Short Stories

***Given the unusual circumstances currently facing all events and their organizations, anyone planning to attend any program, gathering or competition should check in advance to make certain it will happen as scheduled.

From Sidewalks to Still Lifes
Artist Maggie Fickett took a loving brush to her adopted hometown of Greensboro in the 1980s,’90s and early 2000s. Now, for the first time, the public can see a trove of work that stayed in the Gate City after Fickett, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, moved back to her home state of Maine in 2014. Maggie Fickett: Living in Plein Air, opens late May at the Center for Visual Artists in the Greensboro Cultural Center (200 North Davie Street). Sweeping in scope, the exhibit and sale includes hundreds of original watercolors, as well as Fickett’s trademark pen-and-ink prints of local landmarks. Gallery goers also will recognize scenes from Jamestown, Burlington, Eden, Elkin, Winston-Salem, Seagrove, Raleigh, Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, plus Virginia, Maine and Bermuda. The CVA will donate 60 percent of proceeds toward the care of Fickett, who is 89 and living in a memory-care center. — Maria Johnson



Life Cycles

The permanent residents of Green Hill Cemetery may be pushing daisies, but everything else in the 51-acre graveyard is coming up roses. Or rather, leafy greenness after this winter’s plentiful rains.

Learn more about clusters of oaks, pines, magnolias and more exotic species on a professionally led botanical tour at 2 p.m. on May 2 (rain date, May 3). If you’re interested in equal parts history and botany “lite,” the semi-annual “Plants and the Planted” Tour, which discusses some of Green Hill’s illustrious occupants, such as Lumsford Richardson and Julian Price will take place on May 9 and 10, at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. Tours are $5 per person and start at the southernmost gate on Wharton Street, near Fisher Avenue. Info:



Worth the Drive to Winston-Salem

Need to add a little pizzazz to your morning coffee? Consider Mississippian Eric Beavers’ playful mugs painted bright colors and etched with various patterns. Want to commune with nature — without leaving your closet? Perhaps a lovely, eco-printed scarf by Iowan’s Sharlene Bohr is the ticket. While Visual Index, situated in the Twin City’s Arts District (562 Trade Street, NW), emphasizes art fashioned by North Carolina hands, such as charming woodblock prints by Greensboro’s Mary Beth Boone of Purple Pumpkin Press, proprietor Toni Tronu prides herself in selling works by artists in all 50 states. “To my knowledge, I’m the only gallery in the country that can make this claim,” she says. So hop in your Chevrolet and quite literally see the USA  . . . just off Salem Parkway. Info: (336) 875-1674 or





Waitt For It!

When researching and writing his field guide, Wildflowers of the Atlantic Southeast, Damon Waitt had a Herculean task: describing and illustrating 1,250 species frequently encountered in this lower quadrant of the United States. Director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill and biology prof at UNC, Waitt, as of this writing, is still scheduled to discuss his guide and on April 23 at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden (215 South Main Street, Kernersville). To register: (336) 996-7888 or






Ogi Sez

by Ogi Overman

April has a lot going for it — flowers blooming, birds chirping, baseballs being tossed — but this year it’s living up to its reputation as “the cruelest month.” With fears of coronavirus raging, cancellations and postponements are multiplying faster than Easter bunnies. Guess I’ll have to wait for Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin to come to the Carolina Theatre  . . . whenever. At press time, I was still waiting to hear if Patti LaBelle would grace the Tanger Center — which closed last month before it even opened. Till things are up and running again, there are always virtual concerts. offers up some suggestions, Sirius Xm and the Metropolitan Opera, too. Otherwise, I’ll take a cue from that viral video of quarantined Italians singing from their balconies and give a good yodel from my front porch. Hey, this could be more fun than the ice bucket challenge a few years ago!

Life’s Funny

Falling Back to Earth

When Plan B yields Grade A insight


By Maria Johnson

We rounded the bend in our kayaks, not expecting to see them perched there in the leathery green boughs of mangrove trees. Three large, brown pelicans. They watched us from a dozen feet above a cove called Soldier’s Hole.

Two of them sat as tall and still as concrete statues, their ascending necks tucked tight against descending heads and bills.

Between the two tall birds, a third one, folded flat, drowsed in branches on the sunny side of the inlet, a bank that caught the full warmth of February in Florida’s Tampa Bay.

We stopped paddling and let the current nudge us closer. The birds fixed us with the perfect white circles of their eyes. They didn’t flinch, even when we raised our cell phones to photograph them. We drifted underneath them.

“This is so cool,” I whispered.

“I know,” my husband rasped. Paddling away, we realized that although we’d seen brown pelicans in North Carolina, we’d never seen them roosting in the wild.

Bobbing on the open water?


Planted on piers?


Stationed on harbor spiles, surrounded by diesel fumes, and boats, and the din of waterside restaurants?


But tucked into the swampy wild?


This was different.




Maybe because we were on their turf, in a vast and wild place, Fort De Soto State Park, where we were just another mated pair passing through. As casual kayakers and even more casual birdwatchers, we’d stumbled into the park — a birdwatching mecca, with more than 330 species known to alight here — on a day when brisk wind and shriveled mercury made sunbathing impossible.

It was Plan B, a fallback that ended up being better than we could have imagined, for who doesn’t benefit from spending time close to nature, whether in your garden, in an urban park or in a 1,000-plus acre preserve? The opportunity is the same — to see and feel that you’re a part of nature.

Of her.

Not above her.

What happens to her, happens to you.

It was a wonderful, humbling feeling, one that swelled our hearts as we skimmed the hammered surface of the water. Farther down the watery finger, gangly black cormorants watched us from the tops of no-wake signs. Ospreys poked their white heads and hooked noses out of shallow stick-built nests atop telephone poles. A vibrant tricolored heron stared until we passed. A young yellow-crowned night heron, crouching on a low branch, peered at us from between leaves. A turkey buzzard, with its faded black feathers and wrinkled red head, glided with the somber bearing of an undertaker — a reminder that, in many ways, we are all passing through.

Gulls keened overhead.

All around us, fish breached and flopped in silvery flashes. Splish. Bubbles congregated on the surface. The sighs of turtles and manatees below?  In the clear shallows, red mangroves arched their prop roots down to the brackish water for a place to grab hold. Like flying buttresses on a Gothic church, they stabilize the mangroves and the estuary, providing cover for all manner of life — a true sanctuary, with flowers provided by oysters that cling to the roots in calcified bouquets.

We paddled on, wind at our backs.

More pelicans came into sight. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. They hunkered in the mangroves, rocking in the branches as the wind gusted. Many of them wore a cap of fuzzy gold, a tinge of color announcing that breeding season was near. They regarded us calmly, waiting as an audience might wait for a play to unfold on stage. What would we, the main characters, do next?

For 40 years, from 1970 to 2009, brown pelicans were on the Endangered Species list. The pesticide DDT had pretty much wiped them out. Once sprayed on crops, the chemical ran off into estuaries and collected in fish. When pelicans ate the fish, the chemical affected the birds’ eggs, making their shells too thin to be viable. Bald eagles suffered, too.

Then we — specifically the Environmental Protection Agency — banned DDT and limited the use of pesticides. As she always does, nature responded to the chance to right herself and restore balance. Slowly, the pelicans and eagles returned.

Having reached the open water of the bay, we spun our kayaks around and headed back to the outfitter. The sun had begun its slow fall to the water.  Fishermen appeared along the banks, casting nets and filaments from poles. It was feeding time. The pelicans, like prehistoric pterodactyls in silhouette, joined them, cruising, pausing, collapsing into nosedives. They surfaced quickly, tossing their heads back to take shots of mullet.

We took our time. Our paddles looped in the figure eights of infinity and we dug into the water, aware that we were moving against the wind.

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at