Omnivorous Reader

Breaking the Code

The scientific revolution that changed the world


By Stephen E. Smith

What in the world just happened?

As the pandemic wanes, that’s the question many of us are asking. But a more immediate question needs answering: What are we going to do to prepare for the next pandemic? The answer, insofar as it’s possible to predict the future, is suggested in The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson, a quasi-biography that raises questions about nothing less imperative than our genetic destiny.

Isaacson, a history professor at Tulane University who has written biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, has a gift for explicating difficult scientific concepts. His biography of Jennifer Doudna, a 57-year-old professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, is the story of the development of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and the function of an enzyme (Cas9), a discovery that won Doudna and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier the 2020 Nobel Prize.

A Doudna biography could not be timelier. Her CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology has launched a scientific revolution that allows us to defeat viruses, cure genetic diseases and certain cancers (TV advertisements are already touting such treatments), and, perhaps, have healthier babies. She has changed our world, moving us from the digital age into a bio-life sciences revolution that will affect our lives to a greater extent than computers have or will.

Doudna was in the sixth grade when she read James Watson’s The Double Helix, initially mistaking it for a detective novel. Watson’s groundbreaking research into the human genome was a mystery so intense that it set her on a career path as a university researcher who would eventually develop an easy-to-use device to edit DNA. She helped discover a use for Cas9, a protein found in Streptococcus bacteria, which attacks the DNA of viruses and prevents the virus from infecting healthy bacterium and cells. She was quick to recognize the possibilities for controlling viruses that invade human cells by using Cas9. “These CRISPR-associated (Cas) enzymes enable the system to cut and paste new memories of viruses that attack the bacteria,” Isaacson writes. “They also create short segments of RNA, known as CRISPR RNA (crRNA), that can guide a scissors-like enzyme to a dangerous virus and cut up its genetic material. Presto! That’s how the wily bacteria create an adaptive immune system!” CRISPR allows us to create vaccines to defeat the ever-evolving structure of coronaviruses. (A new vaccine under development at Duke University has the potential to protect us from a broad variety of coronavirus infections that move, now and in the future, from animals to humans.)

Once she’d figured out the components of the CRISPR-Cas9 assembly, she knew she could program it on her own, adding a different crRNA to cut any different DNA sequence she chose. “In the history of science, there are few real eureka moments, but this came pretty close. ‘It wasn’t just some gradual process where it slowly dawned on us,’ Doudna says. ‘It was an oh-my-God moment.’”

As with most life-altering breakthroughs, ethical questions abound. Should we edit genes to make our children less susceptible to diseases such as HIV and coronavirus? Would it be morally wrong if we didn’t? Isaacson devotes a sizable portion of the biography to asking and answering the tough questions that go to the heart of the CRISPR quandary: “And what about gene edits for other fixes and enhancements that might be possible in the next few decades?” he asks. “If they turn out to be safe, should governments prevent us from using them? The issue is one of the most profound we humans have ever faced. For the first time in the evolution of life on this planet, a species has developed the capacity to edit its own genetic makeup.”

In November 2018, He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysics researcher, produced the world’s first CRISPR-altered children. His goal was to make babies immune to the virus that causes HIV, but his colleagues in China and the West termed his accomplishment “abhorrent and premature.” He was found guilty of conducting illegal medical practices, fined a hefty sum and sentenced to three years in prison. But in the wake of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the idea of editing our genes to make us immune to virus attacks seems a lot less shocking and a whole lot more enticing.

All of this is, of course, highly technical, but Isaacson explains much of what we need to know about CRISPR and its implications in terms that are apprehensible without dumbing down the science. Serious readers — and these days we all need to be serious readers — might peruse Doudna’s 2017 A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution.

CRISPR will continue to change our lives — for the better, we can only hope. But science hackers are already employing CRISPR in unsupervised labs and neighborhood garages, and who knows what uses it will be put to. Will parents who have the financial resources enhance the health and IQ of their kids? Will we manufacture a class of humans whose superior strength and intellect allow them to dominate the majority? Given our history for employing new technologies, the possibilities are unsettling.  OH

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

The Creators of N.C.

A Place Like Home

Wilmington’s Seabird restaurant and oyster bar has landed


By Wiley Cash
Photographs By Mallory Cash

Chefs Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton are sitting at a table inside Seabird, their recently opened seafood restaurant and oyster bar in downtown Wilmington. It is midafternoon, and sunlight streams through the high windows along Seabird’s west-facing wall. The hum of breakfast has passed, and the dinner crowd has yet to arrive. Reservations have been fully booked since opening night. In this rare quiet moment, the couple pauses to reflect on what brought them together, what brought them to Wilmington, and what has kept them in the restaurant business since their chance meeting more than a decade ago.

Given their shared history, it should come as no surprise that Neff and Clopton use the word “our” a lot. After all, they share a family, a restaurant and a past. But when the chefs discuss Seabird, it is clear that their use of the word extends beyond their personal and professional relationship to the place they now call home.

“Seabird is a small, community restaurant,” Neff says, “and I hope it’s a place that feels like part of our community.”

Partnerships with local farmers and small-scale fishermen support Seabird’s efforts to be good stewards of the environment, says Neff. The restaurant’s crew is treated like family, and menus vary based on seasonal availability. “Our food is going to develop from our relationships with the people in this community.”

Neff and Clopton’s relationship began 12 years ago in Athens, Georgia, where Neff was the new sous-chef at Hugh Acheson’s now-iconic restaurant, Five and Ten. At the time, Clopton was working toward a biology degree at the University of Georgia. “I was baking a lot at home,” she says, “and my roommate said, ‘You should try doing this professionally.’”

A friend of Clopton’s worked at Five and Ten. Neff remembers the day that Clopton came in for her interview. When owner Hugh Acheson asked if she’d ever baked professionally, Clopton admitted that she hadn’t. But Acheson must have seen something in the eager young baker. Neff remembers him saying, “Great. When can you start?” Neff must have seen something in her too, and, soon, she would see something in him as well. Romance ensued. From Athens, where Neff eventually became executive chef at Five and Ten and worked with Acheson on his first cookbook, the couple ventured to Western North Carolina, where Clopton and Neff both found themselves working with some of the South’s best known chefs and restauranteurs: Neff helped John Fleer open Rhubarb, a farm-to-table restaurant on the square in downtown Asheville. Clopton worked at Asheville’s Chai Pani, known for its innovative Indian street food, and also helped open Katie Button’s Nightbell, a cocktail bar beneath Cúrate, another Button restaurant lauded for its “curative” Spanish cuisine.

Next, Clopton was baking wedding cakes out of the couple’s home while Neff taught in the culinary arts program at Asheville-Buncombe Tech and coached the school’s competition cooking team. “I loved what we were doing, but I knew that the longer we did it the harder it would be to get back into a restaurant,” Neff says.

And that was when Athens returned to their lives in a surprising way.

A man named Jeff Duckworth had long been a regular at Acheson’s Five and Ten. Back when Neff was chef, it wasn’t uncommon for Duckworth to find his way into the kitchen after enjoying a meal. He would always say the same thing to Neff: “We should go open a restaurant somewhere.” Years later, Duckworth tracked Neff and Clopton down in Asheville to let them know he was leaving Athens for Wilmington. He said he was ready to prove how serious he was about partnering with Neff.

Although the couple had never visited Wilmington, it had been on their radar. “Back when we were in Athens, we had a list of places that we were considering moving, and Asheville and Wilmington were on it,” Clopton says. “And it just happened.”

The first time Neff and Clopton drove across the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, the river below and the city nestled on its banks before them, they knew this was where they would make their home, both in the restaurant business and in the community.

The partnership between Duckworth and Neff opened as PinPoint in May of 2015, and Neff immediately understood how important local support would be to the success of any small, community restaurant. “We thought that being downtown would get us a lot of tourists, but the space didn’t lend itself to that. You had to really know about it,” he says. Local support grew, and so did a buzz that carried beyond the city and state. While Neff loved his time at PinPoint, he grew eager to strike out on his own.

“I sold my shares to Jeff in 2019, and I wasn’t sure at that moment what I was going to do,” Neff says. “We’d just found out that Lydia was pregnant, and then I learned that I was on the long list for the James Beard Award for best chef in the Southeast, and it all kind of reinvigorated the idea that I wanted to open our restaurant in the way we wanted to do it.”

In the midst of all these changes, Clopton had opened Love, Lydia, an upscale bakery near downtown, where her offerings, especially her focaccia, made a name for themselves. According to North Carolina-based food and travel writer Jason Frye, “Lydia was willing to step out and take some chances. It wasn’t the typical stuff. She did things like bring sesame seeds to her focaccia, and that and other choices she made showed a full and thorough approach to food.”

Neff hoped that Clopton would be willing to bring that same full and thorough approach to a shared venture. “She’s a details person,” Neff says. “And I knew that if we did this restaurant together then we would spend more time together, and everything — from the front of the house to the back — would be better if she were here.”

It turns out that the couple would be spending a lot of time together. In quick succession, their son was born, the pandemic hit, Clopton closed her bakery, and, finally, in May, Seabird opened to rave reviews.

Neff credits the name of the restaurant with his obsession with maps and aerial views. When thinking of names, he pictured a bird flying over Eastern North Carolina, gazing down upon the expansive landscape from which he and Clopton would draw both ingredients and inspiration. When someone tipped him off to the song “Seabird” by the Alessi Brothers, Neff knew they had chosen the right name, especially when he read the lyrics Lonely seabird, you’ve been away from land too long. Those lines are now featured beneath the restaurant’s marquee at the corner of Front and Market Street in downtown Wilmington.

While both subtle and bold details inform the visual aesthetic at Seabird, clean lines, floor to ceiling windows, and textures varying from natural wood to textiles, create a space that feels durable and robust yet finely appointed. But make no mistake; while the restaurant is gorgeous, the menu is the focus.

Jason Frye cites the smoked catfish and oyster pie as being among his favorites. “It’s a masterclass in subtle flavors,” he says. “The oyster is stewed until tender, and the smoked catfish is done lightly, so the smoke comes in, but it doesn’t overwhelm the creamed collards and celery broth or the potato-flour pastry that sits on top. With every bite, one flavor leads into the next. At the end, you don’t come away from it feeling like you’ve read a collection of short stories. You feel like you’ve read a novel.” And that’s exactly what Neff and Clopton want the food at Seabird to do: tell the story of the community it comes from.

After more than a decade of working solo or for other chefs or alongside business partners, Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton have come home to Seabird, and they’re inviting locals and visitors to join them. Food, stories, family, community: All of the ingredients are here.  OH

Wiley Cash is the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, will be released this year.

Food for Thought

Meditation on Rice

A staple food of the South


By Bridgette A. Lacy

“Rice was a frequent visitor at the table,” says Michael W. Twitty, an African American cookbook author and food historian. “It’s also a deep part of my family history, being a descendant of the Gullah Geechee and of enslaved South Carolinians.”

Twitty pens a love letter to rice — an accessible grain with limitless possibilities — in the form of a cookbook, RICE, the final volume in The University of North Carolina Press’ “Savor the South” series. He delights readers as he takes them around the globe from West Africa to Italy examining this humble ingredient with which he has a long and storied relationship. In his words, “rice bears narratives laden with struggle and survival, migration, movement, and family tradition.”

Many readers will recognize Twitty’s name as the James Beard award-winning author of The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. He’s also featured in Netflix’s popular High on the Hog, a four-part docuseries based on the book by Jessica B. Harris that traces and acknowledges the contributions of Africans and African Americans to American food culture and cuisine.

Twitty breaks down how rice came from Africa and Asia to the United States, making its way to tables of folks around the world, creating their own cultural fusions and adding their own flavors and spices to this grain. In rich detail, he highlights 51 mouthwatering rice dishes made with vegetables, tomatoes, meats, and seafood, including Wanda Blake’s Jambalaya, Curried Rice Salad and Meyer Lemon Rice with Candied Garlic. And several desserts as well.

He describes different types and varieties of rice from long grain, basmati, jasmine and the regional Carolina Gold.

He also demystified the process of making rice, which can burn easily.

“Patience,” he tells me. “It’s not to be rushed and you have to watch.” No distractions such as talking or texting. He says the best way to perfect it is to cook it over and over again.

Now you can start with this spicy recipe, perfect for a summer gathering.

From RICE: a SAVOR THE SOUTH cookbook by Michael W. Twitty. Used by permission of the publisher.

Ghanaian Crab Stew

Eaten with rice or kenkey, a fermented corn dish, this dish from Ghana influenced later dishes like perloo and shrimp and grits. Sometimes okra is added, and there you have it: a grandfather dish to gumbo. For real Ghanaian flavor, provide additional hot peppers at the table and double up on the garlic and ginger for more punch. This is to be savored, not gulped!

Makes 4–6 servings

1 medium yellow onion or 6 green onions, green and white parts, minced

1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 pound cooked blue crab meat

2 teaspoons minced ginger or ginger paste

2 teaspoons minced garlic or garlic paste

1/2 teaspoon kitchen pepper (see below)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup vegetable, chicken or beef stock, homemade or store-bought

Chopped parsley, for garnish
4 cups cooked long-grain white rice, for serving

In a medium bowl, mix together the onion and habanero. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the onion and peppers, and cook for 5–7 minutes, until soft. Add the tomatoes and bell pepper to the pan. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to soften and break down, about 10 minutes.

Flake the crab meat into the pan and add the ginger, garlic, kitchen pepper, salt, and stock. Stir, turn the heat down to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with rice.

Kitchen Pepper

Kitchen pepper is an old-school spice mixture that was very popular in early American cooking, especially in the coastal South. While it takes its main cues from quatre épices, a spice mix of pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ground ginger common in French cooking, it also helped to preserve both medieval and Silk Road flavors in Southern foodways, as well as the flavors of West Africa, where indigenous and Middle Eastern spices had long influenced the cuisine. This is my take on this classic. It has the complexity of garam masala without quite the punch and heat.

Makes about 1⁄2 cup

2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground mace

1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months.  OH

Bridgette A. Lacy, a feature and food writer, is the author of Sunday Dinner, a Savor the South cookbook by UNC-Press. Her book was a 2016 Finalist for the Pat Conroy Cookbook Prize, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

Life’s Funny

By Maria Johnson

Hi, Welcome to Backdoor, a hyperlocal networking app for hyper, local people with absolutely no knowledge of the natural world.

Today’s Top Post: Snake!

Susan D. * Lakewood

Can anyone tell me what kind of snake
this is?

Joey T. * Woodchase

Garden snake

Laura J. * Thistlewood

See that pattern? Rattlesnake.

Julio H. * Chapelwood


Fran Z. * Meadow Wood

That is definitely not an anaconda. We had an anaconda in our birdbath last week, and it was much bigger than that. I’m guessing yours is a ball python.

Mortimer G. * Towerwood

Plumber’s snake. Just kidding. Could be a juvenile anaconda.

Sara P. * Baywood

Is it hurt?

Susan D. * Lakewood

I don’t know. It was on the driveway next to my son’s car as he was packing to go back to school, and now it’s gone. I guess it got scared.

Fran Z.  * Meadow Wood

It wasn’t an anaconda. I can tell you that.


Yesterday’s Top Post:
What Kind of Flower is This?

Zachary M. * Woody Acres

Can someone please identify this flower growing in my yard? It has velvety petals and a lovely scent that reminds me of the Rose Milk lotion my mother used. Also, there are thorns on its stem. Oh, and on Valentine’s Day, I gave my wife a dozen red ones just like it. Help!

Betty T. * Woodbridge


Juanita D. * Gatewood


Mike G. * Woods Tower

Juvenile hibiscus?

Emily B. * Everwood

Oh, my gosh! My mother used Rose Milk, too. It smelled just like — I dunno, petunias? — and it made your skin so soft. I haven’t seen it in years. Does anyone know if they still make it?

Dot A. * Woody Terrace

Your wife is one lucky lady! If she doesn’t treat you right, let me know. Maybe you should post a picture of yourself. Wink-wink. Just kidding. Wink.

Joan W. * Station Woods

I loved Rose Milk, too! They don’t make it anymore, but thanks for bringing back great memories. Time passes so quickly. We must take time to stop and smell the flowers in Zachary’s yard, whatever they are.


Top Post Two Days Ago: Wildlife Camera Caught
This Fella

Kathy K. * Sweetwood

Look what our wildlife camera captured in our yard last night! My children say it’s a raccoon. But what do they know? They’ve been learning from home all year.

Franklin S. * Sourwood

Why is he still wearing a mask? I thought you didn’t have to wear one anymore.

Leila C. * Saltwood

There is no mask mandate, but people should feel free to wear a mask, inside or outside, if they’re uncomfortable.

Sue P. * Pepperwood

Am I the only one to notice that this guy is wearing his mask improperly — over the eyes, instead of the nose and mouth?

Evelyn J. * Gingerwood

It’s NOT a COVID mask, people. It’s a robber mask. I swear, this looks like the guy who stole a package off my porch at Christmas. My sister in Wisconsin sent a cheese ball. A good one. The kind that’s rolled in nuts. A few minutes after it was delivered, my doorbell camera caught someone swiping the box from my porch. I hope the guy choked on it. I’m not saying the thief is the same person in your picture. But they have the same eyes and general build. Thanks for sharing. Let’s look out for each other! Practice kindness!


Top Post Three Days Ago: Chipmunk racing

Amelia I. * Forkwood

Does anyone else have this problem: Chipmunks dashing across their deck? My aunt, who was visiting, said, “It’s like a regular drag strip out there.” After she mentioned it, I noticed that my deck is basically a chipmunk freeway. And they make so much noise. Very annoying. Ideas?

Regina N. * Spoonwood

There are some animal repellants you can put on your deck, but I would suggest a permanent remedy, such as a cat.

Nan F. * Firewood

Wow. I cannot believe that you would post that kind of violent content on a family-oriented website. Children read this, you know. Please keep your feelings to yourself. Chip hater.

Regina N. * Spoonwood

I am not a chip hater. My husband, Ray, is a chipmunk if you must know. The point is, he does not run across other people’s decks with his tail in the air. And if he did, he’d deserve to be eaten by a cat.

Grace M. * Johnwood

Your husband is a chipmunk? Awwww. So cute.

Thurmond W. * Paulwood

Do I understand this correctly? That these dang chipmunks are the ones who are racing their cars up and down my street at night? They are SO LOUD. They woke me up at 3 a.m. the other night.

Barb D.* Georgewood

Our mechanic says that some chipmunks modify their exhaust pipes to make them louder, and they alter the ignition timing so the cars backfire and flames shoot out the tailpipe. On purpose.

Paula Y. * Ringowood

That’s sickening, for a chipmunk to do that to a perfectly good car.

David T. * Elviswood

I know. But they do. Look at this picture my security camera caught the other day.

Regina N. * Spoonwood


Kelly R. * Redwood


Regina N. * Spoonwood

That’s Ray.  OH

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

Short Stories July 2021

Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski, "The One Time I Dreamed It, It Came True", 2020. Gouache, watercolor, acrylic, collage, graphite, colored pencil, and airbrush on paper; 64 x 42 in. Private collection. © Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski, “The One Time I Dreamed It, It Came True”, 2020. Gouache, watercolor, acrylic, collage, graphite, colored pencil, and airbrush on paper; 64 x 42 in. Private collection. © Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski

Paper Dreams

Let’s hear it for Ancient Egypt for making the earliest you-know-what from the dense, reedy sedge along the Nile. Paper, we’d be lost without you. You know our darkest secrets and our deepest longings. Frankly, you complete us. This month, Weatherspoon Art Museum’s biennial Art on Paper exhibit celebrates the many ways this humble medium can be used to delight, surprise, affect and inspire us. Art on Paper 2021: The 46th Exhibition opens on Saturday, July 24, and features everything from watercolor paper to corrugated cardboard and paper made by hand from newsprint and coffee filters. It likewise offers “creative entry points into urgent conversations,” such as racism, hybrid identities and the effects of social isolation. Don’t miss the virtual curator talk with Emily Stamey on Wednesday, July 28, noon, or the handful of artist talks being scheduled throughout the year. (Keep your eye on WAM’s events page.) Exhibit on display through November 27. The Bob & Lissa Shelley McDowell Gallery, 500 Tate Street, Greensboro. Info/registration:

Smokin’ Hot Art

Artists don’t like to be boxed in. Except when they do.

Just look at those who supply Art-o-mat, the Winston-Salem company that dispenses small works, for five bucks a pop, from rehabbed cigarette vending machines.

The palm-size pieces — some rendered on wood blocks, some tucked inside boxes, all wrapped in cellophane — drop down from inside 175 machines worldwide. Three can be found in this area: at Revolution Mill on Yanceyville Street; at Reconsidered Goods on Spring Garden Street; and at the newest site, Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett, where a sleek, blue-faced model was just installed.

“It’s a flawless machine,” says Clark Whittington, who re-worked the front of the box after being inspired by a picture of a mid-century clock. “I said, ‘That would make a beautiful Art-o-mat.’”

His vending operation — founded in a place once known as “Camel City” because of its tobacco industry roots — draws on an international stable of 300 painters, printmakers, sculptors, jewelers and other creators who often downsize their wares to reach more people. Some well-known local artists — including Marie Stone-van Vuuren of Greensboro and John Gall of Jamestown — work with AOM.

The business, which sports the slogan “Kerplunking Culture Since 1997,” would like to recruit more Triad artists.

“It works great to get your work into places you might never visit,” says Whittington, who leases out machines all over the U.S., with outposts as far away as Austria and Australia. Museums, galleries, hotels and breweries are the most common clients; they order the pieces they want for their machines.

Art-o-mat’s wee works also are available to the public in pre-stuffed Art-o-cartons and Christmas stockings. To order the cartons and stockings, or to read the artists’ guidelines for prototypes, go to  — MJ


Sing the Red, White and Blues

“I’ve had a couple of times on stage when I really felt free,” said North Carolina’s late, great Nina Simone. And what, she was asked, is freedom? “No fear,” chimed the civil rights activist and jazz icon. “I mean, really no fear.” On Friday, July 2, at 8 p.m., the Ghostlight Concert Series presents North Carolina soul singer Jasmé Kelly’s stirring tribute to Nina Simone and Freedom. Powerhouse vocalist Mysti Mayhem opens. Go, listen and see if you don’t experience a moment of total and absolute liberation. Tickets: $25 (advance), $30 (at the door). Carolina Theatre,
310 S. Greene St., Greensboro. Info:


Jack Stratton, Cicadas, 2009. oil on canvas. 16 x 20 inches
Jack Stratton, Cicadas, 2009. oil on canvas. 16 x 20 inches


Time Travelers

What’s happening at GreenHill Center for NC Art? A stretch of the imagination, if you will, and a double dose of Greensboro. Rebecca Fagg + Jack Stratton: Two Retrospectives opens on Friday, July 16, at the gallery from noon until 5 p.m. and online. Fagg and Stratton, who both hold B.F.A.s from UNC Greensboro, are longtime exhibitors at GreenHill. This comprehensive exhibit features over 200 works and spans five decades — quiet a stretch. Witnessing each artist explore different media and develop their unique approach to art is a bit like traveling through space and time, although considerably less dizzying. Exhibit on display through November 7. GreenHill Center for NC Art, 200 N. Davie St., Greensboro. Info:


Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

I once watched a squirrel attempt to drag an entire loaf of bread up an oak tree. Poor thing didn’t get very far. And you, who were born under the sign of Cancer, won’t either — unless you let go of what’s holding you back. Alternatively, that could be a metaphor about your relationship with carbs. Either way, it’s likely to be an emotional month for you. But you’ve been around the sun enough times to know at least one thing: Your softness is your superpower. Happy birthday, Crabcakes. 

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Do sunflowers mean anything to you? They should. Also, pay attention to your dreams this month.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Got your next breakup album ready? Just kidding. It’s time to lighten up.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

You’re taking one for the team this month. Deep breaths. This too shall pass. 

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Drink the tea before it goes cold.  You know what I’m talking about.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Is there a special Virgo in your life? If so, draw them a salt bath. If not, probably for the best.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Just say you’re sorry — it’s not that hard — and move on. 

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

You’ve outgrown the shoes. That’s OK. You won’t be needing them.   

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Someone needs a hug. And a bubble bath. But don’t spill the nail polish this time.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

The missing piece isn’t actually missing. But you’re working on the wrong puzzle.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

A new flavor will be entering your world. Two words: Moderation, darling. 

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

This will make sense later: Wear the blue one. For now: Mind your tongue.

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla.

The Simple Life

Death of a Green Dragon

A gardener’s bittersweet reminder of life’s impermanence 


By Jim Dodson

Last month, I returned from my first trip since the start of the pandemic to discover a baffling mystery at home.

The leaves of a beautiful Green Dragon Japanese maple I’d raised from a mere seedling appeared to suddenly be dying. Arching gracefully over the side driveway, the rare seven-foot beauty was the star of my garden. It had never been more vibrant than the day I departed for a week out West, lush and green with lots of bright spring growth. But suddenly, inexplicably, those delicate new leaves were limp and withering.

A friend who knows his ornamental trees pointed out that a freakish, late-season cold snap might be the culprit. The leaves of nearby hydrangea bushes were also severely burned, but with the return of seasonal warmth, were already showing signs of recovery.

“I think you should simply leave it alone. Give the tree water and maybe a little spring fertilizer and let things take their course,” he said. “Nature has a way of healing her own.”

His theory seemed plausible. I’ve built and maintained enough gardens in my time to know that nature always holds the upper hand. Sometimes unlikely resurrections happen when you least expect them.

So I waited and watered, trying to push the thought of losing my spectacular Green Dragon out of my mind. Perhaps by some miracle it would come back to life.

As I went about other tasks in the garden — mulching and weeding perennial beds and transplanting ostrich and woodland ferns to my new shade garden — I thought about how the sudden death of a spring pig provided writer E. B. White intense grief and something of a personal epiphany, inspiring one of his most affecting essays in 1948.

Following a struggle of several days to heal his mysteriously ailing young pig — such an ordeal blurs the passage of time, the author expressed — White, accompanied by his morbidly curious dachshund, Fred, walked out one evening to check on the patient, hoping for the best:

“When I went down, before going to bed, he lay stretched in the yard a few feet from the door. I knelt, saw that he was dead, and left him there: his face had a mild look, expressive neither of deep peace nor of deep suffering, although I think he had suffered a good deal.”

The young pig was buried near White’s favorite spot in the apple orchard, leaving his owner surprised by the potency of his own grief. “The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig,” White recounts. “He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world.” 

Life, of course, is full of unexpected compensations. It’s possible that the guilt and grief E. B. White suffered with the loss of his pig was the literary world’s gain. Four years later, the author’s tale of a female barn spider that saves a charming young pig from slaughter by crafting upbeat messages about Wilbur the pig in her web became an instant American classic. Over the decades, Charlotte’s Web continues to rank among the most beloved children’s books of all-time.

I don’t know if a failed effort to save a spring pig bought “in blossom time” is anything like trying to save a young Japanese maple I’d raised from a seedling, but the sadness of its sudden loss combined with a palpable sense that I’d somehow failed my tree followed me around like Fred the dachshund for weeks, a reminder of life’s mystery and bittersweet impermanence. It didn’t help matters, I suppose, that I couldn’t even bring myself to dig up the deceased tree and cart it out to the curb for the weekly refuse crew. At this writing, as lush summer green explodes all around, the beloved tree stands like a monument to my botanical incompetence or simple bad luck. The autopsy is incomplete. The verdict is still pending.

Gardeners and farmers, of course, experience dramas of life and death — and sometimes unexpected rebirth — on a daily basis. Pests and disease are constant threats that interrupt the cycle of life at any moment with little or no advance notice. Too much rain or not enough, violent winds, summer hailstorms and unwelcome diners in the garden are simply part of the process of helping living things grow.

My longtime friend and former Southern Pines neighbor, Max Morrison, who is justly known for his spectacular camellias and probably the most abundant vegetable garden in the Carolina Sandhills, solved his deer and rabbit problem decades ago by transforming his edible landscape into something resembling a Soviet Gulag with ten-foot wire fences and electric monitoring systems. 

On one of the first evenings I dined with Max and his wife, Myrtis, a gifted Southern cook, I noticed a large jar of Taster’s Choice instant coffee going round on the lazy Suzan. Attached to it with rubber bands was an index card covered with tiny dates written in pencil.

“What’s this?” I asked, picking it up.

Myrtis laughed. “Oh, that’s Max’s record of all the squirrels he’s dispatched with his pellet rifle over the years in order to keep them out of his garden.”

The death count went back decades.

Among other surprises, this cool, wet spring brought a noticeable uptick in the squirrel and chipmunk populations around the neighborhood, which made me briefly consider picking up an air rifle of my own.

For the moment at least, our young female Staffordshire Bull Terrier has taken matters into her own paws, nimbly standing guard over the back garden from atop a brick terrace wall, ready to leap into action at the sight of a furry invader. Our in-town neighborhood is also home to a sizable community of rabbits that appear at dawn and dusk to feed in the front yards along the block. The dogs pay little or no attention to them. For the most part, ours seems to be a remarkably peaceful kingdom with no need to resort to sterner measures of defense.

At the end of the day, this may be my form of post-pandemic compensation. My garden has actually never looked better, save for the untimely passing of a lovely green dragon.

This morning, after I set down a few closing words, I’ve made up my mind to go out and do what I should have done weeks ago — dig up my dead maple and send it on to the town mulch pile. At least its remains may eventually enrich someone else’s garden.

In its place, I’ll plant a border of peonies that will fill in nicely in a year or two.

I shall miss that lovely green dragon, though.  OH

Jim Dodson can be reached at

The Nature of Things

Night Swimming

Pink dolphins and other dreamscapes


By Ashley Wahl

If you’re not at the beach or haven’t already gone, perhaps you’re headed there before summer is over. I might be. But I certainly won’t be swimming in the open water. You see, I have a bottomless fear of the ocean.

When we went as kids, I might wade out with my brother, accompanied by our parental lifeguards, far enough for some mysterious object — a fish or a sea finger, no doubt — to send me sprinting back to shore, where I could blissfully dig for mole crabs instead.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Consider the heron, content in the shallows. Or the sandpipers, flitting like minnows at the edge of the sea. We can’t all take to the water like fish.

But I can dream. In fact, sometimes I dream that I am swimming with dolphins. The water is calm and crystalline, and while the dolphins are pretty spectacular — nearly a dozen of them, including a few calves, all pink as can be — the true miracle is feeling as if I were a selkie, changing from human form into a seal, effortlessly darting about in the water.

Did I mention that I can’t exactly swim? I mean, I can sort of swim. Just not gracefully or confidently. Imagine a cat in the bath.

As a kid, Fourth of July weekends were spent with the cousins in our grandparents’ above ground pool. Until I was tall enough to stand with my head above water, my parents stuck me in swimmies. I never had a formal swim lesson, and when the tips of my toes could finally touch the bottom of the pool, there was really no need to learn. Besides, I could dog paddle well enough to keep from sinking.

I know it’s not too late for lessons. And yet I could rattle off at least a dozen things that I would rather master. Like the guitar. Or a cartwheel. Or how to identify edible mushrooms.

In the meantime, I’m content to take my ocean dips at night. Or maybe I’ll dream of a walk in the rain with my deceased grandfather, of reuniting with my childhood dog, or of flying through the air like a human bird.

Once, I dreamed I was soaring among a thick forest of pine, the night sky shimmering like an ocean of stars above me. I felt like a great winged beast, completely at ease and at home in my element — until my rational brain swooped in to hijack the moment.

I could plummet to the earth in an instant, I thought.

My heart rate accelerated. Panic was beginning to take over. But somehow, I snapped out of it.

This is my dream, I told myself. I get to choose what happens next.

And so, I took a deep breath, pumped my legs and continued gliding through my heavenly dreamscape, effortlessly weaving in and out of trees, reality and consciousness.

But the nicest thing about dreams is how easily you can travel through time. One night, I might go back to the edge of my grandparents’ pool, legs dangling in the cool water, where the terrier paddles in endless circles and the cousins giggle between cannonball splashes.

Traveling is what dreams are for. Unconscious or otherwise, they take us wherever we’re meant to go. Like night swimming — which, for me, is the very best kind.  OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at

The Lost Colony

America’s oldest mystery gets a new look, a new life and a new vision

By Gary Pearce     Photographs by Joshua Steadman

A drive that takes 30 minutes to an hour from the Outer Banks takes you back 434 years.

Back to America’s beginnings. Back to the earliest English settlers. Back to America’s oldest mystery: The Lost Colony.

You start the drive on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. You leave behind the beaches, the bars, the shops, the restaurants, the crowds and the traffic.

Cross over the causeway to Roanoke Island. Pass through the town of Manteo. Turn off the main road into the dark woods along the sound. Park and walk through the trees. It’s evening, nearly sunset. In the quiet, you hear only the wind and the water.

You’re standing where, in 1587, a band of English colonists abandoned a tenuous settlement they’d established less than a year before. They set off in search of a new home. And they disappeared.

You sit in an open-air theater where, on summer nights since 1937, the colonists’ story — and the mystery of their fate — have been brought to life by The Lost Colony, America’s oldest outdoor symphonic drama.

Last summer, COVID cancelled the production for the first time since World War II.

This summer, The Lost Colony is back — with new energy, new casting, new production techniques, a new script and musical score, and a new look at what might have happened when two cultures, English and Native American, came into contact and conflict.

This will be the 84th summer the drama is performed in Waterside Theatre, at the northern edge of Roanoke Island in Dare County. The theater is part of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, which preserves the location of Roanoke Colony. The colony was the first English settlement in the New World and the birthplace of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America.

The play itself is a historic dramatization. It began as a federally funded Depression-era project. The theater was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Lost Colony was intended to be a one-year production. Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the show with a good deal of media fanfare on August 18, 1937 — the 350th anniversary of Virginia Dare’s birth and a little more than a month after the July 4th premiere.

After FDR’s visit, the crowds came. The show was so popular that organizers decided to stage it every summer. They’ve been doing it for 83 years. World War II forced a four-year cancellation.

Last season’s cancellation in the pandemic was a financial blow to the Roanoke Island Historical Association, which produces the drama. The year-round staff had to be greatly reduced.

But Kevin Bradley, the association’s board chair, says, “The year off turned out to be a blessing. We had the time to reimagine the production, recharge our batteries and refresh how we tell this story.”

A new director/choreographer was recruited: Jeff Whiting, whose Broadway credits include Bullets Over Broadway (6 Tony Nominations), Big Fish, The Scottsboro Boys (12 Tony Nominations), Hair (Tony winner for Best Revival) and Wicked 5th Anniversary.

The New York Times called Whiting a “director with a joyous touch.”

Whiting says his goal is “to honor the history of what occurred here on Roanoke Island, and to honor the legacy of this important theatrical work. As the wind rolls off Roanoke Sound, it whispers the tale. It’s my job as director to listen to that breeze and bring to life what happened here so many years ago.”

Whiting has reduced the lengthy original script, written by North Carolina playwright Paul Green, allowing the scenes and story to move faster and providing more time for theatrical storytelling.

Additional theatrical devices will support the storytelling, including large-scale puppets, a military-style drum corps and a new symphonic score. The show will also feature traditional dances from both Native American and English historical cultures.

But Paul Green’s imprint remains.

Green was a Harnett County farm boy who became a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Green was the father of  “symphonic drama.” He saw it as the people’s theater, a way of telling Americans about their past.

Green had a deep concern about race relations. His vision of The Lost Colony reflects what can happen when different cultures and races come together.

In the past, the production didn’t always use Indigenous actors to portray the Native American roles in the play. Seeking authenticity, the association reached out to Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. He now serves on the board of directors. 

With the tribe’s help, Native Americans were recruited as actors and dancers. Auditions were held in Robeson County, in the Lumbee tribal territory.

“We are appreciative of the Historical Association’s desire for accurate and historical representation,” Godwin says. “With North Carolina’s American Indian population numbering more than 100,000, it enriches the production to see and hear their voices on stage.”

Kaya Littleturtle, the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Enrichment Coordinator agrees, adding that the new choreography, regalia, language accuracy and orchestration help to insert “more of an authentic and cultural American Indian perspective into the play.”

But the real test is whether the new production will bring back audiences, says John Ancona, general manager: “We want to give our audience an exceptional evening’s experience in an outdoor setting — an experience you can’t get many places. We want to inspire interest in a part of history that remains a mystery today.”

Ancona hopes that visitors will leave the theater intrigued by the story. Perhaps they’ll dip into the ongoing, unending research and archeological exploration that still seek clues about The Lost Colony.

Where did they go? What happened to them? Did they drown at sea? Were they killed by natives, or by Spanish raiders? Or did they quietly go live with a friendly tribe?

We don’t know. But we do know the colonists dreamed of freedom. They dared a dangerous ocean voyage. They sought a new life in a new land.

Take the drive back to their world. Walk where they walked. See and feel what they saw and felt.

Hear their story. Listen to the wind, the water and the trees. Feel the mystery of The Lost Colony.

The Lost Colony’s 2021 season launched May 28 and continues through August 21. For tickets and more information:  OH

Gary Pearce is a member of the board of directors of the Roanoke Island Historical Association. He and his wife, Gwyn, divide their time between Raleigh and Nags Head.