November is a great sweeping wind, a clearing of what must go, a dance with a howling reaper.

The crickets have disappeared. Their nightly serenades, which crackled like warm vinyl from spring through harvest season, faded with the first hard frost. In their wake, the wind shrieks through naked trees. A great horned owl bellows from his perch.

The garden folds into itself. The porch toads that lurked by the watering can on warm autumn evenings now burrow beneath the frost line. Field mice shimmy down chimneys, squeeze through eaves, craft their nests inside cozy walls.

Songbirds come and go. Hermit thrushes strip the hollies of their crimson fruit. White-throated sparrows shuffle through crumpled leaves, scratching up what’s buried underneath.

The wind sings of a quickening darkness. The squirrels, scrambling to cache pecans as they fall, retort with squawks and chatter. A skein of geese sails across a golden sunset.

At dusk, when the wind nips at the heels of those still roaming, a pair of coyotes yips and howls beyond the fringe. Back and forth they shriek, wailing like banshees, piercing the air with their shrill and haunting staccato.

“I’m here,” cries one to the other.

A single voice sounds like dozens.

A biting wind howls back.


When Pies Fly

For our neighbors in Albany, Georgia (pecan capital of the world), it’s raining you-know-what right now. But we have our share of toothsome treasures plummeting upon our leaf-littered neck of the woods, too. Especially in the southeastern part of the state. Whatever you call them — PEE-cans or pee-KAHNS — ’tis harvest season. Pick them as they drop or else the crows and squirrels will beat you to it. You’ll want to let them cure (essential if they’re not yet ripe) before shelling and freezing them. Store them in a mesh bag — and in a cool, dry place — for about two weeks. While you’re waiting? Dream of pie.

On that nut-studded note, have you ever cracked pecans? If so, then you can more deeply appreciate that the average pecan pie packs between 70 and 80 of those sweet and buttery little candies. No need to mention the calories.


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being.

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing

— Percy Bysshe Shelley


Prepare to be Dazzled

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, a total lunar eclipse begins around 3 a.m. According to Smithsonian magazine, which named this celestial event one of 10 “dazzling” must-sees of 2022, the moon will appear reddish, as if “all the world’s sunrises and sunsets” are being cast upon it.

Speaking of dazzling events, here’s to hoping your Thanksgiving will be described as such. At the very least, don’t let the parsnips eclipse that homemade pie.  OH

Art of the State


Cristina Córdova sculpts soulful, fantastic people from clay

By Liza Roberts

“I was always very creatively inclined, and very restless,” says sculptor Cristina Córdova, as she moves – glides, really, with ease and focus – around a massive head she’s shaping out of clay in her Penland studio.   

She molds it with elegant hands, quickly, decisively, certain about what she wants this clay to be. Like the work that has made her name, it will become real, it will be soulful, thoughtful, disarming, alive. Its eyes will be hollow, but they will express sadness; its face will be impassive, but it will express stoicism.

Known for her remarkably lifelike figurative sculptures in clay, which typically range from diminutive to lifesize, Cordova grew up in Puerto Rico and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Puerto Rico and an MFA in Ceramics from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University before moving to Penland in 2002 for a three-year residency, and subsequently making the campus her home. 

Córdova credits her mother with nurturing her creativity from an early age, steering her toward the career that has made her one of the most respected sculptors in North Carolina and a pillar of the Penland community since 2002. She credits a ceramics teacher with first showing her the potential of clay, the possibility that it could go beyond representation to “embody any idea.” At that point, she says, “the material revealed itself to me in this really exciting way. And I never looked back.”


Left: Cosmología Isleña

Right: Vestigios.

Still, she took some time to settle on her subject. Gradually, “I started to become a little bit more excited, more empowered to start specifically to focus on the figure.” It was a focus borne in part by her heritage. Growing up Catholic in Puerto Rico, she says, in a house with literally hundreds of depictions of saints all around her, the idea of using a figurative work of art “as a way of harnessing your emotional energy and pulling it into something sacred” was a mechanism she’d internalized. Though her current work is not religious, Córdova finds that it’s understood “at a different level” in Puerto Rico, where “Catholicism is not a choice, it’s woven into the culture, so people come to the work with a shared insight.”

Her subject may come naturally, but that doesn’t make it easy. Depicting the figure in clay is a challenge. Early in her career, Córdova found herself stuck in between two worlds, the sculptural tradition of working in the round with a live model, and the more organic ceramic tradition. Eventually, she settled on a hybrid approach, one that includes not a live model but a series of blueprints that provide her with the measurements and dimensions she needs to create a sculpted three-dimensional figure.

The head before her on this particular day — not necessarily a man nor a woman, as is sometimes the case with her figures — is imagined instead of representational, and so its blueprints are designed merely to keep her to scale, leaving room for improvisation. In other instances, she uses a series of photographs to help her create more precise blueprints.

Córdova gestures to the head before her: “I’m called right now to do things that are big, almost monolithic. I think it has something to do with what we are experiencing [with the pandemic]. I’m not interested in intimate or narrative-oriented work. I’m interested in big statements.”

Big statements seem called for by the importance and enormity of our internal worlds in such a situation, she says. “The isolation, the uncertainty, the newness — to have to take all this in without being able to respond in our normal ways . . . recourse is very limited. So you’re holding this inside of you, and that’s all you can do, is hold it, and witness it, and be with it. We need a big container for that right now. So I’m making big containers.”


Left: El Rey. 

Right: Del balcón.

It’s not a simple process. Beginning with a large donut-shaped piece of clay that’s laced with sand and paper pulp for stability and structure, Córdova then patches in a perpendicular slab, and then another, and then adds rings of clay, providing “the basic topography.” From there, she more fully fleshes out and articulates the shape of the head and face.

Having worked “all over the place in terms of scale” over the course of her career, the process of working in such large dimensions now excites her: “This to me is a starting point. I really want to get bigger. I have no idea how I’m going to do that.”

Córdova’s award-winning work is in the permanent collections of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto Rico and many others.  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.

The Creators of N.C.

A Purpose-Driven Art

Scott Avett follows the mystery

By Wiley Cash

Photographs By Mallory Cash

For a man whose music I’ve been listening to for almost two decades and whose face I’ve seen everywhere from the Grammy Awards to the Today show to the 2017 documentary May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers by Judd Apatow, Scott Avett was surprisingly easy to reach. After a couple of calls and texts to mutual friends, my wife, Mallory, and I arrived to interview him one day in early August. He met us in the driveway of the small house he’d converted into an art studio in the country about 15 minutes outside of downtown Concord, North Carolina.

Most North Carolinians, as well as music lovers around the world, know Scott as the other half of the Avett Brothers, who, along with his younger brother Seth, bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon, have sold millions of records and whose career has carried the band from small stages in college towns to the Grand Ole Opry to Madison Square Garden and beyond. But Scott knows himself best as a man whose purpose is to create, and painting is as much a part of his creative life as songwriting.

While his visual art has rarely been exhibited publicly aside from a 2019 show at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Scott has been a working artist since graduating from East Carolina University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art. His paintings and drawings most often speak to family life and the natural world in rural North Carolina, but his work is in conversation with the many cultural and artistic influences he encounters on the road and in his reading life.

In our time together, Scott will rattle off quotes from French Impressionist Edgar Degas and the Trappist monk and mystic poet Thomas Merton the way some of us might casually discuss Monday Night Football or the day’s headlines. It’s clear to me that while his work portrays what one could see and hear if one were to spend time shadowing him during his daily life on the land in Concord, there is a deeper spiritual mystery residing in the work that speaks to the same unseen hand that guides emotions and ideas like love, duty, purpose and one’s role in them all.

This mystery is perhaps what Scott refers to as “the revelation of meaning beyond the physical act of making” that informs his exhibition, “After the Fact,” which is running through October at the Greenville Museum of Art in Greenville, North Carolina. This exhibit will run concurrently with “Purpose at Random,” Scott’s show at the SOCO Gallery in Charlotte, which began in September and will run through November 2. The show in Charlotte features new oil paintings that Scott began working on in the early months of 2020, which means the work was created during the pandemic when he would have otherwise been on the road with the band. In a press release for the show, Scott says, “I’m not sure that it was easier to paint during the pandemic but it was certainly more available than playing concerts. Painting is a solitary activity. The more time alone the better, I think. The pandemic provided space.”

On the day we meet him, the only calendar space Scott has is a two-week break from touring, and so he’s at work completing a painting that will be featured in one of the upcoming shows. Inside, his studio reveals itself to be a place in creative flux. Paintings either hang on the walls or lean against them, some in various stages of completion. Hiding amongst them — and he will show it to us just before we leave in a few hours — is an early draft of a painting of singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, the final draft of which appeared on the cover of her 2018 multi-Grammy Award-winning album, By the Way, I Forgive You.

We follow Scott into an open space, past a low counter where his kids’ works-in-progress are waiting for their return. The studio is bright and airy. Morning light pours through the windows on the east side of the house. Scott stands in the middle of the room with a cup of coffee brewed by the Concord coffeehouse, Verb, in hand.

As Mallory unpacks her camera gear, I tell Scott that I grew up in Gastonia, which is on the west side of Charlotte, while Concord sits on its east. We talk about what it was like to be raised so close to Charlotte in the 1980s and ’90s without much awareness of what went on in what seemed to us to be “the big city.” We joked that the only time we went into Charlotte was to go Christmas shopping at SouthPark.

“That was the fancy mall,” Scott says, smiling. I tell him that once, when I was young, I spotted NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon with his first wife at SouthPark, and that leads us to a conversation about race car drivers as Sunday races served as the backdrop of our North Carolina childhoods, especially for Scott, given that Charlotte Motor Speedway sits just a few miles away from the place where he was raised. I ask Scott how he and his family ended up on this expanse of land where he has remained despite his world travels, his parents still living just a few miles down the road, and his own family’s home tucked into the woods behind his studio.

Scott’s father was born in North Carolina and grew up the son of a Methodist minister whose calling took the family around the state. Scott’s mother was an Army kid born on a base in Germany before being raised in Kansas and Virginia. Just before Scott was born, his parents and older sister moved to Alaska, where his father hoped to get work as a pipeline welder, but the job fell through, and on the way back south the family lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for about a year. That’s where Scott was born. But they eventually found their way back to North Carolina and to the landscape where Scott’s grandfather had touched so many lives. When the family decided to settle down outside Concord — his father traveled as a welder and his mother taught school — they were gifted 2 acres and an old house by an elderly couple who had long admired Scott’s grandfather. His father renovated the home, and Scott’s parents lived there until the house burned down last year. But fire can’t burn roots, and Scott’s parents rebuilt, and they continue to reside just down the road from him.

When Scott and his two siblings were growing up, his parents made certain that education was available to them, especially if the kids were hungry for it. “They were intent on that,” he says. “They said, ‘We will see to it that you have an opportunity to go to school. If we’re broke, we’ll rob a bank to pay for it. If you are interested in education, you will get the opportunity.’” All three children went to college.

It’s clear that Scott values his children’s education as well, especially in the arts. Aside from the makeshift studio set up for them alongside his own work, his daughter regularly participates in after-school tutoring sessions in creative writing led by the owner of the local bookstore, Goldberry Books, in downtown Concord. It’s easy to imagine a holistic education in art and outdoor experiences unfolding for children in a landscape like this. If I sound wistful when imagining such a childhood it’s because I am.

But our conversation turns toward what could be considered the more practical matters of being a creator, namely, what happens when your hobby — whether it’s painting or songwriting or writing novels — becomes your job. Is the mystery of creation compromised?

“As soon as you’re doing something to pay bills, I don’t know that you’re really following your heart,” Scott says. “We’re called to have a purpose, but you can slip off that purpose really quickly, and all of a sudden the purpose becomes to pay the bills more easily. I want to avoid that. There’s a mystery in creating. I want to follow the mystery and get as close to it as I can. But when I’m caught up in success or anything else it has nothing to do with getting close to the mystery. It just distracts from it.”

Jeff Gordon and NASCAR are still lingering in the corners of my mind, and I mention that Gordon retired from driving at the age of 44, and both Scott and I are now in our mid-40s. I tell him that I doubt Gordon’s physical skills were diminished at that age, but perhaps his awareness of the risks he was taking became more apparent the older and wiser he got. I ask Scott if he’s more aware of the choices he’s making at this stage of his career and if his skills are continuing to sharpen. 

“I feel like I’m in the sweet spot, ability-wise,” he says about both performing music and painting. “Physically, I can do it, and, mentally, my tools have accumulated quite a bit. I see evidence of that when I can make plans about what project I am going to execute. Ten years ago, I might say, ‘I hope I can do this. I hope I don’t flub it and get stuck on something.’” He pauses for a moment. “I think I hold it all a little looser than I ever did, and I’m not going to be blown away by whether it hits or doesn’t hit. I don’t know why, but there’s now a barometer, and sometimes it says, ‘Hey, enough, you have enough. Now, with enough, can you lean into your purpose?’”

I ask him how it feels to let go of a painting after someone buys it. After all, when he writes a song he can always perform it whether or not it’s on a record or in front of a live audience. “It rips pretty hard,” he says. “It really does. I see painting as me telling my life story, and as I do that, it’s kind of tough to imagine that some of it’s in Colorado, some of it’s in New York, some of it’s in Texas. But I haven’t gotten too attached to any of them so far. There are only three I won’t let go of. One of my wife and two of our kids that I painted in bathing suits. They’re just portraits of them, but I’ve said those aren’t for sale.”

I ask him if his art is a result of his being anchored to this land given his family’s history on it. He pauses as if painting an answer in his mind.

“We’re all bigger than our place,” he finally says. “I am in North Carolina, and I am making the things I’m meant to make. When you can settle that and not think that New York is better than North Carolina, then you can start getting to your work.

“You have to find a corner of the world,” he says. “I truly believe that on these 80 acres there is more to explore than I can do in a lifetime. There is so much work to be done here, and by work I mean purpose. To me, my purpose is realized here. My purpose is to create. There are a lot of leaves to peel back here, and there are a lot of experiences happening.”

He pulls his phone from his pocket and flips through his photos, landing on a picture he took the night before of his 7-year-old son just after he’d fallen asleep. “There’s nothing not timeless about this,” he says. “If my purpose is to recognize relationships and see things, this is a good place to be.” He laughs and puts his phone away. “But where’s not?”  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.

Simple Life

Coach and The Bull: A Love Story

The road less traveled to authordom

By Jim Dodson

Illustration by Gerry O’Neill

Not long ago, following a speech to a historical organization in Georgia, I was asked by a woman in the audience how I became a “successful author.”

Anyone fortunate enough to publish a best-seller is likely to get some version of this question from time to time. That’s because almost everyone has a story to tell, a desire to have their voice heard in some form or another.

For years my response was to quip. “Because I couldn’t make a living out of mowing lawns in the neighborhood forever,” or, “The Baltimore Orioles already had a decent shortstop.”

The truth is, writing books is a lonely enterprise, and the vast majority of folks who are good at it invariably find their way to the craft via some other pathway.

Before literary success arrived, Charles Dickens worked in a factory putting labels on tins of boot polish. Harper Lee was an airline ticket clerk. William Faulkner served as a postmaster. Nicholas Sparks, a dental equipment salesman.

We were all, in other words, something else before we became writers. But dreamers all.

Why we choose to become writers and storytellers is perhaps the more interesting question — an age-old one, and a highly personal mystery that begs a more nuanced response.

In a famous essay titled “Why I Write,” George Orwell, of Animal Farm and 1984 fame, said writers put pen to paper out of “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.”

Joan Didion claimed she wrote simply to discover what she was thinking — and feared — at the moment.

The allure of writing a successful novel that makes its author a household name is a dream of untold millions of struggling writers. “Everyone has a novel in them,” the late Christopher Hitchens sniffed, “and in most it should stay there.”

The truth is, writing anything is work that takes time, discipline, imagination, constant revision, false starts, new beginnings and plenty of patience. Hemingway called it the “loneliest, hardest art.” Though I suppose every artist in any medium can pretty much make the same claim.

One of my favorite writers, novelist Graham Greene, actually published a book called Why I Write in which he explained that good storytelling takes place in the unconscious before the first word is written on the page. “We remember the details of our story, we do not invent them,” he said — noting that ideas often come unbidden during unexpected moments of ordinary life — while dropping off your laundry, running errands, or (as in my case) mowing the lawn or working in the garden. This is why, regardless of how grubby I get in the flowerbeds, a pen and small notebook are always on my person. Everyone’s long journey to writing is different.

As the youngest son of a veteran newspaper man who hauled his family all over the 1950s South, I learned to read chapter books around age 4, in part because I never had time to make real playmates in the sleepy towns where we lived before moving again. From my parents’ bookshelf (both dedicated readers), I was drawn early to adventure storytelling, particularly the short stories of Rudyard Kipling, Greek myths, and any tale that involved animals and magical places. Fables and folktales ranked high. Absent a flying carpet, I often read books sitting in a large cardboard moving box on the porches of our old houses. And sometimes in the shady, cool dirt beneath the porch.

Inevitably, I grew up imagining someday becoming a journalist like my father, traveling all over the world to find such magical places. When he eventually introduced me to the essays of E.B. White — this was after reading Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web — I even pictured myself someday living on a farm on the coast of Maine.

When I look back, I see a clear pattern of how I became a writer. Including an unlikely pair of school teachers who changed my life.

In a faraway October of 1969, I was a junior underclassman who landed in the American literature class of an aging spinster named Elizabeth Smith and — to my dismay — a newby math class teacher named Larry Saunders.

English lit and I were natural companions. But I detested algebra and was probably the slowest student in “Coach” Saunders’ class, a nickname we teenage geniuses were inspired to give him due his skinny, geeky frame and non-athletic orientation. By design, I rarely took my algebra book home and only occasionally did my homework.

I don’t know what Miss Smith saw in me. She was short, round and half deaf. Her unflattering moniker was “Bull” Smith. This was her final year of a long teaching career that stretched back to the mid-1930s. I eventually learned that my father had been her student the year she graduated UNCG — then called Woman’s College — and began teaching.

Out of the blue, Miss Smith pulled me aside one day to urge me to enter the Gate City’s annual O.Henry short story contest which had been running since the 1920s — so named in honor of hometown boy William Sydney Porter. So, on a lark, I did. My simple tale was about visiting my quiet grandfather on his farm for several weeks one summer, not long before he passed away.

The story won first place, deeply shocking my sports pals. I dropped by Miss Smith’s classroom at the end of the term just to say thanks and wish her happy retirement. She gave me a copy of Robert Frost’s Complete Poems, and, in return, wished me a long and happy career writing books. I think I laughed. I was mowing lawns and playing pony league baseball that summer.

Larry Saunders was an even bigger surprise. Early on he realized that I would never a mathematician be — and proposed a remarkable compromise. If I never missed class, agreed to pay attention and try my best, he would agree to giving me a C-minus or better. I made the deal. Saunders was famous for writing daily inspirational quotes on the chalkboard. Once, the jokester in me managed to alter one of his quotes. “Familiarity breeds contempt” became “Familiarity breeds.” Even Coach had a chuckle. “Mr. Dodson is our budding literary genius,” he told the class, shaking his head. He was true to his word, however, when he could easily have submarined my GPA.

During my senior year, good fortune found me in Larry Saunders’ class again for geometry — which, shockingly, I found to my liking. Geometry became very useful when, decades later, I became an amateur carpenter like my father and grandfather, and I built my post-and-beam house on the coast of Maine with my own hands. I couldn’t have done it without geometry and Coach Larry. About the same time, I published my first book, which turned out to be an international bestseller. I always meant to write Larry and thank him.

In 1983 on my way to a job interview at the Washington Post from Atlanta, where I was the youngest senior writer at the oldest Sunday magazine in the nation, I stopped by the Greensboro Public Library to do some research and spotted — of all people — Miss Smith paging through a dusty travel atlas in the reference room.

“Miss Smith,” I quietly interrupted her work. “I don’t know if you remember me . . .”

She looked up and chortled. “Of course I do, Mr. Dodson. I have followed your career with great interest. I am very pleased that you are writing. I imagine fine things are ahead of you.”

I was at a loss for words, but thanked her and wondered what she was up to these days. “I’m off to the dusts of ancient Egypt!” she trilled. “One of those faraway places I always wished to see!”

Before we parted, I also thanked her for seeing something in me — and for the volume of Robert Frost. Within weeks, I would withdraw from the Post offer in favor of a senior writer position at Yankee Magazine, a job that shaped my career and life — and this very magazine.

Sadly, I never got to say thank you to Larry Saunders, who passed away in January 2021. “He loved teaching, playing the piano, and his nieces and nephews. He had a huge sense of humor,” notes his considerable obituary. He spent almost four decades teaching math, rose to head of the department and would inspire the creation of the annual Larry Saunders Excellence in Teaching Award dedicated in his honor.

A good coach — like a great teacher — recognizes a young person’s strengths and weaknesses, and strives to help them find the right path in life.

Larry Saunders was both. Thanks to his wisdom, I built a beautiful house, found my way to writing books and even fell in love with inspiring quotes.

Which is why I think of “The Bull” and “Coach” every October.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

O.Henry Ending

Good and Dead

And totally down-to-earth

Story and Photograph by Ashley Walshe

Our neighbors are the best. They’re very quiet, very private — I’ve never actually seen them. But I should mention that they’re also quite dead.

Last spring, my husband and I, newlyweds, moved into an RV near Lake James as sort of a romantic venture. We live at the end of a private drive shared with other RVers (mostly weekend warriors) and a few retirees with swanky prefabs and sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our view is a little different. Just beyond the camper’s east-facing windows — and I do mean just beyond them — 11 white crosses are staggered among windswept pines, a sparse fringe of mountain laurel and a dusting of vibrant moss. Most of the crosses are wooden, one is broken; a handful are PVC replicas. Two actual headstones, weatherworn as the crooked trees, blend in with the rugged landscape.

The site is decidedly understated. No fencing; no benches; no fancy signage. Propped against the base of a lichen-laced pine, a wooden plank marks “Dobson Cemetery” in hand-painted lettering.

I make it a point to greet the Dobsons each day, same as I would any neighbors. There’s Alexander (d. 1876), who lived to be 83; and Cora J. (obviously dead but stone illegible); and about a dozen others. Lord knows how many bones rest six feet below. But I find comfort in the Dobsons’ quiet presence. So far as I can tell, they don’t seem to mind ours.

My fascination with cemeteries began six years ago while visiting my great aunt in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Shirley was dying of bone cancer, and I was there to help her sort through her worldly possessions. It was a tender time.

While Shirley was facing her mortality in a literal sense, I was navigating a different kind of loss: a heart-wrenching breakup. After supper, I’d venture down the street for a stroll through one of the city’s oldest burial grounds, Lakeview Cemetery. There, perhaps for obvious reasons, my grief felt welcome. Yet so did my dreams of a full and happy life. As I wove among the ancient trees and motley gravestones — the living and the dead — my perspective shifted. We’re not here for long. What will we do with the time we’ve got?

Which brings me back to our camper with a view.

We see our share of white-tailed deer. Birds come and go. But you can imagine we don’t get a ton of human foot traffic back here. We’d had none, in fact, until the other morning.

We were dining on the back deck when our neighbor — a live one from a few lots down — appeared like an apparition amidst the wooden crosses. Our startled dog went ballistic.

“Sorry to disrupt your brunch,” Dave chimed as he tromped heavily through the lot. Despite having lived here for over two years, he’d never felt inclined to visit the cemetery until hearing that the Dobsons “may or may not” be related to Daniel Boone.

He came. He saw. He seemed utterly unimpressed. We returned to our peaceful graveside picnic.

That our dead neighbors might be kin to an American trailblazer certainly intrigued me, but after a bit of fruitless digging — online, mind you — I gladly surrendered the search. The way I see it, they’ve all crossed the veil into that good night. They’re all pioneers. Besides, it’s often the mystery that keeps life interesting. 

On that note, dear neighbors, I’m really glad you’re here. I hope you won’t mind if I keep saying hi. But it’s really OK if you don’t answer.  OH

Ashley Walshe is a former editor of O.Henry magazine and a longtime contributor of PineStraw.

Wandering Billy

48 Hour Film Project

Lights, Camera, Panic!


By Billy [Eye] Ingram

“We’re a species that rushes through everything, then complains that time flies.”     Steve Maraboli

I recall reading an article by Jeri Rowe back in 2004 about The 48 Hour Film Project being held in Greensboro, the first city in North Carolina to host this worldwide competition that originated in Washington, D.C., three years earlier. The idea is that individuals or teams create a short motion picture, from concept to completion, in just 48 hours, with all teams starting at the same time — 7:30 on a Friday night, in our case.

First, some ground rules: The movie must run between four and seven minutes, contain a certain prop (this year was keys) and a line of dialogue (“Don’t lie to me”), plus a particular character (in this instance, a musician named Duane or Diana Fortran). Details may vary, but these are the general parameters, whether you’re making a 48-hour film in Greensboro, Rome, Lisbon or any of the more than 120 cities participating around the globe.

Over the last 18 years, this hambone has been lucky enough to mug for the silver screen maybe 10 times in various 48 Hour Film Project productions. This was my fourth for Evan Wade’s Stumblemuse Productions. Wade swears this year will be his final frenzy of filmmaking, which is hard to fathom given the enthusiasm he brings to the event. He’s served in one position or another almost every season, the last dozen as producer. “As I went through my 30s, feeling unsatisfied and looking for a new pursuit, I found a certain satisfaction and glee during the 48 Hour Film Fest,” Wade says. “The weekends are always highlights of any particular year, a great networking opportunity that keeps art alive in my heart, helps bolster my confidence as a leader while developing friendships that will last a lifetime.”

At the Friday evening kickoff this year, each team blindly selected two genres to pick from: science-fiction, comedy, western, film noir . . . you get the idea. Given a choice between drama or family film, we settled on the latter. It was decided I would play the lead — just my luck that I banged up my face a couple of nights earlier while avoiding tripping over the cat. Basically, I fought the wall and the wall won.

The next morning, cast and crew got together for the first time. Already there was turmoil. When an Italian restaurant was needed at the last minute, I suggested we decamp to New York Pizza on Tate Street where bar manager Gavin Holden was receptive to the idea of us filming there. This Slip ’N Slide approach to filmmaking is inherently exciting, developing characters and scenarios on the fly, in the moment. Fortunately, Evan Wade had assembled a team of top professionals with years of experience behind them. Director Ken Randall and Matt Amick, director of photography, engaged in guerrilla filmmaking at its finest. Under their pilotage everything looked and sounded pro all the way, moving deftly, quickly through scenes. After just six hours on Saturday afternoon we were done.

For my role — a washed up, one-hit wonder trying to convince his son to go into the music business — I was lucky to be partnered with a very talented actor, Chris Pierce. Our back-and-forth was more like stage acting, which generally requires eye contact, whereas with film it’s often advantageous to cheat a bit to the right or left of your co-star, showing more of your face to the camera. Together we ad libbed our way around the written word, with a lot of our funnier, off-the-cuff scenes ending up on the digital cutting room floor.

My character was a raspy, bitter, high-strung contrarian — basically a walking heart attack. Spoiler alert for a six-minute film: He has one. In the bar at NYP no less. Talk about an ignominious demise.

In my experience with making 48-hour films, anything that can go wrong will. Flexibility is essential to getting things done on schedule. When a location fell through, I suggested we regroup at my place nearby, a four-plex built in 1930 that has been a background for dozens of motion picture and TV productions.

Not so bad, comparatively. Another team lost a crucial cast member due to a car accident on Saturday, necessitating reshooting everything next day. And when the organizers say you have only 48 hours, they mean it. One group found out the hard way after turning in their film 30 seconds late.

Our own nail-biter came during post-production. “Everything seemed fine until the audio started getting out of sync,” Wade tells me, referring to the crunch Sunday evening, deadline rapidly approaching. “We laughed nervously. [Editor] Louis Bekoe frowns and we make the fix. It happens again. Ten minutes later, we watch the ‘final cut’ again, now all flustered, when [production assistant] Lisa Steele notices the required line is missing . . . at which point, Louis’ main computer crashes.” With only 13 minutes to spare, they somehow beat the clock.

Screenings of all 28 submissions took place at the Carolina Theatre the very next weekend. This year was the first for our new city producer Mike Dickens. For a position with loads of responsibility and no pay, he did a bang-up job of coordinating everything. When he’s not wrangling cinematic cats, Dickens serves as webmaster/digital operations specialist at UNCG.

A total of 15 films were selected for the “Best Of” night held a week later where awards were handed out in 13 categories. Our contribution, Chitarra’s Requiem, won Best Special Effects, while Best Film of 2022 went to those that are fools, which will go on to represent the Gate City at Filmapalooza 2023 with the possibility of a screening at the Festival de Cannes next year.

My personal favs this year were BUSK by Good Gravy Productions; Biggest Fan by Hot Batteries; Friends and Funerals, a comedy written, directed and edited by My Big Fat Fabulous Life star and dapper dresser Lennie Alehat; Reconsidered Ghosting by 13th Pygmy Productions; and Kawabunga Productions’ Grandpa’s House.

Best in show was, in my opinion, the genuinely hilarious National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day by Colonel Popcorn Productions (awarded Audience Favorite: Group A). Turns out there really is a National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, celebrated the day after this clever amuse-bouche wrapped. (Some of these films are viewable on YouTube.)

Acting is mostly something to dabble in today, but I started out my professional career in my teens as a working actor. From 2003–2006, I was writing and appearing on programs for VH1 and Bravo, while, a few years ago, I was almost cast as a murderous sex pervert on Death Row for a cable network series. Very disappointed at not snagging that part — I was far creepier and infinitely more nauseating than the guy they cast!

While Evan Wade won’t be at the helm next summer, hopefully some other team will recruit this scenery chewer for another wild weekend of frenetic filmmaking.  OH

Billy Ingram produced, directed and starred in his first television production at 11-years old, broadcast on The Kiddie Scene with Mr. Green in 1968 with a script lifted out of Cracked magazine. Find him on IMDb and watch his 2022 48 Hour Film Project at

City House, Country House

How the Jacksons ended up with two old homes — and contentment

By Ross Howell Jr.

Photographs by Amy Freeman


On a summer evening, I’m sitting with my neighbors, Jane and Randy Jackson, in the living room of their house overlooking Fisher Park.

Shaded by big oaks and a magnolia, it’s a graceful old home that I’ve admired ever since I moved into the neighborhood 13 years ago.

Jane grew up in Winston-Salem, graduated from Reynolds High School and went off to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Randy grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, moving with his family to Atlanta when he was in 10th grade.

“Football was my life in high school,” Randy says. So when the University of Alabama phoned him in Georgia, asking him to try out as a walk-on, he gave up his plan to study marine biology at the University of Florida.

After going through two-a-day practices, an injury and doubts about his ability to play at such a high level, Randy decided to give up football. He finished his freshman year at Alabama and transferred to Georgia Tech.

“My Dad was between jobs,” Randy explains, “and paying out-of-state tuition, so I decided to come back to Georgia to help with finances.”

It was a good move.

In Atlanta, Randy met Jane on a blind date. They were married during her senior year at Agnes Scott.

The next year, Randy entered his first year of study at the Medical College of Georgia.

“She went through medical school with me,” Randy says.

“In a house with no air conditioning in Augusta, Georgia,” Jane adds. “And pregnant.”

“She’s a tough, tough girl,” Randy says, beaming at his wife.


Later, the couple moved to Jane’s hometown of Winston-Salem for Randy’s internship and residency at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, then on to Greensboro for private practice in 1982.

“We loved Fisher Park,” Jane says, “but, back then, younger kids were picked up early and bussed a long way to school.” The Jacksons didn’t want their 5-year-old daughter, Alice, and 8-year-old son, Freeman, spending so much time aboard a bus.

So they settled into a small house on Elmwood Drive in Irving Park.

“There were 28 kids on that street who were between my two children’s ages,” Jane says.

“I would come home from the hospital and be attacked by these little kids,” Randy laughs. “I’m not talking about one or two. I’m talking about a whole herd of them!”

“And we had Page High School kids, too,” Jane adds.


Remembering how important sports had been to him as a youth, Randy decided to spring for a “sport court” in the backyard of their house.

“And there we were,” Jane says, “inundated with all this medical school debt.”

Randy’s facility had a basketball hoop and tennis nets. Children played there constantly, and neighborhood dads enjoyed pickup basketball games, too.

“It was like a community center,” Jane recalls. “We used to call it Jackson Park.” They smile, reflecting on the memories.

“So we lived there for a while and then we moved to another house a little bit bigger a couple blocks away,” Randy says. “Then our kids finished high school . . .”

“And went off to college,” Jane finishes.

With Freeman and Alice out of the nest, you may think we’ve come to the point in the story where the Jacksons will purchase the graceful, cedar-sided Fisher Park house where we’re sitting, with its metal-picketed fence draped with ivy and thick-columned front porch festooned with wisteria.

Nowhere near it.


Not long after the Jacksons had moved into their first little house on Elmwood, they purchased property in Summerfield.

“Randy had always wanted a farm,” Jane explains.

“We had nothing on it,” Randy says. “Just land and a pond.”

One evening, while the Jacksons were attending a pop-up supper at a home in Irving Park, they noticed a picture of a log cabin hanging over the fireplace. Seeing their interest, one of the guests commented, “There’s a cabin like that up in Virginia near Smith Mountain Lake.”

“Maybe you’d like something like that on your farm,” he added.

To which Jane replied, “I’d love that.”

The price for the log cabin was reasonable, but it would have to be dismantled and moved to the Jacksons’ property.

“So I thought, maybe I could put it up!” Randy laughs. “I’m strong, I used to play football!”


After the cabin in Virginia had been thoroughly photographed and the logs meticulously numbered, it was Jane who followed the truck transporting them to Summerfield.

“Those logs aren’t what you see in tobacco barns,” Jane says. “They’re 16-inch oak and chestnut.”

Thinking she’d like the cabin situated with a view of the pond, she guided the truck to that corner of the property to unload.

“They dumped them like a huge pile of pickup sticks!” Randy exclaims. “And each one of those pickup sticks weighed 300 or 400 pounds.”

Then Jane reconsidered. It was humid near the pond, she reflected, plus they didn’t own the land beyond, so there was no telling how the view might change in the future.

“I don’t feel good about this,” she said to Randy. The logs would have to be moved to another location.

“All I had was a Ford Bronco,” Randy says.

“So I bought an old tractor, a John Deere 1010,” Randy says. “I had a boom and chain I’d hook up to the three-point hitch on the back of the tractor, and I’d put the chain around a log, pick it up and drag it to the new location.” He placed the logs atop rocks to help prevent rot and arranged them by number.

“Sort of like the walls had fallen over,” Randy says. “It took forever.”


“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Jane adds.

They recruited their children on weekends to remove nails and pieces of tarpaper siding that had once covered the logs.

“The kids thought it was like prison camp,” Jane chuckles. “They’d call all their friends, trying to get them to come help.”

Eventually the Jacksons built a shelter to keep the old logs out of the rain. That was the first structure on the property.

Randy asks Jane if she remembers how long the process took.

“Six years,” Jane answers, and pauses. “You know, they built the Biltmore in six years.”

She’s right —1889 to 1895 — and we share a big laugh.

Finally, the time came when the Jacksons were ready to have a foundation built and begin erecting the logs. After much research and reading, Randy decided that the task might be more than he and his antique tractor could undertake.

While driving out U.S. Highway 220 at Guilford Courthouse National Battleground Park, he’d noticed that a log barn and log house were being restored. One day when he saw men working, he decided to stop and speak with them.

There he introduced himself to the man who seemed to be supervising the work, Si Rothrock.

“I know where there’s a log house on the ground that has logs bigger and fatter than those logs,” Randy said to Rothrock. “Furthermore, the logs don’t have cathedral notches or half-dovetails, they have full dovetails.”

“You know where there’s a house like that?” Rothrock asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Randy said. “It’s only a few miles from here.”

Turns out, Rothrock was one of the owners of Reidsville Building Supply Co., a business founded in 1920 by Rothrock’s grandfather. Over the years, Rothrock had become an expert at restoring old log houses.

“He’s like a genius,” Randy says. “He could write books.”

Rothrock agreed to ride out to Summerfield with Randy to have a look. When they arrived, he began to examine the logs closely.

“This is a very rare thing you’ve got here,” Randy recalls Rothrock saying.

He told Randy because of the large size of the logs and the fact that they were fashioned with full dovetail corners, the cabin likely was built by German workmen sometime before the Revolutionary War.

“Something like this shouldn’t be wasted,” Rothrock said. “Maybe somebody who knows something about it should put this up.”

Randy agreed.

The Jacksons tell me how they marveled at the craftsmanship of Rothrock’s subcontractors. They were rough-and-tumble country boys, but they were true artists in stone and wood.

“I loved watching the stone mason,” Jane says. “You wouldn’t believe how big those boulders he worked with were. He was unbelievable.”

“His name was Frank Norton,” Randy says. “He had the best eye.” Randy tells me how the cabin foundation looks like dry stack stone from the outside, but, in fact, is held by mortar on the inside.

Even with experienced, knowledgeable workmen, “it was a long, drawn-out process,” Randy says.

Some of the original logs were in such poor condition that replacements had to be made. Randy took this handiwork on himself, cutting trees on the property and shaping them using a broadaxe, just as German workmen would’ve done back in the day.

Cleaning the old logs, and fashioning and curing new ones continued. Sometimes they were hoisted by crane into position, only to be lowered back down because the dovetails didn’t fit properly and had to be redone.


Jane recalls a plumber having trouble getting the right size elbow to install under the house. He came inside and asked to use the phone, not realizing that she could hear his conversation from the kitchen.

Jane remembers him saying to his buddy on the phone, “You won’t believe this place, it’s like The Beverly Hillbillies.”

There was a pause, and then he said, “No, before they got the crude.” Again, we enjoy a good laugh.

And the Jacksons continued to pitch in with the work. Jane installed the molding for the kitchen windows and trimmed the pantry. Randy concentrated on the never-ending task of chinking logs. They both sanded the floors by hand — some of them wood from the original cabin, some reclaimed lumber from an old schoolhouse.

“There’s absolutely nothing about this place that is anything but unusual,” Randy says.

The cabin had one bathroom. Up a stairway from the living room was a bedroom they called “the barracks,” which featured five single beds where they could pack in children coming home from college with their friends. And there was a snug little bedroom under the roofline of the kitchen. The Jacksons built a shed onto the cabin that begat another, including a large, bright sunroom.

“The house is like a chambered nautilus,” says Jane. “One thing after another.”

With the cabin now habitable and the children no longer at home, the Jacksons sold their Irving Park house and moved to Summerfield, where they remained full-time for 12 years. Daughter Alice was married at the farm. When grandchildren came along, they celebrated birthdays there and played in the pastures and woods.

“Why would you want to live anywhere else?” visiting friends would often ask the Jacksons.

Which brings us to the city house.

“Randy’s still practicing medicine then, and there’s a hospital merger,” Jane recalls.

That meant that he was on call to hospitals in Reidsville, Randleman, Siler City, Lake Norman, Statesville and elsewhere.

“Sometimes I’d be driving home after being up all night and fall asleep in the car,” Randy adds.

The Jacksons decided they needed a place in Greensboro, which is more centrally located. They were looking for a small townhome or even an apartment.

But when a tennis buddy told Randy about a home in Fisher Park on the market, the Jacksons decided to have a look in the neighborhood that had first attracted them.

“The way the house smelled, the way it looked, reminded me so much of my Grandma’s house,” Randy says. “She was the neatest lady.”

Though they knew they didn’t need the space, Randy and Jane decided they had to have this lovely old place.

“It’s an illness,” Jane laughs.

The house had once been on the Greensboro Symphony Guild’s Tour of Homes, and a News & Record article described the big front porch as its most impressive feature. The house was designed by Greensboro architect Raleigh James Hughes in the colonial revival style and was built about 1915 for F. P. Hobgood, a local attorney.

“A subsequent owner, Cadillac dealer E. B. Adamson, made considerable changes to the house in 1949,” the N&R article continues. Adamson oversaw the creation of “a 9-foot-wide hall that runs through the house and opens onto a backyard garden.”

“With its 10-foot ceiling, hardwood floor and spacious feel, the hall is the home’s second most dramatic feature,” the article concludes.

Most any visitor would agree.


While the Jacksons made improvements when they purchased the house in 2004, they’ve just recently finished another renovation, converting a sleeping porch, small bathroom and what had been a study for a previous owner, retired Guilford College professor Bill Carroll, into a large master bedroom on the first floor — as had been specified in the architect’s original drawings — along with a spacious bathroom.

The Jacksons give me a tour. Jane points out the many windows and tells me how light floods the rooms, especially in the morning. They show me the new powder room for party guests, and where the Christmas tree gets placed in the hall for the holidays.

“We’ve been in this house as long as any house we’ve been in, other than the farm,” Randy says, as I’m preparing to leave. “We love this place.”

“We goofed with the grandchildren, though,” Jane says.

There are six grandkids in all — three in Charlotte and three in Wilmington.

Randy explains that he’s asked the older grandchildren if he ever needed to sell the farm, would that be a problem? He tells me they solemnly informed him they would get together with their parents and buy the farm.

“With their allowances,” Jane adds, a twinkle in her eye.

“So many memories,” Randy says. “We could never sell the farm.”  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a contributing writer to O.Henry. His historical novel, Forsaken, is available at bookstores and online.

Simple Abundance

A colorful and lush garden embodies the spirit of its gardener

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman


Martha Yarborough has been up since 7 a.m., the thermostat hovering at 80 degrees and nary a breeze. A lesser person would have stayed in the shade.

But not Yarborough, a petite, energetic woman in a state of perpetual, sunny-side-up motion.

Time spent weeding, hoeing, mulching, watering and fussing in 3 acres of flower beds and veggie gardens is meditative therapy for the scrappy gardener. Most of her gardens are recently created, and by her own hand.

“The gardens happened as you see them in the last three or four years.” Transformative, productive years. One sign placed by a pathway simply reads, “Gratitude.”

She insists she couldn’t be happier during these solitary hours. Nor more grateful. “On a perfect day, I’m out in the yard doing gardening, heavy labor. I enjoy people and being connected. I enjoy entertaining a lot.” But, Yarborough emphasizes, “my alone time is in the garden.”

“Listen, I feel very strongly, when we are blessed,” she adds, “we are commissioned to bless others. Gardening presents life lessons all the time. When you’re cutting flowers, giving them away, it’s cyclical. The more you give away, the more that comes.” 

“I learned from fellow gardeners and I started doing things,” she says. “You can’t be afraid; if it doesn’t work out you just change it.”

Almost organically, Yarborough found a daily rhythm. After rigorous gardening follows meditation, or reading from favorite writer Sarah Breathnach’s Simple Abundance.

She will later work with a charitable interest in town, hike or cycle.

But occasionally, Yarborough gardens for 10 hours at a go.

In the Triad, Yarborough is best known for her devotion to education, arts and culture. This May, she hosted a Shared Radiance Performing Arts production of Shakespeare in the Garden, featuring Richard III, each act taking place in differing locations on the property. The War of the Roses was waged amidst actual roses, with an actual black steed and knight in armor making a convincing appearance on her front lawn. 

Yarborough had seen the horse and rider at another event, and convinced them to come to the outdoor theatrical fundraiser.


“I take it to the hilt,” she admits. “Anything.” 

She is especially supportive of working women. “I am 78, so I would like to be living an engaged life . . . being involved in my community and with family and friends.”

Until her husband Gordon’s death in 2006 following a 20-month battle with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease, the couple dedicated themselves to education and civic projects. Gordon, aka Yogi, owned High Point furniture concern, Yarborough and Company. (She wisecracks: “Not the most original name, huh?”) 

While her husband excelled in business, Yarborough dedicated herself to education and students with special needs, ultimately working as a coordinator with exceptional children in the Guilford County Schools. In 2015, Yarborough gave $1 million to her alma mater, Greensboro College, funding scholarships.

In the mid-70s, Yarborough and Yogi moved to a mini-farm rimmed with a pond and pastures, where they raised sons Preston and Austin. When the boys were teens, she reentered the workplace and resumed teaching at-risk and special-needs students for 16 years, retiring in 2008.

But with newfound time, Yarborough leaned into gardening for its many benefits, becoming a Master Gardener in both Guilford and Davidson counties. Her gardens exponentially expanded.

Yarborough has survived more than one ordeal to arrive at this particular place of grace and fearlessness. “I learned from fellow gardeners and I started doing things,” she says. “You can’t be afraid; if it doesn’t work out you just change it.”

Sitting in the sunroom surrounded with floral paintings, she has her computer stationed with a view of the gardens. Recently installed solar lights become glowing orbs at dusk, making the garden “look like a fairyland!”


Offering a tour, Yarborough grabs a hat, surveying newly created beds in the front of the house where none existed merely a year ago. (There was a dirt track for her son’s bikes once, she points out.)

Notably, a winding path is named the Simple Abundance walk.

She stops and kneels, naming plants by both their common and botanical names. “These little seeds . . .” she coos, bending over an immaculate bed. “These seeds! You plant them and they turn into something so beautiful! It never ceases to amaze me!”

“Then, when people have given you plants — and I have plants from people who have died — I feel they are living right on,” Yarborough smiles, rising up to her feet.

How does she do this, all by herself? She thinks of her acreage like a house, albeit one with uninvited guests.

“In my head, I have many rooms. And you can’t work on every room every day. You have deer that come. You have varmints that come in . . . and you have to work around it.” She adds, “The deer have eaten all my day lilies but you have to move on!” 

Yarborough’s face clouds briefly while inspecting another bed. Vividly pink and leggy cleome, which seem to be taking over, must come out. “It’s too much!” 

She walks across colorful, hand-painted stepping stones (she is painting at least another 80 to complete a new pathway) en route to a vegetable garden, enclosed with a fence featuring a mural created by artist Dana Holliday. 

“Advice from a Butterfly” adorns the wooden fence boards. “Take yourself lightly,” is the core message, along with letting your true colors show. Holliday painted another mural of red poppies featured at the rear of Yarborough’s fastidious ranch home.

Meanwhile, Holliday, who also hikes, is in the British Cotswolds. But she emailed questions to pose to her good friend. “What drives Martha, and where does she get her endless energy and enthusiasm?” she wondered. “She can fall off a 40-foot cliff in Nova Scotia and not only survive, but come home and do a TV interview.”

A cliff?

It seems that five years ago, the 5-foot, 1-inch, 100-pounder fell into a ravine and was airlifted to a hospital by rescuers with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

But that traumatic event seems to be shrugged off, relegated to a footnote in Yarborough’s colorful and intrepid life. 

In short, she has long since moved on to climb another mountain. “You only live once,” Yarborough says firmly.

What she prefers discussing is having a purpose in life.

So, she talks about education, the arts, fundraising — the cliff story comes much later, after she has walked the farm. Wearing a teal-colored hat and her face wreathed in smiles, Yarborough points out the many plantings identified with descriptive markers: Blackberry lilies. Callas. Lambs ear. Dahlias. Allium.  Poppies. Lenten roses. More lilies. Clematis.

Flower beds blossom everywhere the eye falls, each lovingly nurtured. Each appropriate to its season.


“As you know,” she says, “gardening’s a lot of work. I love the manual labor. I’m not a designer. I’m a worker.”

Is this all her own work?

“I just have a mower,” Yarborough answers, meaning a man who mows the property. The weeding, the planting, the tending, she says firmly, allowing herself a modicum of pride, are hers alone.

There is detectable pride, too, in Women in Motion, which she helped found in 2015. This initiative supports working women in High Point, Jamestown, Archdale and Trinity. 

More stories tumble out. 

Yarborough describes a side gig, ushering at the Greensboro Coliseum since 2006, in order to enjoy events like bull riding, which tickle her. “I wasn’t going to sit home,” she confides, staying even busier following Yogi’s death.   

Then, pandemic isolation grounded her. She coped by staying in motion, walking and cycling. “I called a friend and I said, ‘Let’s hike every trail in Greensboro!’ We walked 10–12 miles a day.”

She learned to find joy in ordinary moments and purpose in rescuing animals.

Only after exhausting all subjects does Yarborough settle into the Canadian misadventure.

The calibration of the conversation changes, slowing. 

In 2017, she was hiking with the travel group, “Roads Scholars,” in Nova Scotia. “It was our first day out — a group of about 15 of us, with no cell phones. So, we went up to these waterfalls. And looking up, I said, ‘I want to go on up there.’ So about six of us went up the mountain. Coming down, I moved over to let somebody by me. The bank gave way. I fell 40 feet into a rock ravine. No cell phone coverage and so . . . ” Her voice trails off. 

Somersaulting to the bottom of a stony ravine, Yarborough fell atop the backpack that saved her.

“People thought I had died. They said I flipped over. Well . . . I remember, vaguely, sitting up, and then they knew I wasn’t dead,” Yarborough explains with preternatural calm.

“They airlifted me to the hospital in Halifax [Nova Scotia]. The only thing I had was a broken collar bone and a punctured lung! It was absolutely unbelievable.”

“The Canadian Mounted Police called my son Preston and said, ‘Your mother has fallen off a mountain. You need to come get her.’” 

In a few days, hospital staff asked Yarborough, “‘Where do you think you’ll be staying for the next two weeks? Because you cannot fly.’ So, Preston, who works for the Center for Creative Leadership, was in Vermont,” she recalls. “He took me to Boston. Then my son in Austin flew in and took me home.”

The aftermath of this trauma?


“I don’t have time to waste,” she says matter-of-factly of her recovery.

The next year, she hiked Montana’s Glacier National Park. She threw herself even more energetically into life. 

“I love people,” she offers, by way of explanation. Seeking connection, she hiked, biked, camped, traveled and sought every possible outlet in the natural world.

Mostly, Yarborough devoted more time to her gardens, carving 3 of 9 acres expressly for beauty, flowers and vegetables. 

Six acres remain in pasture where farm animals graze and find sanctuary. One of her two miniature donkeys, two of the three goats and a miniature horse have been rescued. Most are from Red Dog Farm Animal Rescue Network.   

At meal time, the diminutive animals come running, nearly bowling their petite mistress over. No pushover, Yarborough firmly takes charge, ordering the more aggressive goat to give shyer animals space.

“I think when I fell and not only survived, but survived without a lot of physical traumas, I realized I was left here for a reason,” Yarborough says while feeding her menagerie of animals. “It’s important to live every day with purpose.”

“People who don’t know me think I’m prim and proper all the time . . . but I’m not. I don’t perceive myself as coming across that way. Because I’m real. I try to be real.”

But people knew her that way before, didn’t they?

Yarborough pauses. She thought so. But she’s loosening up, she admits later. She is hosting a group of women for a Grace and Frankie night with a dinner she will cook, and howls at how funny the Netflix series is.

Later, she emails to say “I was in my garden at 6:45 a.m. today.” 

A week later, Yarborough sends a short message while camping during 95-degree weather and torrential rains. “Guess where I camped last week? Hagan-Stone Park. Tent. [Friend] Sherry Raeford and I camped together.” 

Near her driveway is a sign, a coda, visible while leaving:

“For each of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover. And a being within ourselves to bring to life.”  OH

Home Grown

Picture This

Adventures in leveling up a home


By Cynthia Adams

As the homeowners run errands, a TV Land remodeling team sneaks in and transforms their grubby home.

Junk is hurled out and carpet ripped up! But guess what else? Someone eventually has to hang the damn artwork.

Inspired, I launched our own home refresh, reorienting furniture, dragging sofas and chairs from one room to another.

Which eventually necessitated moving artwork. Picture hanging inevitably involves hammering nails into our plaster walls, something that hasn’t always gone well in the past.

Nails are trouble with a capital T.

Trouble, as when a construction worker consulted a dentist, who found a six-inch nail in the roof of his mouth, shot clear into his brain. (No doubt, he had been farting away with a nail gun.) 

The dentist – also male – congratulated him that if you had to have a nail in the brain, his was lodged in the ideal place.

Strangely, picture rehanging seemed to suddenly interest my husband for one reason: a new laser level. He ripped it from the package, casting a glowing red line, like Star Wars weaponry. I wanted to rehang the pair of pictures, not destroy them. 

He hung the first. “’Bout right?”  he muttered manly, nails held in his mouth, eyeing the second. 

Then he placed the fist-sized gizmo onto the wall. The red line snaked around the corner, leading into the hallway. 

Grunting slightly, he held the second picture wire by yet another gadget. 

“Now,” he announced, squinting appraisingly, “I will align the next picture.”

The red laser was so mesmerizing I fell to thinking of ways to harness its powers. Before suggesting things that required aligning, like the washing machine, my husband commanded, “Now!”

“Now what?!”

“Now you must help me determine if the second frame aligns properly with the first.”

Well, duh! It suddenly seemed that the project was tipping unfairly from he who possessed fancy tools to me, who possessed only naked vision.

As I spied with my little eyes, the pictures appeared altogether wonky.

“Why aren’t you helping?” he complained.

“Helping how?”

“Can’t you make sure the pictures are STRAIGHT?” He perched on the top of a chair, dangling the second picture from the picture hanging tool. “Look, I can’t hold this much longer,” he panted.

“Hmm,” I said uncertainly.

“Hmm – what?” he shouted. “Is it STRAIGHT?”

“Isn’t that what the laser thingy is for?” I retorted. 

He climbed down from the chair, fixing me with a stare.  “It probably IS. But…” he floundered. “I didn’t . . .”

A long pause. 

“. . . read the instructions before I hung the first picture.”

Taking the picture from his hands, I gave him a dirty look.

He shot the laser around the room, taking aim at a sleeping schnauzer.

“Stop it!”  I commanded.

Sheepishly turning off the laser, he chewed his lip. 

“What good is that thing?” I scoffed.

“Well. It’s a great tool,” he retorted.

With our bare eyes and hands, heaving and fussing, we managed to get the heavy pictures reasonably realigned.

After which, I noticed a series of braille-like puncture marks in the wall.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing.

“Uh, that’s where I affixed the laser level to the wall,” he replied.

“You mean it makes holes in the wall!?” 

“That’s the only thing I don’t like about it,” he answered. Dead serious. 

“Well, I never!” I huffed, before suggesting we plug the holes with toothpaste, a trick I’d read somewhere. He scowled and retreated to the basement. As I repaired to the bathroom for toothpaste, I grabbed my sonic toothbrush, too. I returned to find my husband swiping paint across the puncture holes. 

Removing the pulsing toothbrush, I gurgled through the froth, “Look!”

“What now?”

The paint he’d dabbed over the puncture marks was a different shade.

Next year, I swear, he’s getting the Handyman Paint Matcher for his birthday. OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.