Birdwatch

Birdwatch

A Winter Visitor

The handsome yellow-bellied sapsucker

By Susan Campbell

Woodpeckers abound in central North Carolina, even more so in the Sandhills. On a given day, you might see up to eight different species. Only one, however, is a winter visitor: the handsome yellow-bellied sapsucker. This medium-sized, black-and-white bird is well camouflaged against the tree trunks where it is typically found. It also sports red plumage on the head, as so many North American species do. The female has only a red crown, whereas the male also sports a red throat. And, as their name implies, both sexes have a yellow tinge to their bellies. However, young of the year arriving in late October to early November are drab, with grayish plumage and lacking the colorful markings of their parents. By the time they head back north in March, they too, will be well-patterned.

There are four sapsucker species found in North America. The yellow-bellied has the largest range and is the only one seen east of the Rockies. Sapsuckers do, in fact, feed on sap year round. They seek out softer hardwood trees and drill holes through the bark into the living tissue. This wound will ooze sap in short order. Not only do the carbohydrates in the liquid provide nourishment to the birds, but insects also get trapped in the sticky substance. Holes made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers form neat rows in the bark of red maples, tulip poplars and even Bradford pears in our area. Pines, however, not only tend to have bark that is too thick for sapsuckers to penetrate but rapidly scab over, rendering only a very brief flow of sap.

The injury caused by sapsuckers is generally not fatal to the tree, as long as it is healthy to begin with. Infection of the wound by fungi or other diseases may occur in older or stressed trees. Although the relationship is not mutually beneficial, sapsuckers need the trees for their survival. It is also interesting to note that others use the wells created by sapsuckers. Birds known to have a “sweet tooth,” such as orioles and hummingbirds, will take advantage of the yellow-bellied sapsucker’s handiwork.

The species breeds in pine forests throughout boreal Canada, the upper Midwest as well as New England. We do have summering populations at elevation in western North Carolina. It is not unusual to find them around Blowing Rock in the warmer months. As is typical for woodpeckers, sapsuckers create cavities in dead trees for nesting purposes. They use calls as well as drumming to advertise their territory. The typical call note is a short, high-pitched, cat-like mewing sound. They use more emphatic squealing and rapid tapping of their bills against dead wood or other suitable resonating surfaces to warn would-be competitors of their presence.

In winter, yellow-bellieds quietly coexist with the other woodpeckers in the area. They will seek out holly and other berries in addition to feeding on sap. These birds will feed on suet, too, and may be attracted to backyard feeding stations. Generally the yellow-bellied does not drink sugar water, since feeders designed for hummingbirds or orioles are not configured for use by clinging species. Of course, as with all birds, it may be lured in by fresh water: another reason to maintain a birdbath or two — even if you live on a lake.

Seeing a sapsucker at close range is always a treat, so keep an eye out for this unusual woodpecker.  PS

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

Sister Act

Sister Act

Reimagining an eclectic cottage

By Deborah Salomon 

Photographs by John Gessner

Local residences can be relatively easy to classify: Federalist, antebellum, Georgian, ranch, contemporary farmhouse, mid-century modern, Frank Lloyd Wright-ish.

This one — tucked behind tall greenery in the heart of Weymouth — isn’t, unless “surprising, refreshing and personal” is the category. Clad in pecky cypress painted off-white, the cottage stretches longitudinally like a ranch, has bedroom suites anchoring each end in the contemporary mode, and multiple bay windows common to New England saltboxes enhanced by stained glass panels displaying geometric and bird motifs.

Add this shocker: a cathedral ceiling with flying buttresses rising over the sitting/dining area. Built in 1929, a year of financial havoc in the U.S., one legend identifies the builder as a shipmaker from Boston with the buttresses a reminder of the ribs supporting his boats.

Those buttresses are original, not so a covered backyard patio for grilling, eating and watching TV while drying off by the fire after emerging from the 42-inch deep, rectangular plunge pool, with a submerged seating ledge and water kept at 100 degrees year-round.

“We all jumped in at Thanksgiving,” says Cathy, who with her sister, Mary, reimaged this cottage.

Their story is as singular as the results.

Cathy and Mary, a year apart, grew up sharing a room in a Pittsburgh family of eight children — three girls, five boys. Mary became a nurse anesthetist at a women’s hospital. Cathy worked in the wholesale bakery industry. Each married, remained in Pittsburgh and had children, who grew up and moved away. In 2014, the sisters, now single, retired and decided they could live more economically together — but not in Pittsburgh. Too cold.

They heard good things about North Carolina’s retirement havens. Asheville was their first foray. Still too cold. Pinehurst, with a temperate climate and aura aplenty, offered the solution.

“We drove down for a week and hooked up with an agent, just to look around,” Mary says. Seven Lakes seemed promising, or maybe a carriage house in horse country. Then they discovered the charm of downtown Southern Pines, the shops, bistros, railroad station and the interesting people populating them.

Better check availability in Weymouth.

What they discovered seemed almost made-to-order. The walls and ceilings in the living /dining space were wood-paneled and, after moving in, the sisters found the stained wood too dark and painted the walls — themselves — a soft white. The dark wood cabinetry and a natural brick backsplash in the modest but adequate kitchen became creamy vanilla with a pure white island top over a black lacquer base. Cathy cooks. Mary shops and cleans up. A breakfast table for two suggests a Victorian tearoom.

“I don’t want all that granite,” says Cathy. “It’s casual, like, ‘Come on over and let’s share.’”

The sisters’ most formidable challenge was space, given the possibility of visiting children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and friends — golfers and otherwise. Fortunately the elongated footprint on a prime Weymouth acre allowed them to convert the attached two-car garage into living space with a workroom and a laundry. A new garage was added.

“Over the years we have always attacked projects,’’ Cathy says. In high school she was more interested in mechanical drawing than cooking and sewing. “You just learn that if something doesn’t work, you do it over.”

Furniture is a mixture of hers and hers, with some delightful juxtapositions. In the small TV den a gray wide-wale corduroy sectional overlooks a frilly little bureau painted bright yellow. A dresser in the guest room is made of sanded metal. Nurse Mary explains that before built-in units, hospital rooms attended by nurses in starched white caps were furnished in metal, usually painted white, now antique shop finds.

 

“We each brought furniture. We didn’t buy new,” Cathy says. Even their area rugs made the trip. The familiar pieces take on fresh life placed in the spacious, airy rooms. And surprises lurk around each corner: A bathroom wall of glass bricks adds retro chic. Rather than reupholster “throne” and other chairs, they discovered a paint for fabric that dries to a nubby texture. An elongated window frames a tall, pruned crape myrtle, its gnarled, spotted trunk and branches resembling a giraffe. A huge Chinese soup tureen sits ready to serve the emperor. They point proudly to an antique transom; their mother’s desk; Granddaddy’s cigar cabinet; Granny’s enormous hope chest; and a framed wedding quilt sewn from silk ties and kept under glass.

The sisters concede that not everyone could pull off this living arrangement. At first, their other siblings’ reaction was, “How dare you leave us!” Cathy recalls. Now, they do family Thanksgiving, and their twin brothers show up for golf. After 10 years the sisters have made friends through pickleball, golf and community activities. Cathy’s latest project: watercolors.

“We live a very simple life,” Cathy says. “We’re content to sit out back or go into town. Both of us worked hard. Now it’s time to relax, to entertain ourselves.”  PS

Cowboy Junket

Cowboy Junket

Selling books like snake oil

Or

If you want it done right, do it yourself

By Stephen E. Smith

Nancy Rawlinson was a first-grader at Millington Elementary School in New Jersey when she happened upon an intriguing book in the school library. She flipped through the pages and immediately fell in love with the illustrations of horses. The book may have been The Blind Colt or Stolen Pony or Wild Horses of the Red Desert — she has forgotten the title — but she knew what she liked, and that the artist was Glen Rounds. “I was in love with horses at the time,” she recalls, “and I read Glen Rounds’ books over and over again.”

In 1991 Rawlinson moved to Southern Pines and eventually opened Eye Candy Gallery & Framing on Broad Street, but she never had an opportunity to meet the writer and illustrator whose books had brought her so much pleasure in her childhood. Rounds (the appellation assigned to Glen by his many friends) lived almost half his life in Southern Pines, and he was affectionately acknowledged by acquaintances and neighbors as “the literary man about town.” Decked out in his weathered jeans and cowboy vest, he was the craggy, gray-bearded bohemian wandering among the business-clad locals and Yankee snowbirds — a mid-morning regular at the local post office, where he’d buttonhole friends and strangers and regale them with humorous, wisdom-laced tall tales, droll shaggy-dog stories, and the occasional off-color witticism.

If Rounds was a raconteur extraordinaire, he was, first and foremost, an artist/illustrator. He illustrated over 100 books. He studied painting and drawing at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Art Student League of New York, and was close friends with Jackson Pollock and Thomas Hart Benton. (Rounds and Pollock were models for Benton’s painting The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley.) And he worked with dogged determination to see that the public could enjoy his talents. When Rounds published a new children’s book, it would garner a mention in Time or Newsweek, and 20 years after his death, his artwork lives on in his books and on the walls of homes and businesses in Southern Pines — and across the country.

Of all the stories Rounds shared with friends and strangers, there’s one that seldom, if ever, got told: the true story “that needed telling.” Shortly before he died in 2002 at the age of 96, Rounds informed friends that he had a new book underway, the story of the “1938 Trip West.” He never completed the book, but his extensive notes were passed down to his daughter-in-law, Victoria Rounds, and contained within the extensive scribblings are at least four synopses that retell the tale in fits and starts. The Gospel according to Rounds goes as follows:

During the spring and summer of 1938, Rounds was carrying on an “acrimonious” correspondence with Vernon Ives, the publisher and editor of Holiday House, concerning Holiday House’s lackadaisical sales efforts. The publisher had a few independent salesmen who carried Holiday House books as a sideline and they circulated a catalog, but there was no sales coverage west of the Mississippi.

“I had spent some time with folks selling snake oil, Indian remedies and the like,” Rounds writes. “And argued that if they wanted to sell books they should have somebody on the road stirring things up. In the end it came to a case of ‘put up or shut up.’ If I thought books could be sold like snake oil, why didn’t I go on the road myself and show them how it should be done?”

And that’s exactly what Rounds intended to do. He and Margaret Olmsted had married in June 1938, and they were living in Myrtle Beach, where they paid $10 a month in rent. In their spare time, they fixed up a 1937 Studebaker woody station wagon with bunks built over lockers that contained their camping equipment — a bucket, a pan, a coffeepot, blankets, clothes, a Coleman stove, a small icebox, and a canvas to throw over the back of the Studebaker at night.

On September 1, 1938, they loaded a box of Holiday House books into the Studebaker and headed west from Sanford, camping that night in a “nameless field between Knoxville and Nashville.” There were no motels in those days, but they occasionally pulled into a campground or hotel to wash clothes and shower; otherwise, they quit driving each day at sunset and made the best of their surroundings. Once they camped near a city dump, and on another evening, a constable directed them to park behind the town bandstand. “Nice little park,” Rounds recalled. “Just after supper people started drifting into the park. It was band concert night, and while they waited for the concert to start the townspeople inspected and commented on our outfit.”

But Rounds and Margaret weren’t there for the music, and they weren’t on a sightseeing trip. They had compiled a card file listing every elementary school, library, branch library, librarian and bookstore on their route. Margaret had a library science degree from the University of North Carolina and had worked for the New York Public Library System, so she had credibility with the school librarians and teachers. “We were looking for people who dealt in books,” Rounds writes. “Anybody that ever looked like they might buy or sell books got the treatment. We stopped at every small branch library or school, showed books, told a story or drew some pictures and went on, leaving Holiday House catalogs behind.”

And so it went through Kansas City, Omaha, Sioux City, Rapid City, Denver, Boulder, Provo, Logan, Boise, Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem, Medford, Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Sierra Blanca, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, where they put on a “big show” for National Book Week. From there they hit Shreveport, Vicksburg, Montgomery, Atlanta, Greenville, and back to Sanford, arriving on Thanksgiving eve after three months on the road and “tired as hell!”

“We not only showed the Holiday House books but we sold them on commission,” Rounds writes. “Whether we sold enough to pay our gas and expenses, I don’t remember. But by the time we got home a hell of a lot of people had heard about Holiday House books. For years after that, stories about our unconventional selling methods drifted around the country whenever bookstore people and librarians met.”

In the synopses Rounds produced late in life — probably in the late ’80s and early- to mid-’90s, judging by the used computer paper repurposed as cost-effective stationery — the story lacks the details of meetings and confabs Rounds and Margaret experienced. But those moments aren’t lost. As Rounds traveled the country and pitched Holiday House books, he regularly wrote to Vernon Ives, producing 24 lengthy handwritten letters detailing most of his encounters with teachers, administrators, bookstore folk and “anyone interested in books.” Ives saved and returned the letters to Rounds, who arranged them chronologically in a spiral notebook that also contains photographs, maps, two traffic tickets, two typhoid inoculation certificates, and Rounds’ meticulous financial calculations (the Studebaker got about 22 mpg in a great loop from Sanford, North Carolina to the West Coast and back to Sierra Blanca, Texas, a distance of 8,633 miles).

More than an illustrator and writer, Rounds was a keen observer of his fellow human beings — he had a caustic word or two to say about everyone he encountered — and he was especially sharp-eyed when observing the animals he drew. Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson once accompanied Rounds on an expedition to observe a family of beavers. “Glen just sat there for two hours and never said a word; never moved,” Stephenson recalled. “He was perfectly still, staring intently at the beavers, never missing a movement they made.” If he wrangled you into a storytelling marathon at the post office or in his side yard on Ridge Street, he’d stare directly into your eyes as his story leisurely unraveled. If your mind happened to wander, he’d notice immediately. “Do you want to hear this story or not?” he’d ask. Of course, you wanted to hear it. There was no escape.

This innate ability to study and narrate is apparent in a beautifully crafted excerpt from a letter written to Ives shortly before the 1938 odyssey. Rounds had been observing those who labored in tobacco production, “one of the last of the really personal industries,” and highlights of the brief passage stand as an example of literary archaeology:

“From the time they go out in the spring with leaf mounds to fill the seed beds, the setting out, which is done by hand, the hoeing, the worming, down to the beginning of ‘priming’ (picking the bottom leaves as they ripen), and the sitting up night and day with the fires in the curing barns, it is all handwork of the hottest kind for the whole family. After it’s cured, the whole family gets busy, usually on the front porch, and goes over it leaf by leaf, grading it before tying it into ‘hands’ for market. The night before market they start coming into the warehouse to get a good position on the floor so as to get a light that will set off the color and texture to the best advantage. They’re proud of their work. Sat all afternoon a while back with an old-timer while he watched his fires. After I’d deserted my cigarettes for a healthy chaw of his Honey-twist, taken with a fine shaving of Black Maria to give it body and color to spit a more satisfying brown, we sat and spit promiscuously round about for a while, exchanged views on horse breeding, and the lack of enterprise and self-reliance in the younger generation and one thing and another . . .” and so forth for two single-spaced typewritten pages.

The 24 letters written to Ives don’t contain the same level of detail as his tobacco observations — there wasn’t enough time to include more than initial impressions — but Rounds’ sharp eye picked up every human shortcoming and attribute, every nuance.

On Sept.12, he wrote from Denver: “Enclosed an order from Dibamels (sic), Rapid City. Think if we can get him started he should move my books. Did some horse trading to get the order, but think it worth it, even if I had to take merchandise for 3 Ol’ Pauls and 3 L.C. Denver Dry Goods no soap. Books too high. Kendrik Bellamy was nice dept, but in basement, Mrs. Cook very nice and liked books but has trouble moving good books. However, may order later.”

On Sept. 15 he wrote from Salt Lake City: “Library (two old maids) no soap. No children librarian. Printed Page, nice shop, typical university bookshop. Trying to start juvenile dept but knows nothing and cares less. N.G. (no good) . . . Snow and sleet in the passes. Ranger stopping cars . . . camping in ballpark . . . Utah Office supply already ordered Baker Taylor, cheap stuff, won’t see sample. High school library — Miss Robinson liked books and checked a number. No money for about 60 days but . . . Ferner Junior High School, Miss Sinor — tough old gal. Doesn’t like small type. Won’t order what she hasn’t seen . . .” And so it goes for seven handwritten pages, passing judgment on the people, libraries and schools in one lengthy intensive missive.

Even more detailed letters follow from Spokane, Seattle and Raywood, where Rounds reports that all the bookstores had gone out of business during the Great Depression. Books are a tough sell, especially during hard times, but Rounds and Margaret remained undeterred by the occasional rejection and were much buoyed by small successes, as in San Diego on Oct. 24: “City Schools, Miss Morgan — They hadn’t seen our books but had heard so much they finally ordered most of the old titles for review. However, they arrived too late to get on this year’s list, L.C. and Ol’ Paul got raves from their reviewers. And most of the others seemed slated for the list also. She should be on list for books ON APPROVAL as soon as they are published . . .”

In Seattle, Rounds and Margaret made 12 stops and in Denver another 11, talking up Holiday House and pitching Rounds’ books while visiting public libraries, a university bookstore, the state department of education, a school library association and a book department in a general merchandise store, etc. — all of which he reported on at length. But Rounds’ letters weren’t all business. While working a bookstore in San Leon, Texas, he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to describe a fetching female clerk: “She was like a mare in heat every time she sidled close and continually ran her palms of her hands over the front of her tight sweater, down the belly and back around her buttocks. You know the gesture? It is used with the flexing of all the trunk and thigh muscles. Don’t get me wrong — I just report what I see. She’ll make a fine type if I write a book.”

If there was rejection and indifference, there was just enough good news to keep Rounds buoyant. On Nov. 19 he wrote to Ives, alluding to himself in the third person: “Rounds at his best when before an admiring audience of children whose number will be considerably swelled by the attendance of a group of storytelling teachers or some damn thing, who have a special invitation. Immediately after Rounds is worn out, there will be an autograph party in the book department.”

And so it went, stop after stop, for three relentless months, each encounter explicated in the lengthy handwritten letters to Ives. If Rounds and Margaret encountered more failure than success, they never wavered, never despaired. They kept at it, day in and day out, until they pulled into Sanford, exhausted.

Small successes, what he thought of as a “little victory for art,” continued to fuel Rounds’ enthusiasm for the remainder of his long life. He frequently visited classes full of elementary school students, encouraging their art and following up by sending the students postcards with his trademark hound dog Ol’ Boomer, tail curved skyward, prancing into the mystical ether. He never tired of entertaining, never grew weary of inspiring a classroom full of blossoming talent.

If Rounds was the author and illustrator of the books, Margaret Olmsted was remarkable in her own right. Glen Rounds was born in a sod house near the badlands of South Dakota and traveled in a covered wagon to Montana, where he grew up on a ranch. Margaret came from money. Her family owned their own railway car, and she’d graduated from the University of North Carolina. Nevertheless, she endured three months of camping across the country and chatting up librarians, schoolteachers and classrooms full of rowdy children, all without complaint. She was one of the founding members of The Country Bookshop and the Given Memorial Library, and her considerable influence lives on in those Sandhills institutions — and in Rounds’ success as a writer and illustrator.

What were the results of the 1938 trip? In a time when writers didn’t often appear at bookstores to sign and sell books, Rounds was ever present, signing his name, telling his stories and promoting Holiday House. Vernon Ives profited from the documentation Rounds supplied concerning likely outlets and agreeable bookstore owners, information that would hold the publisher in good stead for decades to come. And most importantly, Rounds made himself famous in the world of children’s literature. His books still line bookstore and library shelves and continue to delight young readers.

Not long after his passing, an ad hoc committee of Rounds’ friends convened to consider placing a lifelike statue of the old raconteur in front of the post office, a monument not unlike the one of the rock ’n’ roll dude “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona . . .” but it soon became apparent that such a tribute could never adequately convey Rounds’ charisma and rakish charm. The stories were gone, lost for good, and now Rounds exists only in the memory of his many admirers. 

It’s doubtful that Glen Rounds ever visited an elementary school in Millington, New Jersey — a village so obscure that it seems hardly to exist on the map — but when first-grader Nancy Rawlinson fell in love with Rounds’ drawings of horses, the book had not found its place on the library shelf by accident. Glen and Margaret Rounds had, by virtue of their hard work, tenacity and unwavering faith, willed it there.  PS

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Makin’ a List

And what it says about you

By Deborah Salomon

We are a nation of lists. January is the logical time to make them: new year, fresh resolve, second chances. Remember, this is the month when Medicare supplement ads give way to weight-loss schemes.

Lists, sometimes in the form of resolutions, reveal much about their authors. Long ago and far away I wrote a column after finding a list scribbled on an envelope crumpled in a shopping cart. The list was long, barely legible, full of abbreviations. Yet from it I reconstructed the life of the writer: She had young children (silly cereals, milk by the gallon, Popsicles), attempted health-consciousness (both mushy white bread and 100 percent whole wheat), braved unpopular veggies (frozen Brussels sprouts), and had at least one cat — a finicky eater, to boot. Her husband, I surmised, worked in an office (pick up shirts at dry cleaner). She paid a premium for real Coke and Peter Pan Peanut Butter — not store brands. Wine wasn’t her forte. I was disappointed to learn she succumbed to frozen pizza.

Certain items were coded “c.” A coupon, I guessed.

Remember coupons?

And on and on. By the time my analysis was done I could have picked her out of a lineup.

Something else besides coupons has changed. Today, the wrinkled envelope has been replaced by a cell phone. Not me, not a chance. I can’t afford to donate one hand to holding the slippery thing. Then, suppose I accidentally leave it at home and forget the peanut butter?

Serious lists deserve more than the back of an envelope, maybe a printout to dignify the effort.

Here goes . . .

Clean up my desk. I am neither overly organized nor a neat freak. My desk, flanked with baskets, wooden boxes et al. is, uh, unruly. However, every January I undertake a purge.

On second thought, ditch this list, since I might be held accountable. Safer to compose lists for others.

Taylor Swift needs a new boyfriend. She’s not helping the ballclub. Find yourself a shy accountant, honey.

Joe Biden needs a different barber, to eradicate that rear-view mullet.

The Donald needs a legal secretary.

Mick Jagger needs a rocking chair for his 16-gig tour, sponsored by AARP. Really.

Elon Musk needs to buy a vowel, not an X.

Harry and Meghan need a new publicist. Where have all the tabloids gone?

Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin all need a smile — a rare event in portraiture before orthodontics, implants and crowns.

Yes, we are a nation of lists. An entire book series is devoted to the genre. Just don’t leave yours in a shopping cart.  PS

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

The Adventuresome Chef

The Adventuresome Chef

Warren Lewis makes art in stupid cold places

By Jenna Biter

Sunlight streamed through the coffee shop blinds. Water droplets were condensing on the plastic to-go cup holding an iced mocha latte sitting neglected at the center of a four-top.

Warren Lewis was preoccupied. He wasn’t sipping, he was leading a whip-fast expedition to distant destinations, most of which he classified as “stupid cold places,” many of which were home to magnificent sharp-toothed beasts.

Foxes and walruses, bears and wolves chased each other off the silvery face of Lewis’ MacBook, forever frozen in his photographs but indelibly alive in his mind.

“When the bears come by, the wolves take off,” says Lewis, describing life in the closely watched, middle-of-nowhere border zone between Finland and Russia. Two autumns ago, Lewis traveled to the arctic hinterland on a special permit with a photography tour of four. “We didn’t see a wolverine,” he says, “but if a wolverine had come along, the bears would’ve taken off because wolverines have no sense of humor.”

Lewis readjusts his glasses, then clicks from one image of gray wolves to the next. The frame displays an astonishing blond wolf Lewis identifies as the pack’s alpha. “I saw him one day just for minutes, and that was it,” he says, still in awe more than a year later. The wolf stares from the screen with soft golden eyes that can harden cruelly in an instant.

It was restlessness, fate and the heart of an explorer that landed Lewis and his camera in that frostbitten taiga forest. “I always had to do things with my hands,” he explains, holding them up and open. In the 1970s, a camera came along to occupy his fidgety fingers. At the time, Lewis’ father had taken to photography as a newly divorced, middle-aged man in search of a hobby. Before long, the teenager had a Pentax Spotmatic camera of his own. A week into this new love affair, the kid developed his first photograph with a Willoughby-Peerless darkroom kit in the basement of his childhood home on Long Island, New York.

“The first image I ever developed was of a tree in front of the house,” says Lewis wryly, “because that was the first picture I took.”

He didn’t stick around the house for long. Dad had given him a camera, and with it, the license for a shy teenager to expand and explore his world.

“I never would have gone to a football game by myself,” Lewis says, “but all of a sudden, I had a press pass, and I’m on the sideline.”

Lewis scrolls through his photos, rediscovering Finland with each image frozen in time. Its pied crows are silly, intelligent, and permanently dressed in the full feather of tuxedo. Its ravens are less baroque; nevertheless, they seek attention. Their purply plumes blur more than Lewis would like. The bold birds don’t even flee a brown bear. Then again, neither does Lewis. One lumbered so near his blind he could smell the animal’s breath.

“He’s either going to eat me, or he’s not,” Lewis says with the nonchalance of someone sitting safely in a coffee shop. “I’m thinking, OK, well, I’ve got my camera, and I’ve got a lens I can use like a bat to whack him. I’ll aim for the nose. At the same time, I’m thinking, OK, what’s my aperture? What’s my shutter speed? Is it in focus? Get the eyes in focus.

Lewis chose not to pursue photography professionally after graduating from high school. Instead, he studied engineering.

“I took a job peeling vegetables because I didn’t belong in engineering,” says Lewis, owner and chef of the eponymous Chef Warren’s, Southern Pines’ beloved turn-of-the-century-style bistro. “It wasn’t tactile enough for me. It just doesn’t suit the way my brain works — which is at 1,000 miles per hour — so I became a chef. And I met my wife that way.”

Lewis was working as a sous chef in a New York hotel when Marianne walked in. “We’ve been together ever since,” he says. That was 35 years ago. Since then, he’s worked kitchens up and down the East Coast and around the globe, from Australia to a few days at an Indian restaurant in Malaysia.

“If you’ve got a set of knives,” says Lewis, “you can work anywhere.”

In 1995, “anywhere” became the Sandhills, and three years later, the Lewises opened Chef Warren’s, whose walls display his original prints.

“You need something besides what you do,” Lewis says, parsing the balance between food and photos. “You need to have something else to focus on.”

He dives back into the laptop screen, reliving a staring contest in a Polish forest. “This is one of my favorites! So, I’m sitting in a hide, and this goshawk is sitting there,” he says, pointing to a dappled bird of prey perched on a mossy log. “A red squirrel is bouncing around doing red squirrelly things. I’m thinking, ‘Finger on the triggerget ready to go.’ All of a sudden, they stare at each other.” Lewis holds his breath. The Eurasian red squirrel fluffs its tail and perks its fiery ears. “Then they turn and walk away.”

He spares an extra beat to admire the magic of a perfect moment forever accessible via the time machine of photography.

“Before, the photos never drilled into my soul,” Lewis says, preferring the solitary process of the art to the company of finished prints. That was until 2015, when he watched Kingdom of the Ice Bear, a seven-minute web documentary featuring nature photographer Joshua Holko’s journey to polar bear backcountry.

“Marianne was upstairs making dinner. It was noodles and sauce — super delicious dinner. She makes great tomato sauce,” Lewis says in an aside. “I shout to her, ‘Hey, there’s this photographer out of Australia that is doing this tour to the North Pole. Can I go?’”

“Sure, dinner’s almost ready,” Marianne answered.

Just like that, Lewis departed North Carolina the following July and landed, four flights later, on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago far into the Arctic Ocean, near the top of the world. From there, Lewis, Holko and a dozen or so other adventuring photographers boarded a former lighthouse tender called the MS Origo. For three-and-a-half weeks, the explorers endured dive-bombs from overprotective Arctic terns and the putrid odor of hordes of walruses. They tallied a staggering 17 polar bear sightings on Kong Karls Land, the choicest hibernation destination in the far North.

The mug of one of those 17 is immortalized on the patrons’ right as they enter Chef Warren’s restaurant. The bear feels close. “The correct response is too close,” Lewis says, confessing that the bear was only a room’s length away.

“So here’s the gig. I’m going to die, right?” Lewis asks dryly as he eyes the way-too-close closeup of the magnificent sharp-toothed beast. “This is the way to do it. I want a good story, right? I want my son, Ben, to have a great story. ‘How did your dad die?’ ‘Oh, he got eaten by a polar bear.’ Now that’s a great story.”

Lewis grins and clicks on, very much alive.

He breezes through dozens of images of European bison, another pack of gray wolves, and an Arctic fox curled up tightly to warm itself on a frigid day. An hour after setting out for far-flung locales, he’s satisfied. Lewis powers down his whirlwind expedition. Having returned to that four-top in a coffeeshop, he takes a sip of his warm and watery latte.

Jenna Biter is a writer and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at jennabiter@protonmail.com. Explore Chef Warren Lewis’s photography at warrenhenrylewis.com.

Crossroads

Crossroads

The Unbitter End

On the road less traveled by

By Beth MacDonald

The cruelest thing I have learned about divorce is that I have been left with a poor WiFi signal and a hint of mild road rage.

My husband announced he no longer wanted to be married at some point (when is quite irrelevant at this juncture). I left. Insert real-life game of Mad Libs with four nouns, three verbs, six adjectives, one location and two party favors. Oh, have I’ve got adjectives.

I am now alone. A singular entity in my late 40s, completely unsupervised. I need to reorganize, so I turn to the food triangle I learned in grade school. I think the first thing I need is carbs. Then I realize I’ve made a rookie mistake — wrong triangle. Maslow Shelter to the rescue. My deficiency needs are definitely deficient.

I’m employed by a wonderful nonprofit organization. I love my job. A place to live seems like a good starting point. What can I afford? I go to the farthest end of the Pines, closest to Alaska. It’s beautiful, serene, the perfect place to establish a base camp where the cost of living is low. So low, in fact, that WiFi and sunlight don’t reach the ground. You have to pay extra for sunlight and, even if they offered good WiFi, I couldn’t afford it. Luckily Panera has both carbs (I’m confusing my pyramids again) and free WiFi.

I traded my luxury sports car for a reliable four-cylinder Ford SUV. I used to live 2 miles from downtown Southern Pines. Now, I live a mile down a dirt road out there somewhere. It’s beautiful. I had to simplify my life and, truthfully, loved the process. I don’t mind coaxing my four little SUV hamsters up at 7:30 a.m. to get me to work. The five of us think very hard about the decisions we make at the Pinehurst Traffic Circle.

My organization allowed me to rent office space in Southern Pines, so I can at least work at a real desk and get exposure to Vitamin D. Every day I enjoy a lovely 30-minute commute and private concert brought to you by Ford Motor Co. I practice being the lead vocals, backup singers and band (air guitar, keyboard, drums). I think I might be nominated for a Grammy by my fellow commuters queued up to get on the Traffic Circle. I don’t lip-sync — it’s full-on, live carpool karaoke.

I take Midland Road to Pennsylvania Avenue every day. The minute I make that right turn I am behind the let’s-go-23-mph-in-a-35-zone person, who I follow all the way into downtown. Every day. Every. Day. My iTunes automatically shuffles to Rob Zombie’s “Dragula.” I am now a suburbanite futzing down the road infuriated. I am white-knuckling my steering wheel as I coast past the Police Department slowly enough to make them think I’m avoiding a DUI instead of trapped in a hostage situation. I can’t even breathe until I get to my parking space and unclench my jaw.

That one minor drawback aside, I have otherwise found divorce to be freeing. Marie Kondo would be inspired by my minimalist ways. Buddha would be proud at my level of mellow. I might have found inner peace, even at 23 mph.

My first marriage ended in “till death do us part.” I am familiar with loss — not to minimize it because you can’t. Grief is always “a thing.” We grieve a lot in our lives. We grieve big losses and little losses: death, friendships, our favorite pair of shoes, our wallets. (Who wants to go to the DMV and replace a license?) So, my second marriage went on vacation, and all I got is this lousy WiFi. At least I didn’t lose my wallet.  PS

Beth MacDonald is a suburban misadventurer, author and essayist who often tries to get out of her car without unfastening her seat belt.

Focus on Food

Focus on Food

Celebrating the Pear

Delicate, temperamental and extraordinary

Story and Photograph by Rose Shewey

Pears are a recurring, bittersweet theme in my family. My mom grew up in the Yugoslavia of the 1940s as the youngest of five siblings. When her eldest brother secretly packed his bags one night to attempt to cross the border into Italy, my mom, then 7 years of age, sensed that big changes were ahead. Too young to comprehend the gravity of the situation, her brother simply told her that he was about to visit their aunt and would bring back a basket full of pears from her tree — my mom’s favorite fruit. It wasn’t until weeks after he had left that my mom understood that she’d never see the pears she was promised, nor would she see her brother again, who had been granted a visa to immigrate to the United States.

The pear saga continues. The first solid food I ate as a baby — I have photo proof — was a pear and, in middle school, the first poem I learned to recite by heart, wholeheartedly, was a ballad written by Theodor Fontane, Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland. It tells the story of an old man, a gentle soul, who graciously hands out pears from his stately tree to the children of the village. Knowing that he would die soon and that his son was utterly ungenerous, he asks to be buried with a pear. In time, a pear tree grows on his grave, and the children of the village joyfully pick pears every fall — the old man’s legacy.

Aside from the sentimental appreciation I have for pears, I always considered them to be in a class of their own. Pears, as opposed to their close relatives, apples — the workhorse of the rosaceous crop — are much more delicate in nature. More temperamental, too, but also capable of creating moments worth celebrating when eaten at just the right time. Pears can do extraordinary things, too. Slide a bottle over a young pear on a tree, as they do in the French Alsace region, and allow it to grow directly inside the bottle. You’ll end up with eau de vie de poire (“pear water of life”) after the pear reaches full maturity and is turned into delicious brandy.

A simple but snazzy way to enjoy pears is to poach them. Ah, the possibilities are endless. From using wine or cider or any type of fruit juice and spices you choose, poaching pears is most satisfying and requires no special skill. My latest discovery in enjoying poached pears? Marry them with whipped cottage cheese. As lumpy and, to some, unappealing as cottage cheese appears in its natural state, once whipped, it turns into a silky, marshmallow-y cream firm enough to make picture-perfect dollops when plated.  PS

 


 

Pomegranate Poached Pears with Whipped Cottage Cheese

(Serves 2)

16 ounces cottage cheese (4 percent milk fat)

1 quart pomegranate juice

1 cup sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cinnamon stick

2-3 whole cloves

1-2 star anise

1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise (optional)

2 large pears (Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou)

Toppings of your choice

 

Place cottage cheese in a food processor and blend until you have a smooth, silky texture that resembles soft whipped cream. Store in the refrigerator.

In a medium pot, heat pomegranate juice. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add lemon juice and remaining spices. Peel pears (halve and core, if desired), slide into the liquid and simmer until done — pierce pears with a paring knife, if it meets no resistance, the pears are done. This may take between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on the pears.
Be sure to keep pears submerged or turn them over every once in a while so they cook evenly.

Serve with whipped cottage cheese, pomegranate seeds, muesli, chopped nuts and cacao nibs, or any other toppings of your choice. Add a few spoonfuls of poaching liquid if desired.  PS

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

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

The Scars of Our History

Will revisionism invade the book world?

By Stephen E. Smith

The world is surely shifting beneath our feet. What was Fort Bragg is now Fort Liberty. In many small Southern towns, the obligatory statues memorializing the Confederate dead have come tumbling down with a predictable thud. Even the most revered Southern monument of them all, the edifice of Gen. Robert E. Lee, a bronze equestrian statue with the South’s greatest general mounted on his horse Traveller, was unceremoniously plucked from its imposing pedestal and melted down for scrap.

So here’s the question: In a new world where book banning, the most blatant and least effective form of censorship, is all the snazz, how do revisionist attitudes affect the publishing of books about the Civil War? It’s probably too early to say, but two new offerings are testing the market. Elizabeth R. Varon’s Longstreet: The Confederate General Who Defied the South, and On Great Fields: The Life and Unlikely Heroism of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, by Ronald C. White, are waiting on bookstore shelves.

Those unschooled in Civil War lore and history need only know that Longstreet was Lee’s second in command, referred to by Lee as his “old war horse.” A graduate of West Point, he fought in the Mexican War, was friends with Grant, and played a pivotal role in the Southern rebellion. He’s most remembered for his participation — or lack thereof — in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, where he disagreed with Lee’s determination to attack the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. Varon asks the question that has persisted over the years: Did his (Longstreet’s) misgivings about Lee’s plan translate into battlefield insubordination? Did he deliberately delay Lee’s attack, thus dooming it to failure? Gen. Pickett asked Longstreet if he should proceed with the advance, and Longstreet merely nodded. Scholars and Civil War buffs have spent the last 160 years attempting to discern Longstreet’s motives.

After the surrender at Appomattox, Longstreet moved to New Orleans, a Union-held city that supported a large anti-secession population and a well-educated Black community, a place where Reconstruction might have succeeded. Longstreet threw himself into Republican Party politics and promoted Black suffrage. He helped establish a biracial police force, sat on the New Orleans school board, which was racially integrated, and was instrumental in fostering civil rights laws. But violence soon enough became endemic in the South and in Reconstruction Louisiana. Longstreet attempted to suppress it, but terrorist groups such as the White League and the Knights of the White Camellia held sway. In 1874, the White League attempted to overthrow the state’s Reconstruction government. Longstreet sided with the militia and police, but only the intervention of federal troops restored order. For the remainder of his life, Longstreet continued to speak up for Black voting rights, which earned him condemnation from his former brothers-in-arms.

No statue of Longstreet existed in the South or on the Gettysburg battlefield until the 1998 unveiling of “a decidedly unheroic” likeness of the general riding “an undersized horse, positioned on the grass rather than atop a pedestal, on the edge of the battlefield park, blocked from view by trees.”

So why aren’t there more monuments to Lee’s “old war horse”? Longstreet’s embrace of Reconstruction rendered him unfit as a symbol of the “Lost Cause,” thus proving, Varon observes, that the small-town Confederate statues were not simply monuments to heroism but “totems to white supremacy.”   

“We like to bestow praise on historical figures who had the courage of their convictions,” she writes. “Longstreet’s story is a reminder that the arc of history is sometimes bent by those who had the courage to change their convictions.”

There’s no dearth of statues honoring Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. A bronze likeness stands in Chamberlain Freedom Park in Brewer, Maine. A second statue was erected in Brunswick, Maine, not far from Bowdoin College, where he served as president following his participation in the Civil War, and a third statue of the general overlooks the Gettysburg Battlefield, facing outward from Little Roundtop.

Chamberlain was lifted from obscurity by Michael Shaara’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels and Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary The Civil War, both of which rehash Chamberlain’s and the 20th Maine Infantry’s crucial defense of Little Roundtop during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Ronald C. White’s On Great Fields: The Life and Unlikely Heroism of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is the latest biography to explore Chamberlain’s remarkable and complicated life.

Rather than concentrating on Chamberlain’s Civil War exploits, White delves deeply into the general’s personal life, both pre- and post-war. He examines Chamberlain’s deep Calvinist faith and his love of music and learning — he was fluent in nine languages — that dominated his adolescence and shaped his adulthood. His lengthy and difficult courtship of and marriage to Fanny Adams is explored in sometimes agonizing detail, and his time as president of Bowdoin College and as governor of Maine is fully explicated.

Although he was much admired in Maine, Chamberlain’s post-war years were anything but tranquil. His marriage was troubled. He and Fanny were at one point estranged, and she implied that marital abuse may have been a factor in their separation. Chamberlain never denied the accusation. In January 1880, Chamberlain was called upon to prevent violence in the state Capitol during the gubernatorial election. The Maine State House had been taken over by armed men, and the governor appointed Chamberlain to take command of the Maine Militia. He disarmed the insurrectionists and stayed in the State House until the Maine Supreme Court decided the election’s outcome. White goes on to expand on Chamberlain’s role as an entrepreneur, his ventures into Florida railroads and land development, and various New York businesses.

On February 24, 1914, succumbing at last to infections caused by an old war wound, the 85-year-old Chamberlain died at his home in Portland, 50 years after a minie ball ripped through his body at Petersburg. He had lived most of his life with excruciating pain caused by the wound, refusing opioids that were legal and readily available.

Near the conclusion of Burns’ The Civil War, the death of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is announced: “The war was over,” the narrator says. Given the lessons implicit in these new biographies and the skullduggery of contemporary politics, readers are likely to question that simple declarative sentence.  PS

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards.

In the Spirit

In the Spirit

Change Is Good

Improving the way you cocktail

By Tony Cross

I’m not doing dry January this year, so I’m giving myself a break from taking a break. The new year looks to be a very important one for my business, and I’ll be elbow-deep in new endeavors. I’m always trying to improve recipes and I’m never 100 percent satisfied with the end result — that’s what keeps it fun and interesting. I’ll be tasting (or testing, if you will) many different recipes in January and changing up the way I approach cocktails, but for you home — and away — bartenders, here are a few staples you should keep in mind.

 

Measuring

This might sound like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t get said enough. If you’re not measuring your cocktails, they’re not going to be balanced, plain and simple. When I first started making classic cocktails, I wanted to be like the bartenders at Employees Only and free-pour my drinks — they measure by eyeing all of their pours in a pint glass. I got pretty decent at a few drinks, but I quickly realized that when I was busy and mixing drinks that called for 1/4 ounce of this or 1/8 ounce of that, getting those drinks perfectly balanced was futile. And while there are many more bartenders in establishments who use jiggers to measure, I still see some measuring incorrectly. How’s that? If you have a cocktail calling for 2 ounces of gin, and you fill up the 2-ounce jigger 3/4 of the way, not only is your cocktail incorrect, but you’ve just shorted a paying customer. This is not to say that the bartender is purposely shorting a patron; it has more to do with rushing through the process. And overflowing the jigger isn’t doing anyone any favors either.

 

Juice

This might sound like another no-brainer but, first of all, your juice should be fresh. (If it’s not super juice, a process that stretches the flavor profile at least a week.) When the juice loses its pop, it’s not going to work in your margarita. Another idea worth considering is acid-adjusting some juices, like orange juice. Back in the day I had the Blood & Sand on my menu. It was a classic drink, a bit unusual, and it had Scotch in it. I liked the cocktail, but I never loved it. I always felt like the orange juice — even if juiced that very minute — fell flat on my tastebuds when I mixed the drink. All these years later I found the solution. I learned about acids in Dave Arnold’s book Liquid Intelligence. One of his protégés, Garret Richard, had a quick recipe for acid-adjusting orange juice: For every100 milliliters of juice add 3.2 grams of citric acid and 2.0 grams of malic acid. That adjusts the acidity to that of lime juice. If you’d like your orange juice to have more of a lemon backbone, add 5.2 grams of citric acid per 100 milliliters of orange juice. And speaking of orange juice, if you’re going to add it to your margarita without adjusting the acid to the juice, please make the cocktail balanced. There’s nothing worse than paying $14 for a lousy margarita.

 

Salt

Just like adding salt to certain meals, adding it to certain cocktails, especially those with citrus, will make your drinks “POP!” — according to Instagram bartender Thirsty Whale. Not convinced? Do a side-by-side comparison of two daiquiris: one with a salt solution added and the other without. To make a salt solution, use a 4:1 ratio combining 80 grams of water with 20 grams of salt. It’s important to say again: Measuring is key, especially using salt. Get your 2024 off to a balanced start. You can lose it later. PS

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

Alessandra Gironda + Matthew Beausoleil

Alessandra Gironda + Matthew Beausoleil

Alessandra Gironda married Matthew Beausoleil in a Cinderella gown after a very Cinderella proposal. On a vacation to Disney World for Alessandra’s birthday in 2022, Matt chartered a private cruise that stops in front of Cinderella’s Castle to watch the fireworks display.

“The second that the first firework shot into the air, Matt was down on one knee and asked me to marry him,” Alessandra says. “Best birthday gift ever!”

Fourteen months later, on October 14, 2023, Alessandra and Matt got married on the Pinehurst No. 2 golf course, followed by a fairytale reception at the Pinehurst Country Club Outlook Ballroom.

During the reception, the newlyweds performed a choreographed first dance, and Alessandra, who worked as an NFL cheerleader, reclaimed her Carolina Panthers pom-poms for a special routine with her teammates.

Then at the end of the evening, a Cinderella carriage rented from Southern Breeze Carriages pulled up to the venue and picked up the bride and groom, with “the cutest black horse ever” leading the way.

“He loved my dress as much as I did, although maybe for different reasons,” Alessandra says. “He thought it looked like a tasty snack!”

photographer: Kaitlyn Blake Photography
videographer: Carolina Wedding Films
wedding coordinator: White Tie Planner
ceremony & reception: Pinehurst Country Club
dress: Ross by Rita Vinieris
shoes: Badgley Mischka
bridesmaids: Bella and Bloom Boutique
groom & groomsmen: Bunbury Custom Clothiers
cake & catering: Pinehurst Country Club
flowers: Jack Hadden Floral & Event Design
rentals: Ward Productions and Rock It Productions
custom crest: The Wedding Crest Lab, Etsy
transportation: Sandhills Trolley Company and Southern Breeze Carriages