To carve Asheville out of the 11th Congressional District is completely irrational.
My campaign will work with all Western North Carolina Democrats to fight this gerrymandering. We’ll oppose it on every level. We look forward to supporting a united legal challenge. And, I urge Re. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, to join us in this.
Asheville is, after all, the economic hub of this region with 40,000 daily commuters who follow the river valleys to work each morning. Asheville is the medical center for the region for the same reason: rapid transportation can be a matter of life and death. Asheville is the legal nexus as well, with its Federal Courthouse serving all of the western counties and is also the banking and business core of the region.
More compelling is the fact that fully one third of the residents of WNC live in Buncombe County!
The French Broad River inexorably links Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and Madison counties. The economic ties of our region are all a function of our mountain watersheds. The Land of Sky Regional Council, which includes those four counties, is not an artificial consruct — it is a planning district dictated by geographic reality. Our railroads and highways follow the river valleys due to geographic necessity as well.
By jamming Asheville into the 10th Congressional District, and adding Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Mitchell and Wautauga counties to the 11th, the Raleigh Republicans have removed the region’s media center, the source for the news that lets people see what government is doing in order to cast intelligent votes.
For voters in those north-central counties, Winston-Salem and Charlotte are the major media sources, while Morganton and Hickory are the closest economic centers. Meanwhile, Asheville’s news media will suddenly be reporting on congressional news related to Gastonia, which is clearly a part of the greater Charlotte metropolitan area.
The GOP can pat itself on the back, believing that its cookie-cutter tomfoolery is long deserved payback for past Democratic sins, but what they’re doing is showing us that all they care about is power — not the people of our state. They don’t want the people of WNC to have a representative in Washington who stands up for our regional interests. That should be a matter of concern to Republicans and Democrats alike in these mountains. They don’t want us to have a champion in Congress who will fight for our jobs, our health and our lives.
Of course, their stated goal is to create another “safe” Republican seat in the 11th District. But contemplating that outcome should also be extremely unsettling to WNC voters.
Republicans have long been trying to scuttle Social Security and Medicare. They are the same people who brought us NAFTA, CAFTA and WTO deals with China — sending our jobs out of the country. The Republicans’ apparent overarching goal is to divert American wealth to the wealthiest, while middle class workers in WNC lose their jobs, their homes and their health care.
This is the time for us to unite as Democrats — blue dog, yellow dog, middle of the road. We are share one common bond — we are Mountain Democrats!
Let’s show Raleigh Republicans that we may vary in our political opinions, but when our home turf is threatened we come together to defend our mountain homes.
I feel that challenging these maps constitutes an absolute obligation to my constituents, both as an Asheville City Council member and as a candidate in the 11th Congressional District. These western mountains are my home, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
(Cecil Bothwell is an Asheville city councilman and a Democratic candidate for the 11th Congressional District seat now held by Rep. Heath Shuler. The proposed redistricting map released last week would take Asheville out of Shuler’s 11th District.)
There is much myth and lore connected with beekeeping, such as telling the bees when the master has died so they won’t abscond after his or her death, and a method of swarm control called “tanging.”
Research studies have debunked the virtues of tanging, or beating a stick against something metal to drum down the bees. There is no scientific evidence, zippo, to support people who believe the folk tale that you can bring home a swarm.
I’m a modern girl and all, but I flat-out believe in tanging — and I nearly brought a swarm of bees down on myself this past Saturday doing it. I learned tanging from local guys. They learned to tang from their parents and grandparents, who in turn were taught tanging by their parents and grandparents, and so on — this is an unbelievably old practice, a method of bee husbandry that dates to antiquity.
My reading has muddled up my memory, and I frankly am unsure if anyone locally uses the word tanging — more likely, they just told me to beat on a washpan with a stick when there was a bee swarm. Lacking something metal at hand, I’ve seen these guys drum on empty wooden hives (called “gums” by oldtimers), and on empty five-gallon buckets. Bees, apparently, aren’t particular in this one respect.
So on Saturday, at about 10 a.m. just when it was starting to get really hot, I was working in the garden when I heard the familiar roar, looked up, and saw the bees taking off from the hive. It surprised me, frankly, because this is sourwood season and they ought to have plenty of work to keep them happy and focused. But bees, as I’ve mentioned before, do whatever they please, others’ wishes and needs and limited time to deal with swarms be damned.
This particular swarm was determinedly headed west, over the house and away from me, seemingly intent on settling high out of reach in a cherry tree. I’ve lost at least four swarms this year, and I wanted at least a shot at putting up this one — tanging was the only thing I knew to do.
A swarm does not move particularly fast. The bees have gorged on honey before leaving the hive, I suppose to help sustain them while they move in to a new home, and they fly heavy in the air. Watching a swarm of bees has a mesmerizing quality that is different from anything else I know, and you can get lost in following the languid flight of individual bees who are caught up in the tornadic motion of the swarm — the swarm seems to form a huge single organism. The noise, too, lulls and draws you in — that hypnotic roar, the noise of thousands of bees sounding together, a chorus like none other.
I broke the spell, however, and looked around for something to beat on. I noticed a metal watering can. After emptying the water, I started hitting it with a stick. I drummed, and the large swarm seemed to hesitate in the air; then it slowly returned in my direction and began revolving more or less just over my head. They dropped down, and I went into a crouch, worried I’d get a drive-by sting or two.
After several minutes, the swarm settled into a nearby, small tree, me still drumming away on my watering can. I wish I could tell you that I went and collected the swarm, but after a short time they simply went back into the hive — a false start, probably indicating the queen wasn’t able, or willing yet, to go.
Still, I’m left as always believing in tanging, research findings to the contrary. Is it the rhythm that brings them down? I don’t know, but it works.
For most people, Lorenzo Charles, who died last week in a bus accident at the age of 47, is little more than a footnote in sports history. If you are under the age of 35 or do not follow sports, you have probably never even heard of him. In some ways, Charles is the very definition of the old cliché “in the right place at the right time.” In the spring of 1983, it was Lorenzo Charles who caught a last second desperation shot by Wolfpack guard Dereck Whittenburg and stuffed it into the basket as time expired to give N.C. State the NCAA National Championship over the prohibitively favored Houston Cougars, a victory that is still regarded by most experts as one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
The night Lorenzo Charles capped the most improbable run ever by a college basketball team with his last second heroics, I was in the basement of Owen Dorm on the N.C. State campus, surrounded by friends I had made during the previous two years when I was still a student at State. I had dropped out of school and drifted off, but not so far that I could not easily swim back for something this big. After all, these same friends and I had, during my freshman year, formed something called the HOZE Squad, which began as a way to get in on the 10-cent draft beer nights at a bar called Edwards Grocery (a promotion aimed at fraternities, but we found a loophole by ordering shirts with Greek letters. What could they say?).
There were about eight of us on the second floor of Owen Dorm, and we were all rabid sports fans, willing to camp out all night to get the best possible seats for football and basketball games. We wore our HOZE shirts on 10-cent draft night at Edwards Grocery, and we wore them to football and basketball games.
One sunny Saturday, one of us went to Radio Shack and saw a plastic fireman’s hat with a siren on top. Now the HOZE Squad had shirts and matching firemen’s helmets to wear to the games. Since we always sat in the first few rows of each game and were fairly raucous and creative in finding new ways to taunt and distract the opposing team, we soon began getting a lot of attention. The crowds at Reynolds Coliseum soon began taking cues more from us than the Wolfpack cheerleaders, so they eventually invited us to join forces with them to pump up the crowd.
Lorenzo Charles was still in high school that year, but it was Coach Jimmy Valvano’s first year at State, while Sidney Lowe, Dereck Whittenburg, and Thurl Bailey, who would form the nucleus for the 83 championship team, were all just sophomores. Led by Art Jones and Kenny Matthews, the team had a so-so year, finishing 14-13, but the next year, the team went 22-10 and made the NCAA tournament, losing in the first round.
Even though I was gone by the time the 1982-1983 season began, there were high hopes for the team going into the season, although the Virginia Cavaliers had this fellow named Ralph Sampson and the UNC Tar Heels had this other fellow named Michael Jordan. Bailey and Lowe were marginal prospects to play in the NBA, but neither had great star potential, and when Whittenburg went down during the regular season with a bad ankle, the season was in jeopardy. In fact, by the time Whittenburg returned, the team was pretty well mired in the lower middle of the conference standings and literally had to win the ACC Tournament to squeak into the field for the NCAA tournament.
Of course, the Wolfpack DID win the ACC tournament — they won three games by a grand total of 11 points, including wins over Jordan’s Tarheels and Sampson’s Cavaliers — and did earn a bid to the “big dance,” where they were slotted as a sixth seed in the West regional. The Pack was almost bounced out of the tournament in the very first game, as they were down by six points with less than a minute to go in a game against Pepperdine, but Pepperdine missed some key free throws and Cozell McQueen made a shot to put the game into a second overtime, ultimately resulting in a narrow escape for NC State in the first round.
There was even more danger the next round, when the Pack fell behind the favored Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, this time by 12 points with about 12 minutes to play, but once again State rallied and won 71-70 on a shot by Thurl Bailey with four seconds left in the game.
The “Cardiac Pack,” as someone dubbed them, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, where they had their one and only “ordinary” win, a 19-point win over Utah, which resulted in a rematch in the western regional final with the University of Virginia, ranked sixth in the nation and looking for revenge after the Wolfpack win in the ACC Tournament. Once again, State eked out a one-point win, 63-62, when Charles made two free throws with just seconds remaining in the game.
There is no way to overemphasize what a shock and delight it was to see N.C. State in the Final Four that year. Few, if any, fans expected anything more from that team at that time, especially with Houston and Louisville also in the Final Four. Luckily, those teams had to play each other in the semifinals, while State had Georgia in the other semifinal game. State did get by Georgia, while Houston, led by future NBA Hall of Fame players Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, looked every bit as dominant and scary as a college team featuring two future NBA Hall of Famers could possibly look in beating Louisville.
It has been nearly 30 years, and I still believe that if those two teams had played 10 more games after the championship game, Houston would have won all 10, most by double digits. But Valvano’s approach throughout the tournament had been to find a way to stay in the game, force other teams to make their free throws, and find a way to survive if they didn’t.
The only conceivable way State could hope to stay in the game was to control the tempo and get off to a good start, which they did by jumping out to a 32-25 halftime.
In the basement of Owen, we were about to come utterly unhinged. We were oh so close to winning it all, but we also knew that Houston could easily put up 50 or 60 points a half and win going away, as it had been expected to do.
Sure enough, the Cougars did rally and take a seven-point lead, but then the Wolfpack started to foul, a strategy that had served them well in getting to this point, and sure enough, the Cougars began missing their free throws. State eventually clawed to a 52-52 tie and had a chance to win the game in regulation, but the play Valvano had called broke down and all Dereck Whittenburg could do with time running out is fling up a wild shot from well beyond the top of the key.
That is when Lorenzo Charles changed our lives forever. When he stuffed the ball into the game and the buzzer sounded and Jim Valvano ran around the court looking for someone to hug, there was a frenzy of pure joy unlike anything that I have ever seen or felt. In the basement of Owen Dorm, everyone hugged everyone else. There were a lot of tears. People streamed out of the dorms and swarmed the campus, moving as one giant organism toward Hillsborough Street, where the party went on for hours and hours.
It was fitting that Lorenzo Charles had made the shot, and not Thurl Bailey or Sidney Lowe, because of how unlikely it all was. For the people who were there, Charles and the Wolfpack gave us an experience that we will never forget, a party to remember for the rest of our lives. For the HOZE Squad, eight guys who obsessed over the team as it developed over the course of three years into a national champion, Lorenzo Charles gave us something even more. He gave us a moment that any of us would name among the greatest of our entire lives, up there on the list where things like “birth of son” and “wedding” are listed, a notch below, perhaps, but JUST a notch.
On April 4, 1983, Lorenzo Charles taught us that literally anything can happen if you never give up. It sounds like some trite nonsense you would say to your child, perhaps half believing what you are saying, even as you say it. Except that we really do believe it. We believe it, because we saw it. We were there.
That’s why Charles’ death last week hit us hard. Oh, there were no more than a few Facebook posts to mark his passing among us, but there was a feeling in those posts that we all shared and all recognized. Lorenzo is gone too soon, but the spring of 1983 will burn brightly forever in our hearts. For us, he is no footnote; he’s an entire chapter, one we’ve dog-eared, highlighted, and committed to memory, a part of our very DNA.
May you rest in peace, Lorenzo Charles. The HOZE Squad says, “Thanks.”
Today, in Macon County and throughout America, debate is under way regarding two basic principles: (1) the size, shape and responsibilities of our federal government; and, (2) the composition of our shared responsibilities in financing governmental operations.
While most of us tend to dislike government in the abstract, we all appreciate what benefits government provides. Most of us, regardless of political party, believe we must have a strong military and strong defense. Most believe we must invest in the education of our youth and in preparing them for 21st century jobs.
Most believe it is essential to continue and expand our medical and scientific research. Most want good roads, well constructed bridges, railroads and shipping facilities for travel and commerce. Most appreciate having a minimum base of financial security at retirement, and believe that government must help when disaster strikes, a crippling illness occurs, or when jobs are lost and impossible to find.
But, what is so hard for all of us, is that those benefits must be paid for and that all of us must share in that responsibility.
As far back as the 1980’s America started massing debt at alarming levels. To meet that challenge Democrat and Republican leaders came together three times during the 1990’s to reduce our nation’s deficits. All three times they forged historic agreements which called for shared responsibilities and shared sacrifice while largely protecting our middle class and our commitment to seniors.
During the 2000’s, however, we once more lost our way toward fiscal discipline. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unfunded prescription drug program, large subsides to American oil and gas companies, trillions of dollars in tax cuts for every millionaire, and a slowing economy, forced our government to borrow an average of five hundred billion every year.
Once again we are having to find a way to meet a fiscal challenge. History has shown that this can’t happen with cuts in governmental services and programs alone. A serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table. However, only so much of the recovery burden can, or should be shouldered by our lower and middle income folks.
In the last decade, the average income of our bottom 90% of working Americans dropped significantly. Meanwhile, the top 1% saw their incomes rise by an average of a quarter of a million dollars each year. This top 1% must share in this recovery and have their trillion dollars in tax breaks eliminated. When these tax benefits were passed during the Bush Administration, it was with the declaration that these resources would assist in generating over 5.5 million additional jobs. History has shown those jobs never materialized, and those breaks for the wealthiest 1% have become a burden upon of our nation.
Only through shared sacrifice can we solve our debt crisis and resulting job losses. But, in that process, we should never forfeit investments in our people, in our country, or our ability to remain a strong economic influence in the world.
(Ben J. Utley is the chairman of the Macon County Democrat Party.)
Most of the business being done at Perry’s Water Garden these days is selling plants through the wholesale market. But if you are interested in aquatic plants even the tiniest bit whatsoever, it’s well worth a trip over the Cowee mountain range and into Macon County to visit this unique Western North Carolina garden attraction.
I went there last week with a friend who was interested in buying aquatic plants for a small home-water feature. We left with water hyacinths, a lotus, a couple of lilies, five water snails (guaranteed to eat the slime off the sides of ponds) and a lot of really useful information from Nikki Gibson, whose step-grandfather, Perry D. Slocum, founded the garden in 1980.
Nikki clearly knows her water plants. And that’s no surprise, given the high stature in the water-garden world once held by Slocum, who died in 2004.
He was an internationally respected hybridizer, winner of the 1986 Water Lily Hall of Fame Award. Slocum also was the president of the International Water Lily Society from 1988-89.
Flip through a book on aquatic water plants, and you’ll likely be both flipping through a book he helped write — Water Gardening: Waterlilies and Lotuses, published in 1996, or Waterlillies and Lotuses: Species, Cultivars and New Hybrids in 2005 — and eyeballing plants he hybridized.
The list of plants bearing the Slocum stamp is stunning: by one accounting I found on the Internet, he hybridized 83 waterlilies, 30 lotuses and two irises.
Slocum was born in New York state in 1913 on a dairy farm that also produced certified seed potatoes. In an April 1996 article for Water Gardening magazine, Helen Nash noted that Slocum’s interest in aquatic plants started at age 13, when he and a brother ordered three water lilies from California and planted them in an iron kettle normally used for scalding hogs.
Slocum went to Cornell University for his undergraduate work, and spent two years in medical school at Syracuse University before devoting himself to plant hybridizing. He first built a 10-acre water garden near Binghamton, N.Y.; then went on to build Slocum Water Garden in Winter Haven, Fla. After “retiring” to the Cowee Valley area in Macon County, Slocum promptly built Perry’s Water Garden, 13 acres of aquatic ponds. This, I theorize based on the evidence, must have been a man who liked to stay busy.
Ben Gibson bought the water garden in 1986 from his stepfather, and the two worked side by side until Slocum’s death. Hybridizing still continues at Perry’s Water Garden — when the family sees a particularly lovely or interesting volunteer, they carefully cultivate it.
Nikki clearly loves the family business, which to survive has meant everyone now works outside jobs to help make ends meet and keep the garden going, she said.
This means you’ve got to get to Perry’s Water Garden in a window from about 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. You can find Perry’s Water Garden on the Internet at www.perryswatergarden.net, and there is contact information there as well. Good directions to this out-of-the-way place can be found on the home page.
You’ve probably seen the ads. Some famous face sports a white “milk mustache” and encourages you to drink more milk. Everyone from Shaquille O’Neal to Taylor Swift to Martha Stewart.
Celebrity endorsements might be enough to convince some people to add more dairy to their diet, but I’m guessing it took a lot more than that to get Harvard University thinking about cows. They didn’t settle for a glass or even a whole gallon. They recently bought a 6,000-head dairy operation in New Zealand for their $27 billion endowment fund.
As much as I love milk — on cereal, with dinner, and before bed, I have to wonder what Harvard was thinking. I’ve worked with several dairy farmers in Georgia and North Carolina. I’ve met a lot of hard-working people. I haven’t seen excessive wealth.
If running a dairy was really lucrative, more people would be doing it. The reality is quite the opposite, especially here in Western North Carolina, where the number of dairies has plummeted. In Haywood County, for instance, the number of dairies has dropped from 43 in 1992 to just nine today.
When I was growing up, they put pictures of missing children on the panels of the milk cartons. One friend half-joked to me that they should revive that practice, but use a picture of a dairy farmer to go with the old question “Have you seen me?”
It’s those same declines that make me want to invest in dairies, though not in the same way that Harvard has. Western North Carolina is still home to 70 dairy farms with around 5,000 dairy cattle yielding more than $19 million in annual cash receipts. That’s a lot of milk. It’s also a lot of jobs and a whole lot of land, including pastures, corn fields, and hay fields. In total, these dairy farms help maintain thousands of acres of land. These fields also provide wildlife habitat, help absorb heavy rains and floodwaters, and enhance the scenic views that draw millions of tourists to our mountains. In short, when dairies do well, we can all benefit.
Investing in these dairies isn’t easy, but we can all start by buying more milk and ice cream and other dairy products. Finding local milk can be a challenge, though. We’ve made great strides lately in labeling the origins of our produce, but most dairy products have not followed suit. Many local store brands do in fact contain milk from local dairies, but the labels rarely boast the fact. Other brands may have milk from Pennsylvania, California, or elsewhere. Maybe if enough people start asking, we will soon be able to identify — and buy — milk exclusively sourced from Appalachian dairies.
Until then, please go ahead and pour yourself a tall, cold, white one — every day if you can. Your actions will still help increase the demand for milk, and that will help dairy farmers and dairy farms all over. It doesn’t take someone from Harvard to see the value in that.
(George Ivey is a Haywood County-based consultant and author of the novel Up River. Contact him at www.georgeivey.com.)
The blossoms on the sourwood trees are opening. This is exciting for mountain beekeepers, though in their enthusiasm for the light, fine honey that bees produce from this flower, they sometimes dismiss as paltry and unacceptable to their delicate palates the earlier dark wildflower honey.
I have even known beekeepers in the area — usually small, wizened grumpy ones who are old enough to still be angry that the park moved their family and others to make way for a national playground — who refuse to even harvest the spring honey. Instead, they either don’t collect it at all; or they do, but they feed it back to the bees come winter.
Each to their own, of course, but I say phooey — this prejudice must be, I believe, a hangover from poorer days here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. A belief, hard won through poverty, that things white are more genteel and more refined; which, of course, they are — in every sense of that word. People with a bit of cash in their hands could choose white bread instead of heavy brown, white sugar instead of sorghum or molasses, store-bought clothing instead of rough hand-me-downs. These days, they instinctively reach for light sourwood instead of dark wildflower honey, according it virtues that are more related to childhood training than taste.
Having grown up myself using an outhouse and without electricity or hot water unless you fired up the woodstove (my family were 1970s back-to-the-land folks, but poor is poor, whether you are born to it or come to it), I’m not unsympathetic with that line of reasoning. Once I could afford to do so, I found it quite exciting to buy clothes full price from a real store rather than for a few quarters from a thrift store, as crazy as that might sound. Though now that I’m older and so amazingly cool, I’m back in thrift stores by choice instead of need. Which somehow makes it just peachy, a free choice you understand instead of one forced upon me by necessity, or in my case, through others’ choices.
As it happens, I most enjoy the robust notes of the spring wildflower honey. In it you find a roll call of the early bloom: dandelion, blackberry, privet (“hedge” to you older locals), holly and more — most importantly the tulip poplar, which this year to me at least appeared heavy but brief lived.
I’m not selling honey these days to make my living, so the mad rush to remove supers and extract the wildflower honey before the sourwood emerges is no longer part of my life. I don’t particularly care if the two varieties mix, though I’d still like to have some supers (boxes the bees pack honey in so that beekeepers can rob them easily) with pure sourwood. Or, as pure as one can ensure, knowing that bees will damn well work what they want. But at sourwood time, there is so little other bloom, and the sourwood nectar is so enticing, bees tend to focus on it almost exclusively.
That focus can be problematic for migratory beekeepers, who make their living helping farmers pollinate fields of crops. I understand, by way of example, that good orchardists mow their apple orchards before the bees are brought in. Otherwise, the bees of the migratory beekeepers might just choose to focus on dandelions, say, to the exclusion of the apple trees. This focus is very intense, and very much part of the honeybee makeup — their obsessive-compulsive disorder is one big reason they are such excellent pollinators for us, because once you can get them focused on your flower of choice, they stay with it.
They don’t, like the independent bumblebee, visit an apple bloom on one outing and a dandelion on another, willy-nilly with no consideration at all for the poor farmer needing a field full of trees pollinated. Bumblebees just bumble mindlessly about, heedless to others’ desires and wishes, landing here one moment, there the next — how infuriating for us humans not to be able to control their movements and selections.
But I digress. The sourwood trees are blooming, and this is exciting, as I mentioned previously. Sourwoods, if my memory serves correctly (the Internet has been out, and so I can’t easily check, unless of course I were willing to get up and walk three feet to the bookshelf, which I’m not) are only found in the Appalachians. Or, that’s not quite true — they can be found outside that narrow band, but they don’t produce enough nectar, or aren’t found in enough numbers if they do, to be of use to the beekeeper.
This is swell for savvy beekeepers, because they often market the sourwood honey as a varietal. That’s a fancy word for you-pay-more-for-it, though I didn’t fall in with that line of reasoning when I was peddling jars of honey. I love wildflower and I figured the bees worked just as hard to produce it, so I asked and received the same amount for both. Folks didn’t object, or insist on paying more for sourwood or less for wildflower. They instead seemed quite happy to accord dark and light honeys equal respect, based on taste preference only, a nice lesson from the apiary for us all about not making judgments based on something as arbitrary and meaningless as color.
“Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows, we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheets.”
— (slight adaptation from Knowles Shaw beautiful hymn)
Standing on the banks of the Pigeon River in the early 1960s on a hot summer day, I watched the baptisms of newly saved souls along with the members of our small country church. The church, Sonoma Baptist, has long since dissolved, but when I close my eyes I can still feel the heat of that summer Sunday afternoon, hear the off-key singing of traditional hymns and smell the cool damp scent of black snakes lounging on the riverbank.
Summer Bible School had just ended and we had a new crop of young converts who — lured with grape Kool-Aid, cookies, and the promise of eternal life — marched to the front of the church to exchange their short stories of repentance for a new white Bible and a cool dunk in the Pigeon River. Already the nosy, budding psychologist, I loved to hear those sordid stories of woe and tried to imagine just how those life sagas would end.
I also loved river baptisms. They took our congregation outside the hot muggy sanctuary and marked the start of long summers in the mountains. Baptisms and summers symbolized clean new beginnings. As I sang those wonderful old hymns and watched each new convert solidly dunked in the cold water, I imagined the dark and ugly stains of sin washed from the dirty souls and sent down the river from Bethel to Canton.
When my daddy once showed me the Pigeon River in Fiberville, just downstream from the mill (Champion Paper in those days), I was sure that I was viewing the vile aftermath of sin in the roiling murky polluted waters and smelling the putrid stench of the devil himself.
I remember belting out “Amazing Grace” and “Washed in the Blood,” but the song that I most remember singing on those hot afternoons was a favorite from the old Baptist Hymnal on page 432 called “Bringing in the Sheaves.” I loved this song about sowing, reaping and rejoicing but my child’s ear heard “sheets” rather than “sheaves.” I didn’t know then what sheaves were, but I did know that bringing in the sheets from our old clothesline in Bethel was a weekly ritual that brought me great joy.
There are few household tasks that are as rewarding as hanging out clothes on a summer day. The act, much like river baptisms, symbolizes a fresh start and promises the reward of clean and dry clothes at the end of the day. It made more sense in my small child’s world that one would surely rejoice when bringing in the freshly cleaned sheets from their imprisonment on the clothesline.
I haven’t been to a river baptism in ages, but I still hang out clothes on an old clothesline most every day. As I take each towel or bed sheet from the line, I can’t resist holding it to my face and breathing deeply in the warm summer sun. It is a better meditation exercise than sitting cross-legged and trying to chase unwanted thoughts from my mind and, best of all, it brings back memories of the simple pleasures of growing up in a world without fancy baptismal pools or clothes dryers.
Cleansing of the body through baptism and washing clothes to hang out on the clothesline seem to have parallel lessons of redemption. Dirt and grime are washed from clothes; sin is washed from the soul; all is ultimately forgiven in sparkling waters. Both are summer rituals that define growing up in a small mountain community where good people live, work and care for one another by sowing seeds of kindness. Forgiveness is a gift given to lost souls and dirty laundry; redemption is followed by rejoicing; and everyday rituals performed in a simple mountain hollow are treasured for a lifetime. And we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheets.
I have not put the time into my garden this year that I usually do. Between a lack of rain early on and a failure to attend to weed pulling, the beds aren’t looking particularly attractive.
Even given my unusual neglect, however, there are still many vegetables to harvest and eat. Evidence, perhaps, of the undeniable will of living beings to produce, though perhaps not thrive, in the worst of situations.
Lettuce, the summer variety at least, is coming on strong, though it will probably bolt in the next week or two. There’s chard, beets, carrots and onions. The soybeans look good, too.
And busy I might be, but now is the time to plant a mix of greens to serve when the summer lettuce bolts and turns bitter. Sometime this week I hope to broadcast patches of kale, chard, collards, mustard, beets and arugula. I usually add whichever Asian greens I happen to have on hand, and this year that would be mizuna and kommatsuna.
Some people grow these green mixes on top of hay bales, crowning the bales with prepared soil mixtures or mushroom compost. This removes the possibility of weeds, and is a very nice idea, except that most of us would have to buy hay. At about $6 a pop right now through the local feed and seed stores, that route seems a bit pricey. You would, of course, get a desirable return on the cost of the bales because they would be turned to rich organic material for the garden. But still — there are less expensive ways to have your salad and eat it, too.
The other option is to pay great attention and care to the area being planted. Eradicate every weed possible, knowing that despite these great efforts, weeds will still compete and ultimately emerge victorious against the greens. All we can do is the best that we can, taking satisfaction in the effort, I suppose, if not always the results. Though in this situation, I believe the results will be surprisingly pleasing if you’ve not grown hot-weather greens before.
Prepare the planting areas. Broadcast the seed (this means to scatter it liberally about by hand), rake the seed in lightly, and be prepared to water frequently if there isn’t adequate rain. In this case, adequate means enough rain to keep the beds continuously moist.
Germination occurs quickly this time of the year, almost as if by spontaneous combustion — within two or three days, generally.
These greens are to be cut with scissors, or handpicked, when they are still quite small: three to 4 inches tall is about right. You are not growing cooking greens, but young succulent baby greens to eat raw in the place of salad.
I like to cover my greens patch with an insect barrier so that I don’t have to use sprays. The problem with that method is the possibility of trapping moisture, and a corresponding risk of rot, if we are experiencing a humid weather pattern.
Every two to three weeks, plant the mix again. This ensures a constant supply of greens for the table. And when you lose the race against weeds, you switch to the other beds that are now ready for cutting.
One other note: do not mix the greens. That is fine in the fall when you are allowing them to mature before cutting. With baby greens, however, there are extreme variations in rates of growth — one variety of green will grow wildly with great joyful abandon, others will pick their way into the world slowly, with apprehension and fear. It is imperative — if one is to sustain the greens beds for salad production — to keep them cut back. The new growth is what we are seeking for our salad bowls, and it helps if the rates of production are identical, or nearly so, when you go to cutting.
Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have someone like me as a member.” When I graduated from high school, my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pattyrae Busic, gave me a beautiful edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and I believe this quote was one of the first I happened upon.
It obviously spoke to me, as I have straddled the barbed-wire fence between skepticism and outright cynicism about groups of all kinds ever since. I like people just fine one on one, but when you get more than two of them together at any given time and for any given purpose, the seeds of treachery and corruption are already sewn. Three is a crowd and four is a mob. I don’t think that’s in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but it ought to be.
It could be that you think on groups more favorably than I do. You think of the Girl Scouts, and I think of Hell’s Angels, the American Bar Association, and the Miami Heat. Even if I did think of the Girl Scouts, I am more apt to think of an unscrupulous mother dipping into a trust fund to buy four truckloads of Girl Scout cookies so her precious daughter can win a month’s worth of horseback riding lessons and get her picture in the paper in the same section with the newly engaged. Treachery.
Of course, I know there are worse groups than the Girl Scouts. I have nothing specifically against the Girl Scouts — my daughter is one, at least intermittently — but can they really be completely trusted in those cute little berets with their satchels full of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Crunch patties? Along they come every year, the little diet shatterers.
As I said, there are worse groups, much worse. In fact, perhaps no single group better illustrates the wisdom of Groucho Marx than politicians. I know, I know. I can feel 20,000 eyes rolling at the very mention of politics. Easy target. Low hanging fruit. Scooping fish out of a bathtub. Etcetera. But really, just when we think the fruit can’t hang any lower, along comes a John Edwards, a Newt Gingrich, or an Anthony Weiner to remind us of just how much we may have overestimated politicians, despite our best efforts to suspect the worst.
Edwards, of course, is really a peach, and a home-grown one at that. Here’s a guy who cheats on his wife, a wife who has battled cancer, and then tries to get points back because she was in remission when the affair occurred, according to him. He fathers a child with his mistress while running for President of the United States, blames it on one of his aides, and is ultimately indicted for using campaign money to cover it up. Yet, he certainly used his wife in the campaign while vehemently denying all of the allegations. Now he is finally admitting to most everything he had formerly denied except using the campaign money to cover it up, because that would be, you know, illegal. And he claims he did nothing illegal.
If he seems a little familiar, it may be that you knew a guy like Edwards in high school. Come on, you remember: He was the smarmy tennis player/student council president with perfect hair and no blemishes who used his older sister’s James Taylor records to seduce your girlfriend while you were out of town with your parents, later claiming “it was all her idea,” “he didn’t really want to,” and that you really ought to thank him for exposing her as a cheat now, before you go off to college and find out the hard way.
Then there is Gingrich, who has admitted cheating on his first two wives and seeking a divorce from one while she was recovering from cancer surgery. Nice. This is the same Gingrich who ran on a platform of “family values” while having an affair all the while during his 1992 campaign of terror against the Clintons. You probably knew a guy like Gingrich in high school. He was the preacher’s son who went to church every Sunday, but had a fifth of Jim Beam under his front seat and a stash of homegrown in the glove compartment. He may or may not have slept with your girlfriend, who may or may not be a lesbian, at the river party last weekend. Nobody can remember now, but the important thing is that he repented on Sunday, and he’s forgiven now, and, say, do you want a snort? He’ll skip history class if you will.
Finally, we have the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner (cue the Beavis and Butthead laugh-track), who just a week ago admitted sending lewd photographs of himself to various young women, even though he is still a newlywed and these young women barely knew him, if they knew him at all. There are poses of Weiner in his underwear all over the Internet, and earlier this week, President Obama suggested that he probably should resign, which Weiner said he would not do just before checking into a treatment facility, ostensibly for troubled, partially nude narcissists with uncontrollable impulses to photograph themselves for strangers.
Of course, you probably knew a guy just like Weiner in high school. He was the wrestling coach’s son, but also third in his class. He had a high IQ and 3 percent body fat and an ego about the size of Jupiter. All of this was a front for his terrible insecurity with women, which at least prevented HIM from stealing your girlfriend, who was too old for him. No, your little sister was more his speed. He would send her pictures of him wrestling, or photos of his ‘chiseled sixpack,’ impressive to some, but perhaps merely confusing to an eighth-grader.
Your sister: “Why is this guy sending me pictures of his belly? Gross!!!”
Gross indeed, all of them gross. Any one of them, you could probably handle, but get them all together and what do you have? The United States Congress. You want to be in that club, you’re welcome to it. I’ll take the Girl Scouts any day.