Wandering Billy

Psychic on the Corner

This time it wasn’t a scam. Even for a natural skeptice


By Billy Eye

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings. — Elizabeth Gilbert

For as long as I can remember (turns out it’s been 20 years) there has been a psychic on the corner of Cornwallis and Lawndale, operating out of the brick house there or the one right behind it. You may recall that the house on the corner was to be replaced by a big-box pharmacy about a decade ago but, thankfully, zoning laws kept that from happening.

When it comes to the paranormal, I once considered myself skeptical but open-minded. That was before a certain “psychic” reading in Los Angeles caused me to define myself as more of a side-glance skeptic. More on that later.

On impulse, I made an appointment for a reading conducted by the Irving Park psychic, Dorine. First off, it’s a no-contact experience. You enter into an anteroom built in front of one of the living room windows. Communication happens via intercom. Quite clever actually. I opted for a combination of crystal and Tarot card readings, conducted simultaneously for $60. I gave her no information other than my formal first name and remained moderately unresponsive as she made her preternatural prognostications.

I’ve always believed that it wouldn’t be that difficult to appear to be a psychic by merely making general assumptions based on someone’s looks and demeanor, coupled with wildly positive imaginings about what’s to come, but Dorine was very precise with not a lot of wiggle room in her projections.

Because much of the reading was deeply personal I won’t go into great detail but there was an impressive number of very specific things that she got right with few misses. Even when I thought she was wrong, upon reflection I realized she had been correct all along. 

For instance, Dorine remarked that I have trouble with my breathing. No, my breathing is fine. When she insisted that she sees me gasping for breath regularly, it then occurred to me that, yes, I walk at least 5 miles a day so naturally I am winded often. She told me that I have a second cat. I don’t nor do I want one. She was insistent, there is a second cat. Come to think of it, the black-and-white kitty living across the street wanders daily over to sit atop my car and poke around my place.

She mentioned that it was difficult for me to fall asleep. I said it wasn’t, forgetting that sleep is quite troublesome without some degree of self-medication; i.e., a nightcap or five. Asking if I was selling something, I answered no, but in hindsight the bulk of my income derives from selling ads on my website. I’d sold one that day. Her eerily accurate description of a close friend of mine was most stunning.

Calling out past or current conditions is one thing, if nothing else it serves to validate, but we all know our past and present already. What does the future hold? Apparently I’ll be ghosting some of you bums out there in favor of a whole new, cooler set of friends next year. About time! And if you’re a medical professional in his 50s driving a Porsche with a condo in Florida . . . “Calling Dr. Bombay!”

Dorine asked what my questions were. It actually hadn’t occurred to me to have any specific queries. I was more interested in the process itself. The advice she had for me going forward was positively rock-solid. Again, I went in a skeptic but with a willingness to believe.

This was a much more substantive experience than the one and only other time I’ve had a psychic reading. Living in L.A., roaming around the Burbank mall (don’t judge, they had an Orange Julius), I was approached by a diminutive woman in her 50s, preschooler in tow. She asked if I would like to donate to needy Native Americans. I said sure, handed her a ten spot. Then I asked exactly which charity I would be supporting. As it turned out, my contribution went directly into her personal account. She and her child were, in fact, Native Americans. Okaaaay.

Yet, despite having been deceived (kinda sorta), she informed me that she lived right around the corner and asked if I would like a psychic reading for $200. “What can I get for 20 bucks?” I asked. I don’t remember anything about the reading itself, but for some unknown reason I gave her my business card.

A few days later, the cunning clairvoyant called with distressing news: The reason I was so unfulfilled was because I had been cursed by someone close to me. I didn’t believe anyone I knew at the time cared that much about me one way or another to go to the trouble of conjuring up a curse, but I listened. The psy-charlatan was adamant in her prophesy, instructing me to take $5,000 in large bills, place them in a new white handkerchief, tie it off, then bring it to her to burn. The curse would then be lifted.

Of course I did exactly as I was told and lived happily ever after. Nawwwww, even my naive younger self had heard about that one, the old switcheroo, a scam as old as humanity itself. She reached out once again with some scam or another before I asked the receptionist not to put her through again.

Eye would recommend visiting Dorine’s inner sanctum at Lawndale and Cornwallis if you’re psy-curious. The entire experience was an enriching one. A second-generation psychic taught by her grandmother, Dorine obviously possesses uncanny empathic insight. She’s been at that location for two decades, which counts for something. Even if you believe there is no such thing as genuine clairvoyance, it’s still fascinating to have someone unfamiliar “read” you. At the very least, it provides a clue as to what sort of first impression you’re giving off.

As for the future, I apparently need to align my core and heart chakras. Dorine gifted me with two stones to do just that. Soon as I Google what chakra means, I’ll get right on it.

* * *

Hope everyone has a great holiday season even though it will be a bit different this year. But look on the bright side: No buying presents for that relative you don’t like but traditionally spend a portion of Christmas Day with anyway.  OH

Billy Eye is done with 2020. Begone bad spirits!


Winter Visitors

You’ll know this clever nuthatch by its color and its call 


By Susan Campbell

Every few winters, an irruption of wintering finches wings its way to the Southeast. This is definitely shaping up to be one of those years. Thousands of songbirds native to the far north, such as pine siskins and purple finches, are already pouring in, looking for food all over North Carolina.

The first waves were observed in late September, signaling that there’s already a dearth of red spruce, balsam fir, Eastern hemlock and other small, oily and protein-rich native seeds across the northern tier of states. These birds will move farther and farther south in coming months. Some, such as the red-breasted nuthatch, have their breeding grounds way up in the boreal forests of Canada. Although pairs can also be found in northwestern North Carolina at altitudes of upwards of 3,000 feet year round, some nuthatches may cease their quest southward when they happen upon a well-stocked birdfeeder. If it’s your feeder, don’t be surprised if they take up residence in your yard for the duration of the season. And are they ever entertaining for the lucky hosts!

The red-breasted nuthatch is closely related to our resident brown-headed and white-breasted nuthatches with which many of us are so familiar. They defend their nest cavity fiercely from other birds as well as climbing predators. They have also been documented using resin and pieces of bark around the nest entrance for protection.  Such skillful tool usage is remarkable, so it’s no surprise that red-breasted nuthatches can be very successful breeders. However, if the weather is good and food is abundant in summer, they can easily outstrip the local mast crop by late summer.

These animated little birds have a gray back, a prominent eye stripe and rusty flanks as well as a reddish breast, as their name implies. Red-breasteds are also quite vocal, calling repeatedly a distinctively nasal “yank yank” that sounds like a tiny tin horn being blown from the treetops. Both sexes will call, but unmated males are the most vocal. They give a very definite warning of their presence — even to larger birds, which they are not afraid to challenge for food.

Red-breasted nuthatches spend their time crawling over the branches of pine trees looking for seeds in cones as well as insects active in the needles and outer bark. Stock your birdfeeder with sunflower seeds, which they love. With their long, wedge-shaped bills, they can readily shell and gobble down black-oil sunflower seeds or they store them in a crevice for later. These little birds also love peanuts and suet. Individuals can be quite aggressive, driving other nuthatches away with strong body language and harsh vocalizations.

In the Sandhills and Piedmont, where we have such good nuthatch habitat, you can find them almost anywhere in a good winter. The best way to locate a red-breasted is to slowly walk through a pine stand and listen. They rarely resist giving themselves away. But in the absence of repeated, nasally calls, scan nearby chickadee or titmouse flocks. These northern visitors are known to frequently associate with other small-bodied seedeaters. If you spend just a little time in the woods over the coming weeks, chances are you’ll spot some of these clever winter visitors!  OH

Susan would love to hear from you. Send wildlife sightings and photos to susan@ncaves.com.

Weekend Away

Urban Wonderland

The Madcap gents hightail it to bustling Greenville


By Jason Oliver Nixon

Recently, at High Point Market, John and I ran into a Greenville native and friend and, over drinks, we discussed the state of downtown HP.

“You think downtown High Point struggles,” our pal said. “Greenville was worse back in the day. Twenty years ago, you just wouldn’t go to most of downtown. And now it’s really breathtaking. The restaurants, the shopping, the river walk and access to nature . . .”

Intrigued, John and I did our homework. Once the self-proclaimed textile capital of the world, Greenville, S.C., languished for decades when fabric firms moved overseas. Happily, a visionary urban revitalization master plan kicked off in the 1990s and continues to transform this once-uncut gem into the poster child for what a small-scale city downtown can become. Families love it. Foodies love it. BMW has its international manufacturing HQ here. Find Michelin’s U.S. headquarters there, too. It’s super walkable, super dog friendly. Heaps of nature make hiking and biking ideal. Expect loads of art galleries and working artist studios. Furman University. Cultural venues that range from the Children’s Museum of the Upstate to the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum, plus a world-class performing arts center. And a smattering of charming, newly spruced-up towns surrounding the city make for great day trips.

So on a crisp late fall afternoon, John and I piled into the Subaru and set sail for the three-hour drive to this mythical city in the northwest corner of South Carolina. We left the pups behind.

Home base for the weekend was The Westin Poinsett, a historic, 12-story property smack in the middle of Main Street’s hustle and bustle.

The Poinsett has had a seesaw history since its 1925 opening. After decades as a glittering hostelry it eventually morphed into a retirement home. And then, in the late 1970s/early 1980s, it was abandoned and regularly vandalized. Now, in a beige-on-beige sort of way, the Poinsett sparkles anew after its late 1990s restoration.

Speaking of hotel design, downtown Greenville lacks a good one-off boutique hotel: It’s all Hyatt Place and Aloft (perfect for folks with dogs), Hilton and Hampton Inn. Fortunately, a sleek AC Hotel by Marriott will soon open just down from the Poinsett, and construction of the high-style Grand Bohemian Greenville, perfectly situated at the base of Reedy River Falls, approaches completion.

Checked in, John and I hightailed it for sunset cocktails at the stylish UP on the Roof bar situated, incongruously, atop the Embassy Suites downtown. We wanted a birds-eye view to kick off the weekend festivities, and that’s just what we got. John and I sipped artisanal cocktails and took in the stunning vistas of downtown and the surrounding mountains.

After drinks, we walked a few blocks to Urban Wren, a newly opened eatery tucked into an urban neighborhood blossoming with brand-new lofts next to the still-busy Norfolk Southern tracks. Think an interesting, slightly vexing menu that travels from Italy to Asia and India with a few stops in between. Pair the far-flung menu with cement floors and an edgy Brooklyn vibe that caters to a young, stylish, and, apparently, moneyed crowd.

“Wow, $44 for salmon,” I blurted.

John harrumphed and commented on how packed the restaurant was. Jammed, in fact.

Even during a pandemic, the Greenville restaurant scene bristles with electricity. And residents are truly passionate — and vocal — about their dining-out likes and dislikes.

A Greenville friend checked in, “You have to go to ASADA and Fork and Plough. And you must have cocktails at EXILE and the Swordfish [Cocktail] Club. You will love Willy Taco Feed & Seed and Bar Margaret. And lunch at Afghan restaurant Aryana is a must. Have a glass of rosé and the pickled beet and pear salad at Passerelle Bistro overlooking the falls to take in the view but be sure to get off the beaten path — there are so many amazing options further afield.”

And so John and I mapped out a plan.

Saturday morning kicked off with superlative pastries and lavender-scented lattes at French-owned Le Petit Croissant cafe and from there we walked Main Street to the baseball stadium and back across the Reedy River.

The transformation of Falls Park on the Reedy is the crown jewel of the city’s impressive revitalization. Once all but hidden by a 1960s-era highway bridge, the stunning, mist-kissed falls are now part of a vast river walk that is populated with walkers and bikers who enjoy the numerous cafes and shops and taking in the views from the architecturally stunning pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge.

We stopped at the wonderful M.Judson Booksellers next to the Poinsett, explored Mast General Store, and popped into superlative men’s store Rush Wilson Limited. The sidewalks were bustling.

“It’s so nice to see so many people out and about,” mentioned John. “It almost feels ‘normal.’”

Photograph Jianna restaurant, food, & Chef Michael Kramer in Greenville, SC on 10/9/17 for Brains on Fire & client VGSC by photographer Stephen Stinson.

After exploring downtown, we hopped into the car and visited the buzzy parking lot sale at The Rock House Antiques. We stopped at the Hampton Station dining and entertainment complex and considered lunch al fresco but realized we were perhaps too old for the man bun and tattoos/ax throwing/mac and cheese scene. Instead, we visited the charming Greer, a vest pocket-sized town that, like Greenville, has been lavished with much urban-planning love. We were smitten with the blocks-long burg, explored Plunder for antiques and lunched upon crepes at Barista Alley. We drove to the nearby Hotel Domestique, a Provençal-style inn that caters especially to cyclists, and ogled the stonework and postcard-perfect nature views at the 1820s-era Poinsett Bridge.

We stopped in the town of Travelers Rest, an epicurean’s delight at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside Greenville. So many restaurants! Driving back into town, we stopped for dinner at the James Beard-nominated working farm-cum-eatery Oak Hill Café and lapped up a terrific local cheese plate and duck confit with spaetzle.

Sunday morning was languid and began with a Tuscan-inspired lunch on the balcony at Main Street’s Jianna, where a glass of montepulciano paired perfectly with spot-on people watching and a shared plate of pasta.

Phone buzzing, it was our Greenville friend texting a slew of other restaurant and must-visit ideas.

“You need to meet artist Joseph Bradley. Try the cheese at Blue Ridge Creamery. Brunch at Topsoil. And I think you’d like the lunch counter at the Pickwick Pharmacy.”

Ah, so much to see, so little time. And so many reasons for a return visit.

With that in mind, John and I turned off our phones and spent the afternoon on the river walk with a picnic blanket and a pile of books and magazines.

The distant roar of the falls only added to the bliss.  OH

The Madcap Cottage gents, John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon, embrace the new reality of COVID-friendly travel — heaps of road trips.

Home by Design

The Speed Queen

Let’s hope she’s as simple as advertised


By Cynthia Adams

Cliff Ginn was in a lather about washing machines.

He owns a small textile-related business and, having weathered many storms given the tumult of the industry, has mastered self-control.

But today he is more agitated than, well, his dying washing machine’s agitator. I listen sympathetically while handing over the UPS package I’d accepted for him while he was out at appliance stores.

“I want a dumb washing machine,” he states flatly. “I want the Volkswagen Beetle of washing machines!”

A Dapper Dan, Ginn could care less about washing machine style or function. 

“Why should it care if my cotton is from Egypt or from Mississippi? Or, if my cashmere sweater is virgin or not? I do not judge.”

A de-wrinkling feature perhaps? No thanks.

“If I want to de-wrinkle something, I will just throw it in the drier with a wet rag.”

On he went with the questions.

“Must the washer and drier match?” he asks plaintively.


Well, maybe.

“I do like for my shoes and belt to match.”

Ginn complains about the steep learning curve for gadgets on his 2020 Volvo sedan. He definitely isn’t looking for a washing machine that requires him watching YouTube.

He was searching for the simplest machine to be found. One with an on and off button, he jokes. No fancy panels or electronic controls. Nothing that will die or confound him.

He even sat down and wrote an angsty rant about it: 

“This is a year when I bought a new car with electronics that would make a 16-year-old-boy drool. And the prospect of having to buy a new iPhone . . . But back to the washing machine. It’s asking too much of me. Why so many choices and features.” (He was too distraught to insert question marks.)

Simplicity of design was what Ginn sought.

One such simplified machine still exists. It lacks the high-profile brand awareness of Maytag, Miele, LG or GE.

Its name is Speed Queen.

“Speed Queen!” he exclaims days later, over the phone. He was keeping me informed of his progress and had just discovered this brand at an old-school appliance store.

In a very short while, Ginn called to report back.

“I am on my way to do something every grown man dreads,” he says with the resignation of the already beaten. “And it’s not a colonoscopy.”

A long pause.

“It’s buying a washing machine.”

I knew appliance angst well.

An ill-fated encounter with a smart washing machine occurred more than 20 years ago in Genoa, Italy. I travelled with my friend, Dixie Hodge, to the home of Pat and Loren Schweninger. We were to stay there while they were away.

Arriving at the Genoa train station, my friend was suddenly distracted by a mob of gesticulating, chattering women who lifted her wallet. We were shaken, but gathered ourselves and trundled on with our cases.

The Schweningers’ rental, on a hillside overlooking the port city, was memorably reached via funicular.

I emptied all my clothing into their Italian made front-loading machine before dinner. I had no idea how to operate the machine, guessing at the foreign settings.

What seemed like hours later, my clothes — all my clothes — were still washing away.

Back home, my old top-loader would have been long finished.

After madly pressing buttons, it chugged to a stop — with all my soggy clothes inside clearly visible through the machine’s window.

The door could not be opened.

I knocked at the neighbor’s door, trying to explain that the machine was broken. Did they have any knowledge of washing machines? Or at least that’s what I attempted to ask, using a pastiche of English and terrible Italian.

Her reply was in English: “Call the Candy Man.”


Turns out the machine was by Italy’s most popular brand — Candy. Candy was the first to bring front-loading machines to the Italian market.

Their website states (in a convoluted translation) that the brand has been “part of Italian industrial history since 1945, when it launched the Model 50, the first washing machine thought for the households.”

The “thought for the households” is a charming touch — versus, what? Thought for use outside the home?

With my travel funds depleted and my friend’s wallet gone, I counted my lire.

How much was a house call going to cost?

Quick answer: all the lire I had.

The next morning, the Genovese Candy Man spent about two minutes looking at the machine. He pushed two buttons, the spin cycle began, and he grinned.

Clean clothes. Cleaned out pockets. Now both my friend and I were cashless in Genoa.

It was several years before I could be persuaded to consider a water conserving front-loader.

As for Ginn?

It isn’t about the cash. He is a true believer in good design in both his wardrobe and his home. He admires and collects art. Italian-made shoes. Buttery-soft leather coats. German and Italian sports cars.

He and his girlfriend admire the finer things in life, and he has even written her poetry in Italian.

But Ginn has technology fatigue. He does not want to study the manual to decipher sleek electronics. He wants knobs to turn and buttons, as we say in the South, “to mash.”

Ginn has discovered he is a top-down kind of appliance man, one who believes — and plans to invest — in the simplest possible washing machine.

One that is top-loading, with an old-fashioned clothes agitator that stops whenever you open the lid to toss in one more thing.

Design simplicity at its finest.

“I don’t ask to save the planet,” he wrote to me later, “only to have white boxers.”

It will cost Ginn, of course. Simplicity doesn’t come cheaply.

But the smart money is on the Speed Queen.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

In Case You Missed Them

Titles worthy of the party they didn’t get 


Compiled by Brian Lampkin

It was a difficult year for writers who published a book in 2020.

Actually, it was a difficult year for anyone who drew a breath in 2020, but we’re here to focus on books. Typically, a writer publishes a book, then celebrates with a launch party, book tour and a variety of live appearances. None of the post-publication afterglow happened in our plague year. Still, plenty of great books saw the light and many of them by North Carolina authors. As this grievous year comes to an end, let’s give some renewed appreciation for these 2020 titles either from Tar Heel denizens or those inspired by North Carolina events.

Wilmington’s Lie, by David Zucchino. Happily, this one published before the curtain was drawn on events, and Zucchino drew a sell-out crowd to Scuppernong in January for this important look at the 1898 overthrow of the Wilmington, N.C., government. Zucchino argues that the racist events in Wilmington set the stage for North Carolina’s descent into 20th Century Jim Crow life.

Write It!: 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire, by Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown. If, poet, you were always suspicious of the efficacy of prompts as a poetic practice, then you need to prop open this sophisticated and deeply knowledgeable collection of ideas and inspirations. There’s nothing cute or precious about these hard-thought and useful mind and heart starters. Jacobs and Brown bring an Asheville focus on nature and openness to the page.

The Tyranny of Questions, by Michael Gaspeny. This unique collection of poems is novelistic in its narrative and close attention to a single subject — a woman struggling through repressive American life in the 1960s. That makes it a brave text in these times, which are so anti-empathetic. If this is appropriation, then give me more, as Gaspeny offers tender, wise and heartfelt appreciation for the difficulties, hard-earned joys and ever-present despair of a life thwarted.

Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. Clapsaddle lives in Qualla, N.C., and is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. No less than Charles Frazier says of her novel: “Even As We Breathe is a fresh, welcome and much needed addition to the fiction of the Appalachian South and its neglected people and places. Clapsaddle creates characters with sensitivity, subtlety, humor and warmth. A splendid debut by a writer well worth following.”

Step It Up and Go, by David Menconi. Long-time Raleigh News & Observer music critic David Menconi offers a detailed overview of the long history of great music made in North Carolina. The work is beautifully presented by UNC Press, and includes everything from Doc Watson to Beach Music, from Winston-Salem’s hugely influential The “5” Royales to Greensboro’s Rhiannon Giddens. There’s a ton of information, but most of it is delivered with the real joy and passion pop music deserves.

Why Didn’t We Riot?: A Black Man in Trumpland, by Issac J. Bailey. Davidson College professor Issac J. Bailey is America’s self-appointed spokesman for the millions of Black and Brown people throughout the United States who felt pushed back to the back of the bus in the Trump era by a media that prioritized the concerns and feelings of the white working class and an administration that made White supremacists giddy.

Down by the Eno, Down by the Haw: A Wonder Almanac, by Thorpe Moeckel. Moeckel’s strange and meandering drift through the woods and rivers of the Piedmont is filled with language both specific and ethereal — like a good walk through nature itself. I’d give occasional whoops of wonder as Moeckel puts words and syntaxes to new uses. Prose for poets and nature lovers alike.

This Will Make It Taste Good, by Vivian Howard. Kinston’s latest claim to fame brings a second cookbook to life with more direct attention paid to the mysteries of Eastern North Carolina cooking. It’s also got a generous serving of Howard’s winning personality and typical honest reflection on the difficulties and joys of a chef’s life.

Highlighting these eight books means I’m ignoring all these other gems of the COVID-era: Blue Marlin, by Lee Smith; Hieroglyphics, by Jill McCorkle; Indecent Assembly, by Gene Nichol; The Best of Me, by David Sedaris; In the Valley: Stories and a Novella Based on Serena, by Ron Rash; When These Mountains Burn, by David Joy and Escaping Dreamland, by Charlie Lovett.

Good luck catching up on what you’ve missed.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books

Omnivorous Reader

Mountain Redux

The return of Ron Rash’s classic character


By D.G. Martin

What is it about Waynesville, the small mountain city west of Asheville?

Two of our state’s most admired novelists set their best books in the mountains near Waynesville: Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, and Serena, by Ron Rash. Both books are gems with memorable characters and descriptive language that flows like poetry. Both deal with cruel and brutal destruction of life and land: Cold Mountain by war, Serena by the clear-cutting of ancient mountain forests.

Having written about Frazier recently, it is time to give attention to the work of Rash. His latest book, In the Valley, gives us nine new short stories and a novella that revives the main story in the classic Serena.

From its beginning, North Carolina has been the scene of environmental destruction that accompanied the creation of great wealth and employment opportunities. The importance of tars and pitch to our economy gave us our Tar Heel nickname and destroyed vast forests of longleaf pine.

In the early part of the last century, our mountain regions opened their treasured forests to massive clear-cut operations that destroyed some of the state’s most beautiful and important natural landscapes.

Serena was set in the time of the Great Depression in the immense forests near Waynesville. The leading characters were the owners of a Boston lumber company that was systematically cutting all the trees on the thousands of acres that it owned.

The background of systematic forest destruction was a perfect backdrop for Rash’s epic story of love, hate, ambition, ruthlessness and revenge. His novel opens at the railroad station in Waynesville. Pemberton, the leading partner in the lumber company, returns from Boston with his new bride, Serena. Her striking appearance and arrogance immediately awe Pemberton’s partners and most of the employees, who have come to meet the couple at the station.

Also at the station are a rumpled mountain man and his pregnant teenage daughter, Rachel, whose unborn child was fathered by Pemberton. The mountain man accosts Pemberton with a Bowie knife. In the ensuing fight, Pemberton sinks his own knife into the chest of the mountain man, who drops his Bowie knife and dies.

Serena, showing the dominating character that will carry the novel to its end, picks up the Bowie knife, hands it to the dead man’s daughter and says, “By all rights it belongs to my husband. It’s a fine knife, and you can get a good price for it if you demand one. And I would,” she added. “Sell it, I mean. That money will help when the child is born. It’s all you’ll ever get from my husband and me.”

Serena was ambitious and dramatically attractive, riding a white horse and displaying her well-trained eagle. She and her husband were determined to get rich by clear-cutting thousands of acres of North Carolina mountain forestlands, destroying a rich, stable and precious environment.

Rash made Serena a symbol of corporate greed and anti-environmentalism. Serena was also driven by personal passions. She was determined to eliminate her husband’s illegitimate son and the child’s mother, Rachel. This assignment went to Galloway, a one-armed employee utterly devoted to Serena. Galloway’s efforts, chronicled in the book’s dramatic last pages, were nevertheless a failure. The boy and mother were safe, and Serena was off to exploit the forests of Brazil.

Maybe it’s a stretch to compare Rash with Shakespeare, as some critics have, but his vivid writing takes the reader by the hand and makes him a participant in the action, not just an observer.

And Serena established Rash as one of America’s leading authors.

A novella that is part of Rash’s new book, In the Valley, brings Serena back from Brazil to North Carolina to take charge of a logging project. Galloway also returns to take on Serena’s murderous assignments, including the search for Rachel and her son.

Readers will again be impressed and horrified at Serena’s determined and brutal efforts that destroy more of the environment and decimate the logging crews.

Rash’s writing is firmly connected to his concerns about threats to the preservation of the environment. In an interview with Mountain Times Publications’ executive editor Tom Mayer, Rash explained, “I’m seeing now this peril for the national parks. There’s a lot of push to change what is considered wilderness that can be mined or timbered. My hope is that this (story) would remind us how hard won these national parks were and what they were fighting against.”

The new book is a bonus for fans of Rash’s short fiction. There are nine finely tuned short stories. All deal with mountain people like those he knows from growing up in or near the mountains, or from his long years teaching at Western Carolina University. These are folks that Rash clearly cares for and worries about. But the time settings vary, giving readers a look at mountain life over hundreds of years.

The opening story, “Neighbors,” is set during the Civil War in the mountain community of Shelton Laurel. A Confederate foraging and raiding party targets the farm of a young widow and her two children. The Confederates assume she is a Union sympathizer and prepare to burn her house and barn. Rash captures the meanness and ugliness of war and punctuates his point with an ending that surprises the reader and darkens the tale.

“When All the Stars Fall” deals with a poignant breakup of a father and son’s construction business because their value systems are different and incompatible.

In “Sad Man in the Sky,” a helicopter pilot who sells 30-minute rides takes on a troubled but inspiring passenger.

In “L’Homme Blesse,” a mountain college art professor explores the connection between the artwork of a Normandy invasion veteran and the images on the walls of ancient caves in France.

“The Baptism” is the story of a country minister responding to a worthless wife abuser who wants to be baptized. The story has an unexpected and satisfying ending.

A young female probationary park ranger in “Flight” encounters a bully who blatantly fishes without a license and breaks all the park’s rules. Her daring retort is illegal but satisfying.

A struggling late-night storekeeper in “Last Bridge Burned” helps a troubled woman who stumbles into his store. Years later he reaps an interesting reward when he connects with the same woman, who has been transformed.

In “Ransom,” a wealthy college student survives a lengthy kidnapping only to face more challenges resulting from the warm relationship she developed with her kidnapper.

Set 60 years after the Battle of Chickamauga, “The Belt” tells how a belt and its buckle that saved a Confederate soldier’s life during that battle has now saved the life of his great-grandson.

Rash’s fans will appreciate this short volume of some of his best writing. For those unfamiliar with his work, In the Valley would be a great beginning place.  OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Life’s Funny

Walking the Talk

And seeing the gifts of being human


By Maria Johnson

I arrive at the trailhead with a cardboard box full of dirt-crusted iris bulbs, leftovers from a gardening operation best described as dig, divide and conquer by giving. My friend has asked for some of the remainders, which I promised to bring the next time we walked.

She totes a gift, too, a surprise — a first edition copy of Where Trouble Sleeps, a short novel by one of my favorite authors, North Carolina’s own Clyde Edgerton. She salvaged the book from a Salvation Army that she regularly scans for vintage finds.

We swap treasures in the parking lot, leash our dogs and set off on a long trek through the woods, a practice we repeat a couple of times a month, if not weekly.

I’m betting that each of us is a little nervous this time. I know I am.

The results of the general election are pending, and we’re on opposite sides of the fence, politically speaking, which basically means we’re not speaking politically.

It wasn’t always this way. Eight years ago, when we met, we agreed on much more, or so it seemed. But in the last four years, the subject of politics, especially presidential politics and its spin-offs, has become increasingly flammable, with each of us quick to defend our beliefs and each of us — I’m quite sure — shaking our heads and asking ourselves about the other: “How could someone so smart, compassionate and patriotic think that?”

But we’ve kept walking.

And talking.

And laughing.

About sons, and husbands, and dogs, and movies, and dialogue we’d witnessed or overheard or imagined.

Sometimes, a giggle couldn’t wait a week. Before Halloween, she texted a flight of imagination: “OK, hear me out . . . Haunted house but with adult nightmares.”

In one room, actors frolic on vacation until they get a call saying the water pipes in their house have burst. It’s a weekend. A holiday weekend. No plumbers can be located. Blood-curdling screams pierce the air.

In another room, a flannel-clad innocent in a cozy bed wakes to realize he has slept through an important meeting. He throws off the covers and flails in panic, a sure goner.

In another room, the help desk from hell, the unwitting victim sits at a computer, reading an avalanche of emails saying the customer service department is awaiting her reply — which she keeps sending.

“Instead of ghouls jumping out at you, it’s bureaucrats and middle-managers yelling and laughing,” my friend wrote by way of stage direction.

I added a chilling scene:

An unsuspecting shopper stands in a check-out line that’s inching forward. She moves to a faster-moving line only to have the cashier in that line call for a price check. Meanwhile, the person who was in front of her in the first line skips out the door while the manager announces over the loudspeaker, “Will the driver of a white Prius (her car) please come to the customer service desk.”

“NOOOOO!,” my friend texted.

Each of us knew the other was laughing out loud.

I supposed that was — and is — the tie that binds: amusement at fate and foibles, the flaws and fears that all of us share, a recognition of how loveably ridiculous humans are.

That includes . . . drumroll . . . us. Half the doozies we tell are on ourselves.

OK. Maybe a third of the tales.

All right. A quarter. Take it or leave it.

So there’s that. And there’s cussing. We love to cuss. Add a dash of the sublime and splash of the serious. The wildflowers we discover on our walks. The tears we’ve shared at touching stories. The curiosity piqued by things we’ve read.

And yes, the bleep-ing politics.

“I’ll be glad when this election is over,” she ventures halfway through the walk.

“Me, too,” I say.

We sidestep for a moment to rail about repair people who’ve left jobs unfinished at our houses, each waiting on a part that never seems to arrive.

“I guess it’s made of unobtainium,” my friend says.

Unobtainium? How can you not love someone who uses a word like that?

The conversation skips and skitters. The trail falls, rises, curves, straightens. We land on the topic of negotiating.

I stick my neck out: My candidate is a good negotiator, I say.

A good negotiator who happens to be wrong, she says.

At least he admits when he’s wrong, I say.

Here we go again.

We step carefully, catching our balance with small talk about the dogs.

Now, she sticks her neck out: It’s hard to understand someone else’s experience when you’re negotiating.

It’s true, I say, especially if you’re playing for points, tit for tat.

The only way out, we agree, is to give, trusting that you won’t be hurt in the process.

No trust, no give.

We’re back at the cars now. The dogs are loaded up.

Thanks for the bulbs, she says.

Thanks for the book, I say.

Seeya next week, she says.

Seeya next week, I say.  OH

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


State of the Arts

GreenHill’s annual Winter Show is more visible than ever


“There is the verbal, which separates people . . . and there is the visual, that is understood by everybody.”  So says Israeli sculptor Yaacov Agam.

In other words, art unifies us. And during these challenging times, our collective need for unity . . . for beauty . . . and for meaning crescendos. What’s more, artists long to share what they’ve created to salve our weary souls.

“At a time of historic uncertainty, enhancing visibility and economic opportunities for the state’s creative community is more vital than ever,” says GreenHill Center for North Carolina Art’s Executive Director Barbara Richter, anticipating the museum’s 41st annual WINTER SHOW.

The public opening is on Sunday, December 6, from 1–6 p.m., bringing socially-distanced visitors together safely for an exhibition featuring 400 works by emerging and established artists from across the state, including over one dozen from the Gate City and our surrounding towns. Expect the whole, colorful gamut: paintings, sculpture, photography, ceramics, jewelry, wood and fiber works — all available for sale (and tax-free on opening day). Exhibit runs until Sunday, February 7, 2021.

In addition to extending the WINTER SHOW by three full weeks this year, a comprehensive digital catalog (accessible on December 1) now offers optimal viewing opportunities for those who prefer to shop online. Small-group and in-person collector evenings are also available.

GreenHill gallery is open Thursday through Saturday, from noon until 5 p.m. Extra holiday shopping days include Wednesdays, December 9, 16 and 23, same hours. And for those with a 9-to-5, extended hours on Thursday, December 17, will keep the doors open until 7 p.m.

Let’s come together, in the name of art.

WINTER SHOW is free and open to the public. Visit GreenHillNC.org for updates and details on safety protocols.




Art pictures above:

Nikki Blair
Lemonhead, 2019, ceramic
19 x 6 x 4 inches


Short Stories

Tradition with a Twist

Praise the dancing sugar plum fairies! Greensboro Ballet’s The Nutcracker will go on. And here’s how: the big screen. A live performance at the Carolina Theatre is being professionally recorded for a Nutcracker Drive-in experience at the Greensboro Coliseum (1921 W. Gate City Blvd., Greensboro) on Friday, December 18, through Sunday, December 20. In this year’s production, dancers will don masks to match their tights and tutus, and choreography will delight with not-so-subtle nods to COVID-era precautions — maids distributing hand-sanitizer at the Party scene, for instance. Watch the Nutcracker and Mouse King go face to snout from the safety and comfort of your own vehicle and, per usual, prepare to be dazzled. Drive-ins include food drives during each of the five productions to help local organizations feed the hungry this holiday season. Tickets: $60 per vehicle. Info: greensboroballet.org/the-nutcracker


Sag Season: Baptism By Fire

Have you ever met a Sagittarius who wasn’t a complete and total hot mess — at least 90 percent of the time? Think about it. And now conjure, if you can, the image of Miley Cyrus from her Wrecking Ball days. Red-hot lipstick, platinum blond undercut and nothing on save for a pair of Dr. Martens 1490 boots. That’s a Sag for you.  And wouldn’t you know it: Cyrus’ brand new album, Plastic Hearts, features a track named for her birth sign. The lyrics are more plebeian than poetic. But, let’s face it, Sagittarians aren’t exactly the Emily Posts of the zodiac. Their symbol is a bow-wielding centaur, as in half archer, half horse. The force is strong with you, star child, and with two eclipses in the forecast this month, that willpower just might save your sweet bippy. Prepare for turbulence, kiddo. The solar eclipse on December 14 will trigger a minor existential crisis — nothing a little palo santo (that’s “holy wood,” darling, not “Hollywood”) can’t clear up. And on December 30, a lunar eclipse is going to stir up the pot with your romantic partner. (If you’re single, that means good luck getting along with yourself.) But there’s good news: If you’re willing to put in the inner work, these shifts in the cosmos are going to help steer you toward a life with some semblance of balance. Happy birthday, you rebellious little fire sign. Breathe through it. And try not to get too bored. 


Worldly Palate

In June, 2019, O.Henry featured a story on Greensboro native Cameron Klass, millennial chef and holistic health coach, who is on a global “quest for zest.” As her T-shirt suggests, her mission to “Spread Hummus Not Hate” is her life’s work and joy. Having launched Root to Rise to share her wisdom of the “healing power of natural foods,” Klass recently published the first cookbook of her “Around the World” recipe series, Quest for Zest: Thailand. Featuring over 50 simple and authentic Thai recipes with what Klass calls her “healthy, creative, plant-based, gluten-free spin,” the book utterly sizzles with new possibilities. Illustrated with vibrant photographs, recipes include wholesome variations on classic street foods; green, red and yellow curries; pad Thai and other rice noodle dishes; plus sweet and creamy desserts Klass discovered through her travels. “My mission is to serve culinary confidence so that everyone and anyone feels that they can cook!” she says, adding that it’s a book for body, mind and spirit. Standard edition: $15; Star edition: $25.
Info: roottorise.online/shop

Simple Life

Becoming My Father

And, luckily, his father, too


By Jim Dodson

A dear friend I hadn’t seen in far too long and I were having lunch outdoors, safely distanced. She sipped her lemony mineral water and noted her relief that a grueling year was finally drawing to a close.

“If ever a year could make you feel old,” she said with a thoughtful sigh, “this was it.”

I agreed, sipping my sweet tea, pointing out that I am living proof of this sudden aging phenomenon.

“How’s that?”

I replied that I was — quite literally — turning into my father and grandfather before my very eyes. This was either scary or wonderful. The jury was still out on the matter.

She laughed. “I think you were probably just born old. Besides, you’re more of an old soul than a grumpy old man.”

This was nice of her to say. I hoped she’s right.

In fact, I hoped this sudden aging awareness might not be the result of the year’s tumultuous events — a worldwide pandemic, collapsed economy, record hurricanes and wildfire, to say nothing of a presidential election that ground us all to a pulp — and was merely a case of finally growing old enough to appreciate the way our lives unfold and how we are shaped by the people who came before us.

  For the record, two years ago I officially joined the great Baby Boom horde marching resolutely toward their Medicare and Social Security benefits.

  Between us and my morning glass of Metamucil, however, I really don’t feel much older than I did, say, 20 or 30 years ago, when I built my own post-and-beam house on a coastal hill in Maine and spent my children’s college funds creating a large faux English garden in the northern woods.

In my 30s and 40s I could work hard all day in the garden — digging holes, planting shrubs, mowing the lawn, rebuilding old stone walls — and simply require a good soak in our huge Portuguese bathtub and a couple of cold Sam Adams beers to put my aging body right.

As my 50s dawned, shortly before we moved home to Carolina 15 years ago, I even tagged along with renowned Raleigh plantsman Tony Avent and a trio of veteran plant hunters half my age to the Great Karoo desert and some of the most remote places of South Africa in search of exotic plants. We were gone five weeks in the bush, much of that time out of touch with folks back home, politely dodging black mambas and angry Cape baboons. I came home filthy and exhausted, bloodied and gouged, punctured and sprained in places I didn’t even know I had.

In short, it was glorious — the most fun I’ve ever had researching a book —  and it only took me a case of beer and a full week of soaking in the bath to fully recover.

Four years ago, as senior citizen status officially loomed, my wife and I decided to downsize and move from the Sandhills to my hometown in the Piedmont, prompting a friendly debate over whether we should move to the old neighborhood where I grew up or the 10 rural acres I had my eye on outside the city.

“I know exactly what you have in mind,” said my younger wife. “You want 10 acres so you can build another post-and-beam house and create an even bigger faux English garden. Problem is, 65 is not the new 25. I know you well. You’ll rarely come in the house and work yourself to death. I’ll come home some afternoon and find you face down in the Virginia creeper.”

I laughed off such a silly notion, pointing out it would either be English bluebells or maybe the winter Daphne.

She was not amused.

We moved to my old neighborhood a short time later.

Truthfully, I think about my old woodland garden in Maine and that wild African adventure sometimes when I’m working in the modest suburban garden where I now serve as head gardener and general dogsbody, a simple quarter-acre that I’ve completely re-landscaped with or without the FedEx guy in mind.

  As a sign of how time may finally be catching up with my botanically abused body, however, it now takes three cold beers, a longer soak in the tub, two Advil and a short nap to get me up and moving without complaint. I suspect my days of sweet tea consumption are also dwindling in favor of mineral water with lemon.

In the meantime, the evidence mounts that I am becoming my father and grandfather before my own eyes.

Maybe that’s not, as I’ve already said, a bad thing, after all.

My father’s father, from whom I got my middle name, was a lovely old gentleman of few words who could make anything with his hands, a gifted carpenter and electrician who worked on crews raising the first electrical towers across the South during the Great Depression and later helped wire the state’s first “skyscraper,” the Jefferson Standard Building in downtown Greensboro.

Walter Dodson wore flannel shirts with large pockets and smoked cheap King Edward cigars. He gave me my first toolbox one Christmas and showed me how to cut a straight line with a handsaw that I still own. In the evenings, he loved to sit outside and watch the birds and changeable skies, sometimes humming hymns as he calmly smoked his stogie.

Walter’s wife, my spunky Baptist Grandmother Taylor, knew the Gospels cold, but I don’t think Walter ever darkened the doorway of a church. Nature was his temple.

His son, my old man, Brax Dodson, was an adman with a poet’s heart.  He loved poetry, American history, good bourbon, golf with chums and everything about Christmas, not necessarily in that order. He sometimes smoked a beautiful briar pipe he brought home from the war and moderated a men’s Sunday school class for more than two decades. A man of great faith, he’d experienced unspeakable tragedy during his service in Europe but never spoke of it. Instead, he lived his life as if every day was a gift, always focusing on the positive, the most upbeat character I ever knew.

  My nickname for him, in fact, was “Opti the Mystic,” owing to his unwavering goodwill and embarrassing habit of quoting long-dead sages and Roman philosophers when you least expected it, especially to my teenage dates. I never appreciated what a gift he gave me until I turned 30. Lord, how I miss that man.

Regardless of where you come down on the nature v. nurture debate, one doesn’t need a deep dive into Ancestry.com to understand that each of us owns pieces of the people who came before us. If we are lucky, the best parts of them live on in us.

Having reached an age where there are more years in the rearview than the road ahead, I take some comfort in suddenly noticing how much I really am like Opti and Walter, good men who lived through hard times — and even tragedy — but never lost their common touch or appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. 

Like Walter, I dig flannel shirts with large pockets, church hymns, quiet afternoons in my garden and sitting beneath the evening trees watching birds feed and skies change. I miss going to early church on Sunday mornings. But nature is my temple, too. For the time being, that will suffice.

Like Opti, I have a thing for poetry, American history, good bourbon and golf with chums, even quotes by long-dead sages and Roman philosophers that never failed to embarrass my children when they were teenagers.

Just like my old man, I love everything about Christmas. Some gray afternoon this month, I’ll even fire up one of his favorite briar pipes just for fun, a little ritual that makes me feel closer to my missing father, my kindly ghost of Christmas Past.

There’s one more important way I connect with Walter and Opti, who were anything but grumpy old men.

Both had wise and spirited wives who shaped their thinking and made them better people. I have a wife like that, too.

Maybe there’s hope for me yet.  OH

Contact founding editor Jim Dodson at