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“Why didn’t you tell me?” the woman — wild-eyed, disbelieving and somewhat hysterically — called over to where I was standing slightly hidden behind the next set of gas pumps.

Why, indeed? I asked myself before replying truthfully that I’d been afraid she’d resent my interference.

“I was being selfish,” I called back. “I feared you’d say something nasty in return.”

Lessons, when we’re open to them, can come in the strangest places. Even, I learned, at gasoline stations in Hazelwood.

I was making the trek from Sylva to Lake Junaluska one day last week when the light that indicates my car is low on fuel flashed red on the dash. I drove down the exit to Hazelwood and pulled into a gas pump at one of the service stations there.

I noticed the woman pumping gas in front of me almost immediately. She was worthy of notice — thin and harried looking, she was puffing, dragon-like, on a cigarette while fueling up her car.

‘Oh, gosh,’ I thought to myself.

(Actually, I thought ‘Oh, shit,’ but this is a family newspaper, after all. At least some sort of family, if not by any possible stretch of the imagination that traditional nuclear family editors and publishers are referring to when they stifle writers’ creativity and free speech rights with the ‘we’re a family newspaper’ warning. Even so, this publication certainly could be considered a newspaper for some strange dysfunctional family that really should be in therapy working on their weirdo issues … but I digress. And, I need my job, after all. But I do want it noted that I respected newspaper conventionality by writing “gosh” even though I’ve never used such a wimpy word in my life. But I’ve certainly said and thought “shit” on any number of occasions, so dear reader please mentally replace “gosh” with that Great Unmentionable curse word. Or you can mentally do the stupid newspaper bow of conventionality to those fictional sensitive traditional families editors and publishers worry about: ‘shxx.’)

So, I think to myself: ‘Jiminy Cricket, that woman is smoking a cigarette. What should I do? Tell her?’

Then Selfish Me surfaced. I thought, surely Harried Woman realized that she had a cigarette dangling from her lips. Periodically Harried Woman reached up with one hand to whip out said cigarette and wave it about, gesticulating like some mad orchestral conductor, in emphasis to some point or another she was making to an individual seated in the car.

Selfish Me next thought, ‘Holy Cow, Batman. Am I far enough away that if she blows herself up I’ll be safe? Will the ensuing fireball incinerate me in a horrible conflagration? What if I step behind my Mini Cooper — is it big enough to protect me? Why didn’t I buy an SUV, or a Humvee? No, the Cooper is too small. I’ll shelter behind the gasoline pumps.”

Even in the moment I realized that sheltering behind gasoline pumps from a possible fireball was stupid. But Selfish Me felt more protected there than not.

What was interesting, in retrospect, is how quickly I had forgotten the lessons of a parable I’d just read and thought deeply about. It’s Chinese or Japanese in origin, and is very old indeed. It goes something like this: A bunch of vine squashes one day started quarreling and fighting amongst themselves in the field. A priest, hearing them bicker, came out of his hut. He ordered them to quit harassing each other. The priest taught them meditation techniques. After a time, the squash grew calm and quiet. The priest then told them to reach up and feel the top of their heads. The squash did as they were told, and discovered the vine that connected them together. Realizing their interconnectedness, that they were really one, the squash after that got along with each other very well indeed and worked to resolve any differences.

I was contemplating interconnectedness on my way to Lake Junaluska when I stopped to buy gasoline. Somewhere deep inside I believe there was a small kernel of self-satisfaction regarding my obvious spiritual growth and unique ability to grasp ancient parables.

Harried Woman squashed that glow right into the ground.

It turns out that Harried Woman became harried because she had such difficulty getting gasoline. She was irritated by having to go inside the service station to pay first before pumping.

Harried Woman, I believe, learned a lesson that day, too: a bit of mindfulness goes a long way, and walking 30 feet extra doesn’t seem such a big deal when you almost blow yourself up because of mindlessness.

Selfish Me learned something, too: I’ve gotta long way to go.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Western North Carolina residents will be well served by the merger of the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and the Little Tennessee Watershed Association.

The merger undoubtedly makes sense from an administrative and fund-raising perspective, something employees and board members emphasized in an article in last week’s edition of The Smoky Mountain News. It will give the LTLT (the new organization will retain that name) added resources as it expands its scope in the six westernmost counties, particularly in the Tuckasegee and Hiawassee watersheds.

Perhaps more importantly, however, the merger is a manifestation of the progressive approach to conservation that leaders of these two organizations have helped promote during the last several decades.

“We already had plans to broaden our scope and the areas we touch,” said Ken Murphy, board chairman of the LTLT. “Land and water are almost inseparable.”

That concept — that protecting land in turns help protect the water resources — sounds like common sense. Making it happen in the real world, however, isn’t so easy. LTLT and LTWA volunteers and employees have put together an admirable record of achievement over the years. By researching and providing data on the unique characteristics of the Little Tennessee watershed, these organizations convinced government officials, granting agencies and private entities that protecting the Little Tennessee River watershed was worthwhile.

When I first started covering this region as a reporter and editor, two people who have played a critical role in the LTLT and LTWA became trusted sources and ultimately friends. Paul Carlson and Bill McLarney helped me to understand that in today’s world, conservation isn’t just about locking up land in it wilderness state. The idea that there can be multiple and varied uses and therefore creative ways to preserve land and water was new to me. That approach has made these two organizations more successful than most at bridging political differences and building coalitions.

The LTWA and LTLT aren’t out there alone, that’s for sure. There are many land trusts, environmental groups, watershed associations and individuals who have done yeoman’s work to protect land and water in this region. Ten years ago when development pressures had many of us fearful that much of the rural and wilderness land remaining in the mountains would soon by lost, these voices were often drowned out.

It’s important that the new Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and the other environmental groups succeed in adapting to the changing fiscal and political landscape. That’s the only way these organizations will survive and thrive in the decades to come, and their continued success is necessary to preserve the way of life we cherish in Western North Carolina.

January is a time for new beginnings; nowhere is that more true than in the garden.

A difficult task for newcomers to Western North Carolina who want to garden, or for first-timers to gardening, is an absence of good information on what vegetables to begin planting when.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service has when-to-begin lists on its website and at  local offices. Frankly, though useful as a baseline, the state’s lists aren’t in my experience particularly helpful. That’s because the agency isn’t daring in its recommended growing practices, doesn’t factor in the use of protective covering and compiled the lists with traditional growers in mind.

Nothing wrong with any of those things, but traditional WNC growers were and are more interested in summer produce: corn, tomatoes, okra and squash. There’s much more out there than that. And much more fun to be had during our lengthy growing season than in just planting traditional garden mainstays.

If you have a greenhouse, an indoor growlight setup or a sunny place near the window, you can get started with this year’s garden now. During my stint farming in Bryson City I compiled a seed-starting list. I thought I’d share the first few months of the year in this space, and perhaps the remainder of the list in upcoming columns. I do need to take the time to tweak the list based on later farming journals I kept. Some of the Asian vegetables I became interested in aren’t well represented.

A few caveats are in order. Bear in mind that I was growing for farmers markets, and that I was farming for a financial living. This meant I was aggressive with my start dates. I wanted to be the first into market, if possible, with various vegetables. Factor in that I was farming at about 2,000 feet in elevation on a southerly slope. The average last frost date in that location is May 10. If you live in higher elevations, adjust my starting dates by roughly two (or more) weeks.

 

Mid January

• First round cabbage, broccoli to plant later under row cover.

 

Last week January

• Second round cabbage, broccoli (can continue planting in greenhouse through February as needed).

• Peppers (can continue into February as needed, helps germination to start on a heating mat. Must be transplanted into continually bigger containers).

• Artichokes (you can “trick” artichokes into growing in WNC by introducing the plants to various temperatures in their first weeks of life. Perhaps I’ll write on that topic more fully at a later date).

 

First week February

• Leeks.

• Head lettuces.

• Chives, thyme, other herbs (continue planting through February, March as needed).

 

Second or third week February

• Parsley.

In garden toward end of February, first week of March weather permitting, (be prepared to cover transplants when temperatures threaten to drop lower than 20 degrees):

• Transplant lettuce, broccoli and cabbage into garden.

• Direct seed leaf lettuce, snow peas, English peas, carrots, boc choi, onion sets, spinach, radishes, beets (keep succession growing through late winter into spring).

 

First week March

• Start tomatoes in greenhouse (Must be transplanted into continually bigger containers in greenhouse).

• Start eggplant.

 

Second week March

• Plant potatoes in garden.

• Direct seed kohlrabi in the garden.

• In greenhouse, marigolds, zinnias, ageratum, if you enjoy cutting flowers.

April

Continue transplanting in greenhouse. Direct seed in garden:

• Beets, onion sets (for green onions), radishes.

• Direct seed cilantro, pole or bush beans, first planting of soybeans, and sweet corn when the soil warm (old-timers here in the mountains planted early corn when the dogwood blooms).

 

Early to mid May

• Plant leek transplants into garden.

• Direct seed okra into garden.

• Direct seed basil, can plant later, too, to have with ripe tomatoes.

Succession soybeans, beets, onion sets, radishes.

• Direct seed summer squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin.

• Transplant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers as weather permits.

• Direct seed red noodle bean (an Asia bean I’m particularly fond of).

 

Mid to late May

• Direct seed winter squash, spaghetti and butternut squashes.

• Under row cover, grow succession plantings of summer ‘lettuce’ mix: mizuna, kale, collards, tatsoi, red giant mustard, arugula. Use as cut-and-come again, harvest immature for raw salads. Replant short row every two weeks or so for summer use.

• Plant sweet potato slips.

• Plant chard, if haven’t already, also Malabar spinach, dill.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

It was pouring last Wednesday as I drove home, the cold rain  painting the winter landscape a dull grey. Standing on the sidewalk outside the Haywood County Courthouse was a single peace protester, his raincoat losing the battle against the forces of nature. The lone sentinel was from a group that has stood watch each Wednesday at the courthouse for years, I believe since a short time after the Iraq invasion in March 2003. I think on this day it was Doug Wingeier, a peace activist who has penned letters and guest columns in this paper and others, a man who has traveled the world to promote peace and understanding, a person whom I’ve admired from afar for years.

I usually honk in solidarity with the protesters. It would be incorrect to label myself a pacifist, but I certainly identify with those who advocate an end to war and the settling of political divisions that send too many people to early graves from bombs, bullets, starvation or sickness. I also tap on my horn as a symbol of support for these individuals themselves, who with their stoic, multi-year vigil are a living example of standing up for one’s ideals.

On this day, however, I almost missed Doug and therefore did not get to acknowledge his efforts. I also didn’t have time to read his sign, so I don’t know what it may have said. I could see the magic marker running down the cardboard, though, reminding me of a mother’s tear-streaked eye make-up.

It was the news on the radio that had my attention. U.S. Marines had been videotaped pissing on the bodies of insurgents they (presumably) had killed in Afghanistan. The news had just broke, so condemnation was pouring in from U.S. government and foreign leaders. Inhumane. Disgraceful. Deplorable. I had watched the video prior to leaving the office, and it was painful to watch the smirking young soldiers do the deed.

I won’t talk about how idiotic these soldiers were for taking part in this episode and then for letting it be filmed. They deserve to be reprimanded, perhaps court-martialed. We can rest assured the military will take stern measures.

Most Americans know nothing of war, don’t even know what it’s like as civilians to make sacrifices for a war effort. The latter is, in its own way, shameful. We can read books and watch video footage and get the idea, but that’s not real. When it’s your life or the guy in the bunker across the valley, or when a friend is in mortal danger, things happen.  You act, and what you do may not leave a sense of pride, but you just do it. I grew up in a military town as Vietnam was ending, and I had many very good friends with fathers who were just never right after that war. They had lost something, and many of those men are reaching the end of their lives still trying to get it back.

Wars are promulgated by leaders in nice suits sitting in soft chairs in Kabul and Washington, by warlords in the Middle East fighting for a way of life in a place where most have never experienced what Americans know as freedom. They are the ones who put those young Marines out in the desert where all they can do is try to survive and find their way home, where mistakes will be made, and we would do well to remember that before throwing out blanket condemnations.

War is inhumane, disgraceful, deplorable. Those peace activists standing out there in front of the Haywood County Courthouse every Wednesday trying to get our politicians to end these wars have been trying to tell us that for all these years.  

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

In spite of Scott McLeod’s assertion that “it would be hard to argue otherwise” in his column (“Vote on NCAE dues a slap in the face to teachers,” The Smoky Mountain News, Jan 11 edition), I am going to give it a try.

I am not an apologist for the N.C. House of Representatives, but their leadership determines their agenda, not the governor. The legislature was called back into session to consider the veto override of S9, No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty. The Senate overrode the veto in a 31-19 partisan vote. The House did not have the votes but instead referred it to the House Committee on Judiciary for future consideration.  

Speaker Thom Tillis has been very candid from the start in telling members that the governor’s vetoes could be considered at any time when the legislature is in session. Consequently, since they were in session they brought up the governor's veto of S727, “No Dues Checkoff for School Employees.” The Senate overrode the veto on July 13, 2011. The House overrode the veto in the early morning hours of Jan. 5. Two Democratic House members were absent due to illness and one Republican member is deployed in Afghanistan. The speaker had the votes to override two other vetoes but chose not to do so at that time.

There has been much misinformation put forward about S727. It is not an assault on teachers or education, merely an end to the practice of the state being the dues collection agency for the NCAE. The citizens of North Carolina should not be forced to bear the cost for collecting NCAE dues. That should be the responsibility of the NCAE. I am sure the teachers that choose to be NCAE members can find an alternative to the automatic dues checkoff, e.g., electronic funds transfer from their personal checking account.

Considering the NCAE is a thinly veiled lobbying group for Democrats, it should be no surprise that it does not have many sympathizers in the Republican ranks. More than 98 percent of the NCAE campaign donations go to Democrats.

During my 10 year service as a Macon County commissioner, I voted for every capital facilities improvement in Macon County Schools since 1997, investments of more than $50 million. For the first time in more than 35 years there will be no mobile classrooms at the start of the 2012-13 school year. That is a record I’m proud of and a testimony to the value Macon citizens place on their public schools. In spite of that record, the NCAE chose to spend thousands of dollars on mailers that contained misleading information and/or outright lies about my record. So, is the NCAE for education or is the NCAE for the Democrat Party? My personal experience makes me wonder.

I have met no person in the Legislature who is interested in an “orchestrated evisceration of the state’s public schools,” as was stated in the column. I have met many who are interested in improving public education so that students are better prepared to compete in a global economy. Our results are not adequate at this time and it will take more than money to improve them.

Your readers should be reminded that H200, the bipartisan budget passed for this biennium, cut K-12 education budget 0.5 percent more than the governor's recommended budget. Hardly the draconian cuts described by some. That does not include the $60 to $100 million the governor wanted to pass on to local governments for school bus purchases. Ask your county commissioners what they thought of that idea. The legislature worked diligently to craft a budget so that our state was fiscally sound. We have begun that journey but there is still much work to do.  

The present legislature inherited a $2.5 billion deficit, a $2.6 billion debt to the federal government for unemployment compensation, $7 billion in tax supported debt, a $2.8 billion underfunded state employee retirement system, a $40 million underfunded consolidated judicial retirement system, a $40 million underfunded National Guard retirement system, and a $32.8 billion unfunded liability for retiree health insurance benefits. The legislature would prefer to dedicate more to education programs that work and reward good teachers with merit pay, but those efforts will not reach full fruition until we have our fiscal house in order.

We do agree that teachers should not be held accountable for society’s ills. We cannot continue to dump our problems at the schoolhouse door and expect our teachers, our educational system, to make it all better. To use Mr. McLeod’s own words, “Student achievement still has ground to make up with counterparts around the nation. Many counties have put together quality programs that send students on to college prepared for what lies ahead, but others are lacking.”  

We need to invest in finding out what works and need to stop doing what clearly does not. As we move forward to provide our students with the very best we can offer, we must infuse integrity into our stewardship of funds for education so that those same students will not be shackled with state and nationally imposed debt they will not live long enough to repay. That, sir, is a burden they do not deserve and one against which I will continue to hold my guard.

(Sen. Davis, a Republican, lives in Franklin. His 50th District, after the recent redistricting, covers all of Haywood, Jackson, Swain, Macon, Clay, Cherokee and Graham counties. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Sometimes what we expect to happen doesn’t:

On vacation this week, I stopped in Raleigh and viewed the “Rembrandt in America” exhibit currently showing at the N.C. Museum of Art. I enjoyed the exhibit very much indeed. But what honestly carried far greater emotional impact for me was a secondary exhibit by North Carolina artist Beverly McIver.

McIver is an African-American woman born in Greensboro; she lives now in Durham. McIver’s work to date has focused on her mother, Ethel, who died in 2004. And on Beverly McIver’s mentally disabled sister, Renee, who is in her 50s but has the “mental mindset” of a second-grader.

McIver’s paintings are bold. They are raw and honest. Her rendering of her mother in “Mom Died” literally and unexpectedly brought me to tears. Her mother’s mouth is open, a hole in a white, unfilled-in face. Ethel is lying flat in her hospital bed; the perspective is incredibly pain-filled and heartfelt, unmistakably real.

I have cried listening to certain music performances. I have cried while reading particular books. Never have I been forced to leave an art exhibit because of overwhelming emotion and tears. This was a new, welcome if painful, experience, and Beverly McIver’s powerful paintings are an exciting addition to my life. I look forward to seeing what she will produce in the coming years, and have every intention of tracking her work in various galleries. What a tremendous gift this woman has, and the labor she has clearly invested into mastering her craft is sobering but inspiring.

McIver’s work hangs at the state museum through June 24. Rembrandt’s, by the way, can be viewed through Jan. 22.

•••

Learning dreams really can come true:

I stayed as a guest in a 15-year-old community in Carrboro, Arcadia Co-housing, which residents tout as “a progressive, intentional community governed by consensus.” Amazingly enough, that proud claim rings true — there are 33 families here, each living in their own individual houses. Residents work together to create an interconnected community. Arcadia consists of 16.5 acres of land, but development is limited to five of those acres. The remainder is kept in woods, a field, a pond, a community garden and meadows.

All households are represented on Arcadia’s board of directors. Business meetings are held monthly, there are work signup parties quarterly, steering committee meetings are scheduled monthly, and other meetings (stonings? banishments? The group’s website doesn’t specify) are held “as needed.”

I stayed in a room located in Arcadia’s common house. The group built this common facility, in part, to provide housing for guests. This keeps residents’ houses smaller and absent of guest rooms that would only experience occasional use. There’s a laundry in the common house so that residents don’t have these appliances in their homes, a multipurpose sitting area, rooms geared toward kid activities, extra storage room and a large kitchen with a dining area. Monthly community meals are scheduled, with volunteers doing the cooking.

I’m a raging liberal by almost any definition you choose. But I admit to harboring a certain skepticism when it comes to intentional housing. I would never have believed it could work, much less for 15 years, and furthermore seem really cool and fun.

My friend Kevin Corbin, who is as far to the right as I am to the left, happened to call while I was visiting in Arcadia. He wanted to chat about a particular article I’d written about the commission board in Macon County, which he chairs. Kevin’s son attends UNC-Chapel Hill’s dental school, an odd choice for the scion of such a proud GOP-oriented family. Kevin assures me that UNC’s dental school is different from regular UNC. It is suitably conservative, he said, even for a Corbin.

Kevin laughed when I told him I was in Carrboro. “You know that even the people who live in Chapel Hill think Carrboro is too liberal. Don’t you?” he asked me, clearly amused but also not speaking in jest.

Maybe indeed Arcadia could exist only in a bastion of liberals, but it’s neat indeed that it does work, regardless of where. We could use more Arcadias in our world.

•••

And, finally, the loveliness of our state:

When it comes time for my occasional trips to the beach, I’ve consistently chosen South Carolina because of its relative nearness to Western North Carolina. This vacation, however, I struck out on Interstate 40 and then to the Outer Banks. What a delight this place has proven.

The ocean here is strikingly rough, churning and chopping in unceasing, un-rhythmic, mesmerizing motion. The shells deposited on beaches bear the branding of this unforgiving ocean — they are rarely whole, usually just bits and pieces. There’s a natural beauty to this region that seems unique from other coastal areas I’ve visited. There’s something about being surrounded by so much water that is stunning, and even a bit overwhelming and frightening.

Damage from last year’s hurricane is clearly visible. Driving north down the coast, you come to a heavily hit, abandoned-appearing vacation or second-home community. Porches of houses were sheared, hanging desolate and broken in the sky; house pilings exposed, in places collapsed. Water was everywhere, in areas where water was not wanted or welcome. The place was a disaster.

The sign on the development was unintentionally prescient of what occurred: “Dare to Dream the Impossible Dream,” it read cheerily, a slogan written to entice potential buyers pre-Hurricane Irene.

It seems to me that building in the Outer Banks is a crapshoot. More hurricanes will come; continued erosion is a given, not a guess. Sort of like building in defiance of a mountain’s grain; at least, that’s what this visitor from WNC couldn’t help but think.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

When the state House voted to override Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto and stop letting teachers use payroll deductions to pay dues to the N.C. Association of Educators, a cry went up across the state. The vote came late in the night when the legislature was supposed to be considering another measure; the vote was retribution against the teachers group from Republicans who control the General Assembly because its political contributions went overwhelmingly to Democrats; and it was a further erosion of workers’ rights, a move by the GOP nationwide to weaken workers associations and unions.

All of the above are true. It would be hard to argue otherwise.

By my estimation, though, what’s particularly troubling about this move orchestrated by the General Assembly Republican leadership is that it is potentially just a first step toward what could be an orchestrated evisceration of the state’s public schools. I’m a product of North Carolina public schools, a system that as a whole has never been considered great. Only in the last decade have we increased teacher salaries to a respectable level. Student achievement still has ground to make up with counterparts around the nation. Many counties have put together quality programs that send students on to college prepared for what lies ahead, but others are lacking.

So why take a direct punch at the N.C. Association of Educators? To me that’s like taking a shot at working class people, a charge that the GOP is already having to fight off.

I should point out that my wife is a teacher. Though not active in the NCAE, she was as perturbed as one might expect when I shared the news stories about the vote in the General Assembly. It has to be hard for those who slog away daily in classrooms to think much of legislators who make a career of criticizing public schools and turning teachers into scapegoats for many of society’s ills.

In this case, many conservatives who voted for this measure are arguing that the NCAE isn’t really supportive of better schools, that its leaders are merely about padding their own pockets. That line — that worker groups are more about padding the pockets of its leaders than supporting its front-line workers — is almost always a ludicrous charge.

You know, GOP leaders in the General Assembly are right. Teachers have traditionally supported Democrats. The reason is pretty straightforward: Democrats in North Carolina have led the way as teacher salaries have gone up to a respectable level, as classroom sizes have become manageable, as teacher assistants have become mandatory in the younger grades, as resources have gone toward other early remediation measures designed to get students early intervention to shore up basic skills. When you work to improve the lives and the working environment for a particular group of workers, you earn their loyalty.

By over-riding the governor’s veto, the GOP has only reinforced the belief among teachers that their party doesn’t support our public school system. In this state, the NCAE does not have union-type power. It can’t engage in collective bargaining to demand better conditions for teachers. It can and does hire lobbyists to argue for particular issues.

We have been through a worst-in-a-generation recession, and only now is there a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In this environment, cuts to state programs and to education are painfully necessary. Teachers don’t like the cuts, and they complained about them and used NCAE money to support candidates who vowed to protect public schools.

It’s one thing for elected leaders to get mad about a lack of support from teachers. It’s an entirely different matter for lawmakers to make a political point by punishing an organization for promoting public education. This one was a mistake.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Cutting collards this past weekend, I was surprised to find colonies of purplish-colored aphids under many of the leaves.

That discovery spurred me into a more extensive garden inventory. I discovered several of the more tender greens, such as the Asian introductions Tokyo Bekana and Vitamin Green, bore evidence of feeding insects. There were shotgun patterns of holes marring these tasty plants’ leaves.

When later I jerked a length of row cover from a shelf in the garden storage shed, the abrupt movement disturbed a small village of Asian beetles. The honeybees, too, were actively in search of something to feed upon. But because they fly from the hive at temperatures roughly 50 degrees or warmer, this wasn’t as profound a marker of the unseasonable-ness of our recent weather as other insect types.

This is the first time I can remember such vigorous insect activity this late (or should that be early) in the year. I’m certain we’ve had similar warm, early winter weather in past years; until I became a gardener there was little reason to note such events in my memory bank. Which is an excellent reason, among many excellent reasons, to garden. One immediately becomes an acute, if amateur, observer of nature; and a historian of sorts regarding previous garden seasons and anomalies accompanying them.

The surge of insect activity hadn’t been isolated to the garden. I’d noticed, but not attended to the why, our hens were ranging farther and farther from where their laying pellets are kept. The insect populations clearly must have rebounded elsewhere, too. The hens this past week could be viewed happily tossing the leaf litter on the forest floor like so many industrious chicken leafblowers. They must have been uncovering and devouring newly emerging or reemerging bugs and worms.

The weather forecasters, however, warned of an impending deep freeze while I snacked in front of the local news broadcast hours after devouring a requisite helping of hoppin’ john. The winds indeed were gusting by nightfall of the new year’s first day. A burst of Arctic air, as the television weather woman ominously and breathlessly termed the incoming assault, accompanied most likely by accumulating snow. That sounded brutal, but such cold certainly would prove much more painful for the insects than me, given my ability to hole up, sheltered, by a warm fire. An “Arctic blast” would end not only their unseasonable romps through the garden, but indeed through life.

A New Year’s Day visitor noticed the honeybees flying from the hives perched on the hill above the house and asked how well they winter. Perfectly, I responded, unless they get wet, diseased or starve to death.

Honeybees in cold weather form a cluster, a huddle, to protect themselves and most importantly, to shelter the brood and queen. Honeybees during cold spells will disconnect their wing muscles from their wings. This allows them to more easily vibrate and, in this manner, generate lifesaving and life-giving warmth. The temperature inside of the cluster containing the precious queen and brood has been measured at a consistent, and balmy, 92 degrees.  

The outermost honeybees periodically move into the center of the huddle to stay warm, leaving other honeybees for a time to endure the cold’s brunt on the cluster’s parameter. There is a constant in and out flow to a winter cluster, a cycle as perpetual as the movement of waves on an ocean, ever coming and going. I find this enjoyable to ponder when having an insomniac moment on a cold night.

I have sugar water prepared to go on the hives into hive-top feeders. This should have been fed to the honeybees already, but an attack of a plague-like illness sent me to bed, to weakened even to care for the bees. I had hoped to send them into this cold weather as prepared as possible. Fat and sassy, scoffing even at the promised Arctic blast and accumulating snowfall.

There’s little doubt that honeybees will be starving this winter across Western North Carolina if beekeepers neglect feeding them. The warm weather means they’ve likely been eating their stores at a torrid pace.

Starvation, even in colder winters than this one, is the most common method of death for honeybee colonies.

The beekeeper can know she’s starved her charges quite easily — you raise the cover and inner lid of a hive to discover the honeybees’ butts in the air, dead facedown into the comb cells. They starved there while searching in vain for something to eat. This is a sad, discouraging sight indeed for any beekeeper, maybe the worst one I know when it comes to honeybees. Because it’s so clearly the result of preventable neglect; akin to the act of leaving a dog in a car with rolled up windows on a hot summer day. Or tethering a goat unwatched to feed on weeds, like so much bait on a fishing line for marauding neighborhood dogs.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

By Kate Queen • Guest Columnist

At the beginning of December, Mountain Medical Associates, an established, multi-specialty internal medicine practice in Clyde, joined the MedWest Physician Network. Our new affiliation with MedWest is a continuation of Mountain Medical Associates’ longstanding commitment to provide high-quality healthcare in this community.

Mountain Medical Associates grew out of a practice founded in 1964 by Dr. Ralph Feichter, a Haywood County native whose medical training included work at the Mayo Clinic. That experience inspired him to develop a clinic here where physicians could collaborate to meet the needs of patients with complex medical problems, a model we believe has enhanced care as well as physician satisfaction.

Over the past nearly 50 years, Mountain Medical Associates has supported community healthcare initiatives throughout Haywood County. Dr. Feichter led the effort to relocate the hospital to its current central location in Clyde. The members of Mountain Medical Associates also played key roles in the development of the hospital Health and Fitness Center and the Osteoporosis Center, and continue to strive to build innovative programs on the hospital campus.

Mountain Medical Associates has 12 providers who specialize in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, gastroenterology, rheumatology and neurology. The current environment for recruiting new physicians with the level of knowledge and training we believe our patients deserve is challenging. Most recently trained physicians want the benefits of a formal affiliation with a health care system.

Becoming part of the MedWest Physician Network will help to attract high-quality health practitioners to serve this region and secure the presence of a multispecialty practice like ours in this community.

One of the other benefits to becoming part of the MedWest Physician Network will be the opportunity to use a unified electronic medical record system which will enhance our ability to offer seamless care and avoid the fragmented transfer of information and at times unnecessary duplication of testing that unfortunately has been part of usual care in this country

We want to assure our patients that our commitment to them will not change and that we will all continue to provide care in our current long-term location. We are welcoming patients seeking internal medicine providers and will continue to embrace our commitment to securing excellent health care for all of Haywood County.

(Dr. Kate T. Queen, M.D. has practiced rheumatology at Mountain Medical Associates for 25 years. She  received her M.D. from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where she also did her residency in the Department of Medicine. Call 828.452.0331 or visit www.mountainmedicalassociates.com for more about the practice.)

I’ve put my keyboard-soft finger on what is probably the most common flaw of the human species: the unnerving tendency to quit doing what we know is good for us. Or, put another way, to make destructive or unwise choices.

As I contemplate the new year and my family, as I watch my children mature and begin to make decisions that will affect their entire adult lives, I couldn’t help pondering my own adolescence and early adulthood. I made some very, ummm, questionable choices. They should have cost me more than they did. I was lucky.

You’ve probably already figured out that I haven’t discovered anything new here. I remember first studying the ancient philosophers as an undergraduate. A playful professor pointed out Aristotle’s views on what the Greeks called “akrasia.” Excuse the layman’s definition, but it’s basically a theory that expounded on a human’s tendency to do what we know isn’t good for us. This particular professor used Aristotle’s point to poke a little fun at incessant partying, lack of sleep, students coming to class not having read assignments, and other aspects of college life that did not contribute positively to the future we all supposedly were preparing for.

Akrasia. The word works. Smokers know smoking is bad, yet they persist. Watching seven hours of TV a day, not good. Drinking too much alcohol, same thing. Breaking a promise, lying, wasting time, you name it. Every religion addresses this weakness, this impefection in the human condition.

All this self-absorbed introspection as 2012 dawned led to one very simple pledge, and that’s simply to start writing regularly in the pages of The Smoky Mountain News.

When we started this newspaper in June 1999, we did it on a shoestring. We had one salesperson, one designer, and one writer. I was the writer, so I wrote. In those days that was a whole bunch of news stories every week plus columns and editorials. It took a tremendous amount of energy, and I loved it.

Over the years, other responsibilities have steered me away from putting fingers to keyboard and collecting my thoughts in essays and columns. Family commitments, a larger business, and community endeavors all conspired to take valuable time. But like so many entrepreneurs who get sidetracked as their business grows, I still find the greatest satisfaction in the labor of love that led me here in the first place.

I said earlier that I was lucky in that some unwise decisions didn’t hurt me too much. In the same way, I was relatively lucky in choosing a career path from an early age. From the time I took my first journalism class as a high school freshman, I pretty much knew where it was going to lead. I worked at The Fayetteville Observer-Times as a high school student, reporting on regional high school sporting events as teletype machines spewing out AP and UPI news reports from around the country provided a constant background beat.

Once in college, I wrote for the college paper and was further encouraged by a few university professors who complimented my writing skills and stoked a desire to stick with the profession. After a satisfying few years as a carpenter and a bit of traveling, I found myself back in journalism. Five newspapers stints later, we started The Smoky Mountain News.

Which brings me to the here and now. One of my co-workers recently sat in my office and talked about her need to write more, to finally get to work on that novel. That happened a day after I had told my wife about my desire to get back to writing. That’s good timing, and perhaps another little nugget of luck.

(Scott McLeod can be reache at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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Reading Room

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    A strange mix of books crosses my desk The first weeks of 2018 have seen some offbeat books shamble across my desk and into my fingers. First up is John Buchan’s Mr. Standfast, also known as Mr. Steadfast. Buchan, a Scottish novelist and politician who served as Governor General of Canada from 1935…
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