Simple Life

“The Cocktail Cat”

The spirit of a roaming feline

By Jim Dodson

I have a friend who never fails to show up at cocktail time.

Wherever he’s been, whatever he’s been up to all day, he appears like clockwork as I settle into my favorite Adirondack chair under the trees to enjoy a sip of fine bourbon and observe the passing scenes of evening life.

Fortunately, he doesn’t drink bourbon. He doesn’t do much of anything, near as I can tell, except annoy the dogs and pester me well before dawn for his breakfast after a night out carousing the neighborhood, before snoozing all day on the sunny guest room bed like a house guest who won’t leave.

We call him Boo Radley after the peculiar character who saves Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Our Boo, an old, gray tomcat who would rather watch birds than chase them, hasn’t caught a bird of any sort in years.

At cocktail hour, rain or shine, you can set your watch by Boo’s punctuality. Hopping up on the arm of my chair or the small table where I set my whiskey while I reflect on the day’s events and find pleasure in watching birds at the feeders, Boo is either too fat or too old to bother trying to catch them. Even in his salad days he was never much of a killer, though he would leave the occasional mouse on a discreet lower step of our back porch.

Like his cinematic namesake, Boo’s an oddly friendly fellow once he gets to know you, though he generally doesn’t cotton quickly to strangers. Curiously, we’re half convinced several folks in the neighborhood are secretly feeding him, because he’s beginning to resemble a bowling pin. Perhaps he has them fooled into believing that he’s actually homeless. Nothing is further from the truth. He’s managed to ditch every expensive collar and bell we’ve put on him over the past 10 years in order to keep his dining ruse going.

In fact, Boo Radley has had at least three very nice homes. The first was in Southern Pines when No. 2 son brought him home on a cold winter evening. He was just a small gray foundling you could hold in the palm of your hand, a friendly little cuss who appeared half-starved and very grateful.

Second Son named him “Nikko,” which means “daylight” in Japanese, and planned to take him off to Boston, where his new job in the hospitality industry awaited. His mom wisely interceded, pointing out that the last place a homeless kitten needed to live was with a single career guy working long and impossible hours.

So we inherited Nikko. The first thing I did was give him a new name and identity.

He seemed to like the name Boo Radley, though who can ever say what a cat is really thinking.

I suppose that’s part of that peculiar feline charm. Dogs occupy space, someone said. Cats occupy time. They act like you’re on this planet to serve them and should be damn grateful to do so. Another friend who has several cats informs me that cats know the secret of the universe. They just won’t tell anybody.

During our many years in Maine, we had a succession of barn cats who wormed their way into our affections. As a lifelong dog lover who occupies more space than time, even I came to admire their independence and pluck, somehow surviving the fierce Maine winters and coyotes.

Boo grew up with our three dogs, sometimes sleeping with them, often stealing their food, giving them a passing swat now and then as a friendly reminder of who was really in charge. Bringing up Boo was like raising a problem child.

We eventually moved to a house that had 2 acres of overgrown gardens. Boo didn’t miss a beat. He was always out in the garden, night and day, either following me around or snoozing in the shade on hot summer afternoons. A neighbor warned us there were foxes in the area.

One evening around dusk, I saw Boo sprint across the yard, chased by a young gray fox. Moments later, I saw the young fox run the opposite way, chased by Boo Radley. This game of cat-and-fox tag went on for weeks. Nature will always surprise you.

Not long after that, we moved to the Piedmont city where I grew up and Boo found a new pal in the neighborhood, a large, brown, wild rabbit that comes out every evening around cocktail time to feed on clover and seeds from our busy bird feeders.

I named him “Homer” after the author of the epic Greek poem about a fellow who wanders for 10 years trying to get home. Our Homer seems very much at home in our yard, keeping a burrow beneath my hydrangea hedge.

Boo is highly territorial about our yard — woe to any other cat that sets foot on the property — but has no issue whatsoever about sharing space with a large wild rabbit. I’ve seen the two nose-to-nose many times over the years.

Such are so many sweet mysteries in this world that we cannot explain.

But maybe we don’t always need to. Perhaps it’s enough to simply notice them.

In his splendid essay, “A Philosopher Needs a Cat,” NYU religion professor James Carse writes: “It is not accidental that the word animal comes from the Latin anima, soul. The primitive practice of representing the gods as animals may not be so primitive after all. Soul is not only the small ‘still point of the Tao’ where there is no more separation between ‘this’ and ‘that,’ it is also the presence of the unutterable within.”

A mystic would probably say it’s enough to simply pay attention as different worlds intersect when we least expect it, revealing the presence of the unutterable within.

I have no idea what Boo Radley would say about such matters, being a cat of few — or actually no — words. He’s not one for small talk.

But after so many years and miles together in each other’s company, it’s enough that Cocktail Cat never fails to sit with me as the evening fades, season after season, displaying the kind of timeless nonjudgment and spiritual detachment a Buddhist monk might envy. Boo is perfectly companionable while betraying absolutely no opinion on — or apparent interest in — the trivial matters I present to him as we watch birds feed and I sip my expensive bourbon. At the end of the day, there doesn’t seem to be much separation between his “this” and my “that.”

It also occurs that maybe I have the philosophical proposition plum backwards. Perhaps this aging, well-traveled tom cat simply needs an armchair philosopher to sit with in silence at the end of the day.

Only the Cocktail Cat knows for sure, and he ain’t telling, a perfect presence of the unutterable within. OH

Jim Dodson can be reached at


July Books

Compiled by Shannon Purdy Jones

It comes out of nowhere. You’re shuffling through the workday. Doing the dishes. In general, life is going well. But still there’s that tug. It pulls at the back corners of your mind — the urge to be somewhere else, someone else. That primal need for escape.

So we’re bringing you the summer’s best sci-fi releases to escape into. Some stand alone while others are continuations of series you’ll wish you’d started yesterday. All are guaranteed to transport you worlds away. 

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers

From one of the foremost practitioners of hopeful sci-fi comes a story of kindness and love, the second volume of the USA Today–bestselling Monk and Robot series.

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex and robot Mosscap turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe. But in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

The Moonday Letters by Emmi Itäranta

A lyrical mystery wrapped in a love story that bends space, time, myth and science, it’s perfect for fans of Octavia Butler and Emily St. John Mandel.

Sol has disappeared. Their Earth-born wife, Lumi, sets out to find them. Told through letters and extracts, her search leads to underground environmental groups and a web of mystery. Lumi’s journey also takes her into Sol’s hidden past and long-forgotten secrets of her own. In the end, The Moonday Letters is a love story between two individuals from very different worlds.

Flying the COOP by Lucinda Roy

Lucinda Roy continues The Dreambird Chronicles, her explosive first foray into speculative fiction, with this sequel to The Freedom Race.

In the Disunited states, no person of color — especially not a girl whose body reimagines flight — is safe. A quest for Freedom has brought former Muleseed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Silapu to D.C., where, long ago, the most famous Dreamer of all time marched for the same cause.

Tiro and Afarra battle formidable ghosts of their own as the former U.S. capital controls the fate of all dreamers. The journeys the three friends take toward liberation will challenge the nature of reality itself.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

An ordinary man undergoes a startling transformation in the mind-blowing new thriller from The New York Times–bestselling author of Dark Matter.

Logan Ramsay can feel his brain . . . changing. His body, too. He’s becoming something other than himself. His DNA has been rewritten with a genetic-engineering breakthrough — one that could change the very definitions of humanity. And the battle to control this unfathomable power has already begun.

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse

Return to The Meridian with New York Times–bestselling author Rebecca Roanhorse’s sequel to Black Sun — finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Lambda and Locus awards.

The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

Sea captain Xiala, swept up in currents of change, finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For Tova Clan Matriarchs, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens reflects upon the Earth. OH

Shannon Purdy Jones is co-owner of Scuppernong Books.

Chicken 101

With a wing and a prayer, you too can become a chicken tender

By David Claude Bailey
Photographs by Amy Freeman & Randall Dawson

So you think you want chickens?

So did we years ago when we left Chapel Hill to become hippie farmers on an acre of land in Pfafftown, a bump in the road north of Winston-Salem. Just as I had realized I wasn’t cut out to be a Greek professor, I quickly figured out I wasn’t very good at being either a hippie or a farmer. Still, our little acre was soon home to way too many chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and one goat by the name of Lucy, named after John Donne’s patroness, the Countess of Bedford. Oh, and innumerable mice. My wife, Anne, remembers our having 59 different (domestic) animals. Or maybe 59 animals had us.

So here’s Chicken 101, lesson learned No. 1: A few chickens, maybe even a pair, are plenty to begin with.

Mind you, my history with chickens goes back to when I was 5 or 6 and my daddy, who was raised on a farm, would inevitably bring home baby chicks at Easter. I loved my roosters and they seemed to love me as they came running up as soon as I sprang out the screen door to spend another day terrorizing the neighborhood. So what if I didn’t notice they really wanted to fight instead of being cuddled? And, yes, inexplicably to me at the time, the roosters would disappear, one by one, as soon as they started crowing and, lo and behold, about the same time they vanished, my mom would cook up some of her ineffable chicken and dumplings.

“Sex Link Hens, $1 a piece,” the hand-painted sign on the road to Pfafftown said, and soon my wife, Anne, and I were tending half a dozen chickens in an advanced state of molt, which is why the farmer had sold them in the first place. Duh! Yes, we were dumb clucks when it came to chickens, and there was no to tell us: “Birds may stop laying farm fresh eggs, lose old feathers and experience feather regrowth. This annual vacation from egg laying is called molt.” Picture a chicken who has weathered a tornado only to be struck by lightning.

So here’s the lesson No. 2 of Chicken 101: Don’t buy molting hens, and don’t panic when three-quarters of your chickens’ feathers fall out and your kids stop wanting to have anything to do with them. The feathers will grow back and the hens will start laying eggs again — until they become broody.

What is a broody hen? “You know you have a broody hen,” say the Purina chicken-chow people, “when she decides to sit on a clutch of eggs day and night. Hens go broody because hormones drive them to hatch chicks, even when the eggs are not fertilized.”

Hormones must have driven our Old English game fowl and the golden Sebright bantams to hide their nests in the woods. They also flew up into tall cedar trees each night to roost. I still itch all over whenever I recall shinnying up the skinny cedar as needles rained down into my clothes. But how else was I going to nab several of the hens to confine them for their laying-in?

Chicken 101, lesson learned No. 3: Making a hen house so chickens can’t get out doesn’t mean snakes, possums, raccoons and, worst of all, skunks won’t get in, eating first the eggs followed by the hens. And while I’ve got your attention, lesson learned No. 4: Never use a Havahart trap if you have skunks.

We took a break from chickens while we raised our own young’uns,  and,  if you omit poulet à la diable, pollo alla cacciatora and cock-a-leekie, our next encounter with chickens was decades later in Sunset Hills.

In order for our daughters to attend Kiser and Grimsley, we bought the lowest-priced house we could find in the neighborhood. Some houses are fixer-uppers. Ours was a tearer-downer, but we had great neighbors on all sides. Back when the urban chicken thing was just gaining momentum, our very next door neighbors converted their very nice garage into an even nicer chicken coop. The next week, a shipment from arrived — a little FedEx box that cheeped loudly and from which three of the cutest balls of fluff you’ve ever seen emerged. They blinked. They peeped. They walked funny. They tried to fly with wings way too small. Our neighbors’ children loved them and spent quality time cuddling them — until they didn’t. Which, in my humble opinion, is the way most PetChicken experiences end. Chickens, after all, “are descended from a group of two-legged dinosaurs known as theropods, the members of which included the powerful predator Tyrannosaurus rex and the smaller velociraptors.”  That, according to a British poultry paleontologist.

Chicken 101, lesson learned No. 4: It’s not for nothing that people use the term “bird brain.” Keep in mind that a chicken’s brain is a tad bit larger than its eyeball. Baby chicks are cuddly and cute and lovable. Adult chickens? Not so much. Chickens are not like dogs or cats or even hamsters in the way they bond with people — or don’t.  Fowl defenders say chickens are as smart (in some ways) as a 4-year-old child. I say that depends on the 4-year-old.

Thoughts of chickens never entered my brain until COVID came along, but Anne had been yearning to return to chicken wrangling for ages. We were both retired by then and had moved to a place in the country near Alamance that had a number of outbuildings, one of which was a smokehouse. I had visions of country ham and sides of bacon hanging from the rafters. Anne saw live chickens roosting on perches. You can guess who prevailed.

What may have triggered her decision was what I call Dandy Dawson’s Chicken Ranch and Spa in Asheboro, owned and operated by my hiking buddy, Randall Dawson. Randall caught the chicken bug decades ago, read everything he could get his hands on about show chickens and ordered pedigreed stock that, over the years, took home a number of blue ribbons from local shows. He’d built several coops for these beauties, while others of his chickens and guineas free-ranged over his property. Fearing Anne would soon build a flock of 50-some chickens à la Pfafftown, I negotiated with Randall the “rental” of three iridescent French black copper maran hens, which were, as Randall insisted, the layers of James Bond’s favorite eggs. They were magnificent birds. They strutted and preened and laid eggs regularly, but “they gave me the stink eye,” Anne told Randall. “They don’t like me and I don’t like them. I want friendly chickens,” she said.

Our chicken whisperer suggested that Anne order some cochin bantam eggs. He’d put them under his own cochin bantam, which had just turned broody and has since assumed the role of Mamma Cochin chez nous. If Anne wanted friendly pet chickens, cochins would be ideal, our poultry consultant told us, but they needed to be hand-raised and hand-fed; picked up and fussed over.

That’s how we found ourselves near Sanford one afternoon driving down Round Fish Drive to the home of the Crazy Glamorous Chickens Farm. From the online CGCF egg store, we mooned over photos of some very strange chickens, some of which looked as if they’d been hatched on another planet: magnificent bobtail bantams, showy mille fleurs (aka millies), buff silkies and handsome calico cochins. We ended up with six calico eggs, which we had to pick up in person because a heat wave made shipping perilous. We took the eggs straight to Dandy Dawson’s, where Pappa Randall tucked them under Mamma Cochin. In three weeks, we brought Mama Cochin and her brood of only two chicks to the Smokehouse Chicken-and-So-Much-More Compound. (The other eggs didn’t hatch, maybe because of the heat wave.) Six chickens seemed ideal to me but when I made the mistake of going sailing one weekend, I came home to a flock supplemented with two mille fleurs acquired from Happily Feathered Farm in Mooresville.

At this point I exercised my money-back guarantee and took the marans back to the ranch. “No fowl,” Randall said. (In fact, no money was ever exchanged. I paid for the chickens with bottles of gin and scotch.) Inevitably our tiny flock of five was hit by tragedy: For no apparent reason one of Mamma Cochin’s brood, a cockerel named Zorro, just up and died, as chickens will. He was a handsome lad whose portrait was painted by no less than Chip Holton, O.Henry Hotel’s artist in residence. But as we all know, the good die young.

Chicken 101, lesson learned No. 5: It’s best not to name your pet chickens, but how can you resist as their buffoonery and misdemeanors mirror those of your friends and colleagues?

Over the next year, Goldilocks and Mamma Cochin raised six new chicks, which Anne also hand-patted, hand-fed and, yes, named — Dotty, a mottled blue-black pullet, and her tall sister without spots, Cher. There was also Serenissima, the runt, sweet but a little dumb. Finally a hen that pecked the others and was perpetually disgruntled. We called her alternately Karen or Cruella.

Anne doted on her hens and they doted on her. To this day, Goldilocks, Anne’s favorite, refuses to fly up onto her perch at night, waiting for Anne to  pick her up, whisper sweet nothings into her ears and put her in her accustomed spot.

Chicken 101, lesson learned No. 6: If you want chickens to love you, you have to love them.

And then there were the roosters — Dapper Dan, Vlad, Gray Bar and Silver Neck. Although Dapper Dan, who had developed a really long and sharp set of spurs, was definitely the alpha male, that didn’t keep the other cocks-of-the-walk from hourly challenging him and each other. They will fight to the death if you don’t separate them, though our chicken expert insists that they’ll establish a pecking order if you just leave them alone. Easy to say. Hard to do. Two of the new cockerels suddenly decided humans needed to be put in their place. We remembered that our friends in Chapel Hill incurred hundreds of dollars worth of medical bills when their rooster attacked a friend, so we knew we had to thin the flock, which numbered ten chickens. Oh, by the way, by then two hens were sitting on — wait for it  — 19 eggs.

So how do you eliminate three roosters that look at you as if you’re their momma and eat out of your hand? Cook them? “Heavens, no!” said Anne. (Besides, I never, ever want to pluck another chicken.) Sell them? No way, since anyone else with chickens has a rooster surplus. Give them to city slickers? Nope, roosters are unlawful in Greensboro and a lot of other cities. We discovered that what savvy chicken farmers do is sell pairs. If someone wants a hen, great, but each hen comes with a rooster. Once we realized we would have to part with some of our hens, we were able to find a nice buyer for two of our pairs.

So the Chicken 101, lesson learned No. 7 is the toughest yet: Sooner or later you will have more chickens than you want or can keep. It’s a sticky situation once you get there, so make a plan ahead of time and stick to it.

Epilogue: Of the 19 eggs under the two hens, eight hatched. Immediately Goldilocks and Karen started fighting over whose chicks were whose, abandoning, Deo gratias, the other eggs. One of the baby chicks had to be “re-lived” as our neighbor in Pfafftown called it. And on Mother’s Day, Anne fed her ailing little chick with an eye dropper, cuddling it and warming it up in a shoe box. Now it struts with the best of them.

Dapper Dan had a recent close encounter with a coyote, but survived. The flock size, admittedly, has swollen to 14. Karen and Graybar are currently being marketed. Others will follow.

So you think you want chickens?

We got ’em. $10 a pair! OH

David Claude Bailey, a contributing editor to O.Henry, spends his days growing tomatoes, counting chickens and fixing other people’s grammar.

The Creators of N.C.

From Loft to Launch

Mark Bayne sends his works to sea

By Wiley Cash

Photographs by Mallory Cash

Master shipwright Mark Bayne is standing in an open bay at the workshop where he has been teaching wooden boat building at Cape Fear Community College in downtown Wilmington for the past 10 years. Over his shoulder, the murky brown Cape Fear River plods slowly eastward, where it will meet the Atlantic Ocean in just a few miles. It’s not quite summer yet, but the day is hot and bright. A stiff, warm breeze rolls in off the river, adding to the late morning’s warmth.

All around us, people are working on a half-dozen wooden boats in various stages of construction. There’s a flats boat that was specially designed so fishermen can stand with stability and cast a line from the broad deck; beside it is a beautiful, narrow melon seed just waiting for a sail; in the far corner of the workshop is a Jersey speed skiff that, as soon as it’s complete, will move next door (to the engine program) for the fall semester, where the team who built it will fit it with an inboard motor.

After decades building boats on his own and another decade of teaching people to do the same, Mark is accustomed to being surrounded by the sounds of saws and routers, the fine mist of sawdust floating through the air. He’s also accustomed to teaching others to build a variety of different kinds of wooden boats because that’s what he made a career doing before he found himself in the classroom.

“I’ve specialized in not specializing,” he says.

Mark is tall and handsome in the way that capable people often are. It’s as easy to picture him captaining a boat as it is to picture him building one. He’s quick to smile, and he’s still carrying the glow of holding a new granddaughter who was born down in Charleston, South Carolina, just a few nights before. That’s where Mark was raised, and his whole family, including his wife and their four grown children, live there now.


He splits his time between the low country and the Cape Fear, teaching at the college during the week and heading home to Isle of Palms on the weekend. His wife used to make the trips with him, but now that she’s surrounded by grandchildren she’s less likely to leave home. Bayne understands. He hears the call to home. For that reason, this is the last course he’ll teach for Cape Fear Community College’s wooden boat building program.

But in order to understand how his time at the college is ending, you have to understand how it began.

He grew up on “the backside” of Isle of Palms, South Carolina, in the marsh, sailing small boats, swimming, and crabbing with his younger brother and kids from the neighborhood. When I ask if they were ever so bold as to round the island and head for the open water, he smiles and pauses as if his mother and father are within earshot. “Officially, we did not do that,” he says, meaning, of course they did.

After a brief stint in college, Mark dropped out and worked at Mount Pleasant Boatbuilding Company as a helper in the joinery shop, where he learned to build and fit small, intricate parts to boats. He already loved boats, and he found that he also loved building and working on them. A welder in the boatyard mentioned that he’d heard about a new wooden boat building program beginning up the coast at Cape Fear Community College.

Mark enrolled in 1978 and was a member of the program’s first class. With his classmates and instructors, he literally helped build the program: They put down the hardwood floor in the workshop, and they built the workbenches from old bowling alley lanes that had been stored in a chicken coop in Southern Pines.

After completing the program and getting his degree, Mark went back to the Mount Pleasant Boatbuilding Company with the knowledge of how to loft boats, which is the process of drawing out plans on the floor, cutting and fitting the pieces, and constructing the boats using hand tools. On the weekends, he worked for himself, meaning he built boats apart from his work at the  boatyard. He found that he could make more money on his own while also building boats that interested and challenged him. In the late 1980s, he opened Sawdust Boatworks, and then he opened Sea Island Boatworks.

“No one has to have a boat,” Mark says, “so when someone hires you to build one, it’s a very special relationship.”

He can still remember the earliest boats he built. The first boat he built after opening Sawdust is still around; it’s a 14-foot marsh hen hunting boat. “That guy turned into a good customer,” Mark says. “I built multiple boats for him.”


“I enjoy building things,” he adds, “and boat building allows you to be creative. Sometimes you build a boat to a plan that somebody else drew, and sometimes you build a boat by eye. You’ve got to know a lot. I worked with a guy in Panama City, Florida, once, and we built a 68-foot shrimp boat, just him and me. He was the master and I was the apprentice, but there was no plan, so you have to know all the construction details. When you’re doing it by hand with no plan it’s called rack of eye. It’s fun, it’s rewarding.”

Over the decades, Mark traveled up and down the East Coast, building boats from the Gulf of Mexico to the Chesapeake Bay, including the iconic Spirit of South Carolina, a tall ship that was constructed and ported in Charleston. The keel was laid in the summer of 2001, and the final plank was installed in the summer of 2006.

In 2012, Mark left the boatyards of South Carolina, as well as his life as a far-ranging boatbuilder, and returned “home” to Cape Fear Community College as head of the Wooden Boat Building program, where his professional career had started over three decades earlier. When he arrived, he found that he wanted to bring his vast experience to bear on the program’s curriculum.

“They had a good program going, but it wasn’t the way I wanted to do it,” he says. For years, the program had focused on moving students through stages of instruction on several different boats at various levels of completion. The students learned piecemeal, but that meant that they never completed a whole boat from start to finish. “I wanted students to work from lofting to launching,” he says.

“Mark has done a great job of giving this program a shot of momentum,” says Walter Atkins, an instructor in the boat building program who has decades of experience as a boatwright, his specialty building custom boat interiors. “I’ve learned a ton from Mark. It’s been awesome. We don’t use software where everything is designed on a screen. This is 1,000 percent old school.”

Over three semesters, including a summer term, students begin working with hand tools before graduating to power tools. Soon, the class moves up to the loft above the shop floor where they draw life-sized plans for the various boats they want to build.

“People slowly pair up,” Walter says. “You see the groups start to clump together.”

Recent high school graduates partner with retirees. Often, service veterans find one another, bonding over their shared experiences and their interest in boat building. It’s clear that both Walter and Mark find relationships with student-veterans important and endearing.

“I don’t ask about their service,” Mark says, “but I listen when they talk about it.”

Soon, the class moves to the shop floor, building the forms, fairing the hulls, and fitting the interior cabinetry. By the end of the program, as many as six complete boats are ready for the water. Once the boats are proven seaworthy, they’re auctioned off on a public website, where eager buyers are already lying in wait. The boats are purchased by people up and down the East Coast.

It’s clear that Mark takes pride in his students’ work, and he admits that if not for his wife, four children and growing number of grandchildren living down in the low country that he’d continue to work in the boat building program at Cape Fear. But he’s not really retiring. He’ll work some with his oldest son, Coulson, who is now building boats on his own while making good use of the family name: He decided to call his company Son of Bayne Boatworks. And there’s a 145-year-old historic schooner down in Panama City that was destroyed by Hurricane Michael that Mark wants to get his hands on. He’ll be busy, but according to him, he won’t be working.

“Boat building has never been a job,” he says. “I’ve never felt like I had a job a single day in my life.” OH

Wiley Cash is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, is available wherever books are sold.

Man, Dog & Photog

A 17-year-old uses a Nikon to explore the connection between people and pups

By Cassie Bustamante     Photographs by Evan Harris

Over the years, 17-year-old Evan Harris has received gifts from his father that have sparked new interests and hobbies, including a guitar and a hiking backpack. But it was the Nikon D750 his dad gave him just over two years ago that opened up the door to a creative foray into photography. Armed with his brand-new SLR equipment plus a vast library of online tutorials and YouTube videos, Harris began shooting friends and family, discovering a passion for portraiture. It wasn’t long before he found that he had a knack for capturing people with pups.

Of course, any new hobby comes with new hobby needs, and Harris soon found himself buying new lenses, off-camera flashes and speedlights, purchased with earnings from working at Lowes Foods. After investing so much time and money into honing his craft, he was ready to make the leap into entrepreneurship. Harris’ warm and vibrant work focuses mainly on senior photos, including high school events such as High Point Christian Academy’s formal, and he shares it on Instagram at @evanharrisphotography.

“I have no artistic background. I never took any art classes,” says Harris, “but I’d read about AP Studio Art.” He approached the Advance Placement art teacher and asked about using photography as his medium. Harris didn’t quite meet the prerequisite of having taken two art classes, but because he’d shared his work on social media, the teacher told him he’d “seen his stuff” and allowed him to join the small class.

It was this class that prompted Harris to explore a subject, layers deep. He opted to consider the connection between humans and man’s best friend. “It’s kinda hard to fail someone taking pictures of dogs and people,” he laughs, his dark brown eyes gleaming. “The class has helped me go from just taking portraits of people to telling more in-depth stories.”

What started with the gift of a camera has turned into a potential pathway to Harris’ dreams. As he makes his way to Wake Forest University next month, he hopes to continue on his photo-journalistic journey, writing and shooting for the student newspaper, the Old Gold & Black, with an ultimate goal of one day being “a foreign correspondent somewhere or maybe a geeky columnist for The New York Times.” Being a guest contributor to O.Henry seems to us like a good start? OH


Natural Born Model

Pet adoptions across the country peaked during the pandemic. While many of Harris’ friends have had their pups for a while, Marlee’s family brought their American bulldog, Chyna, home in 2020. While still very young, Harris says she was the best behaved dog he photographed: “She just padded around and sat for the camera.” Some dogs are just born with it. Chyna and Marlee are pictured during sunset at Price Park.


Wait for It

What’s the trick to getting these four-legged clients to pose for the camera? “A lot of patience is the key,” says Harris. And, of course, he is sure to bring treats. These man-and-dog shoots can be as quick as 20–30 minutes or last up to three hours. Pictured here is Emory with her dog, Gracie, at Lindley Park.


Who Owns Whom?

“They have us,” says Harris of the family’s own two dogs, a Belgian Malinois named Tuco, and Fluffy, who is a Bichon Frise. “She’s 6 and still has a super-high drive. They call it the ‘Bichon blitz,’” Harris says, explaining the rare opportunity he happened upon when his 12-year-old brother, Carson, sat with a relatively calm Fluffy on a park bench in Charleston, South Carolina.



Home Is Where the Dog Is

Camila, who worked with Harris at Lowes Foods, left Columbia to come to the United States — as did her dog, Tina. Because of their origin-story connection, Camila has a tattoo on her forearm, featuring her shaggy companion, mouth open, perhaps in a smile. Harris captured Tina with the same expression, nuzzled in the crook of her owner’s tattooed arm.


Getting to Know the Person Behind the Dog

Harris’ mission throughout shooting this series was to bring out the owners’ personalities as well as that of their dogs. He went into Ssalefish Comics in Greensboro to take photos of Stephen and his French bulldog, Lois, who is known to wander leisurely around the shop. Harris knew where to find a good story, but he was still surprised to get to know people he already knew on a much more intimate level. “You could have the toughest guy ever, and he’s making baby voices,” says Harris. “People are really vulnerable around their dogs.”



While most of the photos in his series exploring the connection between humans and dogs feature friends who volunteered to be subjects, others asked Harris to try to capture their special bond with their own fur balls. Kendall, a student at UNCG, reached out to Harris to be part of this series with her black-and-white pal, Pluto.


Snip Snap

Harris’ latest image captures man-and-best-friend at work together. On a recent trip to Swivel Barbershop for a haircut, he happened to notice his stylist’s dog, Gordo, nearby and asked to snap a photo. Gordo and his human, Chase, were happy to oblige — don’t be fooled by Gordo’s look of indifference. Harris says, “I’m getting better every time I take photos.” 

Love in Bloom

Dewberry Farm, a beautiful place for new beginnings

By Ross Howell Jr.

Photographs by Lynn Donovan


Wendi and Art Johnson are the owners of Dewberry Farm, a private farmhouse in Kernersville that hosts weddings, receptions and rehearsal dinners, along with three public events — a spring, you-pick, tulip festival, a summer, you-pick, sunflower festival and a Mother’s Day traditional British tea and flower buffet.

Wendi is originally from Alta Loma, California, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and moved to this area 31 years ago. Art, an electrician by trade, worked with Starr Electric in Greensboro before starting his own electrical business — which he still runs.

The two became acquainted when Wendi and her husband joined Pine Grove United Methodist Church in Kernersville, where Art was also a congregant. Sadly, Wendi’s husband passed away, leaving her a widow and leaving Art…interested. So he phoned her.

But Wendi — still shaken by the loss of her husband — wasn’t ready for companionship.

“Art was very kind and very patient,” Wendi says. “But he was persistent!”

Art’s parents, who’d attended Pine Grove Methodist since the 1930s, had also become attached to the young widow.

“One day,” Wendi continues, “Art’s Dad said to me, ‘I’m going to adopt you as one of my children.’”

“I think they felt sorry for me,” she says.

Art says he quickly took his father aside.

“I said, ‘Dad, you can’t adopt her. I’m trying to date her!’”

Then one day, Wendi decided if Art phoned again, she’d talk with him.

Art being Art, he called, suggesting that Wendi come out to the farm to have a look at his horses.

“I love horses,” Wendi says.

As they drove into the property, she saw Art’s house for the first time.

“Funny thing is, I always wanted to live in a big yellow farmhouse,” Wendi says. “And here it stands!”

She explains that the relationship “just went from there, from friends, to being there for each other.” In time, romance blossomed.

“By January 2007, Wendi and I pretty much knew we were getting married,” Art says. He gestures toward a window.

“The lawn there at that time was a riding ring that my daughter used to work her horses for showing,” he says. Since his daughter had lost her interest in horses, he decided to take the riding ring down and sow grass.

That spring, he built a pergola and installed a fountain.

“No landscaping,” Wendi says.

“No landscaping — just grass, the pergola and the fountain,” Art laughs.

Wendi and Art were married at that spot — the first couple to exchange vows on the property.

Soon after, when close friends asked if they could have a wedding there, the Johnsons talked it over and agreed.

“After the ceremony, we thought, ‘You know, this is not too bad,’” Art says. “The property works well for it, so we decided to see if we could do weddings here.”

Dewberry Farm is a 20-acre parcel in a larger tract of some 100 acres purchased by Art’s grandfather, Ash Johnson, in 1925. Most of the information Art has about the land comes from his 98-year-old father, Don, who lives just up the farm lane.

“You probably saw him out on his mower when you drove in,” Art chuckles.

Tobacco was the main crop of the original farm. Art remembers two dilapidated tobacco barns still standing when he was a boy.

“They were pole barns on the point of collapsing,” Art says. “By the time I was 18, we wound up taking them down completely.”

Ash Johnson also grew sorghum and had a mule-driven press used to crush sap from the stalks that was cooked down to make molasses. Neighbors would also bring their sorghum to be pressed.

“We’ve run across people who remember coming here on pressing day,” Art says. “It’d be a big gathering, with people bringing covered dishes and hanging out for the evening.”

After his grandfather died in 1957, Art’s grandmother remarried and moved to Colfax. The farm sat vacant, and the original house burned down in 1961. Today’s yellow farmhouse was built near the old home place site in 1989.

Art and Wendi began to make improvements to the property, speaking with neighbors and county officials about their hopes and plans.

“There were issues, of course,” says Art. He explains that a piece of state legislation enacted in 2010 supporting North Carolina agritourism helped facilitate the process.

When it came time to name the road accessing the property, Art and Wendi thought of the nickname Art’s father had been given when he worked at Piedmont Airlines.

“He still won’t tell us how he got the nickname ‘Dewberry,’” Wendi laughs.

And so Dewberry Farm Lane became a county road. And Art and Wendi have been hosting weddings at Dewberry Farm for 11 years.

They tell me about the farm’s four-footed attractions.

“We have three quarter horses, a pony, a miniature horse, a miniature donkey, two Babydoll sheep, four Nubian goats . . . and a bunny!” Wendi says.

Mention of the animals reminds Art to tell me about the horse barn.

“Back in 2008, with the recession, business was waning,” Art says. Since he’d always wanted to build a horse barn on the property and had more time on his hands, he decided to get one of the men who worked for him to help harvest trees on the farm.

“So we dropped the trees, got them all stacked in piles, then figured out what we needed as far as lumber size,” Art says. When the site was ready in the summer of 2010, a friend of his who owns a portable sawmill brought it over.

For a month on weekends they milled lumber, stickering and stacking it to cure. In the spring of 2011, they began construction.


The plan was to make four stalls, with windows in front. “I love seeing horses poke their head out a stall,” Wendi says.

The project was nearly finished in June, right around the time they had their first bride scheduled.

“Oh, she was so sweet,” says Wendi. And it was raining cats and dogs on her big day.

So the Johnsons called family, who spent hours helping them get the new barn cleaned up and presentable for a wedding.

“Art begged me not to post a picture of her getting married in that barn,” Wendi adds. “But of course, I did.” The next day Dewberry Farm’s phone was ringing off the hook with brides asking if they could use the barn.

“So there went my horse barn,” Art says.

“We never stalled it and there are church pews now,” Wendi says. “The only animals ever in it were our first litter of piglets.” She laughs. “But we do use it for hay!”

The signature of Dewberry Farms?

“I love flowers,” Wendi says. Some time ago she was doing research and saw an article about Burnside Farms in Virginia, a huge tulip grower. Wendi was intrigued. Networking with other North Carolina agritourism farms, she’d seen that many had you-pick events, mainly for fruit.

“I asked Art, ‘What do you think about this? Could we do this?’”

The couple reached out to Burnside Farms and traveled up to talk with them. Burnside also produces sunflowers — a summer crop that’s much easier to plant.

Sunflowers became Dewberry Farm’s first crop.

“We feel if we’re going to ask people to pay to come in and pick flowers, we have to give them access to see the flowers,” Wendi says. So the Johnsons plant their sunflowers in beds, five rows to each bed, all sown with a hand-operated seeder.“It’s more labor intensive,” Wendi adds, “but that’s how we think it looks pretty.”

Between the beds are grass walkways for customers. Wendi plants only bouquet sunflowers — 19 different varieties.

After the first you-pick event with sunflowers, Art and Wendi decided to give tulips a try the following spring. It was a project that would put the perseverance Art had demonstrated in his courtship of Wendi to another test.

Through a local hardware store, they discovered Rooteveel Bulb Company in Holland as a direct supplier.

“They’re fantastic!” Art says. “The first year they came out to our property and checked our soil and inspected the bulbs.” Now, they come every year right before the tulips are ready bloom.

“We started with 40,000 bulbs,” Wendi says. “Art made this board that had pegs in it.”

Two workers would put the board on the ground with the pegs down and jump on it, driving the pegs into the soil. When the board was pulled up, other workers would place the bulbs in the holes by hand. Then repeat.

It was hard, slow work.

“The guys who did the planting were in my electrical business,” Art says. “Fortunately, they’re healthy, strapping guys who don’t mind being punished. It worked out well, but it was tough.”


It took the Johnsons two weeks to get the first crop of tulips in the ground.

The second year they planted 50,000 bulbs, using the same process.

When they decided they wanted to try 100,000 bulbs, they knew they’d have to find another method. Art put on his research cap.

“We figured the only way we could plant anything over 50,000 was to have some type of machine,” Art says.

Unfortunately, the bulb planting machines made in Holland are massive — designed for big, level fields, not small farms in the North Carolina Piedmont. The tractors needed to pull these machines are equally massive — and tremendously expensive to buy and transport.

Then Art came across a garlic-planting machine online that was manufactured in Poland. He found a representative for the company who was located just outside Ottawa, Canada.

“So we show up there and the rep has this plot of land where he uses this machine himself for planting garlic,” Art says. The machine was about four feet wide and six feet long with a hopper to hold bulbs. It was drawn by a tractor with a three-point hitch.

“The planter has two seats, you know, like the old tobacco setters,” Art says. He gave the rig a test run and decided — with modifications — the machine would work for planting tulip bulbs at Dewberry Farm.

“I thought, ‘This is going to be great,’” he says. “I never even thought about spending time trying the planter out before it was time to use it.”

“We just ran into all kinds of issues,” Wendi says. “And it was a super wet year. It just wouldn’t quit raining.”

“And the planter doesn’t like wet,” Art adds.

With mechanical challenges and the wet season, it was December before all 100,000 bulbs were in the ground.

While some additional changes to the planter were made at a friend’s machine shop that spring, most of the issues were resolved by finding a tractor with a lower gear ratio so it could pull at a slower ground speed.

“The next year it worked much better,” Art says. “And we found what we needed to do with the soil. It needs to be thoroughly tilled, but then recompacted, so it’s not so fluffy.”

Tulip planting this season went even better.

“This year in three-and-a-half days we put in 105,000 bulbs,” Art says. He reflects for a moment.

“My favorite thing is the tulips,” Art says. “It’s like . . . spring is here. And you see how many people have come and are enjoying what they’re doing. And this was our best tulip crop ever.”

“It was stunning,” he concludes.

Wendi agrees this spring’s tulips were the prettiest.

“For me, the Mother’s Day tea . . . that’s fun!” she says. She tells me the caterer is the same person who catered her own wedding on the farm.

“I used to work with her years ago,” Wendi says. “Her husband is British, so her father-in-law makes the clotted cream for the meal. It’s all china and pretty linens.”

After tea, Art takes the mothers on a garden tour.

“In the barn, there’s a buffet of fresh cut flowers that we grew in the garden,” Wendi says. “Roses and peonies and more.”

When the garden tour is finished, the mothers go through a line in the barn, making themselves bouquets of Dewberry Farms’ lovingly grown flowers to take home.

For more information about weddings and events at Dewberry Farm, go to OH

Ross Howell Jr. is an O. Henry contributor. Contact him at

Wandering Billy

True Kid Rock

The band that even makes the mamas and papas very happy

By Billy [Eye] Ingram

What is a home without children? Quiet.” — Henry Youngman

Eye had the distinct pleasure to talk music the other day with Chuck Folds who, along with Steve Willard, and Eddie Walker, constitute North Carolina’s most popular children’s act, Big Bang Boom. This whirlwind trio possesses the ability to whip toddlers and grade school youngsters — and even their parents — into a grand mal frenzy: Everyone go-go-ing, pogo-ing and slow mo-ing from the moment this band takes the stage with their almost criminally infectious lyrical concoctions.

Big Bang Boom taps into that frenetic Greensboro sound epitomized by Bus Stop in the 90s. Small wonder, it was Folds, Eddie Walker, Britt “Snuzz” Uzzell and Evan Olson who formed arguably the city’s most successful pop band around 1991. Not much more than a year later, Bus Stop entered and won Dick Clark’s USA Music Challenge — the American Idol of that decade — broadcast on national television.

Bus Stop split up in the mid-’90s. That’s when Folds, along with guitarist/vocalist Steve Willard, concentrated on their touring cover band, Rubberband. All the while, in the back of his mind, Folds was toying with the idea of forming a combo called Big Bang Boom, for no other reason than he liked the name.

“Anybody with kids in the last 20 years knows, when you have small class sizes, like 11 or 12 kids, everybody has to invite everyone in the class to their birthday party.” Attending and/or throwing a dozen birthday parties a year, it’s not long before bouncy castles, The Little Gym, even our spectacular Science Center would fail to jumpstart the youngsters or bored parents, for that matter.

“When my oldest son was about to turn 7,” Folds says, “we were like, oh my God, what are we gonna do this time?” Folds asked long-time collaborator Steve Willard to join him and, “We cleared out the living room, put up a bunch of lights, then played a rock show as a made-up band called Big Bang Boom.” The rug rats went Richter scale nuts, their parents just as enthusiastic. After that electrifying 30 minute set, the adults were inquiring if Folds could perform at their offspring’s next soirée. “Well that’s funny,” he thought. “Because this isn’t really even a thing.”

Chuck Folds was scribbling down children’s songs as an aside, giving little thought to actually recording them, merely musings he noodled around with solely because he had little ones of his own. “I was hired to play bass at a recording session,” he tells me. “The producer, Ralph Covert, had a Disney children’s music show called Ralph’s World. This was around 2002.” Covert handed Folds his latest preschooler oriented CD. That got him thinking about his own roughhewn kiddie compositions and about actually finishing them.

Since forming in 2007, all three Big Bang Boom bandmates compose the songs. They also switch off on lead vocals, backed by Chuck Folds’ buoyantly bumping bass, Steve Willard’s kaleidoscopic guitar riffs and the action punctuated by Bus Stop alumnus Eddie Walker’s pop punk, rat-a-tat-tat, rimshot heavy riffs. The result is an effervescent explosion of irreverent (but respectful) melodic mashups spoofing life’s most basic conundrums.

Folds and his bandmates grew up in the ’70s, were teenagers in the ’80s, before becoming parents in the ’90s. “When they were little, our kids were listening to pop bands like Cake, They Might Be Giants and Weezer,” Folds says. “They liked it. So we approached the arrangement, the production, the instrumentation, the melody, everything, no differently than if we were going to record a song for regular pop radio. We just adjusted the lyrical content to address kids’ and their parents’ point of view.”

Honing their craft, they’d jam on Friday afternoons at the Greensboro Children’s Museum. “One of the ladies working there loved to have us play,” Folds says. “We’d just do it for free practice space. Then we started getting paid, playing for birthday parties.”

There’s a tonal groove you may not be aware of that Big Bang Boom neatly plugged into: Kindie. That is, indie music geared for kindergarteners that won’t drive grown-ups up the bloody wall. “It’s only been in the last decade or so that parent-friendly kindie artists emerged from an underground movement to become more mainstream,” Folds tells me. “It’s all very organic. It’s not run through major labels or record companies. This is all independent.”

You might not be surprised to learn that the kiddos today are so plugged in they have their own music festivals. “We played Lollapalooza in 2012,” Folds says. “You have people going to Lollapalooza that attended when they were in their 20s but now they have kids. So there’s a family stage called Kidsapalooza.” (Even if such a thing had existed when I was growing up, no way my parents would have taken us!)

Can an artist really be taken seriously if their core demographic pedals around on three wheels? In 2013, a band called the Okee Dokee Brothers won the Grammy for Best Children’s Album of the Year for their fourth disc, Can You Canoe? They subsequently garnered three more Grammy nominations. “These guys were like our heroes. That’s what really turned the corner for kindie music,” Folds says. “Because here’s a really freaking good musical group that recorded a great album and they won the Grammy.” Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, a kindie band out of Asheville, hip hopped their way to a Grammy of their own in 2017. “It’s one of the few areas in the music world that’s evolved the way it has,” Folds says. “Kind of like the way rock ’n’ roll came about.”

Word spread rapidly about Big Bang Boom. With their first album, Why Can’t I Have Ice Cream, planting aerosonic earworms into young minds around the world, Parenting magazine raved: “These former rocker dads are creating kids’ music you won’t be embarrassed to blast in the carpool line.” A great example is “Hippie Mom” from the CD Because I Said So!, with jaunty lyrics like, “With pretty flowers in her hair, she’ll let me pick the clothes I wear.” Then it ends with, “You’re so much fun I scream and shout, I want to tell the world about my hippie mom.” Check it out on YouTube.

A song the band opens their live shows with, “Big Bang Boom,” blasts out word salads like, “We’re gonna jump and shout, your underwear is inside out, don’t put boogers in your mouth, someone’s gonna throw you out!” I mean, that’s good advice no matter what your age!

Your chance to experience Big Bang Boom will come during this year’s NC Folk Festival, September 10 and 11. “How many people actually make a decent living off of music? It doesn’t happen very often,” says Folds. As a side gig, he and Steve Willard formed a cover band called SNAP! that entertains at weddings and other private events.  OH

Billy [Eye] Ingram is the author of a new book, Eye on GSO, a series of essays focusing on Greensboro history, all previously published in O.Henry and Yes! Weekly.

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(June 21 – July 22)

If ever you’ve ridden a drop tower — one of those gut-in-your-throat “free fall” rides at the carnival — then you can imagine what it feels like to know and love a Cancer. But only those born under the influence of this cardinal water sign know what it’s like to be perpetually at the whim of such sensational pinnacles and descents. This month will be no different, especially with that full supermoon on July 13. May as well enjoy the ride.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Something needs watering. Hint: It’s not a plant.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22) 

You can’t see the signs if your eyes are closed.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Let the tea steep.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

You already know the answer.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Keep moving. They’ll come around or they won’t.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

You’re thinking the fun out of it.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

The prize is never inside the box.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Tell it to your dream journal.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Best to get it straight from the source.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20) 

Leave your phone. Forget the umbrella. Let life happen.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

The invitation will be obvious. OH

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. 

Art of the State

Super Natural

Davidson artist Elizabeth Bradford celebrates the beauty of the wild

By Liza Roberts

Photograph By Lissa Gotwals

In a former cotton shed in Mecklenburg County, Elizabeth Bradford paints the natural world around her. With extraordinary, saturated colors and meticulous, zoomed-in details, her landscapes can be exotic, surprising, even strange. They are also poetic: meditative celebrations of the beauty, interconnectedness and geometry of the natural world.

On canvases nearly as tall as she is, Bradford takes countless hours over many weeks to paint the magic she finds in nature. Sometimes it’s an eddy of water. Sometimes it’s the messy bank of a receded river, where roots protrude and collide. Trees, fields, ponds, creeks: Bradford finds wonderlands in them all. Representational, but with deep, twisting tentacles into abstraction, her canvases beg the viewer to look hard.

In January 2023, Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte plans a solo exhibition of her art. Wilmington’s Cameron Art Museum exhibited a powerful one-woman show of Bradford’s work, entitled A House of One Room, in 2021. Her paintings are also in the permanent collections of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, as well as in many top corporate collections.

This University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate considers herself largely self-taught as an artist, but she also studied painting and lithography at Davidson College and worked as an art teacher before devoting herself full time to her craft.

Bradford says her work began to “develop a power” when she started backpacking in the mountains of North Carolina about nine years ago. With two friends, she started “going into a lot of obscure places, wild places, where the world is crazy,” she says. Now armed with a pole-mounted camera, she takes photos as she goes, hundreds of them in the space of a few days’ hike. These images become her inspiration when she returns to the studio. “Truth is stranger than fiction,” she says. “The wild is stranger than anything I can dream up.”


(left) Water’s Edge, (center) Weeds at the Treadwell, (right) Cumberland Island Swamp

The truth is also more meaningful. The wilder the land, the more Bradford says she finds to care about. “I’m on a mission to sensitize people to the beauty of the earth,” she says. To take things “that aren’t obviously beautiful and to render them beautiful.” She does that in large part with unexpected, vibrant oil and sometimes embedded shards of glass, something she once eschewed as a “cheap trick.” But after a number of years of hewing as close to the actual color of the natural world as possible, she decided she was selling herself short. “Why are you being this ascetic?” she says she asked herself. “Why are you denying yourself access to something you love so much? And so I started pumping up the color. And as a result I’ve gotten more imaginative, more intuitive. More soulful.”

She brings all of that to every one of her subjects, most recently weeds. “Weed studies have introduced me to some really cool forms,” she says. “Arabesques and extravagant curves. I’ve been playing with a lot of that . . . I’m always trying to keep moving outward, not just repeating the same things. I keep looking for newness.”

Actively challenging herself has become an ingrained habit, one that began the year Bradford turned 40 and made a promise to herself: “Instead of getting bummed out about getting old, every year for my birthday I would pick something I didn’t think I could do, and I would spend a year trying to do it.” That first year, she decided she would paint a painting every day. A few years ago, she made the commitment to learn French. Lately, she’s begun renovating an 1890s farmhouse, one she discovered deep in the woods on the bank of a creek, far from roads and traffic and noise. A two-hour drive from her (also 1890s-era) Davidson home, it will serve as Bradford’s summer residence and studio. “It’s my dream,” she says.

And so as she ages, Bradford’s world gets more and more interesting — not that boring is an option. “The world is just so complicated and fascinating,” she says. “There are just not enough years of life to do everything you want to do.” OH

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Art of the State: Celebrating the Art of North Carolina, to be published by UNC Press this fall.