Simple Life

The Winter Woods

Among the bare-branched trees, nature speaks my favorite language

By Jim Dodson

Half a century ago, a beautiful, 50-acre woodland lay just beyond the backyard of the house where I presently live, which happens to be two doors from the one in which I grew up. That patch of suburban woods was full of wildlife — birds, deer, skunks, foxes, rabbits — and a winding creek where a small universe of aquatic life thrived. As a kid, those woods were my enchanted kingdom.

The eccentric millionaire who owned those woods vowed he would never allow them to be developed. But his body was barely in the ground before his heirs sold it off to a residential developer.  The forest fell, and a new subdivision quickly rose, a story repeated endlessly across 1970s America. Fortunately, I was off to college by then and spared the sadness of watching my boyhood woods systematically plowed under.

That vanished woodland was neither the first nor last magical forest that shaped my sensibilities, however. During the first seven years of my life, during my old man’s career as a newspaper executive, our family lived in a succession of small towns across the Deep South, places where fields and woods were always a short walk away. I was drawn to them like a child from a Yeats poem.

In summer, the woods teemed with life. But curiously, it was the winter woods that fascinated me most. The quiet of the forest and the bareness of leafless trees amplified natural sounds and made seeing birds and movement easier. Even before I came to understand that life underfoot was actually busier than ever, I was drawn to the stark beauty and solitude of winter.

Scarce wonder after seven years of unceasing work as an investigative journalist in Atlanta, I took an arts fellowship in the Blue Ridge Mountains and subsequently fled to a bend of the Green River in Vermont, where I lived in a small house heated by a wood stove and fell even deeper under the spell of winter in the Great North Woods.

It was there I walked snow-covered dirt roads in blue Arctic dusks with my young dog, Amos, and snow-shoed through the forest for the first time. During that quietest of all winters, I studied trees, read the complete works of a dozen poets, plus most of my favorite childhood books for the umpteenth time.

Within five years, I’d built a post-and-beam house for my young family in a vast woodland of beech and hemlock on a coastal hill in Maine. Our closest neighbor was one-quarter mile distant. Winter nights were dark, cold and full of stars so crisp and vibrant you could almost reach up and touch them.

Come the sub-zero nights of January, when a step on a wooden porch could sound like a pistol shot, I often donned a red, wool coat and toted bags of sorghum meal through knee-deep snow to where a family of whitetail deer (and the occasional moose) waited patiently in the silver cast of the moon for a midnight feeding. In the morning, we would find thousands of hoof prints where it appeared the deer stood on hind legs and danced in the woods, or so I told our two babes with a nearly straight face. Now on the cusp of their 30s, working in faraway Los Angeles and the Middle East, respectively, they still claim to believe the deer danced in winter moonlight.

First frost was always the herald of my favorite season on the doorstep, beginning with the autumn stillness that was like that of an empty church, a cue to get my woodpile finished up and properly stacked. Ringed-neck  pheasants and flocks of wild turkey appeared in the yard, feeding on the last seeds of summer, seemingly unmoved by our presence in their woodland world.

Once, late for his winter nap, a medium-sized black bear crossed the ancient road directly in front of us, pausing only to glance indifferently at the dude in the goofy red coat with his small, astonished children before going on about his business.

I turned that bear into a bedtime story, with a character named Pete the Bear, who along with his bumbling partner-in-crime, dim-witted but good-hearted Charlie the Cub, often broke into our house whenever we were away in order to help themselves to snacks, play board games and get warm by the fire.  Pete and Charlie still reside somewhere in the forested memories of my far-flung children, not to mention their winter-loving old man.

*  *  *

And so it was a nice surprise when, earlier this year, our friends Joe and Liz invited my wife, Wendy, and me to take a Sunday afternoon walk through the Hamilton Lakes Forest, a slim patch of urban parkland less than a mile from our house.

Joe and Liz are trained foresters and ardent naturalists. Liz knows about every native plant in the wild and Joe can tell you all sorts of wondrous things about the life of trees. 

Late last winter, with traces of early spring appearing, we hiked with them up a small mountain near Asheboro, topped by giant stone monoliths that looked like columns from lost temples or bowling pins left by the gods. Joe explained that the unusual stones were visible for miles, navigational landmarks used by migratory birds and ancient native people in their annual seasonal movements from highland meadows to winter quarters in the flatlands, sacred grounds used for their spiritual observances.

There were even traces of a vanished farmstead, not unlike the hilltop where I built my house in Maine, evidenced by wild narcissus that grew in patches around a crumbling stone foundation. Daffodils reportedly found their way to the Americas via Holland about 1800, though how they found their way to that ancient hilltop in Randolph County will probably forever remain a mystery.

“Humans come and go,” Joe summed up the moment. “But the earth and forest keep their own secrets.”

Our Sunday afternoon walk through the Hamilton Forest wasn’t quite so wild, though it was revelatory in its own ways. Joe and I talked about our grown children and how to identify trees by their bark, old maples and beeches in particular, while Liz and Wendy walked ahead of us chatting about grandchildren and, well, whatever else a pair of wise and worldly female friends talk about on a winter Sunday afternoon with their husbands lagging well behind.

At one point, Joe stopped dead and tilted his head to the bare limbs above us. “Listen. Hear that?” I did. He explained it was the perfect, three-note call of a white-throated sparrow, a bird famous for its melodic winter song.

That seemed the perfect coda. On that tri-note, we shared a nip of good Kentucky bourbon.

We rounded a lake and started back as the light grew thinner and longer. As the temperature dropped, we listened to woodpeckers patiently at work, spotted squirrel nests high in the leafless forest and greeted walkers with leashed dogs hurrying the opposite way through the woods, eager to reach home and warmth.  PS

Jim Dodson can be reached at


Immortal Stories

By Jim Moriarty

Toward the end of his new book, Gods at Play, Tom Callahan writes, “By now you must know, I’m the hero of all my stories.” It was one of his throw-away dinner lines I heard often enough in the evening at British Opens and Masters and places like that. It was partially — but only partially — true, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day saying, “I’m a god. I’m not the god . . . I don’t think.”

In one of those publishing house blurbs, some marketing type once decided it was a good idea to describe Callahan’s writing somewhere between the goalposts of “lighthearted” and “airy,” which works if the guy would describe the arrow from a crossbow the same way. If Callahan ever knew the person who wrote it he would have said, “sweet writer,” like patting a 4-year-old on the head.

Callahan went to a Catholic university, Mount St. Mary’s, and the U.S. Marines. That he was a Marine was perfect for him because he always liked to play against type. He was a sports columnist at the Cincinnati Enquirer and, later, the Washington Post before becoming the sports guy for Time and then U.S. News and World Report. I got to know him when he started writing poetry for Golf Digest.

There are a couple of his stories I couldn’t find in Gods at Play, like the time he kidnapped Nancy Lopez, who was coming into Cincinnati for the LPGA Championship in the midst of her rookie hot streak. Callahan wanted an interview. Hell, the whole world wanted an interview. He was told it was impossible. So, Tom guessed what plane she’d arrive on and met her at baggage claim. She assumed the tournament had sent a driver to pick her up. Tom looks more like a chauffeur than Jeeves looks like a butler, so Nancy didn’t think much of it, and Tom didn’t do anything to convince her otherwise. He grabbed her luggage and loaded everything, plus Nancy Lopez, into his beat-up, messy old sportswriter’s car, the anti-limo. He got his interview. She still laughs about it and never has figured out why she got in the damn car to begin with. He was probably telling her a story and she wanted to hear the end.

And he only told half the truth about the time he played with Jack Nicklaus in the pro-am at Kings Island, the Nicklaus-designed course under power lines where they played the LPGA Championship for longer than any real golf tour should have. Tom’s a big guy and, when he caught a drive, it would go. On the first tee, the local boy rose to the occasion. He killed it.

“Chase that, Jack,” he said to Nicklaus, loud enough for the gallery to hear. Nicklaus outdrove him, but just barely. A yard, maybe two. Out in the fairway Callahan’s next shot was a cold, sideways shank. “I won’t be chasing that one, Tom,” said Nicklaus.

Callahan collected writers the way the Medicis collected Leonardos and Michaelangelos. He became Red Smith’s legs when the great Pulitzer Prize-winner got too old to scramble after a quote or two and, later, at British Opens he reprised his role as taxi driver for World Golf Hall of Famer Dan Jenkins, who always believed driving on the left — if it had to be done at all — should be done sparingly, and by someone else. Jenkins called Callahan Simon because he’d once had a driver by that name.

If Callahan was in L.A. he found Jim Murray. If he was at a horse race he was standing on Bill Nack’s withers. When I learned he wasn’t going to Fort Worth for Jenkins’ funeral a couple of years ago, he told me he was tired of going to them. But that was against type, too. It was more a case of “Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.” It didn’t matter, though, because he’d already supplied the harp music in Golf Digest, writing the best sendoff any sports guy ever got.

Of course, Tom didn’t get everything right. He thought O.J. was innocent until he saw the Bruno Maglis.

I can’t give you the highlights from Gods at Play. The book is 265 pages long, and if you skip any of them you’ll be poorer for it. But here’s just one story. Callahan knew Oscar Robertson from his days playing for the Royals in Cincinnati. Oscar was a tough guy. And, later, after Robertson helped Kareem Abdul Jabbar win an NBA title in Milwaukee, Callahan and Kareem, by then a Laker, had a conversation about him:

“The first time we ever spoke,” I said, “you told me you didn’t really know Oscar. But you came to know him, right?”

“And to love him,” he said. “And to love playing with him. And, probably a little too much, to love watching him play.”

“He was a bit cold-blooded for me,” I said.

“No, he had the capacity for joy that all great players have. He wouldn’t show it to you, though. Or you wouldn’t understand where to look for it. It’s not in the box score, you know.”

But it’s spilled all over the pages of Gods at Play.  PS

Adrien Lammers + Michael Hoover


Photographer: Brandie Ballard Photography

Like the engraved Asscher-cut diamond on her left hand, the day Adrien said “I do” to Michael was a custom-made perfect match. With a full moon in the sky, Adrien and Michael’s “Hoover Hallowedding” would be a night to remember for all — and that’s not only because it ended with a family friend strutting his stuff to “Monster Mash” while wearing a T-Rex costume.

A ceremony complete with a fall color palette and white pumpkins paired with a Halloween-esque reception at 305 Trackside created a well-balanced blend of romantic and lively — an aesthetic fit for none other than the Hoovers.

Ceremony & Reception: 305 Trackside | Dress: David’s Bridal | Hair: Debbie Hoover, Vogue Salon | Makeup: Nicole Murray, Brittany Page, Elise Santoyo at Venus Spa and Salon | Groomsmen: Men’s Wearhouse | Flowers: Jack Hadden Floral & Event Design | Cake: G. Charles Bakery | Catering: Spoon Lickers Catering | DJ & Rentals: Ward Productions | Transportation: Kirk Tours & Limousine

Jordan Wood + Gabriel Venegas


Photographer: BellaGala Photography

Wedding Coordinator: Caroline Naysmith

Over two years of near-daily trips to visit her horse’s stable in Southern Pines, Jordan fell in love with an abandoned estate on East Connecticut Avenue. Some time later, that estate would become Duncraig Manor & Gardens — and she, its first bride. With the help of owners Don and Caroline Naysmith, the venue’s first big event was a wedding weekend that looked just as beautiful in person as it did on the livestream to Gabriel’s extended family in Chile.

The manor’s ample square footage provided more than enough space for a ceremony in the garden terrace, a reception on the front patio, and rooms for out-of-town guests. And while the coronavirus led Jordan to shrink the guest count, it also freed up her favorite artist, Brendan James, to play during the ceremony, first dance, and part of the reception. The music continued well into the night, as Jordan and her father — a former music producer — performed a father-daughter rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young.”

Ceremony & Reception: Duncraig Manor & Gardens | Dress: Kate McDonald, Duniway Dress | Shoes: Badgley Mischka | Jewelry: Sash: Elizabeth Bower, Necklace & Earrings: Olive & Piper Hair & Makeup: Karma Spa Lounge & Beauty Bar | Bridesmaids: David’s Bridal | Groomsmen: Men’s Wearhouse | Flowers: Hollyfield Design, Inc. | Cake: The Bakehouse | Catering: Thyme & Place

Freddie Woronoff + Jack Mcalhany


Photographer: Sayer Photography

Wedding Planner: Maggie’s Farm

Wedding Coordinator: Shenika Smith-Gibson, CCNC

When the coronavirus prompted Jack and Freddie to slash their guest list by nearly 300, the idea of the celebration they both had in mind shifted — along with the date. Rather than saying “I do” in May in front of a crowd of hundreds, the couple shared an intimate September ceremony on the back patio of the Country Club of North Carolina’s Clubhouse. Light-up tambourines the couple purchased as party favors flashed across the dance floor in the hands of guests, who moved to the eight-piece Adrian Duke Band under a clear-top tent.

With invitations narrowed down to family and the bridal party, the couple had time to connect with each guest on the dance floor; and to renew their perspective on what was important. As Freddie said, though shaking tambourines are music to her ears, they “don’t mean as much without family and friends there to help you celebrate.”

Ceremony & Reception: Country Club of North Carolina | Video Streaming Service: Professional Party Rentals | Dress: Nitsa’s Apparel | Shoes: Loeffler Randall Hair & Makeup: Beautopia and Bamboo | Bridesmaids: Jenny Yoo | Flowers: Maggie’s Farm | Cake: The Bakehouse | Invitations & Programs: Reaves Engraving | Transportation: Kirk Tours & Limousine

Kailee Craig + Nirmal Choradia


Photographer: Tamtopia Photography

Wedding Planner: Vision Events Wedding & Event Planning

Wedding Coordinator: Four 26 Events

With days full of karaoke, games, golf, and bourbon tastings, this marketer-doctor duo ensured that their music-filled Hindi ceremony celebrated two families who had truly become united. After meeting at an ultimate Frisbee tournament, singing to the Zac Brown Band and getting engaged on a mountaintop, Kailee and Nirmal would spend the next nine months planning a ceremony that combined Indian tradition and bluegrass culture — one that centered on family and the importance of a future filled with music and laughter.

From the traditional Mehndi ceremony to a rehearsal-turned-Sangreet featuring Indian line dances and fusion dishes by Chef Prem Nath to a soundtrack provided by a dhol player, violinist and DJ, each event of the multi-day nuptial were filled with vendors and decor that, like Kailee and Nirmal’s families, blended beautifully.

Ceremony: Sandhills Horticultural Gardens | Reception: Forest Creek | Videographer & Video Stream: Morgan Scott Films | Dress: UTSAV Fashion Hair & Makeup: Chelsea Regan | Henna: Henna by Neena Jain | Flowers: Jack Hadden Floral & Event Design | Catering: Forest Creek | Rentals: Greenhouse Picker Sisters and Ward Productions | Music: Dhol player — Jagdeep, Violinist — Susie Shortt, Reception — DJ Randy Bunn

Judy + Eric Duggan


Photographer: Pinehurst Photography & Pictured in the Pines

Wedding Planner: Vision Events Wedding & Event Planning

What do you do when a crowded cruise ship deck throws a hitch in an expertly planned New Year’s Eve proposal? If you’re Eric, you improvise, and move the moment to a private cabin. If you’re Judy, you relish watching your love pour out his heart on one knee — and then you convince him to do it again, in front of cameras that captured the act for all to see.

Though each had their share of military travels, picking a location in Pinehurst was a no-brainer for this active-duty bride and this golf-loving, cybersecurity analyst groom. Nine months spent perfecting logistics with the help of a wedding planner culminated in a day that flowed as easily as the coffee on their first date, and meant as much to the bride and groom as each picture-perfect proposal.

Ceremony: Sacred Heart Catholic Church | Reception: Carolina Hotel, Pinehurst Resort | Videographer: Jonathan Hornby Productions | Dress: David’s Bridal | Shoes: White by Vera Wang Hair: TeeAnnd, Stylist on the Go | Makeup: Astrid Carolina Makeup Artist | Wedding Attire: Men’s Warehouse | Flowers: Jack Hadden Floral & Event Design | Cake & Catering: Pinehurst Resort | Music & Rentals: Ward Productions | Transportation: Kirk Tours & Limousine

Melissa Pierce + Joshua Bronson


Photographer: Jennifer B. Photography

The events of 2020 put Melissa and Joshua’s grand wedding on hold, but no pandemic could postpone the love they have for one another. The cancellation proved to be a blessing in disguise, as a spontaneous barn ceremony was a simple and perfect way to put the focus on their love for each other.

Under the watchful eye of their horses, Melissa and Joshua made their promises to each other in front of their closest friends and family. Although the evening wasn’t what they originally had in mind, their low-key barn wedding served as the opening act for the main event in November 2021, and ultimately showed that no matter the hardship, love really does always win.

Ceremony & Reception: Private Farm | Dress: Lucy’s Bridal Hair & Makeup: Chelsea Regan | Flowers: Carol Dowd, Botanicals | Cake: The Bakehouse | Catering: Vito’s Ristorante & Pizzeria | Rentals: Richmond Rentals

Kristen Balboni + Alex Harrill


Photographer: Heather Gunter Photography

Wedding Coordinator: Mona Beam, Cherryville

Kristen Balboni’s career in sports reporting has taken her and her college sweetheart, Alex, all around the country. Meeting each other at the altar of the West End church Kristen grew up in to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles brought their fairytale full circle.

Draped in winter white with seeded eucalyptus to fit Kristen and Alex’s simple and elegant winter wonderland aesthetic, the Fair Barn served as the couple’s celebration paradise. White flowers and white candles illuminated the venue’s natural beauty as Alex and Kristen’s closest friends and family spent the evening laughing, dancing and raising their glasses to the newlyweds and to coming home.

Ceremony: Culdee Presbyterian Church | Reception: The Fair Barn | Dress: BHLDN Nassau Gown Hair & Makeup: Chelsea Regan | Bridesmaids: Birdy Grey | Groomsmen: The Black Tux | Flowers: Harris Teeter, Pinehurst | Cake: Lowes Foods | Catering: White Rabbit Catering | Transportation: Kirk Tours & Limousine