, and you’re admiring your Fraser fir’s lights and its sweet balsam fragrance, take a moment to imagine its ancestor, high on a cold North Carolina peak, an upright cone or two pale in the moonlight, reaching toward stars so close they seem to be tangled in its wild boughs.  PS

Ross Howell Jr. grew up in the mountains of Virginia, where his family usually harvested a native white pine Christmas tree from the farm woodlands, along with running cedar and spicewood berries for decoration.

The Great New Year’s Dirt Clod War

By Jim Dodson

This was the year my dad’s rural relatives, several distant aunts and uncles, a Bible-quoting grandmother and five girl cousins from the country came to our house between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I barely knew them. I was almost 13, my brother Dickie was 15. We were informed by our mom in no uncertain terms that we had to be good hosts and proper young gentlemen for the duration of their visit. She had that look in her eye that said she meant business.

Five girl cousins in one house, if only for a couple days during an otherwise unblemished holiday week, is a serious challenge to the mental stability and character formation of any boy approaching teenagehood.

Dickie at least had a Life Scout project to work on, which took him out of the house most of the week. I wasn’t so lucky. It was 1965. America was still buzzing about the Beatles. I was smitten with George Harrison and taking Wednesday afternoon guitar lessons at Harvey West Music downtown. I tried sticking to my bedroom to play along with “Rubber Soul” but the oldest girl cousin kept coming in without knocking and sitting cross-legged on the floor just to stare at me. It was unnerving. My mother said she “just really likes you, it won’t kill you to be nice to her.” Her name was Cindy. She was about my age — the oldest girl cousin — but she scarcely spoke, just sat and stared at me with her huge round eyes as I fumbled my way through “In My Life.”

The other country girl cousins, meanwhile, occupied my tree house and turned it into a teahouse for their dolls. They played board games and poured imaginary tea. I came home from my Wednesday afternoon guitar lesson and found them there acting like my tree house was Buckingham Palace and they were visiting the Queen. I wondered how I could survive the week.

By Saturday morning I had to get out of the house, so I grabbed my baseball glove and bat and prepared to head for the park to play roll-the-bat with my buddies Bobby, Chris and Brad. I hoped Della Marie Hockaday might be there, too. I’d just given her a genuine imitation sapphire dimestore ring that meant we were kind of an unofficial thing.

My friends and I played roll-the-bat most Saturday mornings, but the country cousins weren’t leaving until later that afternoon.

“Listen,” said my mom, “maybe you should take the girls to the park with you. They’re a little bored. They might like to play baseball with you guys.”

I wondered if my mother had lost her mind from having all those rural uncles and aunts and a Bible-quoting grandmother under the same roof. She clearly wanted them out from underfoot while she prepared the big lunch that would send them all home.

“Come on, sweetie,” she said. “Do this and I’ll make you a chocolate pie and you can stay up and watch ‘Bonanza’ tomorrow night.” Sunday night was a school night and her chocolate pie was the ultimate bribe. We made the deal.

As agreed, I led the girl cousins and their dolls to the park, hoping with every ounce of my being that Della Marie Hockaday wouldn’t be there to witness my complete humiliation.

The park was across the creek from a new housing development where the earth had been churned up into mounds of fresh, angry red clay. Some other kids from another part of the neighborhood were over there messing around one of the new houses. I recognized Randy Fulp. He was the spawn of the devil, the meanest kid at my junior high school, always trying to intimidate younger kids.

The school we attended was a tough school full of scrappy white mill kids and a large number of black kids. This was years before public schools in North Carolina officially desegregated. You learned to survive by keeping your mouth shut and avoiding trouble. Fortunately, I played JV football that year for the Jackson Junior High Trojans and earned enough street cred so that Randy Fulp wouldn’t mess with me. I had a couple of oversized teammates who would happily have pounded him into the red clay of South Greensboro.

Not long after the girl cousins found spots on the hill to watch and my buddies and I began playing roll-the-bat, a large red dirt clod landed at my feet as I was preparing to hit a ball. I kicked it aside and looked across the creek, where Randy Fulp was grinning like a jackass with his friends. He threw another dirt clod that I had to step out of the way to avoid being hit.

There is almost nothing as deadly as a dirt clod made from authentic sticky red clay earth from the upper Piedmont region of North Carolina. It can blind, maim or simply wound for life.

Naturally, I picked up the dirt clod and threw it back at Randy Fulp.

I missed. He laughed.

All hell broke loose.

Suddenly dirt clods were raining down on us and we were throwing them back.

I turned to see the girl cousins and their dolls fleeing the scene of mayhem.

All but one, that is.

Cindy was standing beside me in the creek bed, grinning as she formed hard clay clods with her bare hands. She turned and winged one with stunning accuracy at our attackers. It splattered on the windshield of a bulldozer where they were crouching. They scattered like frightened birds.

Cindy had an unbelievable arm, far more accurate than any of the boys in the fight. Her finest moment came when she caught Randy Fulp with a fireball to his throwing arm and he let out a yelp, turned and led the retreat around the corner of the unfinished house.

By the time we climbed out of the creek, both of us were soaking wet and streaked with red clay mud. Even more amazing, everyone else had vanished, including my friends.

Cindy and I walked home together. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she played softball on her junior high school softball team back home. She was also her class president.

My mom was so put out at me, however, she made me strip down to my orange-red underwear before she would let me back into the house. Cindy’s dress was equally filthy, but she got to go inside and change.

The Great New Year’s Dirt Clod War was the topic of lunch that day and many years thereafter.

Cindy and I sat together and watched the Rose Bowl on TV. I almost hated to see the country girl cousins — one at least — go home.

More than a decade passed before I saw Cindy again. We met at the last family reunion I attended before heading off to college. She was going to N.C. State hoping to become a small animal vet, but not planning to play softball.

She had a boyfriend and was much prettier than I recalled.

At one point she asked me if I remembered the New Year’s Day when we got into a dirt clod fight with some boys across the creek, getting so filthy my mother made me strip off before I could come into the house.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “That scarred me for life. Worse than any dirt clod.”

She laughed. “It was kind of unfair. I was dirtier than you were. But wasn’t that fun?”

I heard from Cindy a few years ago. She was a new grandmother living in Indiana. She’d read a book I’d written about taking my young daughter and aging golden retriever on a 6,000-mile cross-country fly-fishing and camping trip across America one summer. The book had just been made into a feature film. She asked me to autograph her copy of the book. She said Faithful Travelers was her favorite read.

I happily signed her book and sent it back, thanking her for saving my skin during the Great New Year’s Dirt Clod War.  PS

Contact editor Jim Dodson at

A Delicious Mystery

What’s really in the basement of the Amish house we rent every Christmas?

By Sara Phile

A three-story white renovated 19th century farmhouse sits on over 100 acres of rolling hills in Geauga County, Ohio. When you walk into the entryway of the farmhouse, you will see around six pairs of assorted snow boots to the left, a closet on the right, and a small bathroom straight ahead. Walk a few more feet and you will turn left into a small kitchen with deep white sinks. After walking through the kitchen you will enter the dining room, with a large Amish-style table, not with chairs, but benches, lined on each side, a bedroom straight ahead, and a narrow set of wooden stairs that lead to three additional bedrooms and another bathroom. My favorite room, the glassed-in porch, complete with a porch swing, is to the right, and faces the front of the house. A large piano and fireplace decorate the living room. Its assorted bookshelves with a hodgepodge of books line various walls. Murder mysteries, gardening books, histories of the First World War, and even a three-ring binder with around 40 typed pages of the history of the farmhouse all contribute to the quaint, cozy place.

The last two Christmases my husband, boys and I spent a week in the farmhouse, just a few miles from where my in-laws live. We rented the house, and my in-laws came over to eat, play board games, eat, watch movies, eat, open presents, and eat some more. My husband grew up among the Amish, so he is used to the horses and buggies on the roads, the large Amish farms, and the Pennsylvania Dutch language. I, on the other hand, along with my boys, remain fascinated.

When my youngest son was around 3, he would yell out, “Look! Cowboys!” whenever he saw Amish men. Over the years our interest in the Amish people and their lifestyle hasn’t waned. The farmhouse is maintained by an Amish family across the road, and during our holiday stays at the house, they have checked in with us periodically. The first time they appeared at the front door, I was so startled that when my sister-in-law asked who it was, I just motioned for her to come quickly. She scurried over, opened the door, laughed at me, and Fanny and Jeremiah stomped snow off their boots on the entryway rug and said they needed to get something out of the basement. The door to the basement is on the left side of the kitchen. After disappearing for a few minutes, they trudged back up the creaky stairs with a few gallons of Neapolitan ice cream.

“Thank you! Enjoy your stay!” they said, as they smiled and left.

It was then that I noticed the sign.  It was handwritten in black Sharpie on a piece of white printer paper and taped to the door to the basement. “Don’t go downstairs, private.”

David, my oldest son, and I saw it at the same time. His eyes widened, and I knew what he was thinking.

“You want to go down there, Mom, don’t you?”

“Yes. Do you?” 

“Yes, can we?”

“I don’t know. We may get in trouble.”

“What do you think is down there?”

“I don’t know. Ice cream, for sure. But I don’t know what else.”

“Can we see?”

We discussed the ramifications. What if there were people actually living down there? Now that we thought about it, we had been hearing strange sounds in the farmhouse. Some scuffling around and it sounded like it was coming from downstairs. Hmmmm . . . What if there were dead bodies down there? What if what we found scared us forever?  Or maybe there was nothing but freezers of ice cream. But if that was the case, why the sign? Maybe the Amish family was comprised of ice cream addicts who just needed a place for their stash and didn’t want anyone else eating it. Or, maybe there was a whole new world down there.

Maybe . . . Maybe . . . Maybe . . .

We wanted to check it out when no one else was around because certainly others would disapprove of our plan. We made an appointment to meet in the kitchen one night after every one else went to bed. Except that particular night we both fell asleep early. We tried a few more times, but our plans were halted by nosy family members. We left the farmhouse that year with no answers.

As the following year passed, maybe once a month I thought of the farmhouse. I smiled at the fun memories we had there. But then that nagging question reappeared, what is in that basement?

I thought David had forgotten about it, but one night in June, as he was getting ready for bed, he asked, “What do you think is in the basement in that Amish house? Want to see next time we go?”

At the farmhouse last Christmas, the sign was still there, black letters formed into words: “Don’t go downstairs; private.” The sign looked more intense, more pronounced that year. Was it the same sign? Or did someone rewrite it? David’s and my discussion continued. Should we check it out or not? We debated. We planned. But we never actually followed through. Something kept coming up. 

A few days ago mom-in-law called and asked about our Christmas plans. There’s a really good chance this will be our third annual year at the Amish farmhouse.  When I told the boys, David smiled and his eyes twinkled.

“Mom, do you think . . . ?” he trailed off, but raised an eyebrow. 

“Maybe.”  PS

Sara Phile teaches English composition at Sandhills Community College.

The Gray and the Brown

All morning long the gray and the brown

lower their tapered heads, nibble


grass covered in mud from a recent rain.

It is warm for winter, but horses know


nothing of seasons save the sun

is a weightless rider and needs no saddle.


Come noon, they canter around the field

in tandem, carrying


nothing but light. Then they halt

like a horse and its shadow, motionless


as Paleolithic paintings in a cave —

a moment so fleeting and perfect, clouds


form in the shape of horses, gallop across

the sky in homage.

—Terri Kirby Erickson

The Gift of Garden

Presents for the kitchen gardener in your life

By Jan Leitschuh

Gardening is like any passion — it comes with snazzy and useful accoutrements.

If you are gifting someone with a kitchen gardening passion, your selections range from stocking stuffer to “oh, honey!” Dial your appropriate dose.

Anyone who grows vegetables loves fresh food, and handling the fruits of one’s labors is more a pleasure than a chore. Chopping, scraping, dicing, peeling, julienning — all render the raw garden product into components for a terrific meal. So, I’d put a great kitchen knife for food prep right up there with the garden hoe.

My go-to tool in a kitchen full of expensive, passed-down Henckels knives is a simple and lightweight ceramic paring knife. It’s sharp as hell, lightweight, handy and nimble, has a great feel in the hand, is tough enough to halve a squash or fine enough to peel an apple. It makes vegetable prep a delight. It’s inexpensive.

Ceramic knives are fashioned from a zirconia powder, and then fired and sharpened. If a diamond is a 10 on the hardness scale, then a ceramic knife is an 8.5. Ceramic knives don’t corrode, and they keep an edge longer than steel. Nor do they react to fruit acids. Beyond that, the indefinable, tactile pleasure of dicing an eggplant or a tough-skinned tomato with a sharp ceramic is the element that keeps me reaching for my light, white-bladed knife over and over again.

Gardener’s hands are hard-working tools, too. Exposure to mud, cold and sand is rough on hands, cuticles and nails, drying them ragged. Thorns and stickers poke holes in our tender epidermis, forcing us to get a tetanus booster (yes, it’s possible to get tetanus from a thorn stick). So, gloves are always a thoughtful gift, even as we lose the last pair in the junk drawer and wear a mismatched glove on our right hand to pull the spiny okra or cut free a thorny eggplant.

You could have a fight on your hands. A true gardener loves the feel of good soil — cool, fluffy, rich and free of rocks, sifting through the fingers. It’s an aesthetic pleasure. Unfortunately, the practice is rather hard on the hands. Most gardeners compromise, starting out in their gloves and then shucking the right one the moment a delicate task such as tying twine is required. The discarded glove lies hidden under the peppers, getting rained on and baked, until discovered, ruined, in the fall when pulling up the plants. So, the timing is right for a new pair.

A simple cotton pair from the hardware store is the first option. They are, er, dirt cheap and work for general use. They help prevent the worst effects, but can quickly become sodden when transplanting in damp spring soil. If you choose these, be rash, buy a half-dozen for cycling through the wash.

The more useful sort of glove has a waterproof barrier that keeps hands dry. The palms and fingers of a cotton glove are dipped in some sort of rubbery compound, usually nitrile, and function as a pretty good barrier. They look cool, grip quite well, and since the back of the hand is cotton and not smothered in nitrile, breathe fairly well. They also come in candy colors — turquoise, bright yellow, purple, pink, etc. — so you can buy several pairs for a stocking effect.

The most luxurious gloves are goatskin leather. For some reason goatskin is popular as a garden glove material, perhaps because it is both thin enough to be useful, soft enough to be comfortable, and tough enough to allow one to pull weeds or clip thorny things. It breathes better than the rubbery gloves. Extra little luxuries are a cotton lining, which the Brits favor, and a little drawstring adjustment at the wrist for best fit. They are still fairly cheap, $20 to $30.

A padded kneeling bench is a terrific gift, also around $20 to $30. A good one has handholds on the side to assist those trick knees in rising. Once up, you can flip it over as a little padded sitting bench.

A gift certificate to a seed company will ensure a pleasant January, flipping through seed catalogs by the fire compiling the shopping list. Sniff around to discover their favorites.

Moving up the gift scale, every gardener would find a pruner handy for snipping tough stems like eggplant, pruning grape vines or fruit trees and the like, besides general home landscape use. The gold standard here is the Swiss-made Felco 2 bypass pruners. Hardened steel, with the classic red handle, these pruners are endlessly handy. There is a notch for cutting wire. They can be kept super sharp, and clean cuts help wood heal. This is a professional grade tool. Get a hip holster while you are at it, so your gardener can feel like a boss and never be at a loss.

What Sandhills gardener wouldn’t welcome a load of really good compost? We’re not talking the “topsoil” sold in bags at the discount store but real, honest-to-goodness eggshell compost. I’ve used Brooks Contractor of Goldston, and split a dumptruck load with a friend. T. H. Blue may also have something for your giftee. But know what you are getting into. The truck needs access to your garden to dump, and you’ll need some energy to spread it and till it in.

Come to think of it, renting a strong body with a tiller for a day is not a bad idea for a welcome gift.

But back to compost. There are other businesses and barns in the area that may have compost. Call around to locally owned garden centers, ask friends, ask N.C. Cooperative Extension. And if you don’t want to deal with a large pile, it’s perfectly fine to gift a few bags of mushroom compost to dig at leisure.

Finally, we come to the “oh, wow!” gift for any gardener. That would be a small walk-in greenhouse. I’ve seen them as inexpensive as $100 (JCPenney, out of plastic) and you go up from there. My little pleasure was a sturdy plastic house called The Germinator (about $300), and it tucked into a sheltered nook with the garage on the north and the house on the west.

Because it was sheltered, it required only a few nights of supplemental heat from a portable heater with an extension cord to keep things from freezing. Black 50-gallon pickle barrels filled with water were the pillars of my back shelves and offered thermal mass. They released heat at night and absorbed it during the day. My husband gifted me a remote thermometer with a readout I put in the kitchen window so I always knew when things were too hot or too cold.

A greenhouse really needs flat ground to perform well. You also need to monitor temperature and adjust manually on these simple structures. Fancier models offer sturdier walls and more automated temperature controls.

These are the gifts that keep on giving. And, best of all, you may be the recipient next summer of some mighty fine produce. Visions of sugarplums don’t hold a candle to that first homegrown tomato. Win-win!  PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative.

Merry, White-Breasted and Bright

For the white-breasted nuthatch, there’s no nut too tough to crack

By Susan Campbell

What is that little bird scrambling, upside down along that branch — or hanging wrong-side-up from the suet feeder?  A nuthatch of course! Take a closer look. If it is a mixture of gray, black and white, it is likely a white-breasted nuthatch. This handsome bird’s bright white breast contrasts with a gray back and wings — capped off with a black nape, neck and crown. Males and females, young and older birds — they all look identical.

White-breasteds, with their distintive “yank, yank, yank” calls, can be commonly found throughout most of the United States. The name “nuthatch” is derived from “nut hack,” which describes the way they often feed. Watch how these birds wedge potential food items into crevices in the tree bark and use their powerful bills to work their way into the fleshy, oily tidbits. These energetic little birds may also cache seeds (feeder seeds in particular) during colder weather by jamming dozens into the furrows of the bark of nearby trees.

Nuthatches just like their cousins the titmice and chickadees, are cavity dwellers. They love nest boxes and use them not only during the nesting season but for roosting. Family groups of up to six individuals remain together both day and night until early spring. And as a result, they can be quite noisy as they call repeatedly to keep track of one another as they move across the landscape. Furthermore, during the nonbreeding season, they will flock up with titmice and chickadees. There is certainly safety in numbers for all of these small birds. And the more eyes there are, the more likely they’ll find food.

These little birds not only eat a variety of seeds but caterpillars during the warmer months.  They can readily be attracted to the all-around favorite black-oil sunflower seed at feeding stations.  But they also love suet: high protein food that was once made with the fat that surrounds the kidneys of cows after it’s rendered. The irresistible “no melt” suet I offer is a homemade mix of lard and peanut butter studded with grains. Nuthatches cannot get enough of it – any day of the year!

During the winter months, there are actually three species of nuthatches you might expect in our region of the state. The smaller brown-headed nuthatches are also year-round residents of pine forests here, but the more northerly red-breasteds may appear as well. Red-breasted nuthatches only move in our direction in years of poor northerly cone production. This is looking to be one of those years! I have already heard one in Southern Pines and several folks have reported them at their feeders in central North Carolina in recent weeks. These little birds, which are intermediate in size between white-breasteds and brown-headeds, have a white eye line and rosey chests. Red-breasted nuthatches love black-oil sunflower seeds as well as suet. They can be quite feisty and frequently dominate any feeders they take a liking to. Until one or two red-breasteds make an appearance, enjoy the antics of our local nuthatches scrambling around, often upside down, on the oaks and pines!

No Melt Suet Recipe:

1 cup lard or bacon grease

1 cup peanut butter

Melt together and add:

1 cup flour

2 cups uncooked oatmeal or other grain

2–4 cups yellow cornmeal depending on desired consistency — less for pouring into a mold to slice for suet cages in cold weather or more crumbling onto a platform feeder. PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at