I traveled over the Balsams this past weekend from Sylva to Lake Junaluska for a native plant sale, and I’m very glad that I set time aside to make the trip. Not only were there some nice specimens to be had, I was able to tour the Corneille Bryan Native Garden.

I did know the garden was there, though many folks in the region don’t realize this tiny labor of love exists in Haywood County. I used to run regularly at Lake Junaluska before going to work weekday mornings at a regional office for the Asheville Citizen-Times in Waynesville. I’d sometimes trot through the garden area, dropping off County Road through the garden on my way back to the lake, happy for a bit of trail under my feet instead of pavement. Or, for variety, I’d run up the hill from the lake area to the road, optimistically dubbing my crawling, gasping effort a “hill workout” in my running journal.

No matter how pathetic and slow the actual effort, running through a garden is not a mindful way to enjoy flowers. Most of my attention, frankly, was devoted to not falling flat on my face. So the opportunity to stroll leisurely through was a delight, heightened by chats beforehand with garden director Janet Manning and Linda McFarland. Linda, in 2003, helped Janet Lilley put together a book, “Seasons in a Wildflower Refuge,” on what one can enjoy there. Well-known regional botanist Dan Pitillo, now retired from Western Carolina University, wrote descriptions for the book of the garden’s plants.

The genesis of the garden dates to the summer of 1989, according to a brochure about the Lake Junaluska site. Tuscola Garden Club members had been discussing the need to encourage more native plantings on the Junaluska Assembly grounds. Maxilla Evans (who died in December 2007) expressed a desire for a place where her lifetime collection of wildflowers could be preserved; and the family of Corneille Downer Bryan was looking for a suitable memorial. Bryan was a nature lover, artist and member of the Tuscola Garden Club.

So began the Corneille Bryan Native Garden, now home to about 500 various trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. These include shortia, which is native to only an extremely limited area, pinkshell azalea, and various trillums. An endowment through the Bryan family helps maintain the garden.

The garden’s “primary function is to serve as a place of respite and renewal for all who draw strength from the beauty and quiet of this place,” the writers of the brochure note.

I believe what interests me most is how well Manning and the others involved are using such limited space — limited in both terms of size and context. The garden, as noted earlier, is on a fairly steep hill in a ravine, with a mix of oaks, black walnut and locust overhead. The area had become a dump for trash before the garden was created, with new steps, paths and bridges built, and a variety of habitats created.

Manning said the group is working to complete a bog section now. This is only one of many habitats featuring a variety of shade-loving and sun-loving native plants. (Much of the ravine is shaded, but a small area (euphemistically dubbed the “sunny meadow”) gets light. There you can find asters, penstemon, columbine and more).

There is much to enjoy and learn from the Corneille Bryan Native Garden. If you take the time to stop and smell the roses, that is, and not run mindlessly through. If there were any roses … but you get the point, I’m sure.  

To get there, go to Lake Junaluska Assembly. You can get to the garden on Stuart Circle from Lakeshore Drive, or by turning off County Road onto Oxford Road or Ivey Lane. Go to www.lakejunaluska.com/facility-maps for even better directions — click on “grounds map.”

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

With its unending contradictions, life is at best confusing and at worst inexplicable. The U.S. is in the minority of nations today that embraces the death penalty. Since I endeavor to avoid self righteous mobs known as majorities, I like that. But the one troublesome aspect to the death penalty is its stingy application. Our justice system, otherwise known as the employment service for lawyers and clerks, is unfairly inefficient; and as regards the death penalty the unfairness of its lethargic foot-dragging bears not against the guilty, but against society.

If you can pardon the expression, I’m just dying to know why in capital offenses we dally in applying the appropriate punishment when there is no reasonable doubt of a person’s guilt. Death penalty opponents contend that capital punishment is cruel and unreasonable, and the irony is in the fact that those opponents usually come from the political left, where atheism and a general disregard for things divine seem to flourish in abundance.

Non-believers think the death penalty immoral. Believers think it righteous. (This is a generalization, but I subscribe to that word’s definition as being “a huge truth, highly disconcerting to sociologists and others who have earned like degrees from correspondence courses, community colleges and equivalent universities.”)

The paradox thrives in the fact that those who oppose the death penalty do not necessarily oppose war and all its much talked about collateral damage. That euphemistic term means, “Oops, we may have destroyed a town full of civilians.”

At present our government has elected to enter into yet another war, this time against the leadership of Libya. Never mind that Libya is a sovereign nation conducting its own affairs. No, the U.S. and its acolytes now think it necessary to get involved in that country’s internal affairs. Citing some abstruse moral code, our leadership tends to play down the fact that Libya has valuable oil reserves. This could lead some to believe in the insincerity of altruism. I’m one of those.

I frankly do not care anything at all about Libya, or what goes on there. If the people in that nation desire a civil war, let them have one. I don’t care. The quarter-billion dollars in cruise missiles the U.S. recently fired into the sand dunes over there is money that might have been better applied in paying down the national debt. As far as I know, we don’t owe Libya a dime.

See how confusing it is? Unlike an electric chair or tablets of cyanide or a syringe or two of poison, cruise missiles are somewhat indiscreet. They blow up, and anyone nearby gets blown up too. Conversely, an electric chair has room for only one. So why do we whimsically risk blowing up people whose only crime is misfortune, while here at home we debate and quibble and appeal and protest over the execution of deranged killers? Our political leadership calls Muammar Qaddafi deranged, and is ready and willing to kill him for it. Yet we allow deranged killers to languish on death row for 20 or more years. Worse, we sentence deranged killers to life imprisonment.

The Unabomber is now doing life without parole for blowing up people with dynamite. Serving the same sentence right down the hall from him is Eric Rudolph, who killed people in a like manner. They killed American citizens on American soil, but it is wrong to execute them? It is wrong to execute them yet it is right to execute people on the other side of the planet who may not have committed any crime against anyone?  

Are you confused too?

(Scott Muirhead lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

North Carolina is facing a budget crisis. I get that. What I don’t get is the proposed slashing of so many worthwhile programs when a relatively simple answer – not a panacea, mind you, but a stopgap way to provide salve to some of the bloodletting – is available.

What I see is ideology running roughshod over smart governance. Sorry, but that’s the truth about the current House budget proposal.

I’ll tell you why objectivity is impossible for me. This budget slashes programs that are very important. As Rep. Ray Rapp said, we’re “eating our feedcorn” with the current House prospoal.

My wife’s a teacher. I know how hard she works all day and then for a couple of hours amost every night, and all I hear is constant criticism about public education. I also know my own children have received pretty good schooling in those public schools.

Back in the day, I was able to attend college without having to rely totally on loans partly because of grants that provided aid to those from disadvantaged households. Among the cuts proposed by House leaders is a reduction in the amount the UNC system needs to meet the needs of students who can’t afford college. This comes after tuition at our public universities has risen nearly 200 percent in the past decade.

Children who are entering school and are at risk will be told to go find help elsewhere because it won’t be funded in this year’s budget. And the teachers in second and third grades won’t have assistants to help. According to one news report, the House budget on public educaiton would place North Carolina 46th in the nation in per pupil spending. Ridiculous.

Community colleges will get a 10 percent cut and the university system a 15 percent cut. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources works every day to protect the state’s land, water and air resources. It would lose hundreds of jobs. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, “GOP leaders have long felt that DENR has given business too hard a time with permitting, and that it’s full of liberal tree-huggers. Those tree-huggers have fought for decades … to protect our natural wonders that are valued not just by residents buy by the millions of tourists who have spent tens of millions of dollars on Tar Heel soil through the decades.”

And there’s much more that anyone who can read the newspaper or do a Google search will easily find. I agree that in this business climate the state needs to reduce spending. But if we keep the state’s current sales tax rate intact – which most won’t even notice — and don’t reduce it by the penny the House GOP leadership is advocating, then we cut the budget shortfall nearly in half, from somewhere near $2 billion down to $1 billion. With it we save jobs, protect education and the environment, and still make big cuts in spending.

But the anti-tax ideology is trumping common sense. Shameful.

Some years ago, confined to an office through work obligations but dreaming of farming, I spent more time than I should have surfing the Internet in search of agriculture and back-to-the-land related sites.

Amazingly, many of the same ones I visited regularly then are still up and running. Though these days, I find more pleasure in the actual doing than the reading, still sometimes I turn to old favorites for information or to recharge my batteries. Here’s some of the ones I’ve found most useful:

urbanhomestead.org — The Dervaes family lives in a sustainable fashion on a tiny (1/5th of an acre) lot in southern California, where they grow a garden, raise livestock and undertake interesting homesteading projects. The father, his grown son and two daughters (the wife and husband divorced many years ago) have developed a slick Website chronicling their journey. In fact, the site has gotten a little too slick and commercial for my taste, but maybe I’m just jealous of this family’s exceptional marketing abilities and beautiful urban homestead. There is a lot of good information here if you are willing to dig around, and this is a particularly useful site if you don’t have much room to create a sustainable lifestyle, but still are looking for ways to do just that.

www.homesteadingtoday.com — General homesteading forums that, subject wise, ranges far and wide. The forums are moderated, which helps keep people on-topic. Forums include general subjects such as “homesteading questions,” “countryside families” and so on, plus specialized areas on goats, bees, gardening, market gardening, sheep, rabbits, guard animals and more. Also includes a useful “preserving the harvest” forum and a recipes forum (need to know how to cook a possum? These are the folks who will likely know).

www.gardenweb.com — Skip all the junk and go directly to the gardening forums. These are terrific, and you’ll soon find your own favorites if you poke around long enough. Some of mine include “vegetable,” “tomatoes” and “organic gardening.” The search engine for the site is also quite good, allowing you to search within individual forums, so give it a shot next time you have a gardening question.

www.thecontraryfarmer.com — Writer Gene Logsdon’s site. This man writes and writes and writes, and yet still finds time to run an actual farm in Ohio. He has published more than 20 nonfiction titles, including his latest, “Holy Shit, Managing Manure to Save Mankind.” He also writes fiction, and these days, blogs on the Internet. Check him out, he’s funny and knowledgeable and agreeably opinionated (in that I agree with most of his opinions).

www.backwoodshome.com — If you can handle the survivalist paranoia that crops up here, then this is a good general source of homesteading and information on self-sufficiency. I subscribed to the magazine of the same name for a year or so, but didn’t renew because I couldn’t handle the rightwing Republinuts agenda. That said, the basic information offered here is sound, if you skip articles on storing up ammunition and the need to buy gold coins. Unless, of course, those are the sort of topics that interest you.

www.motherearthnews.com — So sad, so bad, but true: Mother Earth News is not what it once was. Still, ignore the yuppie, often shallow content and use the archives online, and you can tap right back into the original and best back-to-the-land magazine.

www.ces.ncsu.edu — At your fingertips, here is all the specialized agriculture-related information on North Carolina you could want. This site serves as a direct line to decades of state-funded research and work. On that same track, check out www.growingsmallfarms.org, a site built and maintained by Debbie Roos, an organic specialist for the state in Chatham County. Here you’ll find very specific information for organic and small farms in North Carolina, from marketing information to specific state regulations and laws.

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

For both teachers in the classroom and local administrators, this is shaping up to be the most challenging budget year in North Carolina history. At times like these, those of us who value a quality education system will be left to rely on the expertise of these professionals to do more with less. There’s simply no other option.

Last week we published a story detailing the budgetary challenges Haywood County schools will face in meeting the needs of its students as it deals with a loss of potentially $4 million. As most teacher assistants disappear, textbook money is cut drastically, and more local dollars will have to go toward buses — along with myriad other cuts — there’s just no need for hand-wringing.

Haywood Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte, discussing the state House budget proposal and what might happen locally, summed it up very matter of factly:

“I don’t think we can, in good conscience, expect the (county) commissioners to come up with revenue that they don’t have,” said Nolte. “It’s impractical, in my professional opinion, to say to our county commissioners, ‘Hey, the state cut all of this; fund it.’ There is a worldwide economic crisis, and to our knowledge, our commissioners do not have new revenues that would make up for any state cuts to any agencies.”

What it comes down to is this: teachers, already strapped for resources and perhaps overworked, will be asked to do more with less. Especially those working with young children in first, second and third grades, where teacher’s assistants are destined to be cut. Haywood has a pot of money it will use to try to keep assistants in the younger grades for at least one more year, but in many counties those assistants will disappear.

This is happening at the same time money for the More at Four pre-K program is being cut, meaning many children will enter kindergarten less prepared.

As all the peripheral dollars are being cut, perhaps this is an opportunity for certified teachers  — those actually doing the hands-on work in the classrooms — to get more attention. Studies have shown that teachers in all those countries that perennially outscore us on all those standardized tests are treated much better than teachers in the United States. They earn more, are treated more like professionals, and more of the good ones tend to remain in the profession for longer.

For many years there has been teacher shortage in this country. That’s because it hasn’t been a career that enticed the best and the brightest. Anyone who wonders why Finland, Japan or Korea outscore us need only look at who becomes teachers in those countries. When we take the same approach, there’s little doubt many of our education problems will disappear.

Money will be tight in public education for years to come as we struggle through this recession. Perhaps it is a good time to focus on teaching and use the resources we have to entice the brightest among our college students to spend their lives in the public school classroom.

Just a few minutes into weedeating and I feel lobotomized. Perhaps the heady roar of the little engine that can obliterates my ability to discern what’s being whacked until I’m in full, lethal motion. Maybe it’s the power of wielding a mechanized cutting machine mixed with the angst of an uptight, obsessive personality that does me in.

Be that as it may, once launched with a weedeater in my hands, I sense a strong internal drive to cut everything the same height — somehow blind to the carnage I’m wreaking in my lust for a flawless, perfect, three-inch tall green expanse.

In a different life, I might have been an excellent builder of golf courses. Though in this life, I dislike golf and golf courses (environmentally poisonous cesspools built so a few people can tap little balls into holes using sticks). And I would add a dislike for those who play golf, but that’s not actually true. I don’t dislike people who play golf. But I don’t comprehend the fascination, and I don’t much care for those I inwardly suspect of ulterior motives for playing golf: the modern Silas Laphams of the world and their upwardly mobile climb to the top. (Though having advertised my snobbishness, I’m tempted to add qualifiers about how I know golf is a fun game (though I don’t really believe it’s fun), and how I’m sure people don’t really hit the golf course for networking reasons alone (though I know many, in fact, do just that)).

Whatever … I give up. I’m heading from this self-built sand trap back to safer ground: weedeating.

It seems I always destroy at least one irreplaceable and expensive flower, shrub or tree during a weedeating outing. This weekend, the sacrificial victim was a serviceberry tree. It’s a fact that our forests are filled with serviceberries. So, on first blush, the loss of one, tiny serviceberry doesn’t seem like much. But my friend, a few years ago, had carefully selected this tree from a nursery, ordered the serviceberry sapling and planted it. She had weeded and nurtured the serviceberry, openly admiring her excellent work mere days before I, with a single heedless pass of the weedeater, took said prized serviceberry from a height of three or so feet to a mere three or so inches.

I looked back, oops, too late to prevent the destruction, and there — stark evidence of my recklessness and need for perfection — was a tiny stump, the remnants of her beloved serviceberry tree.

“Well, if you had to cut something down, I’d rather it be that than, say, the plum tree,” my friend said bravely, as if she were in the Strait of Messina choosing between Scylla and Charybdis.

A few years ago, I ordered eight very expensive tea plants from a nursery in Chapel Hill. I planted them. Within a week, I had chopped down two. Innumerable flowers have given way to my weedeating, and even a fair number of vegetable plants — each time I mow the paths in the garden, I take out a broccoli here, a row of carrot tops there.

I’ve long toyed with the possibility of using a scythe rather than a weedeater. My biggest fear isn’t the physical labor involved — a weedeater beats the hell out of you, anyway — it’s sharpening the blade. I’m very bad at sharpening anything. I have ruined many a fine knife by trying to “fix” it, dulling the blades beyond the repair of the most skilled professional knife sharpener. These days, I use a serrated knife that never requires sharpening, and I resolutely squelch desires for chef-quality kitchen equipment. I know I’d just be throwing away my money if I bought nice knives.

This might prove the case with a scythe, too. There is something deeply satisfying, however, about the thought of using this finely crafted tool instead of a machine. No motor, no need to string; more time to think, some protection I hope for the plants. Additionally, my inner peasant finds a certain rustic appeal to the possibility of looking like I stepped out of a Bruegel painting. And that’s a feeling I certainly never get when using a weedeater.

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

We’ve written before about how important the downtown business districts in our mountain towns are to their communities, but it needs to be said again in light of the debate now going on in Sylva. Town leaders in the Jackson County town will be making a big mistake if they pull the plug on support for the Downtown Sylva Association.

At this time town leaders are debating what level of funding to give to the downtown booster organization in the coming year’s budget. We would encourage those elected officials to provide as much as they can, and to begin looking for additional ways to support downtown Sylva.

The primary complaint by those opposed to the funding is that DSA is too downtown-centric. In other words, a majority of the town commissioners say giving money to the organization is unfair to other parts of town that don’t benefit from its work.

We think that argument leaves out too many of the proven reasons why a vibrant downtown is a rising tide that lifts all ships. Other merchants throughout Sylva benefit when the downtown is alive and full rather than empty with storefronts boarded up.

If someone is thinking about opening a new business anywhere in Sylva, it’s obvious a thriving downtown would provide a strong signal that the town has a healthy business environment. When the hospital, the university, the community college, the school system and private businesses are recruiting single professionals or families, downtown Sylva surely helps. Throughout the mountains, Sylva is known now as a place where those who keep our Appalachian musical, craft, and literary traditions alive will find patrons, whether that’s at a reading at City Lights or a concert at Bridge Park.

These are important, tangible reasons for keeping downtown Sylva healthy. There’s also the tax benefit to Sylva and Jackson County of a healthy downtown. And we won’t even go into the festivals and special events that bring real dollars to Sylva and Jackson County, helping everyone from grocery store clerks to gas station employees.

Look, asking town leaders to support downtown Sylva is not a revolutionary idea. From Charlotte to New Bern to Waynesville and Franklin, civic and elected leaders have realized the benefit of supporting their Main Streets. Drive downtown anywhere and you take the pulse of a community. Sylva’s pulse is strong, and that’s why about 20 people showed up at a meeting two weeks ago to encourage town leaders to support DSA. We can only hope they were listening.

The next time you are standing about the yard scratching your head in confusion about which tree climber in Jackson County to call because there’s a swarm of bees in the tippy-toppy portion of a tree, let me please recommend David Hatton, a very fine tree climber and a man whose resume now includes experience in the hellish ways of honeybees.

David this week heroically ascended a rather smallish but very tallish white oak at my behest. He cracked jokes about how much he was enjoying being 50 to 60 feet up the tiny tree as it swayed wildly about, rather like a Q-tip might writhe before gale-force winds. He endured four stings in his scalp without (much) complaint — although David did, I noticed, descend the oak tree at an alarmingly rapid pace after announcing: “That’s it” in a calm, but resolute, tone of voice.

David endured all of this only to watch the bees take off for parts unknown, sort of “Westward, Ho!” and down, out of sight they disappeared into the valley below.

And thus this tree climber unwittingly, but gamely, became an initiate into the world of beekeeping. David learned firsthand the great lesson bees are here to teach us: the knowledge that the subject of one’s ardor will, as often as not, receive the attentions lavished upon them ungratefully; and in return for adoration, will visit great pain and, sometimes, absolute rejection upon us.

Does that sound a bit dark, a tad jaded, a wee bit pessimistic? Let me hasten to add that I am wild for swarms, and passionate about honeybees. Something deep inside me thrills when I see that tornadic rotation of thousands of bees launching upwards from a hive, and I hear the astonishingly loud buzzing roar that signals a swarm.

Even if, as so often proves the case, the swarm disappears without so much as a “thanks, dedicated beekeeper, for feeding us all winter.” And this just a couple weeks before, you’ll note, it is time to start collecting honey for said beekeeper. And just one day — one day! — before I planned to split this particular hive to hinder swarming.

I console myself it’s only through my losses, and the losses of other beekeepers, that the forests will be repopulated with honeybees.

(Though, philosophic resignation be damned, I would really like my swarm back. So if someone in the Fairview community spots a large wad of honeybees hanging about, please get in touch with me (unless the bees went into the walls of your home, in which case, that most certainly wasn’t my swarm)).

•••

This seems like as good a place as any to answer some of the many questions I get about honeybees.

Q: Dear Quintin, I’m really interested in getting into beekeeping. How many hives should I own?

A: Two to start with. More than two is too much work; fewer than two and you don’t have a point of comparison.

Q: Dear Quintin, where can I get bees?

A: It’s really late in the season to be getting bees. Most beekeepers take orders in the fall for the following spring. So think about doing it next year, and in the meantime, join a bee club (call your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Service agent for more information).

Q: Dear Quintin, I have bees, somehow they survived my total neglect and lived through the winter. What should I be doing now?

A: I hope you’ve been feeding them sugar water, or there’s a very good chance your bees starved this spring even after surviving the winter. If they are alive, I for one am strongly considering putting my supers on now — I spotted some locust in bloom, and it looks as if the poplar trees are getting ready to bloom, too. Stop feeding sugar water when you super up. Actually, I quit earlier this month — you don’t want them to store sugar water instead of honey.

Q: Dear Quintin, why not just put the supers on early, say March? Why the what’s-in-bloom-now fixation?

A: Put supers on too early and the bees will use the wax in the frames for other purposes, not necessarily as a place to store honey.

Q: Dear Quintin, what the hell is a super?

A: Supers are boxes that contain frames of foundation, usually made of wax that encourage bees to store honey, which you can later rob from them.

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

The crane games are beautiful beasts, shiny and brightly lit, with a glass belly full of forlorn and lonely stuffed animals waiting to be rescued by obsessive 9-year-old girls with a pocketful of quarters and reasonably good aim. My daughter literally cannot walk past a crane game — not at Shoneys, not in a grocery store, not in an arcade or a Laundromat — without plastering herself like a sheet of badly laid wallpaper against the crane game, her nose pressed to the glass, looking in at the sad assortment of captive creatures, any one of which would be so very grateful to find its way to a little girl’s bed come nightfall.

“Oh daddy, oh daddy, oh daddy,” she half sings, half pleads.

How much is that doggie in the window? About $17, most likely, maybe more. I’m pretty sure that the crane game — or the claw game, as some people may call it — is fixed, set on some mysterious device deep in its internal organs to grip firmly enough to extract an animal from the teeming pile about one out of every 10 or perhaps 20 tries, and that is if the crane has been perfectly positioned by the victim, I mean operator, who has been feeding the crane game beast quarters like Ritz crackers for nearly half an hour.

More often, the crane attaches half-heartedly and very briefly to an extruding foot or arm, pulling it upward gently for just a moment so that the animal seems to be waving to the child, “save me, save me,” only to release the animal back to the pile, while the crane returns mechanically, even coldly, to its original position, waiting to be fed again.

My daughter, bless her, believes she has the game figured, the beast tamed. She doesn’t. She’s a 9-year-old version of Willy Loman from “Death of a Salesman.” Willy figured he was a great salesman and couldn’t figure why he was having such a hard time making ends meet every month. In the end, he relied on his neighbor Charley to pay his bills, essentially to subsidize his illusion of success.

In our version of the play, I am Charley, paying for my daughter’s illusions and obsessions. On her bed are approximately 65 stuffed creatures of various species. Of these, I would say about half of these are the spoils of victory from the arcade and carnival game wars. She has taken in these orphans, made them her children, arranged them in a community in which she is both mayor and head nurse, tending to them and their unpredictable and never-ending assortment of ailments.

I look in on them at night when she is fast asleep, surrounded by them, submerged in them, a foot poking out from under an alligator’s snout, one arm around a koala bear with one ear. Now I find that I am the one with my nose pressed against the glass. Believe this: I’d scoop her out of there and keep her if I could. I’d use all the quarters I could find, all I could afford or borrow, play all night if necessary. But there is no crane above her bed — just a ceiling fan, marking time. I know all too well how this game is rigged. She’s growing up too fast, and there is no rescue I know of for that.

“Oh daddy, oh daddy, oh daddy.” Those eyes.

“Here, baby,” I mumble, fishing out whatever quarters there are in my pockets. “Are you going after that turtle?”

“Nope, the yellow bird.”

She feeds the beast, and studies the bird, moving the crane past it, and then back, a smidge too far, and then over just a sliver. She studies it some more, looking first on one side, and then the other. Perfect. She pushes the button and the crane descends, its massive jaws closing over the bird’s head and upper body, pulling it just slightly before letting go.

It’s the not the letting go that bothers me, I don’t suppose. As I said, I know the game’s rigged. It’s how easy the crane makes it look to let go. It’s infuriating, maddening. My daughter isn’t fazed in the least. She’ll get ‘em next time. She has it figured out.

“Wait right here,” I tell her. “I’ll get change for a dollar.”

We’ll play all night if we have to.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Governments at all levels and all across the nation are broke. At every county courthouse and state house, money taken in from taxes and fees can’t match the spending elected officials have become accustomed to. As they say in literature, a reckoning is coming. Over the next several years, the relationship between taxpayers and our government will undergo a fundamental shift.

It’s a pendulum swing, similar to what we experienced with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Many of us won’t like the consequences, and so we’ll write opinion pieces or letters to the editor, or blog, or protest in the streets, and finally elect folks who will do our bidding. That’s the way it works.

As I was reading about local unrest toward government spending, I got an email form Doug Woodward about the McCoy Bridge in Macon County. You can see his thoughts in our letters section.

Woodward and his neighbors are up in arms about a bridge. I wrote about that bridge controversy nine years ago, and at that time my argument did not focus on the monetary cost of rehabilitating a bridge versus building a new one. Everyone had money back then, and building around the mountains was booming. No, I worried about the cultural and symbolic value of the old bridge to the community it served.

Today we can include the fiscal argument. If it is cheaper to rehab the old bridge and give the community what it wants, then just do it. It makes sense on every level.

Anyway, here’s a portion of that column from 2002 that Woodward asked us to re-print prior to the April 25 public hearing that could decide the fate of the bridge:

Bridges have a unique symbolism in literature and in real life. At their best they provide a thread of connectedness, while at other times they highlight the distance and depth of opposing views.

In Macon County, the McCoy Bridge crossing the Little Tennessee River just off N.C. 28 is bearing the burden of exposing how government and communities can sometimes work against each other. In this case, the individual entities involved don’t harbor ill will toward the other. The real underlying problem is that the government units — the county and the state — don’t have the kind of planning in place to adequately deal with the situation that has arisen.

When that occurs, the government entities and the private citizens must share in the blame. Whether you believe it or not, in this country private citizens still determine what kind of government leaders they will have, and therefore share in whatever decisions are made. As we learn to grapple with the modern challenges of growth, sprawl and protecting the environment, this little bridge may provide an example of how to work together to meet common goals.

The McCoy Bridge is a one-lane vehicular truss bridge, the last one in Macon County. Vehicles traveling in opposite directions between the highway and Rose Creek Road must wait for cars coming across the bridge before they can pass. There is no room for zooming, two-way traffic moving at dangerous speeds. Residents in the Oak Grove community of northern Macon County want it to remain that way.

… The bridge serves a rural community a few miles outside of Franklin. As it is, massive, sprawling development on the opposite side of the river — and across the bridge — would be difficult. Many of those who might see the development potential of that mountain real estate would refrain because access is limited by the bridge. It serves as a kind of barrier, not natural, of course, but one that was built in 1939.

The state Department of Transportation, however, has determined that the bridge needs work. Engineers have deemed it functionally obsolete and unable to handle future traffic demands. Its structural integrity is suspect, they say.

…. There is also a very significant cultural and historical side to this issue. Throughout these mountains we are building roads and opening up rural areas for development instead of tackling the more difficult issue of protecting these lands and containing development in areas where infrastructure already exists. The DOT is right that the bridge is probably in dire need of some engineering work. A Ford Excursion certainly puts more stress on an old bridge than a 1945 Dodge did.

The trouble is that the DOT mandate to keep roads and bridges safe also enables them to carry more traffic, makes them wider, and makes them safer for higher speeds. Those attributes, though, are not necessarily good things for the community that uses the road — or the bridge in this case — that is being “improved.” And what we must remember is that the bridge was built to serve the community.

It’s easy to guess what will happen in this unique area of Macon County in the future if local and state leaders — along with private citizens — don’t wrestle with issues like this and get on the same page. Roads will be widened and curves will be straightened. Houses will be built. Schools will be needed in the outlying areas, solid waste will have to hauled somewhere, septic tanks or sewer lines, along with other infrastructure, will need to be built. Taxes will go up to meet these needs. The rural countryside five miles outside of Franklin will become just another suburb. A one-lane truss bridge will not be able to handle the traffic.

The McCoy Bridge dilemma serves as an example of the challenges facing these mountains. Residents who value our rural countryside have to make sure they put the leaders in place who have the same values, not those who will pave over paradise instead of working for a better alternative. Time is running out.

That warning from 2002 didn’t foresee the housing bubble burst and the ensuing recession. The dizzying pace of construction in the mountains has ground to a halt. So now we do have time to take stock of what’s important and work to save it. And we have to be more careful with every tax dollar that is spent.

In this case, we stand with the Woodward and the residents who live in this community — rehab the historic bridge and make it a showpiece instead of building a concrete slab spanning the Little Tennessee river.

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

 

Public hearing

The N.C. Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing on Monday, April 25, regarding alternatives for replacing the McCoy Bridge. The hearing will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Cowee Elementary School gymnasium. It will be a question-and-answer session with transportation officials. Maps displaying the bridge replacement alternatives will be available prior to the public hearing from 5 to 6 p.m.

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