The Bad Boys of Bird-dom

Vultures are proliferating — and living up to
their bad rap as destructive scavengers


By Susan Campbell

Nuisance birds? Is there truly such a thing?? Yes. In fact, there are a number of them: pigeons (or more correctly rock pigeons), Canada geese and house sparrows are just a few of the species that can damage property all across the United States and every day. But there are also birds that may pose a health risk. Vultures, as it turns out, are one such group.

Often referred to generically as “buzzards,” vultures are part of a family of birds found worldwide with dozens of species including South American condors. Here in North Carolina, we have both turkey and black vultures year round. Individuals from farther north significantly boost flock numbers in the cooler months. These large, black scavengers lack feathers on their heads: likely an adaptation to feeding almost exclusively on carcasses. Turkey vultures are the more common species from the mountains to the coast. Soaring in a dihedral (v-shaped profile) on long wings with silver linings, they have extended tails for steering and distinctive red heads. Black vultures, however, have gray heads and white patches on the underwing as well as somewhat shorter wings and tails. As a result they soar with a flatter profile and fly with snappier wing beats. This species has really expanded across the Piedmont in recent years perhaps due to development, along with increased road building and the inevitable road kill that results.

However, as often as one might see a vulture or two overhead, neither species is a common breeder in our part of the state. 

Some places, like the town of Robbins, here in Moore County, have had an overabundance of vultures now for over a decade. During a recent conversation with David Lambert, the town manager, it became clear that this small town in the western part of the county indeed has a serious issue. The vulture problem only just made it into the news recently. I was alarmed to learn that hundreds of birds roost around the center of town most of the year. The peak density of 600–800 birds occurs in midwinter. However, even in summer there are at least a few dozen loafing in the area. Deterrents such as noisemakers have been to no avail. An official from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services even paid a visit a couple of years ago and used selective lethal measures (i.e. shooting a few birds). This actually worked — for a little while.

Vultures can definitely pose a health hazard. In the late afternoon, they will pour into a spot featuring large trees or where there is a tower of some kind and they will perch close together for the night. You can imagine how smelly and nasty their droppings can be under such structures in a short period of time! It is particularly an issue on water towers, which seem to attract both black and turkey vultures.  Guano has made its way into drinking water here in the Sandhills (in Vass) and certainly cannot be tolerated.

Vultures can also be very destructive if they are bored. This is especially true of juvenile birds in late summer. Some of them have been known to tear into fabric, rip into rubber and plastic, and even break through doors and windows that are not firmly secured.

No one really knows why the congregation exists in the Robbins area. Some speculate it may have to do with proximity to the Deep River or perhaps it is the abundance of chicken farms in close proximity — or it could be something else entirely. What’s clear, though, is that this is one of the largest congregations of vultures in the state.

The U.S.D.A. is likely to pay this town another visit in the near future to shoot more birds. This time, they’ll probably hang a few (yes, this works) at the largest sites to dissuade roosting flocks from congregating there. But since many of the vultures will have dispersed for the breeding season, things should have improved (one way or another). As far as how many return again next fall, only time will tell.  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife photos and reports. She can be reached

The Omnivorous Reader

Endless Love

When all the time in the world isn’t enough


By Stephen E. Smith

My review copy of Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time fell open to an insert from Variety magazine announcing that the “story selection and rights have been acquired by SunnyMarch and Studiocanal” and that the film adaptation of the novel will star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Review copies always arrive with baggage — blurbs, author interviews, questionable testimonials, all of which I ignore. But it’s difficult to overlook a printed warning, tucked between the title page and cover, stating that the novel is soon to be a major motion picture. Before I’ve read the first word, I assume I’m being pitched a puffed-up film treatment, or worse yet, a story intended as fodder for the movie industry. A novel worth reading stands on its own.

Haig is a British author with an impressive track record. He’s written umpteen novels for adults and children, and his memoir Reasons to Stay Alive was on the best-sellers list for 46 weeks. So his latest offering certainly deserves a critical read, Cumberbatch notwithstanding. But like a film treatment that leaves the heart and soul of the story to be fleshed out by the filmmaker, this yarn about a 400-year-old man who could live to be 1,000 never quite comes together as a rewarding work of fiction.

Tom Hazard, the narrator/protagonist, is living the uneventful life of a history teacher in present-day London, but his attitude toward humankind has been shaded by the trauma of witnessing his mother, a peasant woman accused of being a witch for raising a child (Tom) who hasn’t aged appropriately, executed by drowning in the 1600s. Tom is one of a small group of secretive humans who age at such a leisurely pace that they appear immortal to ordinary beings. They’re called Albatrosses, Albas for short, because the bird of that name is rumored to live a long life. Regular folks, those of us who usually expire before the age of 100, are called Mayflies. So what we have is a protagonist granted a long, disease-free life and a chance to observe the world with all its faults and favors who instead spends his time ruminating on the disadvantages of an existence that offers almost endless opportunity for pleasure. Which is the novel’s primary conceptual fault. Sure, Tom’s mother suffered an unfortunate end, and there’s the certainty of losing friends and loved ones who aren’t blessed with Tom’s affliction, and it’s likely Albas would be of interest to scientists studying longevity, but the blessings of a long and healthy life far outweigh these impediments. If fate offered us the chance to be an Alba, we’d probably rejoice.

Despite this obvious incongruity, the novel’s concept should allow the author to present the reader with complex and unfamiliar perspectives, and Tom’s longevity should have blessed him with insights into the mysteries of life that he can share with the reader. But none of this happens, although there is the occasional hackneyed rambling about the past and its relationship to the present: “There are things I have experienced that I will never again be able to experience for the first time: love, a kiss, Tchaikovsky, a Tahitian sunset, jazz, a hot dog, a Bloody Mary. That is the nature of things. History was — is — a one-way street. You have to keep walking forwards. But you don’t always need to look ahead. Sometimes you can just look around and be happy right where you are.” That’s as philosophical as Tom gets.

“The first rule is that you don’t fall in love,” Tom is told by a fellow Alba, introducing an intended unifying subplot that centers on Tom’s emotional attachment to a woman in the present. Thus we have a contemporary love story, albeit a slight one. And there’s a manipulative antagonist, Hendrich, the head guy with The Albatross Society, whose purpose is to ensure that Albas remain a mystery to Mayflies. The narrative alternates scenes set in the present with chapters that explicate Tom’s backstory. In his former existence, he loved a woman, Rose, who died of plague, and he has a daughter, Marion, also an Alba, who has disappeared and is the object of a half-hearted search that stretches into the novel’s melodramatic conclusion. But none of these characters is adequately realized, and they function merely as plot devices or foils.

During his passage through time, Tom meets Shakespeare, Captain Cook, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and others, but these historical characters appear to no particular purpose and only serve to tease the reader with subplots that never quite materialize. Tom is hired by Shakespeare to play lute at the Globe Theatre and finds himself in a minor dustup that does nothing to advance the plot, and he discusses The Great Gatsby and the fleeting nature of happiness with Fitzgerald: “‘If only we could find a way to stop time,’ said her husband [Scott]. ‘That’s what we need to work on. You know, for when a moment of happiness floats along. We could swing our net and catch it like a butterfly, and have that moment forever’” — a simplistic reading of Scott and Zelda’s story that will strike Fitzgerald aficionados as clichéd.

How to Stop Time has received positive reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kirkus, People and other media, but potential readers will have to part with hard-earned bucks for the book and, more importantly, they’d have to spend hours reading 330 pages that they’ll likely find less than satisfying. They’d be wiser to save their money for a theater ticket and popcorn. With Benedict Cumberbatch in the starring role, the movie might be worth the price of admission — and their valuable time.  OH

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.

Tapestry Of Home

Tapestry Of Home

Ann and Cliff Bridges weave together many threads at Wood Meadow

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Amy Freeman


After moving to a brand-new second home, Cliff and Ann Bridges didn’t want to be those people.

You know: the people who build and move, and build and move, a three-dimensional expression of restlessness.

So they stayed put, with their three kids, in their perfectly fine custom-built home, which soon was bumping elbows with other perfectly fine custom-built homes.

They wanted breathing room, but they waited. They bought a wooded lot and sat on it. The 2-acre parcel was in Brandt Trace Farm, just outside the city limit on the north side of Greensboro, a bluebird’s flit away from Lake Brandt.

The lot had everything they wanted: space, trees and privacy afforded by a watershed in back and a fenced meadow in front.

For eight years, Cliff and Ann waited on behalf of the kids, who loved their house, their neighborhood, their friends, their schools.

They waited until 1986, when their youngest child was a senior in high school.

Then they built and moved again.

This time, it was for keeps — or as long as humans can keep anything.

This time, it was Wood Meadow, the setting in which Cliff and Ann  — both former employees of Burlington Industries — would braid the strands of their well-traveled lives.

He didn’t believe in dating co-workers.

She didn’t either.

But in December 1975, the company Christmas dance was on the horizon at the Bur-Mil Club, an employees-only retreat on the edge of Lake Brandt.

Cliff wanted a date. So did Ann.

He asked. She said yes.

A few months later, he popped another question.

She said yes again.

They honeymooned in Bermuda, the lanky, beach-boyish Cliff and the sparky, petite Ann. Forty-two years later, the young couple smile, aglow, from a framed snapshot propped on a chest in their master suite.

It does not escape them that the relationship took flight around the bend of the lake where they live now.

“When this property became available we said, ‘That’s it!’ We love this area,” says Cliff.

A son of Greensboro’s Lindley Park neighborhood, Cliff grew up attending family reunions at the nearby Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Ann came from rural Pennsylvania, hundreds of miles away, but the couple shared a reverence of nature and an abiding respect for people who make things from scratch.

“My father’s father had a cast-iron foundry,” says Cliff. “My other grandfather was logger with saw mill. Ann’s family was in the oil and gas business. We both come from families where people did hard work — oil, gas, metal, wood.”

The women in their families created with food and fabric. With that legacy, Ann and Cliff appreciate items crafted with care.

“For us, it is about how things are made and who made them,” says Cliff.

With their textile backgrounds, it’s no surprise that the couple have created a home rich in color and texture, starting with the façade.

The coarse veneer is called tabby, a concrete that’s made from sand, lime and crushed oyster shells, and is most often seen in old coastal towns.

Cliff and Ann, both shell collectors, first saw the nubby material on an anniversary trip to Sea Island, Georgia. The finish encapsulated their love of shells and coastal living.

But back in Greensboro, they had a devil of a time finding a local contractor who could do tabby. A search of the East Coast turned up an elderly gentleman and his sons in Wilmington. They were booked, but they trained a Greensboro couple to do the work. The couple used shells harvested near Topsail Beach. They applied the chunky sea mud by hurling it against the walls and waiting to see what stuck.

“They literally picked it up and threw it with their hands,” says Cliff. “It created the biggest mess. If you dig around the foundation of the house, you’ll find some of the clumps.”

The resulting pale gray topcoat — think calcified bouclé — finds elegance next to robin’s-egg-blue shutters and a bark-colored roof with dormers. The effect is soft-spoken.

The mingling of color and texture continues inside the home with a statement foyer cloaked in grass cloth. Japanese folding screens hang high, flattened on the walls. The floor is creamy marble inset with taupe diamonds. A split staircase, edged with Chinese Chippendale railing, anchors the space. Both branches of the steps land on a catwalk balcony.

It’s an excellent perch, one frequented by the couple’s two miniature Alaskan Klee Kai huskies, Tahoe and Aspen, who make the climb to survey their kingdom.

The vantage point is nice for humans, too. Face east, and you gaze out above the front door, through a Palladian window, and into a meadow bordered by white fences. The neighborhood association maintains the oasis as a common area.

Twirl 180 degrees on the catwalk, and you look through a cavernous family room, out a two-story bank of windows, and into woods that filter the golden rays of afternoon.

“We learned this, again, with our travels,” says Cliff. “When light comes into the house from the east, it wakes you up. In the evening, when you’re having sundowners, it’s nice to have light from the west on your back porch.”

Cliff and Ann designed the 6,000-square-foot home with the help of Greensboro draftsman Howard Thompson. The inside-out design began with the couple figuring out how big they wanted each room to be. Thompson jig-sawed the rooms into a plantation-style home with the essentials of retirement living on the first floor. The lot accommodated a wide footprint.

“This was definitely a unique plan,” Cliff says. “In all of our travels, I don’t know that we’ve ever seen anything like this.”

Like the grand staircase, the house is laid out in a flattened “Y”-shape. The trunk contains the foyer in front — flanked by a dining room and a sitting room — and a lodge-like living area in back.

Deep reds and greens ground the living area. Tapestries, plus a towering stone fireplace and a bronze wheel-shaped chandelier add English manor house gravitas.

The room is lightened by Audubon bird prints, more grass cloth and the wall of windows. Cliff and Ann love to sip morning coffee or an evening drink from comfortable club chairs, clad in Ralph Lauren paisley, at the base of the windows.

The home’s wings sprout from either side of the core. They contain bedrooms, his-and-her offices, a greenhouse and a kitchen at the center of the home.

Ann requested the kitchen, which has no exterior walls, so she could focus better on cooking and so that, during catered parties, the din of the kitchen could be sealed off, with sliding doors, from the main living area.

French doors link the kitchen to a Florida room with murals by Don Morgan. The curvaceous sunroom mimics the shape of a seashell; shelves display the real shells that Cliff and Ann have picked up from beaches in Florida and the Caribbean. They have bought some of the more exotic specimens.

Throughout the home, the couple have meshed pieces they’ve purchased and inherited.

Ann, who migrated to Greensboro in 1972, contributed heirlooms from her family home in Dunns Station, Pennsylvania, a couple of hours south of Pittsburgh.

After she and her first husband divorced, she went to work in the travel department of Burlington Industries, scheduling trips for executives.

A promotion vaulted her into managing the company store inside former corporate headquarters on Friendly Avenue in Greensboro. Demolished to make way for more stores at Friendly Center, the landmark Modernist building had a distinctive X-patterned steel exoskeleton.

Ann was in the store one day when Cliff, a technical director who also was recently divorced, walked in with his two children. One of Cliff’s former coworkers, who had transferred to the company store, nudged Cliff to ask Ann to the Christmas dance.

They wed in 1976 and set about knitting together their families — Ann’s son plus Cliff’s son and daughter — and their belongings.

Cliff arrived with several handcrafted pieces he’d made as a student at UNCG’s Curry School, a K-12 lab that was started on campus as a training ground for teachers. The innovative school opened in 1892 — back when the university was called the State Normal and Industrial School — and was adopted by the Greensboro city school system before closing in 1970.

As a Curry student in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Cliff got to school by riding a city bus down Walker Avenue. He loved shop class, where industrial arts teacher David Rigsby showed students how to make fine furniture. Cliff’s handiwork peppers Wood Meadow.

One piece, a mahogany Federalist-style clock with hand-turned finials, gleams in the sitting room. The space is a microcosm of the home.

The handmade clock rests on a low table; the base is an old sled with bowed wooden runners. The couple found the antique sled during a trip to Aspen.

Cloisonné plates stand on the fireplace mantel, along with Taiwanese figurines and Chinese dragons pulled from hand-blown glass.

The fireplace is bookended by two cherry nightstands, complete with brass hardware, leftover from a suite of bedroom furniture by Henkel Harris.

A clivia plant from the couple’s greenhouse flaunts pale orange flowers nearby.

The rug underfoot is a plush hand-cut Chinese number in cream, taupe and brown.

The custom-made armchairs and love seats appeared early in the marriage. For Wood Meadow, they were refreshed with cocoa velvet stitched with a cream botanical design.

A carved camphor chest, found by designer Terry Lowdermilk, supports a table at the center of the room.

An orange and purple canvas by Danish modern artist Hans Petersen splashes energy across one wall. Throughout the home, art hatched elsewhere hangs beside the work of local artists including Nancy Bulluck, Kathryn Troxler, Judy Lomax, Sandy Pittman, Barbara Glover and Bill Mangum.

Per the home’s plantation style, every room on the ground floor has at least one door leading to the outside, easing the flow of breezes and people.

“We just wanted everything to flow out, onto the earth,” says Ann.

Garden designer Chip Callaway dressed the home in glossy green Schip laurels and magnolias accented by peeling-bark birches and pings of seasonal color from dogwoods, redbuds, hellebores and lusty choirs of daffodils. Stonemason Milton Dillingham cobbled together the flagstone porches that ring the house. Cliff and Ann moved into Wood Meadow in January 1987, a day before a heavy snowfall hushed the city.

“We lost power,” says Ann, who remembers that the construction dumpster and a portable toilet were blanketed in white, too.

She and Cliff laugh at the story.


For the last 30 years, Wood Meadow has been the couple’s base of operation through career and life changes.

After becoming a buyer for Burlington’s 60-some company stores and traveling on the same jets she used to book for brass, Ann left the organization a few years before they moved into Wood Meadow.

She started Little Women, a chain of boutiques for petite women, in 1984. She operated locations Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Raleigh.

Cliff left Burlington in 1987, the same year they moved into Wood Meadow and joined Ann in running the stores.

The couple closed the stores in 1998 as the appetite for high-end clothing faded. Cliff joined another corporation, PGI, and specialized in nonwoven materials. His home office contains framed evidence: a Levi’s denim set made from virgin polyester and two Nike runner’s jerseys, made from recycled soda bottles. Runners from a half-dozen countries, including the U.S., wore similar singlets in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

Cliff also helped to develop and shares a patent for a lightweight disaster-relief blanket made from polyester and polypropylene.

When PGI headquarters moved to Charlotte, Cliff and Ann bought a condo in the Dilworth neighborhood and lived there for a while. They’ve since sold the condo, and another home in Grandfather Mountain, but they never gave up Wood Meadow.

In fact, they’ve never stopped creating the homestead.

In 2014, they hired master stonemason Brian Pacheco to expand the garden with stone pathways, a koi pond, waterfalls, a bridge, a creek-side patio and fire pit. He chinked low walls and rocky pylons with ropy grapevine mortar. 

Two pylons topped with stone spheres stand guard at the driveway entrance. Two more posts, which are up-lit, mark the threshold between garden and watershed. At night, the posts serve as beacons to hikers and cyclists who traverse the trails around Lake Brandt.

To top off the souped-up garden, Ann and Cliff contracted Eric Morley, co-owner of the Boone-based Carolina Timberframe and a former neighbor at Grandfather Mountain, to install a freestanding tree-house tower.

“It stands among the trees as if it were a tree,” says Cliff.

Easier on the living trees than a platform nailed into branches — and every bit as much fun for Cliff and Ann’s eight grandchildren —the 30-foot tower was constructed off-site with mortise and tenon joinery. The craftsmanship reminds Cliff of his maternal grandfather, Eli Oscar McQueen, a lumberman. Rusty-fanged saw blades, which Cliff bought at The Farmer’s Wife antiques store in downtown Greensboro, adhere to the tower in places where they pose no danger.

Eric and his crew installed the tree tower in exchange for a promotional video produced by Cliff’s company, Xedge Communications Design and Sustainability. You can see the YouTube video by searching “timber frame tree house tower.”

The latest postscript to the wooded playground is a regulation bocce court, a nod to Ann’s family’s passion for playing bocce on the beach. If you doubt that anyone would use a bocce court enough to justify the cost of building one (“I probably have a mental block on that,” Cliff says, fumbling for a figure), consider that the couple have hosted 10 bocce parties since christening the court last Labor Day.

It’s easy to get up a game, they say, because the sport allows a player to lob a ball with one hand while holding a drink in the other.

Now 30 years into Wood Meadow, at an age when most people refrain from enlarging homes and gardens, Cliff and Ann — he’s 72 and she’s 76 — continue to generate the warp and weft of memories at their sylvan refuge.

They’ll stay as long as they are able.

“This is a house for life,” says Cliff.  OH

Men For All Seasons

Men For All Seasons

Among the trees at Green Hill Cemetery, Doug Goldman picks up where Bill Craft left off

By Jim Dodson     Photographs by Doug Goldman


I’ve spent a lot of time out here,” says Doug Goldman. “Though I frankly can’t tell you how much exactly because I’m always so focused when I’m walking these grounds, regardless the season. There are so many amazing trees. As a result, I can never walk in a straight line,” he continues. “I’m always discovering something new and wandering off to look closely at it.”

Goldman laughs, starting down a row of mature ginko trees that line one of the main entry lanes to historic Green Hill Cemetery. The trees, which are an ancient species, look to be very old but Goldman estimates they’re only 35 to 40 years old.

“They were planted by Bill Craft. This cemetery was his showplace. He didn’t keep records of his planting — entirely in his head,” says an incredulous Goldman. “Bill was obsessed with planting trees and shrubs. But trees and shrubs change over time. That’s why I got involved, to identify and make his legacy more accessible to people.”

Bill Craft was a successful Greensboro insurance man by trade, but an amateur plant impresario who placed the green in Greensboro by single-handedly landscaping many of the city’s notable urban spaces, parks and greenways. Craft passed away in 2010.

Doug Goldman, who never met the man he admires, is a youthful 49-year-old USDA botanist and plant expert with advanced degrees from Cornell and the University of Texas, a former research associate at Harvard and London’s Kew Gardens. Over the past half decade he got to know and identify more than 900 different trees and shrubs within Green Hill’s fairly modest 51 acres of land.

The cemetery is the oldest in the Gate City, a historic burying ground dating from 1877, laid out in a traditional “garden style” common to 19th century, one of three active cemeteries the City of Greensboro owns and looks after. Two others are Maplewood, the historically African-American cemetery off Gillespie Street in East Greensboro and Forest Lawn, adjacent to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. A fourth cemetery, Union, off lower South Elm Street, is maintained by Cemetery Superintendent Mike Moye’s eight-man crew, but it is inactive.

“Mike and his crew do a good job of maintenance considering how thin they are spread compared to years ago,” says Goldman as he sets off with a visitor on a walking tour of Green Hill’s soulful rolling terrain, a postage stamp of bucolic beauty wedged between the Gate City’s oldest neighborhoods.

“Once upon a time in America,” he explains, “people thought of cemeteries as gardens, resting places where nature and man came together. Given tightening municipal budgets, the priorities of cities have really changed. Now the game is to keep up with maintenance.” Goldman surveys the cemetery’s well-kept grounds before picking up the thread. “That’s why I got involved to help the Friends of Green Hill and Mike and his staff identify what all is out there — and help preserve what is here. Some of it is quite surprising and rare,” he adds. “Like no place else I know of.”

Partnered with the volunteer Friends, funded by public donations and support from the Friends of Greensboro Parks and Recreation Foundation Goldman collected data, made photographs in all seasons and created a state-of-the-art app and map with a GPS plant-identification system that allows visitors, trees lovers and folks who simply crave the peacefulness of a historic green space to quickly identify any tree or shrub on the premises. Goldman also designed and personally tagged almost every tree and shrub with a unique plant-friendly identification system.

“What Doug did as an unpaid volunteer, entirely on his own, is really a great gift to the city,” says Mike Moye, “to people everywhere who love plants and trees. You can come here in any season and learn amazing things about trees and see species that have no reason to be growing here. That’s the legacy of Bill Craft with help from Doug Goldman.”

“This is a walker’s paradise and great gathering place for families to find solitude in the middle of the city,” echoes Ann Stringfield who gave her first walking tour of the cemetery 28 years ago. She points out that the gravestones of Green Hill bear the family names that grace just about every significant street and neighborhood in the city – Lindleys, Lathams, Richardsons, Bryans, Prices and even a certain C. Alphonso Smith, O.Henry’s early biographer.

Stringfield and Bill Craft’s son, David, formed the Friends of Green Hill Cemetery in 2009, a group of volunteers who periodically do light maintenance, look after the property, advocate for its maintenance and serve as roving ambassadors for the Gate City’s most historic burying ground.

“My father loved Green Hill. It was like a canvas for his restless desire to green the city,” adds David Craft, a self-described “amateur botanist” who learned much about nature by simply following in his indefatigable papa’s footsteps on his famous “guerilla” sorties to plant unique trees and shrubs throughout Greensboro — including scores of public parks, schools and spaces like Green Hill. “He just never sat still, read dozens of books on botany, and wildlife magazines and was always ordering unusual trees from nurseries near and far, planting them to see how they would grow.” Some didn’t take but many others thrived, he says, pausing. “That was Dad’s legacy. Fittingly, he sat down on a stone monument after giving a tour of Green Hill,” he recalls, “and had difficulty standing up. His exhaustion turned out to be leukemia. But I always thought how appropriate that he saw his own last days here in a place he loved — Green Hill,” says Craft, who continues the family tradition by working with Piedmont Legacy Trails, an organization that promotes trail advocacy.

Since the organization’s inception, Friends of Green Hill have funded benches for visitors and produced a 30-page walking tour of the historic grounds. They regularly give walking tours and PowerPoint programs to civic groups in the interest of expanding knowledge about one of the city’s least known assets. Ann Stringfield wryly refers to her own tour of Green Hill’s peaceful tree-sheltered lanes as “The Plants and the Planted,” emphasizing how the remarkable variety of trees make the property a natural sanctuary for personal remembrance, plant lovers, bird-watchers, walkers and wildlife. 

“So many people drive by the gates and never realize what a treasure awaits in these grounds.”

That was even the case for Doug Goldman. He arrived in Greensboro eight years ago as one of three botanists assigned to the Regional Technical Support System for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Center, covering 22 states, Puerto Rico and much of the American West. Among the unit’s primary responsibilities is to gather detailed data on the life of trees and native shrubs, in a nutshell where and how they are growing in each section of the nation. Prior to arriving in Greensboro, Goldman worked as a research associate at Harvard where, among other things, historic Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge was both a resource and inspiration to a man whose life is trees. 

“Early in life I discovered that old cemeteries are really fine arboretums,” he says, explaining how he fell in love with trees “about age 7 or 8” when in the mid 1970s his parents bought a new house in a wooded section in Pittsford, New York, south of Rochester. “We were surrounded by the magnificent red oaks, so I set out to plant more red oaks on our lawn. I dug up trees from the woods and brought them home and planted them, including a vine that turned out to be poison ivy. Luckily I wasn’t allergic to it, but my mom and dad sure were. The oaks died but I was hooked on trees.”

The City of Rochester’s famous Mount Hope Cemetery (where Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are buried) became his open-air laboratory for studying mature and unusual species of trees.

Not surprisingly, it was the sight of unusual specimens of trees as he passed Green Hilll one day in 2014 that prompted Goldman to have a look inside the fences. “Quite honestly, I’d passed it dozens of times and never realized that it was an old cemetery. The leaves were off the trees and I saw several species of pines — a weeping pine in particular — that caught my attention.” Then he spotted a Needle palm in the valley and a turkey oak, and thought, “There’s no way that is naturally occurring. Something’s going on here.”

He investigated, met Ann Stringfield and David Craft, and eventually offered his scientific help to catalogue and help preserve the cemetery’s legacy via his electronic database and GPS system. “There were lots of great trees here but some were near the end of their life spans and others had been damaged by storms.” He remembered a beautiful elm back in his hometown that the city needlessly cut down after an ice storm. “At a time when cities everywhere are reducing their maintenance budgets, my hope was to remove trees that needed to go for the health of the property but prevent that sort of thing from happening at Green Hill.”

A walk with Doug Goldman is like being with a kid in a candy shop made of trees. His knowledge and enthusiasm are both infectious.

In the space of an hour, he showed off — and gave delightful mini-dissertations on — a rare blue jack oak specimen, a Kentucky coffee tree, longleaf pines, a magnificent pond pine, London plane trees, Amur cork tree, the largest Colorado blue spruce in the region, bald and Montezuma cypress, swamp tupelo, live oaks and sand pines native to Florida, plus a quaking aspen, big fig leaf magnolia, the aforementioned Turkey oak, lilac trees, Japanese cedar, catalpa and a genuine California redwood.

“You don’t have to go all the way to California to see a real redwood,” he quips, “though you probably should. They’re amazing. But if you want to save the time and money, you can just come to Green Hill and see a truly beautiful specimen.”

“This place really is Bill Craft’s legacy. I wish I’d known him,” Goldman reflects. “He was like a combination of my grandfather and myself, a man obsessed with trees. Bill planted so many of the trees here, species you won’t find any other place in this part of the country. That’s a great educational tool for anyone who shares our passion for nature. My job is to help protect the trees and expand exposure of what a wonderful place Green Hill is — in any season.”  OH

Community Gardens

The Plot Thickens

In a community garden, everybody has an opinion


By David Claude Bailey

As Anne and I administered something akin to last rites to the garden plot we’d tended for 14 years, the sun punched through a drab January sky, looking like a candle burning a hole in a gray piece of paper. My wife and I were unearthing slumbering plants from our designated plot in Greensboro’s Mixed Greens community garden to take them to the abandoned dairy farm we’d rented near Whitsett. Our Egyptian walking onions would take a long trek to our new place, bedding down where cows once grazed. Out came clump after clump of hearty asparagus roots. We unearthed oregano and horseradish. We uprooted a thriving and luxurious artichoke plant, reminiscent, even in January, of a van Gogh painting.

As we packed the car, we agreed that what we’d miss most about community gardening was the community of gardeners, many of whom had become close friends. What we wouldn’t miss were several zealots who, from the time we got there, became a self-appointed group of antagonists. Our choice to garden organically, as we had done for decades, without commercial pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizer, clearly went against the grain with them. They all must have graduated from the same training program, I decided, one I imagined was akin similar to Marine Corps boot camp. They came off as know-it-alls who didn’t hesitate to tell us that there’s a right and wrong way of gardening — and ours was wrong.

“You can’t do that,” said one gentleman, who seemed to possess a wardrobe expressly for gardening — green canvas trousers, matching Crocs, a yellow t-shirt emblazoned with vegetable images. “That manure,” he warned, “will burn up anything you plant.” I was wearing garb similar to what my father had told me to put on when he first introduced me to “busting clods” at the age of 5: threadbare clothes too old to send to Goodwill. “We don’t expect much the first year,” I explained. “We’re really just building up the soil for the future.” We’d used load after load of compost and manure, the latter, donated by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus after their annual visit, included fragrant lion and elephant scat. “That manure’s going to kill anything you plant,” he repeated.

Anne, who tends to be a little more diplomatic than I am, said, “We’ve been gardening organically more than 40 years, and we know what we’re doing.” After explaining once again how our plants would die a nitrogen-induced death of wilting agony, he marched off, shaking his head in disgust.

From then on, we continued to raise eyebrows — by using bamboo as a trellis for our snow peas, by planting Asian long beans that climbed into the sky like Jack’s beanstalk, by introducing a 150-gallon horse trough for Anne’s water lilies and goldfish, by turning down an offer to use the community’s bright red rototiller, by mulching our bed with newspapers — and recycled O.Henry magazines — to keep the weeds down, by putting a plastic snake among our strawberries to scare away birds, but most of all, by refusing to water during a summer that will be remembered for one of the severest droughts the Piedmont has ever witnessed. We were able to do this by converting our soil from a block of red clay into a loamy mélange of organic materials full of earthworms, and then by covering our plants with a thick blanket of mulch.

“Mulch is a medium for pests,” another outraged expert told us when a few bugs began nibbling the leaves of our beans. “You’re going to want to dust those plants.” When we responded that we were disinclined to do so, we got a lecture on containment. It was as if our garden were a Vietnam of pests and not nipping them in the bud would lead to takeovers in neighboring plots.

Whenever pests began eating our plants, we dusted them with diatomaceous earth or a mixture of snuff and cayenne pepper. If our beans continued to serve as a main course for the insect world, we simply pulled them up and planted something else.

But back to the drought of 2007–2008. Decades before, Anne had taught me to only water when absolutely necessary.  She even introduced that weird practice to my father, who was raised on a tobacco farm, used chemicals liberally and watered daily all summer long.  She explained that when you water continuously, the roots don’t grow deep into the ground and in consequence the plants become addicted to their daily dose of water. Too much water will also wash the nutrients away, she explained.

During the drought when neighboring gardeners offered to water our garden if we went out of town for a week, we said, thanks, but no thanks. And they were incredulous. They were more incredulous when, despite the drought, our lush, towering vines filled out with plump, ripe, red tomatoes — lots of them. Some of our neighbors even began asking for mulching advice — and for some of those old, discarded issues of O.Henry magazines.

On the main, though, we found almost all the gardeners friendly folks who generously shared their seedlings and crops with others. One year when early blight hit everyone’s tomatoes, Flossie told us about an organic product with micronutrients that had brought her tomatoes back from the brink, and then pulled her sprayer out and offered it to us right then and there. She was right, the tomatoes grew productive new branches and leaves. Our crop was saved. And Billie shared herbs and vegetables, as well as tips. Another gardener suggested we try Rotenone, a “natural, organic” pesticide. And “experts” were always available to generously help new gardeners with their plots. 

We became the odd pair, and gradually the rigid experts left us alone. But they administered the garden, and one year when we were one month late sending in the check for the next year’s rent, our plot was given to someone else. No warning, no phone call, no notice. As soon as Anne realized we’d been negligent, she called about it and I remember the tears rolling down her face. Having spent hours and hours building tilth, nurturing earthworms and grooming out favorite perennials, losing our plot was like losing a pet. On the other hand, we had forgotten to pay the rent and rules are rules.

When the young gardener who rented our bed gave it up at the end of that summer, we got a call, asking if we didn’t want our old bed back — and that’s when we learned what community gardening was all about. That spring when we returned to reclaim our plot, we were greeted like long-lost friends by fellow gardeners.

Ginny, who was the one who invited us back, asked me if I was interested in volunteering. I let her know that my expertise was limited to heavy lifting, digging and operating a wheelbarrow, but soon I became the go-to guy for helping older members who were recovering from surgery or were too ill to tend to what they’d planted. As a result, I grew close to one of our early critics. We shared life stories one spring day when I helped him put in tomatoes, which I ended up caring for and picking and sending to him as he recuperated. Emily, who recruited my help with her runaway Jerusalem artichokes, turned out to be an avid birder, and she and Anne shared news of sightings of rare visitants like a rufous hummingbird that came to town.

Equally rare were some of the plants that gardeners from other countries grew — African corn that grew 15 feet high, rice that didn’t need to be planted in water and all sorts of peppers that were several times hotter than habaneros. The plot right next to ours belonged to Susan, who used to live in Africa. She generously shared some of her blisteringly hot peppers and childhood memories with us. Her entire bed was almost covered in some unusual greens, which one of the overenthusiastic fellow gardeners once pulled up, thinking they were weeds.

Spring is on the way, and out the window I can see arugula, kale, turnips, beets and mesclun thriving. Brussels sprouts have already been harvested and now snow peas are germinating in their place. The massive asparagus roots from our old community plot are doubtless wondering about their new surroundings, but I bet they’re liking the horse and cow manure all around them. Corn, pumpkins and watermelon, all discouraged in the community garden as too sprawling, are in our summer plans.  Artichoke seedlings are thriving in the sunshine on our porch, while tomato and pepper seeds make plans in their flats. The other day, Anne put out lettuce, parsley, onion and cilantro sets under row cover, and sowed seeds of parsnips, beets and carrots. Before she planted, I worked in a few wheelbarrows of cow manure and mulch and followed up the planting with some wonderful composted hay I found nearby.

I told Anne that I almost missed the Greek chorus of Expert Gardeners wailing over our organic ways. They reminded me of the prophets of doom in my hometown of Reidsville who naysayed anything and everything that was the least bit ambitious or different. Over the years, I’ve come to realize, though, that some of the most generous and compassionate people on the planet live in that little town — along with some of the most cantankerous and mean-spirited. Just like any community, including a community garden. While it doesn’t take a village to raise a good, homegrown tomato, it does provide for a richer experience.  OH

As contributing editor at O.Henry, David Claude Bailey contributes fresh tomatoes, cucumbers — and lots of zucchini — to the staff.

Wandering Billy

The Great White Milky Way   

Remembering the Gate City’s dairy bars 


By Billy Eye

“I have never been lost but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”
— Daniel Boone

Eye was wandering down Gate City Boulevard the other day, don’t ask why or I may feel obligated to tell you how badly I regretted my luncheon choice. As I’m wont to do while meandering aimlessly, I stumbled across a curiosity, the former storefront of Biltmore Dairy Farms’ ice cream parlor located on the corner of Highland, a block west from Tate. (Coincidentally, Guilford Dairy had a nearby ice cream bar, but more about that later.)

The entire building is empty now but the painted sign is partially visible. Biltmore Dairy Farms was an Asheville concern, hence the name, with operations spread across the Southeast. Their milk and ice cream were considered a bit richer than the competition.

Biltmore’s dairy operation expanded into Greensboro in the late 1940s. Butter, eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream and milk were loaded onto yellow and brown trucks at Biltmore’s depot on Battleground and Pisgah Church. Delivery drivers in crisp white uniforms fanned out around the city, gently placing whatever was ordered directly into your fridge, if that was your preference. When a customer wasn’t home they’d leave everything outside the door in a metal box designed to shade the contents from the sun.

We were a Guilford Dairy (“Your Hometown Dairy”) family but they operated in much the same way. Guilford was a cooperative made up of some 50 local farmers with contented cows, formed in the 1930s in reaction to Pet Milk forcing wholesale prices downward.

Twice a week at breakfast time, the sound of that pug-nosed 1959 Divco “ice buggy” could be heard thumping down our driveway, brakes squealing as the red-and-white Guilford Dairy truck came to a halt, followed almost immediately by the clinking of quart-sized glass bottles rattling against the wooden crates they were transported in. Unlike Guilford Dairy, or maybe my parents never clued us in, Biltmore also delivered ice cream and frosty treats like chocolate Winky Bars and orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream Push-Ups.

Both dairies had proprietary satellite ice cream parlors with winding luncheonette counters not unlike those found at the major drug stores and five-and-dimes. Biltmore’s shop at 1002 Lee Street (now Gate City Boulevard, natch) opened in 1950, offering diverse culinary options like cherry sundaes, mozzarella sticks, and French onion soup. Fast casual, 1950s-style.

The windows above this Biltmore Dairy Farms location, long ago bricked in and boarded up, represent two very large apartments running the length of the building. Trish Schultz fondly recalls those second floor walkups: “My grandparents lived there back in the late ’50s and ’60s and I stayed with them many days. I’d go in that side door to walk upstairs to my grandparent’s apartment, stairs to the left and then to the right. A blind lady lived upstairs as well.” Most of Trish’s childhood memories of her grandparents are centered around this address on Lee Street, “I used to look out the kitchen window and watch the trains go by. We’d cross Lee Street to cash in bottles [at Lippard’s Grocery].” Biltmore shuttered their souped-up soda fountains in 1966 but continued milk delivery well into the 1970s.

Guilford Dairy Bar’s first Greensboro soda fountain appeared in 1947, a stand-alone shop on Lee Street that more recently housed a skateboard emporium. In contrast to Biltmore’s one and only Greensboro venue, there were seven Guilford Dairy Bars scattered about the city by the 1960s, including storefronts in Summit Shopping Center and Friendly Center. Their Plaza Shopping Center location, where Moe’s Southwest Grill is today, was one of the few restaurants I can remember my parents taking us to when we were young.

The Guilford Dairy Cooperative Association became United Dairy in 1969, Guilford Dairy Bars around the state were absorbed into the Mayberry Ice Cream chain. I never noticed any significant change back in the day, other than the signage. Sundaes tasted the same, made with the plainest vanilla ice cream imaginable, hot fudge, nitrous oxide propelled whipped cream, topped with half a maraschino cherry.

Want the scoop on what that long-ago experience was like? You’re in luck. Guilford Dairy Bar in the Summit Shopping Center, aka Mayberry Ice Cream Shoppe, has been operating continuously for almost 70 years, preparing dishes pretty much the way they always have since the ribbon was cut on that retail strip back in the 1940s.


As an aside, I was attracted by another nearby anomaly on Gate City, on the other side of Tate Street, five charming Craftsman style homes from the late 1920s and 1930s, all but one vacant. They surround the former Good Luck Coal and Good Luck Beverages distribution center; Pugh Metal Finishing was there in the 1990s. This building is a tad run down now, if by tad you mean totes, but at least a portion of that structure is still in use by a beverage distributor. Plans are afoot to rehab this space for a brewery. Be nice if these homes could be repurposed or relocated for future generations to enjoy as well.  OH

Billy Eye is the author of five books, all but one of them available, and can be reached at

True South

Affair on the Lawn

The sweet smell of labor


By Susan Kelly

You cut the grass, but you mow the lawn. You know this, right? When I’m rich, my lawn is going to be mowed — by someone else — every other day. Few things in life impart the magnificent sense of peace with order, with aroma, with achievement, with a big, breathy sigh of satisfaction than a newly mowed yard. In spring, it’s that first haircut. In summer, it’s the bare feet feel and the dog lying in the dappled shade. In fall, it’s the only yard work you can do that gets at all the leaves. Temporarily, sure, but still. Even on bad years, years of crabgrass and violets, you can adopt the maxim “If it’s green, mow it,” and be content with the results.

The tidy lines! The gridded crisscrosses! The crew cut nap! Who doesn’t love the look and the feel?

There’s not a kid alive who doesn’t long to drive something, anything, with a motor, even if a chore is involved, like mowing the grass. When I was 11, my friends had mini-bikes, but I had a Cub Cadet riding mower. “You have to wear shoes,” my father said sternly when he handed over the key, and the implicit threat of chopping off my foot meant that I broad-jumped onto the platform over the lethal blades from three feet out. “And watch what you run over,” he went on, meaning roots, rocks, anything that might shoot out and, you know, put out someone’s eye. (After several unfortunate Cub Cadet encounters with trowels and clippers, my father took this warning a step further and spray-painted every handle in the tool shed fluorescent orange.)

To this day, when I’m driving along and pass someone cutting their grass with a “tractor mower,” as we called it, I can feel the big, nearly horizontal steering wheel, ridged for fingers far larger than mine, in my hands. Listen: One year we had a family Christmas card taken behind the wheel of that Cub Cadet.

For many years, we used the lawn mower that euphemistically “came with the house” along with the mortgage. Rather, my husband did. Not that I can’t mow the lawn myself. I love yanking that choke rope and getting the greasy motor to crank. The sputter and catch. That growl into power is the sound of Saturday mornings, which my small children spent draped around my husband’s neck like human shawls as he mowed the lawn.

I mean, I can do it. Really. But it looks better when he does.

When that mower gave out — I might have forgotten the correct ratio of oil to gas and ruined its insides — my husband debated buying an old-fashioned rotary mower. It’s ecologically sound (self-mulches); doesn’t make any noise (gentle whir); and produces the perfect trim — if you have a stamp-sized patch of lawn in London. While the image is appealing, the notion that such a dainty device could chew up, chop down and spit out our grass is hilarious. We might as well have dug out the children’s plastic lawnmowers, the ones they used when they tooled along behind their father. (I did what I’ve learned to do with these kinds of spousal schemes: Leave them alone and it’ll go away, like your mother told you about wasps.)

But wait. About the for-hire yard army tackling my yard every other day: I take back that wish. Where’s the pleasure in perpetual striped perfection? Where’s the satisfaction of DIY? Where’s the olfactory thrill in that just-cut scent, something between a watermelon slice and a tomato stem? No, no. It’s simply too wonderful to personally watch those parallel lines appear, a verdant carpet emerging before your eyes. And there’s something creepy about watching three mow, blow and go guys tackling grass gone wild.

But there’s nothing strange about watching your husband do the same thing.  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud new grandmother.