Extreme Close-Up

For photographer and painter David Wasserboehr, God is in the details

By Nancy Oakley


A patch of blue becomes a patchwork of aqua, white, violet and a subtle trace of pink. And red isn’t merely red, so much as a series of streaks in white and crimson and orange. You don’t realize that you’re looking at the lip of a glass vase and the base of a flower petal set inside it — until you cast a glance at David Wasserboehr’s companion photographs of entire blooms and stems. But these, too, reveal the meticulous wonders of Nature’s construction — the fuzz on the anthers of stamen, the tiny yellow ruffles dancing around the edges of a variegated red tulip, the fine ribs of a lily’s white petal.

“I’ve always loved detail,” says Wasserboehr, a classically trained painter who seized on digital illustration when the genre was in its infancy. Having learned from “really cool, old painters” when he was earning his B.F.A. at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (Southeastern Massachusetts University in his day), Wasserboehr worked in traditional media, such as oils and watercolors, parlaying his skills to ad agency gigs. “I did everything by hand,” the artist recalls of the early days in his career.

But the tools of his trade were changing, as the advertising world embraced digital technology. And Wasserboehr would also make the great digital leap forward, particularly in the mid-1980s, when he moved to Greensboro.

He had been living in New Jersey when his sister, Pat, a UNCG art professor, called and invited him for a visit, adding, “I have someone I’d like you to meet.” That someone was to become the artist’s future wife, Bonnie Burkett. She had no interest in living in New Jersey, so Wasserboehr relocated to the Gate City, picking up a freelance assignment at the News & Record.

The newspaper, he explains, “was one of the first to get a bank of Mac computers. I began setting type on the computer.” He was an immediate convert to Apple Macintosh systems and invested a whopping sum of $17,000 for one of its initial rigs (computer, color monitor, scanner and black-and-white laser printer); by the early ’90s he had learned digital illustration on Adobe’s first graphics programs. As one of only a few folks in town at the time who had such skills and the proper equipment, Wasserboehr carved out a lucrative freelancing career making digital illustrations for various clients, Pace Communications among them. “Now everybody does it,” he says. But the experience led to an epiphany: “I saw the future and it was filled with digital tools combined with classical training.”

These days Wasserboehr “bounces back and forth” between the old and the new, painting miniatures as small as 2 inches or 54 millimeters, and creating digital paintings (using a software program called ArtRage). The artist also combines his craft with his love of history. He was once asked to restore an “old, damaged and faded photograph.” After scanning it and “drawing out the old information in the pixels still hiding in the scan,” Wasserboehr brought to life a portrait of his client’s grandmother; it revealed a cameo brooch — the very one his client kept in her jewelry case, never knowing until that moment it had belonged to her grandmother.

Helping clients, Wasserboehr says, adds meaning to his life. So much so that he lends a hand to the Greensboro History Museum restoring documents (“a lot of Dolley Madison stuff,” the artist clarifies). Working from scans of old, worn documents, some from the 1700s, Wasserboher creates facsimiles that can be exhibited, giving the originals a break from unrelenting light and humidity, and general wear and tear. “I’m restricted,” he says, explaining that his work “must include tears and dirt on the documents.” So realistic are his reproductions that one of the archivists had to check to see which documents were the originals; Wasserboehr’s boss had other ideas, jokingly suggesting, “If you need another line of work, you could probably be a counterfeiter!”

But his wife, Bonnie’s “insane” passion for gardening led him to macro photography. “We go to Walmart to look for housewares and the next thing you know, we’ve got $50 to $60 worth of plants,” Wasserboehr says. “I go out in the yard and dig holes.” A few years ago they fashioned two beds in their backyard, “where we could plant roses, lilies, mums, cornflowers and other beauties,” Wasserboehr recalls. As the plants grew, he noticed some daylilies occluded by some shade. Their pale color caught his eye and prompted him to reach for his camera.

“I had always loved photography,” says Wasserboehr, who had owned a film camera, and as a tech enthusiast was turning his attention to the high quality of digital photographs. He had been captivated by an online tutorial by Long Island-based photographer Melanie Kern-Favilla, whose work features striking macro photos of flowers set against a black background (a box with a black interior). “So I built a rectangular box and raided my wife’s garden for daylilies,” Wasserboehr explains. He positioned the box on the table in his dining room, which doubles as a studio, and which catches the morning light on one side. Placing the flowers inside the black box, Wasserbohr learned to manipulate where the light falls by placing shades — trays, a piece of cardboard, gauze — on top of the box or on its sides. Using his two favorite macro lenses (A Tamron 18-270mm 1:3.5-6.3 lens and a Canon macro EF 100mm 1:2.8 USM lens), he adjusted the setting on his Canon T6i to “manual” and began snapping away. “On the second or third try, it just popped!” the artist recalls. “You know when you go ‘Whoa! This is cool!’ I knew I was on the right track.” 

He continued nabbing “perfect specimens” from his wife’s garden (“she’s been a really good sport about it, he adds), favoring taller, vertical flowers — such as the daylilies and tulips, that are sculptural in appearance. “They’re more in-your-face,” Wasserboehr concedes. His painterly eye prompted him to experiment with composition, zooming in on just the lip of that vase, or the base of a petal, for example, to create a surreal effect reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. Wasserboehr says he might shoot from unusual angles — lying on the floor, standing on top of a stool — to achieve just the right composition.

But his photographs aren’t merely exercises in technique. Wasserboehr tries to avoid any kind of color correction, using Photoshop and Lightroom as little as possible. Otherwise, he says, the flowers “lose their innocence.” His primary aim? “I want to tell a story with these plants.” Such as the peace lily that a friend had given him and his wife some 25 years ago. One day, Wasserboehr happened to notice three leaves on it, each at a different stage: one with a newly unfurled white blossom, another fading to greenish-gray, and a third, shriveled and brown. He plucked all three, placed them into his rectangular black box and started shooting. The result is a poignant statement of the fleeting nature of life. “I am fascinated by the beauty of the full life cycle of the flowers, including their final, wilting moments,” Wasserboehr says. “As I get older I’ve discovered the aging process is very similar to a human being’s . . . all elegant and beautiful!”  OH

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.

For more examples of David Wasserboehr’s work, please visit

True South

The Child Files

Kids say, well, whatever pops into their blessedly sweet heads

By Susan S. Kelly

Whenever “the world is too much with us,” as William Wordsworth so prettily put it, or current events and crises and confusion threaten to crumple me, I first read Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” taped to my computer monitor. Then I pull up YouTube, and Hugh Grant’s voiceover opening lines of Love, Actually. “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport . . .”

Then, naturally, I head for my Child Files.

Next to my Miscellaneous File (because where else do you stash something like “Mules and mushrooms have no gender,” and “New wallpaper smells like Band-Aids”?), my Child File is the thickest. Sure, I dutifully listed all minutiae in their baby albums — first word, first tooth, first haircut — but the Child File contains far more pertinent information. It’s a kind of record, repository, evidence of, the skills my children came by, created, and/or appropriated for survival as adults. Darwin’s theories had nothing on my three kiddoes (and what you told me about yours).

On avoidance: When I lecture my oldest, he clips a pen to his leg hair.

On socialization: “If you miss lunch, you miss everything,” my daughter complained if I scheduled her doctor’s appointment late morning. She also whined if the carpool came too early, thus denying her another op for elementary school drama. In addition, the all-day sulk because she’d forgotten it was a dress-down day and she’d worn dress code to school.

On negotiation/the art of the deal: My son receives a $10 gift certificate at Harris Teeter for a tip, and then tries to sell it to me for $9. Why nine and not 10? I ask. “I’m trying to sweeten the deal,” he says.

My 16-year-old is cleaning out his collection of . . . liquor bottles. His 8-year-old sister wants the cool Absolut vodka bottle, for which he makes her pay him $2 and smell his feet. The amazing aspect to this sibling transaction is that it takes place without my ever being aware. No one pleads; no one fights. Both think they got a good deal. Later, my daughter shows me the newly acquired bottle with pride, and tells me how she came to possess it. With no trace of humiliation.

On growing up: My son and his post-college roommates bickering in a Costco aisle, then resorting to rock-paper-scissors to determine what they’ll buy. As far as I can tell, rock-paper-scissors informed 90% of his decisions at that age.

Other son eating pancake batter because it was the only thing he could afford at that age.

Daughter asking, “How do you know when you’re grown up?” Oldest child immediately answers, “When no one writes your name in your clothes anymore.”

Nephew who composed an outline before he wrote the thank-you note to his girlfriend’s mother.

On higher education: My son’s announcement that his teacher told the class that every Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

Other son’s announcement that he has dropped Statistics 11 for the History of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Son’s wholly serious question the night before second grade begins: “Mom, do I have to take math this year?”

Nephew’s entire essay content on What I Like About People: I like their houses and toys and that’s about it.

On ownership rights: The handwritten note left in the dried-up, sugar-stiffened, flake-crusted Krispy Kreme box containing a lone doughnut: DO NOT EAT THIS IT IS MINE.

On illness: “I blew my nose so hard that air came out of my eyes,” my son informed me.

On coping with ennui, from my daughter: “When I get bored, I either like to organize things or try on clothes.”

From my son, who is tired of me reading all the time: “Watch. I can predict what Mom is reading right now, I’m psychic. She’s reading ‘the.’”

Same son, leaning over lawn mower and breathing in the gasoline fumes: “Watch, Mom. I’m getting dumber.”

The 9-year-old daughter and her friend are playing a game called Make Me Laugh, which involves putting on some music and dancing. How nice, I think; how cute. When I come downstairs, the Make Me Laugh laughter abruptly ceases. Slow dawning of humiliation: The pair are dancing and laughing to my music, finding it all just too, too hilarious.

Older, non-eyeglass-wearing brother to younger brother, who’s finally, gleefully, getting contact lenses: “The first thing the doctor does when they measure you for contacts is give you a shot in your eyeball.”

(Actually, that entry might go hand-in-hand with the sibling argument it interrupted, wherein the two combatants were arguing over who had peed last and therefore had to go back upstairs and flush the toilet.)

Bless the child, then, unwitting antidote for adult existential angst. OH

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


Revved Up

Artist Jan Lukens heads up an exhibit for Revolution Mill’s revitalized gallery

By Billy Ingram

Can three guys in their 60s revolutionize the local art scene? Discover for yourself on October 11th at Revolution Mill’s newly christened Gallery 1250 (1250 Revolution Mill Drive.)

I had first seen the spectacular 2,800-square-foot, glass-enclosed open space three years ago, when it was designated a satellite exhibition space for UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum.

But like every good intention, the vision never came to fruition beyond its initial splash: Raleigh Street artist James Marshall’s floor-to-ceiling mural in variegated shades of green.

From his studio across the hall from the unrealized gallery, artist Jan Lukens grew increasingly frustrated

“I complained,” Lukens says. But he also banged out a business plan, which Revolution Mill’s general manager, Nick Piornack, liked. “It’s yours,” he said

But what to do for the inaugural installation? “Since I’ve never been a gallery director before,” Lukens says, “I thought I’d get my feet wet by being in the show so I invited two close friends to join me for a show called Triple Vision.”

The Greensboro native hopped from advertising illustration to full-time painting in 1992, making a name for himself with majestically realistic portraits of thoroughbreds and Olympic jumpers. “A lot of people think that’s all I do because that’s all they ever see from me. So I’ve only got one horse painting in this show.”

His fellow exhibitors are Roy Nydorf, recently retired head of the art department at Guilford College with an M.F.A. from Yale, and Michael Northuis, who has an M.F.A. in painting from UNCG and was a visiting lecturer there and at Guilford College for years. Some may remember GreenHill’s respective of Nydorf’s work in 2012.

While Lukens’ animal portraits are realistic, Nydorf’s and Northuis’ multimedia creations might best be described as highly imaginative figurative paintings, rich with art historical references and social comment. “My intention for Gallery 1250,” Lukens explains, “is to show large-format art, in an alternative exhibition space, by the best artists in the area and beyond, focusing on painting, photography and sculpture.”

And how does he find setting down his paintbrush long enough to take the, uh, reins of Gallery 1250? “I still do commissioned work but when I do work for myself, I get to make all the decisions and that’s so much fun.”

— Billy Ingram


Photograph by Billy Ingram

Drinking with Writers

The Third Person Project

In search of Wilmington’s buried and forgotten past

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash


As his 2011 essay collection Pulphead makes clear, John Jeremiah Sullivan possesses the inestimable skill of sifting through American popular culture to separate the bright, shiny things from the timeless ones. The seemingly divergent essays in the collection ricochet between a hilarious yet stirring portrait of the Tea Party movement circa 2009, a deep dive into the origin myths surrounding Guns N’ Roses’ frontman Axl Rose, and meditations on loneliness, identity, and what is perhaps the most American trait of all: our Protean ability to recast ourselves in different renditions throughout our lifetimes. With this in mind, Wilmington, a city that is always revising and reinventing itself, is the perfect place for John Jeremiah Sullivan to live and work.

On Labor Day, John and I spent a few hours on his back porch, and, over a couple of appropriately named Long Weekend IPAs from Kinston’s Mother Earth Brewing, we discussed Wilmington’s frustrating history of not only shedding the past, but also burying it. Of course our conversation began with the most violent and shameful event in the city’s history: the race massacre of 1898, which is, to this day, the only successful coup d’état in American history, and something the city largely ignored for over a century. As John puts it, here in Wilmington “our identity is based on something we can’t talk about.” But John has joined a legacy of writers and thinkers who are willing to research and talk about 1898. From these various investigations and discussions has sprung the Third Person Project, a group of citizens, scholars, students and researchers who are dedicated to scouring the past to uncover Wilmington’s missing and buried moments.

I ask John how the Third Person Project got started. He takes a moment to consider the question, and I imagine his mind cycling back through reams of microfiche and dusty pages of reference books and telephone directories that had been left hidden in basements and tucked away on bookshelves across the city.

“It grew out of the projects that make it up,” he finally says, the first of those projects being The Daily Record project, in which a group of scholars and local eighth-graders searched for editions of The Daily Record, an African-American newspaper that was thought lost to time after white marauders destroyed the printing press in 1898. The group found seven copies of the newspaper, and they scanned them and published them on their website.

“The experience of finding those newspapers and studying them gave us a sense of how thick the wood is here, how much there is to drill,” John says. “Wilmington has an unusual amount of lost history.”

Nowhere is this lost history more apparent than in Wilmington’s African- American life and culture. Take jazz musician Percy Heath, for example. Born in Wilmington in 1923, Heath was a bassist who played alongside icons like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, and was a member of the iconic Modern Jazz Quartet. While it is popularly believed that Heath grew up in Philadelphia, John informs me that Heath did not permanently leave Wilmington behind after the move north. He would return to Wilmington throughout his young life, a fact either glossed over or altogether absent from jazz history.

“Percy Heath played in the marching band at Williston,” John says, his voice edging toward an exasperated laugh. “And he was the class president! Every rock you turn over in Wilmington has a story like that.”

Another story is that of Charles W. Chesnutt, an author who was born in Cleveland and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and who, by the turn of the 20th century, was the most celebrated African-American writer in the country. His seminal work, The Marrow of Tradition (1901), is probably the best-known fictional portrayal of 1898, even though its portrait of white terrorism effectively ended Chesnutt’s career.

Because Chesnutt spent his adult life in Cleveland, scholars have long wondered why he chose to fictionalize the events of 1898, especially because doing so exposed him to critical peril. It has been assumed that Chesnutt’s childhood in Fayetteville and his ties in eastern North Carolina are what made the events of 1898 so important to him, but John has found a more direct connection: Chesnutt’s uncle was a man named Dallas Chesnutt, who left Fayetteville and settled in Wilmington in 1876. Dallas Chesnutt forged a career as a postal worker, but he also had a second career as a printer. What did he print? It turns out he was the printer of The Daily Record, the newspaper the white mob set out to destroy by burning Dallas Chesnutt’s printing press in 1898. John argues that Charles Chesnutt’s interest in Wilmington’s coup d’état was not simply historical, cultural or political; it was deeply personal.

John points out that the 1898 race massacre was not the beginning of Wilmington’s attempt to unwind the positive changes brought about by Reconstruction. He recently discovered that the Confederate memorial statue in Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery is one of the very first, if not the first, Confederate statues in America, erected only a few years after the end of the Civil War.

Considering the milestones in Wilmington’s racial history — the erecting of what could be the nation’s first Confederate monument, the 1898 race massacre, the battles over integration, and the Wilmington Ten — John argues, “If it’s possible to be the anti-conscience of the South, Wilmington is, but we can reverse the polarity of that.” He smiles and looks into his backyard, the weight of what he has just said seeming to settle over him, the clouds that presage Hurricane Dorian not yet on the horizon.

“But that may be the thing I love most about Wilmington,” he says. “People who live here now can take a hand in it. I have a funny feeling that what happens in Wilmington — when it comes to the political destiny of the South and this country’s struggle with racial equality — somehow it matters what we do here.”  OH

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

Smoke and Memory

Both are easily gone in a puff


By Jim Dodson

On a cool and misty autumn afternoon not long ago, I found myself taking up a secret pleasure I’d abandoned years ago.

While doing book research for the day in Staunton, Virginia, the lovely Shenandoah Valley town just off the Great Wagon Road that brought thousands of Scots-Irish to the American South, I turned up my coat’s collar and took a stroll though downtown in search of a cup of tea and a bookshop before hitting the road for home.

On the corner, I spotted an old-fashioned tobacco shop.

Its window display featured a selection of gorgeous, hand-carved pipes with names such as Mastro Geppetto and Savinelli Estate.

Beyond them, two gents sat in comfortable wing chairs, smoking pipes and having a quiet rainy day conversation.

On a lark, I stepped inside.

If Marcel Proust’s main character in Swann’s Way associated the taste of a simple madeleine with childhood, my version might well be a whiff of pipe smoke.

The scent of aromatic pipe smoke, you see, has a similar effect on me, conjuring up nice family memories and not a little amusement at my own youthful vanity.

Walter Dodson, my paternal grandfather, a cabinetmaker whose name I bear, smoked a Dr. Grabow pipe, the inexpensive brand once manufactured in the pretty Carolina mountain town of Sparta. Walter was a man of few words but a rural polymath who could make anything with his hands. He taught me to fish and how to cut a straight line with a handsaw.

Some of my fondest memories of him are of fishing together in a Florida bayou or watching my grandfather work in his carpenter’s shop, his Grabow pipe clenched in his teeth, fragrant smoke drifting all around us. Walter was the age I am today — mid 60s — but looked positively ancient to me, and a bit like an old Indian chief. In fact, family lore holds that his mother was a woman of Native American heritage.

I was 10 or 12 years old at the time of these encounters, a bookish kid under the influence of adventure tales in which wise forest wizards and noble Indian chiefs smoked pipes. So it all seemed perfectly natural and wildly romantic to me.

I never worked up the courage to ask my grandfather if I could try a puff of his Grabow pipe, and he never offered.

Ironically, about this same time, heeding the new surgeon general’s warnings about the health hazards of smoking, both my parents ditched their cigarettes, hoping my older brother and I wouldn’t take up the habit.

They needn’t have worried.

Following the prescribed formula for pulling an “all-nighter” for a geology exam my freshman year at college, like an idiot I drank an entire pot of black coffee and smoked half a pack of Camels, my first cigarettes ever. Somewhere around midnight, after throwing up and peeing myself silly, I fell asleep and managed to miss my 8 a.m. exam.

I’ve never touched another cigarette.

That same autumn, however, I drove home on a beautiful October afternoon to surprise my father at his office, hoping we might slip out for nine holes of golf before dark.

I found him sitting in his office reading Markings, a spiritual classic by Dag Hammarskjöld, the Scandinavian diplomat who’d served as the secretary-general of the United Nations.

He was also smoking a handsome wooden pipe.

“Oh no! You’ve discovered my secret pleasure,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Given my recent unhappy run-in with cigarettes, not to mention his own abandoned habit, I was surprised to see him smoking anything.

He explained that pipes were different from cigarettes. For one thing, you didn’t inhale pipe smoke into your lungs but allowed it to circulate in the air around you, “pleasing both the nose and the soul” — one reason, he reckoned, so many writers, poets and philosophers chose to smoke a pipe. 

“It was either Charles Darwin or James Barrie who said a pipe stimulates noble thoughts” he said.

“Maybe it was either Santa Claus or Hugh Hefner,” I suggested. “They smoke pipes, too.”

I learned that he’d bought his first pipe in London during the Blitz and brought the habit home with him. “I thought it made me look like an intellectual,” he added with a chuckle. “Truth is, it reminded me of home. Your granddad smoked a pipe. It was pure comfort, a pacifier with smoke and memory.”

I wondered how frequently he smoked his pipes. There were three on his desk. Two looked new, one looked very old.

“Not very often.  A dozen times a year, tops. It’s not a habit — more a simple pleasure.”

He laughed, handing me his oldest-looking pipe. It had a cracked stem.

“This one belonged to your grandfather. You can have it, if you wish.”

“Can I smoke it?”

“Better try this one instead. Fits the hand nicely. Not much bite.”

It was a handsome thing, burled briarwood, a simple Italian affair with an elegant long stem. He showed me how to pack and light it and watched me puff away, reminding me not to inhale.

“So what do you think, college boy?” He asked.

I liked it.

He smiled. “We won’t tell your mother.”

That Christmas, though, he gave me a copy of Markings and a gorgeous handmade-Italian pipe that looked like it had been carved from a knot
of mahogany.

I loved my new pipe even if my new college girlfriend didn’t.

She was a fellow English lit major, a self-described Marxist who had expensive tastes in footwear. She laughed out loud when she saw me pull out my fancy new Italian pipe and fire it up at a party where the guests were smoking a different kind of pipe and something that smelled like burning shag carpet.

“My God,” she hooted. “You look like an idiot! Next thing you’ll be wearing a corduroy jacket with elbow patches and calling yourself a Republican.” Had I been quicker on my feet, I might have told her that Che Guevara and her personal hero Virginia Woolf both smoked pipes, and that William Wordsworth carried his favorite pipe with him during his famous Lake District rambles. I could just picture the bard sitting on the crumbling wall at Tintern Abbey, dreaming of his lost Lucy as he sent perfect smoke rings into the still summer air. 

We broke up a short time later — irreconcilable differences over politics and pipes — at which point I went straight out and bought a second-hand corduroy jacket with elbow patches, hoping I might look like John le Carré on the back cover of his latest espionage thriller.

By the time I was a married father living in a forest of birch and beech trees near the coast of Maine, I owned several handmade pipes, which I typically only smoked when summer vanished and the weather turned.

Our kids, however, always loved watching me smoke my pipe, probably because I could blow smoke rings prettier than either Bilbo Baggins or Gandalf the wizard.

Which may explain why, on that recent misty afternoon in western Virginia, realizing it had been many years since I even held a pipe in my hand, I impulsively bought a cheap Missouri Meerschaum pipe and an ounce of mild tobacco and had a fine time making smoke rings as I hoofed around town.

Back home, I went searching for a box in the basement that contained items from my office desk in Maine and found a few of my favorite pipes from those days, but not my grandfather’s Grabow or even the handsome Italian number my father gave me once upon a time.

They may be waiting somewhere in an unopened box, like artifacts from a carpenter’s workshop or a spy novelist’s corduroy jacket.

Or maybe they simply vanished, like smoke and memory.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

The Accidental Astrologer

Long Live, Libra! And Scorpio, too

By Astrid Stellanova

In the mists of ancient time before pumpkin spice lattes, Star Children, we only had golden pumpkins, autumn leaves, marigolds and Halloween to keep us happy in October. 

Ruled by Venus, those born in early October are balanced Libras, but the later October born, with powerful Pluto as their ruler, are passionate Scorpios. 

Long before old Astrid, we had Dr. Spock to tell us how special October babies are.  Strong, long-lived — more months of sunshine means more vitamin D for these babies. Strong minds and even stronger opinions. More presidents — John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, to name a few — are born in October than in any other month. If they can’t rule over you, they’ll entertain you, like Simon Cowell, Julie Andrews, John Lennon, Katy Perry  and Cardi B.


Libra (September 23–October 22)

There’s original you, and then there’s new you. There’s no shame in your game because that resilience makes you ever stronger. Sugar, you’ve had more comebacks than Sonny Bono after he split with Cher. Sonny bought a restaurant, added a whole new verse to “Bang Bang,” (for one of Cher’s later solo albums) and took up skiing. Wait — on second thought, don’t pull a Sonny. Don’t go to the big boy slope. Stay on the bunny slope and wear a helmet.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21

Think about Sesame Street: One of these things doesn’t belong here. What might that be? Can you see the ways that you have wandered off into the weeds when you were looking for the ball? Eyes back on the ball, Darlin’. There ain’t nothing worth risking what you’re risking.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

If you don’t make a change, the one you’ve been stalling on, you will know it.  Here’s how: Regret will start stinking up the place like a bag of stale pork rinds.  Cha-cha-change will make you feel like a whole new person, even a real grownup.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

Oh, what a flap dang doodle you got into. Is your legal advisor R. Kelly’s? Yes, you’ve won before, but this time you don’t want to test the limits. Throw it in reverse; rethink your situation. Lordamercy, you could use a better braking and thinking system.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Listen, Ringmaster. This ain’t your monkey, and it sure ain’t your circus, Bud. Try not to dominate when you know the plan is not yours to control. The temptation to take charge of all the circus rings is one of your biggest urges, but, uh, no.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Oh, Lordy. This drama you’re starring in is about as fun as taking a bubble bath with a hair dryer. You’ll get lots of reaction, but none that a normal person would want to experience. Something about this reeks of wrong place, wrong door.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

In recent weeks, there’s been a surreal story line involving you and your closest friends. If it keeps up, you’ll have to fish your eyeballs out of the soup bowl. You know so much it is about to bust you wide open. But do your best to contain it, Baby.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Here’s what my Mama used to tell me at times like this: Keep things high and tight.  And if at all possible, dry. Yes, the creek is rising and you really didn’t plan on buying a duck boat. Sugar, if you see this as adventure, it really will be a giggle.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Your nearest and dearest think they’re Rat Pack Royalty. If anything, you should be the front person swinging the mic. Stop traveling with rats if you don’t want to be mistaken for their entourage, Sugar Bean.  It’s not your destiny to be a groupie.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

An ounce of pretense is worth a pound of manure. That’s what you know in your heart of hearts, yet you allow one pretentious somebody to cause you a whole poopie storm of trouble. Windex won’t clean everything but at least it can clean your glasses and let you see things more clearly.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

You may be slick, but even you can’t slide on barbed wire. Take the opportunity to say no thank you to what looked like a great escape opportunity from what must feel like your personal Alcatraz. If you don’t, you might wind up getting important pieces of you rearranged. 

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

If you stir in that hot mess, are you willing to lick the spoon? No, I didn’t think so, Darlin’.  You were a fine instigator of a situation that tickled you silly, but now the fun is over. Try to make amends with a friend that didn’t find it funny.

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.   OH

Gate City Journal

The Secret Lives of Beekeepers

Once they catch “bee fever,” sweet fulfillment is theirs


By Cynthia Adams


Photograph by Lynn Donovan

Ah, hive sweet hive! Nobody runs a tighter ship, nor a more orderly home, than a hive of bees.

Bees are terrific housekeepers. Fiends for organization and hygiene, too. They even take out the trash (which may include the corpses of redundant queens or drones after killing them off).

Hives are a famous symbol of mathematical symmetry and order.  Beekeepers cannot say enough about this.

But I digress.

Beekeeping is not easy. Easy is not the real reason people are drawn to the singular work, either.

Greensboro beekeeper Robert Jacobs stood demonstrating a glass-encased beehive at Bee Friendly to Pollinators Day at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Center on Burlington Road. Children seemed completely fascinated.

He patiently introduced all comers into the secret world of beekeepers, explaining what drew him there.

“I am a retired attorney,” says Jacobs, who only recently hung up his law license. It is safe to call beekeeping his passion. He teaches beekeeping for the Guilford County Beekeepers Association. Jacobs has been intrigued by bees since he can remember.

He grew up in Greensboro when he said the “town was quite different.” Through his reminiscence, Greensboro was a storied place where kids didn’t suffer from a nature deficit disorder — which is an actual thing for kids deprived of nature.

No siree. Jacobs was experiencing nature firsthand, playing and exulting in the natural world. He chose the Walt Whitman way versus the Walt Disney way.

 “Even as a kid, friends and all, would look for hornets’ nests,” Jacobs recalls fondly. “A friend at the back, had a fence and one of his neighbors had bees. We would sit and watch the honeybees.”

Photograph by Lynn Donovan

In 2007, Jacobs took the beginner beekeeping course offered at the Guilford Center. He began buying local honey from a Guilford beekeeper.

Then he got his own bees.  By the way, most of them come from Georgia, arriving by mail.

Let us bee mindful. The ancients immortalized the embattled Apis mellifera, otherwise known as the honeybee, on coins, crests and jewelry.

Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein and Winnie the Pooh were big fans. Bonaparte’s crest was embellished with a bee. Einstein predicted disaster if the bee were lost. Pooh’s very first story pondered the “wrong sort of bees.”

We massage beeswax onto our nail cuticles and buff it onto our furniture. Slip an elegant beeswax candle onto the table. Slather honey onto our morning toast.

Bees pollinate more than one third of all food sold, including more than 100 crops in the United States.

Singly responsible for billions of dollars in American food production, the honeybee’s industriousness is worth over $20 billion annually. They transfer the pollen from the anthers of a flower to the stigma of the same or different flower.  The process must occur during a fixed period known as “receptivity.” Seedless watermelon flowers, for example, are receptive for only one day.

While bees once showed up as a matter of course, desperate farmers now resort to renting bees for pollination. They truck in colonies to pollinate flowering trees, vineyards and crops lacking sufficient indigenous bees.

In the United States, 80 percent of the wild honeybees have been lost. The reasons include colony collapse disorder, mites, insecticides and fungicides.

Fortunately, there are beekeepers at work, battling to save the honeybee. .

“The more beekeeping I did, the less practicing law I did,” admits Jacobs. “My clients knew if the front door was closed, a swarm was on. I call-forwarded my office phone to my cell as I was winding down the practice.”

Sure, he found the law interesting, Jacobs says. But there was something about beekeeping that was endlessly fascinating.

“I’ve seen in bee publications in the late 1800s, an affliction referred to as ‘bee fever.’ That’s what I’ve got.”

Bee fever is real. Something frets him, Jacob says, but now it isn’t a pending trial or court date for a client. What concerns him is his clean windshield.

“When was the last time you drove your car out of the city and had to clean your windshield from insects?” he asks. “Over the last several years, I haven’t had to do that.”

Jacobs is a reader, but if you ask the title of his favorite book there is no hesitation:  A Practical Treatise on the Hive and the Honey Bee by Lorenzo Langstroth, who “realized the significance of bee space” and developed the concept of movable frames that are so common today. There is a considerable body of literature concerning bee behavior. Jacob knows only too well and has been working his way through it as fast as possible.

“You can never know everything,” Jacob sighs. “And I am constantly making adjustments in what I’m doing and trying to figure out what the bees will do. The late Dr. Ambrose at N.C. State said something like, ‘If we think one thing, and the bees think something else, they are right.’”  He adds wryly, “Bees may do things this way because this is what bees do . . . or, the opposite”

Not everybody is cut out to be a beekeeper, Jacobs mentions.  You will know within a couple of years, he inserts.

Minta Phillips, a retired radiologist, keeps hives on her Julian farm.

“What interests me about beekeeping is that I love the bees, and it comes from so many influences.” Like Jacobs, she harks back to her childhood, when her maternal grandmother and mother “didn’t want to squish a bug.” They imparted a sense of connection with the natural world, and a reverence.

She was never instilled with a fear of insects or bees.

“There was a misunderstanding in remote times about bees,” she reflects, “And an interest to steal their honey. So ancient coins bore the sign of the bee, as things important to early man.

“If we focus on what’s really challenging pollinators now,” she continues, “it’s often taught at the Guilford County Beekeeping Association that the No.1 detriment is the beekeeper! We can kill them out of misinformation.”

What led her to keep hives?

“My parents were at end of life. And a social worker, Camille, at Well-Spring [Retirement Community], was a beekeeper. I found it interesting to talk with her.  She told me about the January beginner’s event [for beginning beekeepers].”

Phillips took the beginner’s course to satisfy her intellectual curiosity. She also made friends. “Beekeepers in Guilford county are a varied type of people.”

Phillips ordered two packages of bees as starter hives and became a new beekeeper.  A starter hive costs roughly $200.

“They weigh out a package of three pounds of bees — containing 15,000-20,000 bees.  And a queen in a separate chamber.”

She describes the particulars; how the bees gather pollen and make “bee bread which is packed inside the comb.” The queen is in the center, laying eggs. The worker bees feed the eggs and cap the “cells.” The outside of the frame is capped honey. She also mentions the queen’s pheromones, having a pleasant scent she likens to lemongrass.

Her mentor is fellow beekeeper Curt Bower. She also relies heavily upon Charles Black, a retired electrician who grew up on a dairy farm in Guilford County.

“He has a reverence for bees. Charles is just amazing.  Again, he’s not afraid, loves bees and marvels at this little creature,” she says.

“I’m more interested in the bees than honey,” Phillips admits. “In my fifth year, I have not extracted honey.  I’ve kept it for the bees.” Like others, she experienced colony collapse from bee mites.

She looks forward to the development of a genetically “hygienic bee” that can resist mite infestation, which has decimated so many hives.

Phillips is also an artist who earned a degree in art at Yale before attending medical school at Harvard.  She has painted bee-related pieces shown in art shows.  One show benefitted the Friends School.

“The symmetry of the cells is a biologic efficient, an evolved (form of) wisdom.”

Raising bees requires constant vigilance, but she finds that spring is really fraught with concerns.

There is the persistent worry of a swarm. “In the spring, I reorder frames. If they are going to swarm, the beekeeper can lose half their bees.”  Her goal is to “fool the bees and make them think they have more space so they won’t swarm.”

Even so, it has happened. But in April, she added a colony after putting up a bee box with a tiny wooden hive and a “lure treated with bees wax and essential oil.”

Phillips plants wildflowers and pollinator friendly plants on her bucolic farm and is on an alert list when nearby farmers spray chemicals.

She worries about drenching “rain bombs” which can wash out bees and kill them.  In late winter, she lost two hives to early warmth that reverted to severe cold.

Overall, there is only a 50 percent survival rate. Last year alone, bee keepers lost 40 percent of their colonies, according to a survery from the Bee Informed Partnership

Two years ago, Phillips noticed an ad in the American Bee Journal for the American Congress for beekeepers in Cuba. She made the trip, visiting bee yards and watching oxen-drawn carts.  However disadvantaged, the Cubans united with their global visitors in saving the honeybee.

“We looked at the survival of bees and how to do it” she says. “For example, the propolis, an antimicrobial made from the resin in pine is used to caulk everything in the hive. Vets and human medics looked at propolis as an antimicrobial salve.”

Since Cuba, Phillips has attended the N.C. Bee Conference and meeting in Hendersonville last year to hear Cornell’s beekeeper Tom Sealy.

She worries about the vicissitudes of climate change.  “That’s kind of the plight of the honeybee.”

Phillips adds sadly, “Maybe they’re the canary in the coal mine.”  OH

Cynthia Adams reported on colony collapse disorder a decade ago.  She has the distinction of having a bee fly into her mouth and sting her tongue while eating outdoors. Despite that, she values bees and beekeepers. According to the USDA, “a honey bee colony is worth 100 times more to the community than to the beekeeper—meaning the value they deliver extends well beyond their actual price.”

The Guilford County Beekeepers Association meets on the second Tuesday of each month in the barn kitchen meeting room at 3309 Burlington Road. Contact Rob Jacobs at (336) 740-1703 or for information. The course cost for beginner beekeeping is $25 for individuals or $35 per family, which includes membership in the Guilford Beekeepers Association.

Fresh Start

Gardening guru Ellen Ashley creates her very own spot in Paradise

By Jim Dodson     Photographs by Amy Freeman


This house,” declares Ellen Ashley with an emphatic grin, “is really perfect for me, including what it doesn’t have.”

Sunlight streams through the 13-foot windows of her spacious open-concept kitchen and great room, flooding the gallery-white walls and the two adjoining sections of the gorgeous brick-and-glass contemporary house with afternoon light.

With a grin, Ashley ticks off a list:

“There’s no basement, no attic, no creepy places I might have to crawl into if the power goes out and, best of all, no steps — oh, wait!”

She laughs, glancing around as if to check. “OK . . . just one small step to the front porch and two steps to the pool! It’s the perfect house to age well and grow old in!”

Her afternoon visitor, an old friend, is impressed — both with the clean lines and economical beauty of her spectacular new house off a winding road in Summerfield and Ellen Ashley’s usual brio for life, home and garden. Before he can ask what the Triad’s beloved gardening guru loves most about her elegant new country digs, she volunteers: “It’s actually what this house has that makes it really so special and wonderfully livable, beginning with tons of light and air.”

She mentions the simplicity factor of her sleekly modern kitchen (“I’m in love with my induction stove!”) and airy great room, both of which are equally ideal for entertaining students from her gardening seminars or an intimate dinner gathering with friends. An equally efficient space is the customized pantry/laundry room combo where her collection of antique vases is displayed on glass shelves. Then there’s the dramatic black tile fireplace in the wall that produces several different flames and lighting effects depending on the desired mood, and the handy remotes that control virtually everything from door locks to lighting.

By design — her design — the walking tour is brief.

One end of the house features a two-car garage, (“Look, no steps! Perfect for my mom when she comes to visit!”), and a guest bedroom rendered in the dreamy hues of a summer sky, with 10-foot tall windows that open to the breeze and an elegant guest bathroom that leads to a high-roofed screened porch with a slowly turning Big Ass Fan, overlooking her heated saltwater swimming pool.

The other end of the house boasts the indefatigable gardener’s purple-and-celery-colored bedroom, (“my happy colors!”), a simple spa-like bath area, massive walk-in closet with an colorful wardrobe, a workout room with an elliptical machine in its nook and a cozy office with cool northern light filtered through a pine forest.

Whatever else may be said for a native Virginian who two decades ago gave up a busy career in sales in Dallas in order to move to Greensboro and immerse herself in the life botanic, this 2,600-square-foot marvel of glass and brick seems intimately connected to its surroundings, perfectly at home in nature.


Out back, beyond the shimmer of her saltwater pool, is a gated garden where late-summer zinnias, hibiscus and canna lilies linger on with a few valedictory blooms. Beyond this is is a wide natural meadow teems with wildflowers, asters, black-eyed Susan, broom sedge and Joe Pie weed humming with hundreds of bees and butterflies gathering up the final sips of summer’s sweetness.

What’s remarkable to discover is that, three years ago, none of this was here. Only a thick pine forest and the remains of an abandoned tobacco field occupied this remote spot in the country.

This splendid transformation came about because Ellen Ashley herself was in transition, amicably ending a 26-year marriage to husband Jim and seeking a “fresh start” somewhere near the pretty house and property where she grew a glorious garden and conducted her popular Learn-to-Garden classes for almost a decade.

She explains that the couple’s original plan was to buy local acreage and build a more efficient house that suited both of their lifestyles. Ashley’s passion is gardening and teaching; Jim’s is financial planning and flying his airplane. “After a lengthy search, the property we found turned out to be just five driveways or so away,” she explains. “When the four-and-a-quarter acres came on the market, we jumped on it before even selling the other place.”

In the process, the couple realized that what they also desired was to go separate ways. “It was one of those situations…” she explains. “It was one of those situations many couple find themselves in where each one has grown in different ways over the years. In many ways, Jim and I are closer and better friends than ever.”  Evidence of this, she notes, is that her ex graciously insisted that she take his half of the new property to build a house that suited her tastes and needs. Jim moved to a townhouse in the city.

“So what began as a project for both of us became, in essence, a fresh start for us both.”

She began this process by drawing up her own custom house plans.

“There were things I definitely wanted — lots of light and open spaces, a one-story house with a pool and screened porch that could see each other, huge windows, low maintenance, no wooden decks, a central vacuum system and a garden you could see from almost every window.”

To bring her vision to life, she hired Gary Jobe Builders and found the ideal site contractor/advisor in Todd Powley. “He was fantastic. I tried to think of everything I could possibly ever want or need in a house. When I asked for changes, he always found a way for them to work. He’s the kind of thoughtful builder who helps you bring your dream alive.”

By the time house’s foundation was laid in the late summer of 2018, Ashley was busy laying out the garden spaces and planting the four acre domain with screening plants — Chindo viburnums, junipers, nandina and Japenese maples — along her driveway and the property’s perimeter. Not surprisingly, she also dug up and imported lots of plants from her original garden just down the road and transformed an old tobacco barn at the back of the property into a storage shed for her gardening classes. 

Invariably there were a few minor hitches along the way, including delays over moving power lines and a new well that periodically produced brown water for more than three months. “The plants could live with brown water but I couldn’t,” she quips. “Try filling a pool with brown water or a nice white soaking tub!”

Today, barely one year on, Ellen Ashley’s “fresh start” is rapidly growing into the kind of elegant destination where guests and students alike feel drawn to just sit on the porch and contemplate the view, or set off to wander the gardens and natural meadow out back in search of natural treasures.

“Yesterday,” she explains as the walking tour pauses near a veggie garden that is overflowing with several varieties of figs, tomatoes and peppers, “I had a class of 10 students who gathered seeds from the various sunflower annuals. I think they enjoyed being here.”

Who wouldn’t? one wonders.

“It’s even great in winter,” she says, picking peppers and cherry tomatoes for her afternoon guest to take home. “Because the pool is heated, I can look out my windows on the snowiest days and see turquoise water.” The pool’s water, she explains, is heated by a natural solar system that circulates the pool water through black pipes located on the roof of the house.

“I come out here almost every night for a swim,” she explains. “The water is always warm and soothing. It’s the perfect way to end a day.”

“No brown water?”

She laughs. “Not anymore. It’s like paradise.”  OH

To find out more about Ellen Ashley’s popular Learn-to-Garden classes, contact her at:

The Neighborhood Where You Live

The Gardens of Westerwood

Earthly delights proliferate in this century-old neighborhood

Story and Photographs by Lynn Donovan

In October 1919 an ad appeared in a Greensboro newspaper introducing Westerwood and its newly named streets — Crestland, Woodlawn, Hillside, Courtland. A.K. Moore of Guilford Insurance and Real Estate Company proudly announced the winners of a contest held to rename the area streets of the neighborhood formerly known as The Cedars and Oakland Park. By the summer of 1920 Westerwood boasted 23 houses that were either finished or under construction — Craftsman bungalows, Tudor cottages and Colonial Revival dwellings, with a few unusual designs added to the mix.

One hundred years later, the neighborhood is thriving. To celebrate its history and longevity, residents recently opened their gardens to the public. We happily joined the walking tour.


Maria Fangman
210 North Mendenhall

The creation of one of Greensboro’s best chefs, the shady, backyard, cottage-style, garden is filled with perennials. The front yard has loads of sun and herbs, roses and a constantly changing bed of perennials that bloom throughout the entire year.






Charlie Heddington & Debbi Seabrooke
515 North Mendenhall

This permaculture garden is arguably the most unusual garden in Westerwood. By definition, a permaculture garden is a diverse, low-maintenance perennial food garden that imitates natural ecologies. The Heddingtons’ patch of earth produces 15 kinds of fruit, a wealth of herbs and flowers, as well as row upon row of annual vegetables. It captures and stores rainwater through bamboo pipes and carpet ponds.





Patti Midgett & Dan Nicholson
310 Hillside Drive

This backyard encompasses a beautiful, terraced hillside featuring beds of perennials that overlook the future Greenway. The terraces tame the slope by incorporating found and repurposed materials. The front yard is a colorful mix of flowers, herbs and vegetables chosen to attract bees and other pollinators.





Diane & Tracy Peck

512 Woodlawn Avenue

This Zen garden is loosely inspired by a traditional Japanese garden and features a tranquil koi pond. Shade-loving plants found here include Japanese maples, hydrangeas, hellebores and ferns. In early spring the sunny front garden is brimming with tulips and irises.





Chris & Robyn Musselwhite

415 Woodlawn Avenue

This backyard garden is a multipurpose urban space with flowering trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. Perennials and annuals share the part sun/part shade yard. A fountain, stone terraced kitchen garden, whimsical birdhouses and an outdoor living space complete this inviting green space.





Susan Foust

1005 Fairmont Street

Taking up the entire backyard, a hand-dug pool under a canopy of shade trees is bordered by a brick walkway flanked by beds of Japanese maple and star magnolias. The terraced front yard features beautiful blooms provided by annuals surrounding hand-laid brickwork. Hidden in the back corner is a petite dwelling complete with chickens living in a small coop.




Victoria Clegg

306 Crestland

This English cottage garden is one of the most charming gathering spots in all of Westerwood. The front and back yards are full of perennials, herbs, bulbs, ground covers and more. An old chicken coop and decrepit garage have been transformed into a spellbinding space that is used almost year round. With the addition of a magical garden shed and touches of whimsy, this garden is hard to leave.


David Barnard

1405 Northfield Street

This low-maintenance, mixed-use backyard garden is geared for entertaining. A stonework patio and fire pit are the center pieces that are surrounded by dogwoods, Japanese maple, hydrangea, ferns and hosta to create texture. Stepping stones imprinted with the Barnards’ children’s hand and feet prints add whimsy to a functional space.




One Thing More

Fall under the spell of one of Greensboro’s oldest neighborhoods at the 10th annual Westerwood Art & Sole celebration. On October 5, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., you can stroll the leafy environs, visit artists’ studios, peruse locally made art and listen to front porch music. Info:  OH

Lynn Donovan is a contributing photographer for O.Henry magazine and Seasons Style & Design.