Displaying items by tag: opinion

A box of bulbs arrived Saturday, containing within the cardboard confines all the promises of fall work, winter waiting and spring wonder.

The decision was made last March or April to order then rather than waiting to select and purchase the following season’s bulbs during these autumn days. That way, the reasoning went, the choices would be thoughtful, with awareness of precisely where new daffodils, fritillaria, tulips and crocuses should best go.

Needs were plain to see, as absences that begged filling. I also developed an itch that required scratching: a heated passion for tulips. With this newly awakened appreciation I marvel at how I could have wasted more than four decades failing to enjoy the beauty of these flowers. Hoity-toity me, I sniffed and condemned tulips as too artificial for the likes of my cultured self.

My ignorance, now that I’ve discovered the vast array and endless beauty of the tulip, staggers me; my condescension toward those who enjoy them shames me. Before this past spring, I suspected tulip aficionados to be of a type who most likely enjoyed ‘tulip tires,’ too, and who whitewashed tree trunks. And who were capable of positioning an abandoned metal bed frame beside the road, planted with flowers, bearing a helpful hand-painted sign for passer-byes cleverly noting that here is a “flowerbed.”

Gentled this past year, tulip tires, white-washed trees and metal flowerbeds seem poignant  — a Southern phenomenon like our Easter-egg trees, when mountain families festoon winter-bare trees with colorful plastic eggs, a cultural practice I can’t, frankly, quite fathom. But we’ll be poorer for it when that day comes in the South when no one in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina decorate their yards for motorists’ enjoyment, and if trees in Western North Carolina each April don’t inexplicably spawn plastic Easter eggs.   

To return to bulbs: I’m very happy, now that bulb-planting time is here, with the decision to order early. It was so unlike me to do something in anticipation, rather than in mere Pavlovian-conditioned response. To actually plan nearly 12 months in advance for future pleasures — how thrilling now that the box has arrived in the mail, how satisfying the expectations of spring beauty to come.

The word “spring” is used in the loosest sense. For the flower gardener, at least this particular flower gardener, the beginning of spring is the onset of bloom following snows. That can be early February some years in Western North Carolina, though sometimes we must wait almost for March to arrive.

After months of hot weather and crazed growth, I can no longer easily picture what the landscape looks like during the comparative bareness of spring. Not with the flower garden bursting with fall bloom. I can’t see beyond the now of lilac-colored asters, gold- and maroon- and salmon-colored chrysanthemums, bright zinnias and light, delicate pink cosmos flanked by the husky, darker pinks of autumn sedum. A huge patch of grasses, as tall as I am, has declined to remain within its allotted space but towers resplendent in the gold and fading greens of fall, dominating the front bed. Sea oats bounce in response to the slightest breath of air, a quivering living edge for the back bed nearest the dining-room windows.

My breakfast, as usual a bowl of cereal drowning in goat’s milk, was spent this morning watching birds visit the feeders and surveying the flowerbeds. This breakfast inspection wasn’t encouraging.

The flowerbeds do not seem to allow for adding even a single blade of grass. Much less the 100 or so bulbs ordered, with more to come in another shipment.

Though I congratulate myself on the ordering early aspect, my failure to map where I intended to actually plant these new bulbs haunts me now. Were the crocuses destined for the empty space I seem to remember near the front of the hellebores, or were they to go along the side of the house entrance? The poppy collection — where in the world did I think they could be planted? Ten minnow daffodil, five tulip, 10 Grecian windflowers, 12 hyacinths; what was I thinking? I’m surprised that in my spring enthusiasm I didn’t order a partridge in a pear tree, because if there’s room for all of these bulbs, there’s certainly room to squeeze that in, too.

If I follow my usual planting patterns, I’ll remain in frozen indecision until the last possible moment. One bleak, cold December day with snow threatening will find me hunched in the flower beds, digging holes with a trowel, dropping bulbs hither and thither in a willy-nilly frenzy, telling myself that come spring the flowers will look good wherever they grow.

And, that’s actually true. Our finest Southern garden writer, Elizabeth Lawrence, once noted that of the myriad flowers found in our seasonal gardens, none are so important as those first few we discover blooming. I find this particularly insightful following a long, drab winter, when the barnyard is a disagreeable mucky mess and the landscape a dull, lifeless brown for months on end. Those first blooms bring such joy and excitement. Totally out of proportion, perhaps, with the actual discreetness of the white, yellow or purple flowers. As one often discovers in a general way about almost anything in life, context is everything.

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

The news media in this country is abuzz with talk about North Carolina. Unfortunately, it’s not flattering. What they’re saying is that we are being controlled by an oligarchy of sorts that begins and ends with multimillionaire Art Pope, the discount store heir who has effectively bought control of state politics.

The magazine story that has lit the national fire starts right here in Western North Carolina, detailing the tight 2010 legislative race in which Franklin orthodontist Jim Davis beat former judge and senator John Snow of Murphy for a state Senate seat.

The piece in the Oct. 10 issue of the New Yorker is titled “State for Sale, a conservative multimillionaire has taken control in North Carolina, one of 2012’s top battlegrounds” www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/10/111010fa_fact_mayer.

The reporter, Jane Mayer, was already well known for reporting on billionaires Charles and David Koch and their political influence. In the week since this more recent article was published, Mayer has been on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross and on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC cable news show. Here are a couple of excerpts from Mayer’s article:

 

That fall, in the remote western corner of the state, John Snow, a retired Democratic judge who had represented the district in the State Senate for three terms, found himself subjected to one political attack after another. Snow, who often voted with the Republicans, was considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the General Assembly, and his record reflected the views of his constituents. His Republican opponent, Jim Davis — an orthodontist loosely allied with the Tea Party — had minimal political experience, and Snow, a former college football star, was expected to be reelected easily. Yet somehow Davis seemed to have almost unlimited money with which to assail Snow.

“…. After the election, the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, a nonpartisan, pro-business organization, revealed that two seemingly independent political groups had spent several hundred thousand dollars on ads against Snow — a huge amount in a poor, backwoods district. Art Pope was instrumental in funding and creating both groups, Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action. Real Jobs NC was responsible for the ‘Go fish!’ ad and the mass mailing that attacked Snow’s ‘pork projects.’ The racially charged ad was produced by the North Carolina Republican Party, and Pope says that he was not involved in its creation. But Pope and three members of his family gave the Davis campaign a four-thousand-dollar check each — the maximum individual donation allowed by state law.

 

Back during the last General Assembly election, I kept reading about Pope and his influence. While the New Yorker will get credit for nationalizing this story, the Institute for Southern Studies, a Durham-based nonprofit that professes to be a “nonpartisan media, research and education center,” did the first real reporting. Way back in 2010 it, in conjunction with the newspaper The Independent, was reporting on Pope’s growing political clout (the institute’s Facing South online magazine is one of the best currently reporting on issues facing North Carolina and the South).

This Mayer story turns on three interesting points.

One is the tie to Western North Carolina. Not only does Mayer use the Snow-Davis race as an example of how Pope and his allies smeared candidates to influence elections, she also quotes Asheville’s Martin Nesbitt, the leading Democrat remaining in the state Senate after the Republican takeover of 2010. Further, Pope’s wealthy parents sent him to the Asheville School. Here’s a description of him from the New Yorker article, an aside from when Mayer was interviewing Pope in his office:

 

He is now fifty-five years old and bespectacled, but the energy with which he darted from one file to the next suggested why his classmates at the Asheville School, an elite preparatory academy, had nicknamed him the Flea. He was on the school’s basketball team, and had such a strong tendency to spin and bounce off his opponents that he was often given personal fouls.

 

The second — and perhaps most important — point in the New Yorker piece and the Facing South stories is how much control Pope is indeed wielding in our state. He doesn’t only contribute to campaigns, but he is the primary benefactor for organizations such as the John Locke Institute. That conservative think tank’s writers are regular contributors to newspapers and talk shows and helps set the state’s political agenda. So Pope is savvy enough — and rich enough — to push his message through the media and by influencing campaigns.  

Three groups for which Pope’s foundation and family are the primary benefactors — Civitas Action, Real Jobs NC and Americans for Prosperity — contributed 75 percent of the $2.6 million spent on the state’s 2010 legislative races by independent, nonparty groups. All of that went to Republicans who won a historic majority in both houses of the state legislature. According to Facing South, Pope’s support helped influence 18 GOP victories in those 2010 legislative races. That’s a lot of power for one person, regardless of his political alignment.

Finally, according to Mayer, it’s important to look at the potential for Pope’s influence on national politics. Republicans are now in control of the General Assembly for congressional redistricting. As expected, the new maps will favor Republicans (as they would have favored Democrats if they had been in power — such is the system). North Carolina went to Obama in 2008, and is considered a swing state. The new GOP clout will certainly influence the 2012 presidential race. If he helps hand North Carolina to the Republicans in 2012, Pope has set himself up to become a powerbroker on the national stage.

Times are changing. A recent Supreme Court decision opened the door for corporations to spend more on politics, and so we will see the super-rich who have millions to spend doing just that. And it’s all legal. All voters can do is try to stay informed and keep tabs on who is pulling the levers behind the curtain. In North Carolina, it’s Art Pope who’s playing Oz.

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

I am a great admirer of efficient people. In my enthusiasm for them I sometimes mistake myself for one of those types. I wrongly imagine I’m a getting-it-done kind of person who never goes upstairs or downstairs with empty hands; I like to believe that I’m always carrying an item in one direction or another, returning said items to their proper, pre-assigned places. The items remain until needed and always — without exception — are put back after use.

That’s a very nice goal, and sometimes I am quite diligent, for a time, at putting tools away. During those neat periods I’m prone to walk about muttering, for others’ edification: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I get very indignant when Someone Else leaves tools Like They Always Do carelessly strewn in the yard, and they get rained on — as happened a month or so ago to the Dutch hoe. Then I generally remember it was actually me who last used the tool in question. That time I forgot the hoe after trying, unsuccessfully, to hack to death the Jerusalem artichokes along the back of the garden (an aside: they are in the sunflower family, which means they are allopathic. And that means Jerusalem artichokes inhibit other nearby plants from growing, as has occurred along the entire end of the vegetable plot).

Returning to efficiency, or lack there of: let me get busy at work, or interested in a book, or fascinated by pigs or geese or ducks or a new vegetable or anything new at all, and I’m virtually useless at accomplishing anything else. I’m instantly paralyzed by my new interest, this sudden grand passion, from attending to mundane tasks such as putting away tools, or listening when I’m spoken to, or getting tasks done that need doing.

A one-track mind really doesn’t cover it.

A friend with a background in psychology recently informed me, I hope jokingly, that I suffer not at all from attention deficit disorder; but rather, from a previously undiscovered-to-medical-science syndrome: attention rigidity disorder.

If I’m interested in pigs, then I read about and talk about and dream about pigs. The same thing if it’s geese, or ducks, or I don’t know — pick something preposterous, like working a fulltime job and having 87 farm animals to care for … Oh, heck, that’s not preposterous, that was the actual count last winter before some were sold.

Another illustrative example: Boo the billy goat earlier this week got his fat head stuck through a fence trying to lick and nibble one of the does. He’s in full and stinky rut, but the does aren’t yet interested in his Don Juan self. They do seem to enjoy passing by his pen out of reach but near enough to drive him bonkers.

So here was Boo at morning feeding time, his head through the fence, trapped.

“Can you please get him out?” I asked my friend, my being dressed for work and not wanting a repeat of a recent experience in which I thoroughly offended the delicate sensibilities of my coworkers by getting his odor all over my clothes and hands.

Yes, I was told, don’t worry about Boo.

But to make a long, uninteresting story simply short and uninteresting, Boo’s head stayed wedged through the fence, despite vigorous efforts to free him. At moments like these, one must reach for the bolt cutters to cut the idiot billy free.

The bolt cutters are kept on a shelf in the barn. The bolt cutters have a place, just like the efficiency experts urge — but they were not, of course, in their correct place when actually needed.

This sent me into a full-blown snit. I was already late for work.

There are two pairs of bolt cutters on the farm, one assigned to stay at the top of the mountain, the other down below at the barn.

“Where,” I asked angrily, “are the bolt cutters this time?”

They couldn’t be found.

I slammed into the pickup truck to drive back to the house and find a pair. Meanwhile, Boo jerked his head back through to the correct side of the fence, shortcutting my trip. (See, I told you it was an uninteresting story. I have a lot like that, because my life is not nearly as fascinating on a weekly basis as it might appear from this column, culled as it is for the exciting highlights only).

How much easier, how wonderful it would be, if tools could be found where you expect to find them, when you most need them.

I stayed in my righteous snit for about 10 minutes. Then it dawned on me that I might have used the bolt cutters one day not long ago when one of the kids got her head stuck. I perhaps tossed them carelessly in the back of my car when done, taking them up to the house with intentions of bringing them back the next trip down the mountain to put them on the shelf in the barn where they belong.  

Oops, again — so much for efficiency.

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

When will we say, “It is enough”?

On Sept. 19, a 14-year-old boy named Jamey Rodemeyer from Buffalo, N.Y., committed suicide after suffering from being bullied by classmates who harassed him with gay slurs both at his school and online. Rodemeyer had recorded his own version of a video modeled on a project called “It Gets Better,” which was established by a writer named Dan Savage to give hope to young gays and lesbians dealing with harassment over their homosexuality.   

Rodemeyer had been in therapy, but had also been posting disturbing warnings on his Tumblr account. Just days prior to his suicide, he wrote, “No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down,” followed the next day by, “I always say I am bullied, but no one listens … What do I have to do so people will listen to me?”

Evidently, the answer to that question was to kill himself, because now, when it is too late, Rodemeyer’s story is finally getting attention, not just locally, but nationally. It hasn’t stopped the bullying, though. At a dance to honor Rodemeyer held on Sept. 22, several students taunted his sister, allegedly saying, “We’re glad he’s dead.” One of the students has been suspended, and the school is now investigating the bullying that Rodemeyer endured before taking his own life.

When will we finally say, “It is enough”?

Less than a week prior to Rodemeyer’s suicide, the North Carolina legislature voted to put a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages on ballot for the primary election in May 2012. It is already illegal in North Carolina for gays and lesbians to get married, but the amendment would make it even more difficult, and would bar the sanction of civil unions as well.

Gaston state Sen. James Forrester (R), who is a doctor and is lead sponsor of the bill, said this at a town hall meeting: “I’ve got a few homosexual patients and I treat them just the same as anybody else. I love them perhaps even more because I know they are going to die at least 20 years earlier and it’s something I have no control over and we need to reach out to them to try to get them to change their lifestyle and back to the normal lifestyle which we can accept.”

Of course, there is not a shred of credible evidence to support Forrester’s reckless claims, nor has he been able to articulate in subsequent interviews why gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage while divorce, for instance, is not. You will notice in the referenced quote above that Forrester uses the imperial “we” that excludes gays and lesbians by definition, while also suggesting that sexual orientation and “lifestyle” are interchangeable terms that mean the same thing.

We live in a curious stage in our nation’s history in which gays and lesbians are much more “accepted” than ever before, but this so-called acceptance comes with so many conditions, qualifiers, and exceptions that in the end, “our” cultural and political attitude regarding gays and lesbians is as exquisitely calibrated as a Swiss watch. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military was one example of this — it’s “OK” to be gay or lesbian as long as you do not talk about it or “make a show” of it, which is the way that the vast majority of homosexuals have had to live to get by in this country for countless years. In the nicer parts of town, you may no longer get savagely beaten or verbally attacked for being a gay or lesbian, as long as you don’t do something as egregious as hold hands on the street or in a restaurant with your partner, or life-mate, or whatever other euphemism that “we” find acceptable these days.

There is perhaps no better example of cognitive dissonance on the acceptance of gays and lesbians than the fluctuating positions on gay marriage taken by President Obama over the past 15 years. In 1996, he was for it. During his presidential campaign, he was against it. More recently, his position seems to be that it should be left up to the states. Obama has been quoted as saying that his position is “evolving,” which sounds a lot better than saying, “I am a hypocrite, and my position changes according to the situation and the audience and whether it is an election year.”

So what does all of this have to do with the suicide of a 14-year-old boy? Well, nothing and everything. If the President of the United States cannot make sense of his own position regarding gays and lesbians, if we as a people cannot let go of the conditions, qualifiers, and exceptions that block us from embracing gays and lesbians as being an actual part of “us,” if school officials will not investigate a teenager’s desperate cries for help until he is dead, then shame on us all.

When will we EVER say, “It is enough?”

(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..)

I cut my first fall salad this weekend: baby kale, tatsoi, mizuna, baby mustards and more. Following a summer of garden failure, this fall garden has restored my good humor and gardening confidence.

As weedy as my summer garden proved, this one is clean and weed-free. The beds are brimming with luscious greens planted over the last couple of months. The cabbage is heading, and perhaps the broccoli will soon, too. Carrot tops stand about seven-inches tall, giving hints of the bounty growing beneath the ground; winter radishes — daikons and the appealingly named beauty hearts — are doing the same. Who could resist growing a radish called a beauty heart? Certainly not I; only, perhaps, a gardener without poetry in their soul could turn away from such a promising name, if indeed such a contrary being exists.

There are two large turnip beds. The turnips, too, look promising, though insects have been chomping the leaves of some. I soon must intervene or risk losing this staple winter root vegetable. To spray or not to spray? One can be friendlier to the earth by handpicking the creatures off, but that takes more time and considerably more effort than splashes of organic, but still deadly, sprays.   

There were fall gardening failures, as there always must be. And, perhaps, even should be: Success tempered with small disasters keeps gardeners humble and properly thankful for what does grow and prosper.

My beets and chard never germinated. Or, rather, one beet plant can be seen where a row was intended; four or five chard plants where 20 to 25 plants were planned. The spinach didn’t germinate, nor did the rape.

But taken overall, and standing back to admire the big picture instead of focusing narrowly on those few sparsely germinated beds, this fall garden looks to produce wonderfully. I can anticipate harvesting now until at least late December. And longer, on into spring, if I’m willing to work as necessary — gardening needn’t cease after the killing frosts arrive unless gardeners choose cold-weather respites.

I’ll leave the beds uncovered until frost. Then I’ll haul out metal hoops and yards of row cover from the shed and cover the beds.

Wind is more difficult for plants than cold — in fact, any of the plants I’ve mentioned easily endure temperatures around and below freezing, and can withstand even several degrees below that once acclimated. Somewhere below about 23 degrees, though, and you start losing the battle with the less hardy greens if you don’t intervene.

The odds for plant survival increase mightily with row cover. I generally use a product that provides 4 degrees or so of frost protection. But, as mentioned, the greater benefit of row cover is the protection from moisture-sucking winds.

Until the last couple of winters, I usually added a plastic barrier overtop the row cover when really cold weather set in. I’ve stopped doing that, however, for the most part. In my experience, the bigger issue for winter gardeners in Western North Carolina is dealing with the extreme variation in temperatures. Extreme cold followed by a week or two of balmy weather wreaks havoc in the winter garden. The plants adjust to the warmth, and then a sudden descent back into single digits is more than they can withstand, particularly within a double-protected bed of row cover and plastic.

I’ve found the plants actually withstand temperature fluctuations better when simply given protection of row cover, without the plastic. I could speculate on why, but I’ll spare you my intuition-based musings. The truth is I have no real idea how this single barrier does the trick, but it often does.

I double or triple, the row cover protection on some beds, and turnips and carrots covered in this manner can be harvested all winter.

My best-producing winter gardens have come in years when we’ve had unremitting cold and the insulation of heavy snow. My worst when we get mild weather followed by cold; and repeats of mild weather followed by cold.

This leaves me torn between desiring warm winters so that it will be easier to get outside and work; or cold, hard winters, which virtually ensure good garden production, but means that on some days you can’t harvest because the row cover is actually frozen to the ground.

And that reminds me of the wonderful “Gardener’s Prayer” by Czech writer Karel Capek, who clearly understood the vacillation that afflicts all gardeners:

 

O Lord, grant that in some way

it may rain every day,

Say from about midnight until three o’clock

in the morning,

But, You see, it must be gentle and warm

so that it can soak in;

Grant that at the same time it would not

rain on campion, alyssum, helianthus, lavendar,

and others which

You in Your infinite wisdom know

are drought-loving plants-

I will write their names on a bit of paper if you like-

And grant that the sun may shine

the whole day long,

But not everywhere (not, for instance, on the

gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron)

and not too much;

That there may be plenty of dew and little wind,

enough worms, no lice and snails, or mildew,

and that once a week thin liquid manure

and guano

may fall from heaven.

Amen.

 

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

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a resilient, independent spirit. When the U.S. government forced the majority of the tribe to head west to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, those who remained were the defiant ones, and it is their offspring who now form the nucleus of the tribe. It is these Native Americans who are using the profits from what was originally a controversial casino to help rediscover their cultural identity.

Prior the construction of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the Eastern Band were a poor tribe with little influence. Tribal members who lived in Cherokee struggled to make a living in a tourism-dominated economy. Because there was little industry and because the region was so isolated, the area around Cherokee, Swain and Graham counties perennially topped the state in unemployment, averaging around 25 percent for many years when the state first started keeping statistics.

Much of that changed with the coming of casino profits. The tribe found itself with a newfound wealth and power. What’s noteworthy in this transformation is how that money has been used to invest in Cherokee and its people, when it could have gone to line the pockets of only the most powerful.

The Cherokee Preservation Foundation might be the most notable symbol of this transformation. The Foundation was created as part of the second gaming compact with the state in 2000, and it has funneled millions of dollars into cultural, historical and economic development projects on the Qualla Boundary and surrounding region. Those investments include the Cherokee language immersion program, a Native American art institute, helping restore rivercane for traditional basketmaking, investing in traditional Cherokee arts such as metalsmiths, making broadband more available in rural Western North Carolina and dozens of other worthwhile projects.

The tribe itself has built a new school that uses green technology and celebrates tribal traditions, invested in health care and public safety, and is teaching its youth how to wisely manage the per capita payments they receive from casino profits. It also helps each of its high school graduates pay for college. Men and women who work for the tribe earn good wages and benefits.

In other words, the tribe is investing in itself, its people and its traditions. When you talk to members of the tribe today, the pride in what is happening in Cherokee is obvious.

There are still problems in Cherokee, just as there are everywhere in this country. But over the past decade those of us who live here have witnessed a resurgence among the Eastern Band that surpasses what most thought possible when gambling was first approved. They’ve used the casino profits wisely, to say the least. That’s a credit to the Eastern Band members and its leadership.

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

I have learned, yet again, the virtues of doing something right the first time. My sloppiness was a bloody and painful lesson for two young goats this past weekend. It was an experience I could have spared them — and me — by giving proper and prompt attention to their horns just after they were born late last winter.

Ideally, within a few days of a kid’s birth, if you plan to burn off horn buds you do so then. These are dairy goats; horns on dairy goats are dangerous for everyone involved. Brenda, an experienced goat keeper who is kind enough to come help me with horn burning and on horn-removal days, learned this lesson the hard way. Just last week she had a horned kid on her farm pop its head up unexpectedly, catching her with its stubby weapon just below the left eye. Half an inch higher, and this might have been a different, more serious, story.

Goats not properly disbudded grow scurs, or abnormal-looking horns. This is particularly difficult to prevent in male goats even when proper disbudding occurs. In female kids, however, you can generally hinder scurs by early and thorough disbudding.

This helps protect them from each other during the inevitable challenges for dominance in the barnyard. Chickens, I’ve discovered, have nothing on goats when it comes to establishing pecking orders. Someone gets to be queen, and everyone else tries not to be the actual bottom goat on the goat-yard totem pole. Last to get food, first to get butted out of the way when treats are being handed out — it plainly sucks to be bottom goat.

We’ve also had goats with long scurs somehow manage to get their heads through the pig-wire fence enclosure, and of course be absolutely unable to pull their heads back out once they’ve discovered that no, the grass truly isn’t greener on the other side. In fact, it’s much browner and all-around less juicy and tasty. That makes for a long, frightening day for the goat involved, and it lasts until someone driving on the road by the barn spots and frees the unfortunate victim, by then traumatized and deeply resentful over the day’s entrapment.

With several of the kids born last March and April, I was a week or so late getting to disbudding. This is an unpleasant task. It’s easily forgotten and postponed in the joy of watching new kids find their legs and a new world. It simply isn’t fun to take them, screaming in unhappiness, from their bawling mothers and apply a hot piece of metal — several times — to the tops of their tiny, precious heads. The smell of burning horn combined with the cries of pain is excruciating.

The experience, when I finally did get around to disbudding, reminded me of a few years spent living on a cattle ranch in Mississippi when I was a young child, not long before my family moved to Bryson City. I vaguely remember screaming calves on the ranch being castrated, to my four- or five-year-old self’s vast unhappiness (I’m sure it was more terrible for them, but it was bad enough for me). At the time, of course, I lacked the adult ability and understanding to justify such horrors. It left me with bad memories, and I had my own little post-traumatic stress disorder memory attack when disbudding kids.

These past few months, despite my best efforts not to notice, scurs emerged on little Coreopsis and her half sister, Dandelion. Both their mothers were sold earlier this year, and now provide ample milk and goat entertainment to a family in the Balsam community.

Coreopsis is the hardy sort, and recovered quickly from her sudden plunge into orphan-hood. Dandelion has had a more difficult time.

Coreopsis likes to be petted and loved upon, given treats and talked to, and pushes her way through the goat crowd for attention; shyer Dandelion, just in the past few weeks, would finally accept an alfalfa cube from someone’s hand. If, that is, the presenter stood on the other side of the fence and extended their arm as far out as possible  — Dandelion, extending her long neck in turn as far as possible from her trembling body, would snatch the yummy green cube … if you didn’t suddenly blink or make similar threatening moves and scare her away first.

That being the case, it was of course almost no trouble to remove Coreopsis’ scur, but Dandelion’s was a doozy. One snip and Coreopsis was done; 50 snips and an escape, chase and tackle later, and Dandelion had been done, too.

“That went well,” Brenda said to me when Dandelion was finally released. “Next spring, we disbud within three days of their being born — three days. I mean it.”

I mean it, too. Coreopsis recovered her nerves within a couple hours. Two days later, and Dandelion is still shattered, shivering and hiding under a picnic-table-turned-goat-jungle-gym, reluctant to approach within 50 feet of me. And I don’t blame her a bit — I bet those calves in Mississippi never forgave the ranch’s owners, either.

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

Once you hit the Haywood County line after heading west on Interstate 40 out of Asheville, Western Carolina University is the acknowledged cultural focal point for all the remaining seven counties in this southwestern corner of our great state. We expect vision and smarts from university leaders, the professors and the students it graduates. We expect those same leaders to value the culture and history of this region, and to help us preserve, protect and brag about our assets.

That’s why it is refreshing to see new Chancellor David Belcher re-start a strategic planning process that he hopes will help steer the university as it deals with the new realities of state budget cuts and other financial challenges.

Many in this region take for granted the gem that we have in WCU. All it takes, though, is a roll call in our public schools and community colleges, small businesses, financial institutions, arts communities and the local governments to see the impact of this university. Its graduates are our leaders, particularly in the seven western counties. WCU and this region are inseparable.

I think the university recognizes this special relationship, though some of its leaders have placed a higher value on it than others. As long as these ties remain strong and grow even deeper, both the university and the region will be better off.

•••

Town Public Works Director Fred Baker. Town Planner Paul Benson. Planning board member Ron Reid. Concerned citizens like Bicycle Haywood’s Cecil Yount. Realtor Brian Noland.

That’s a short list of those who think the state Department of Transportation’s initial plan for Waynesville’s South Main Street does not fit what Waynesville needs. We offer our wholehearted support to those who want something better than a four-lane road with a raised median.

By the time this edition of The Smoky Mountain News hits the streets, a community brainstorming session to gather ideas for the road will be in the history books (it was held Sept. 20). But that doesn’t mean those who want something better shouldn’t continue to let those in charge know exactly how they feel.

Those who want to maintain the character of Waynesville while still allowing Wal-Marts and Best Buys are asking for a smaller road — three lanes at most — with roundabouts instead of traffic lights, bike lanes, and trees between the road and the sidewalks. This is the vision laid out in the Waynesville’s comprehensive land-use plan, and it’s one I believe a majority of citizens want.

Many of us who argue for smart growth have been in this situation too many times: disagreeing with DOT and seeking a compromise that is about more than just moving cars quickly from one spot to another. In this case Waynesville has had to spend its own money to hire a traffic consultant in hopes it can convince the state bureaucracy that it knows what is best for its own community. It’s frustrating to be in the same position again and again.

But it’s a good fight, one worth all the time and energy we can give it. When roads are done wrong — Russ Avenue in Waynesville, N.C. 107 in Sylva — the problems linger for many, many years. Getting it right on the front end is critical.

•••

Our cover story last week on Macon County’s Phil Drake and his business success (“Seizing Opportunity,” www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/5066) ran at a time when there is great controversy in this country about how best to nurture the economy and shake the lingering recession.

Drake is a local example of someone taking a small family business and growing it exponentially, taking some lumps along with way but finding his way through problems. Just as important as his business success, though, is the commitment to Macon County and Western North Carolina shown by Drake, his family, and his network of businesses.

The global economy has brought riches to many people and lifted many from poverty to the middle class. At the same, however, it has robbed many communities of the ability to control their own destinies. Decisions made in boardrooms thousands of miles away take jobs from thousands, leaving families and communities to pick up the pieces.

The “buy local, shop local, do business locally” concept can only go so far, but we in this region can help lift ourselves up by pushing it to its limits. It’s easy to shop with the big boys and to buy stuff over the internet, but in most cases it doesn’t do as much to help your neighbor.

Phil Drake is proving that doing business locally when possible can lead to great successes. Whether you’re a consumer or a businessperson, there’s never been a more important time to take that lesson to heart.

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

Tammara Talley, while gracious in her acknowledgments during the shower of verbal high-fives raining down upon her at Saturday’s farmers market, couldn’t help but beam proudly. No different, really, than any mother just delivered of perfect babies bearing precisely the correct number of eyes, hooves and tails.

“Congratulations on your new litter!” Penny O’Neill, a pediatrician in real life at Sylva Pediatric Associates when not farming, came up and told her as I stood nearby. Tammara had mentioned the litter to one, maybe two, fellow vendors. The information spread in a couple of hours across the market; everyone, it seemed, was rejoicing in this gift of new life.

One of Tammara and husband Darryl’s sows delivered the litter at their home in Whittier. Tammara works for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee. Two or three years ago she and Darryl started Trillium Farms. The couple specializes in natural pork.

This column easily could be about pigs. That’s because I’m thinking about buying two of them, which is why I was at the market picking Tammara’s brains on the subject this past weekend. And if I dwell long enough mentally on how much I like pigs, how very exciting it’s going to be when I get them, and contemplate how I’m cleverly intending to put them in an area for a future vegetable garden, this column will indeed write itself in that direction.

But, that’s not my intention today, as feverish as I am at this moment for all-things pigs. I’ve been wanting to write something about the sorts of people who raise pigs. Or, rather, who raise virtually any kind of farm animal, who keep bees, or who till the good earth and raise vegetables.

I like people who farm. There are, of course, a few unlikable ones mixed in there. But as a rule, people who connect themselves to the land are humble, generous and fun to be around. Good folks who find plenty of joy in the lives they’ve built. And these are lives built on hard work and determination; lives that are very often short on dollars but long on authenticity.

That same spirit was on display Sunday, too, at the Mountain State Fair in Asheville. A friend and I headed an hour east to watch the goat shows and talk goats with a group of experts on the subject.

I’m fairly new to goats, and still struggle to grasp the nomenclature veteran goat owners’ use. I’m doing somewhat better these days than at my first goat show, when I struggled mightily to fathom what on earth the judges meant when they discussed such bewildering points as “good udder attachment” or “poor udder attachment.”

After attending a few shows I started grasping what they might be referring to, though I’m certainly no expert and remain baffled as to why certain goats emerge blue-ribbon winners. I have learned that biggest isn’t everything, though it’s part of the winning formula. The ideal dairy goat has a huge udder, yes, but that huge udder somehow looks exactly right on her body — good udder attachment.

Really, though, you don’t particularly have to grasp udder attachment to get a kick out of goat shows. The animals are beautiful and charming, and their owners are laid back, pleasant, helpful and eager to talk goats. They are some of the most unpretentious people I’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging around.

Want to understand milk-fat content? Just ask. Considering a certain breed? Ask and learn every conceivable virtue and fault associated with that particular breed of goat. Dying to understand the complexities of udder attachment? If I’d asked, trust me, I’m sure someone would have been eager to explain.

I’m not sure if farming brings out the best in people, or if the best people are attracted to farming. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I do know that living closely with the cycles of life — birth and death; spring, summer, fall and winter; planting, tending and harvesting — help gentle a person. It has me, anyway.

If there’s a larger message here, then I guess that it’s this: If you want to farm, whether for a living or as a hobby, reach out for help — you’ll find it waiting in the form of a bunch of really nice people. I believe you’ll find this true, too, whether you’re at a local farmers market or at a regional goat show. I sure have.

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

Seconds after I heard the doorbell, my little feet hit the stone floor landing that served to separate the front door from the living room. The cold temperature of the floor on my feet meant it was colder outside. Thanksgiving was only two days away, it was dark and Dad was late coming home from work.

It was my father’s good job with the railroad that let my mom stay home and take care of us kids. All I knew is that he left for work early in the morning and got home before it was dark; I was 7 years old then.

I wrapped both hands around the doorknob, turned, and the big metal door opened. There stood three men in full suits; they were the darkest clothes I ever did see. “Is Mrs. Corbeil home?” one asked. “I’ll get her,” I replied.

Mom was on her way from the kitchen because she heard the doorbell ring too. She invited the men in on the landing. I’ll always remember that smell, a man’s smell. The businessman’s pungent odor from the mixture of fumes from heavy cigarette smoke and the leftover cover scent cologne purchased at a discount store. The smell still resonates decades later; for I am now a man.

“Mrs. Corbeil, we are from the Railroad and we need to tell you of an awful accident that happened in the yard,” a rough and choked voice said. Neither of the three would look at me, the man who broke the silence first reached out with his hand to my mom.

“There was an explosion at the yard, four men were hurt and Ed, Ed was badly burned and did not survive.” Edward M. was my father. I took off running through the living room and down the hall. My bedroom was the last one at the end. When I reached my room I busted out crying, drove my head with open mouth into a pillow wailing, wailing like there was no tomorrow, wishing that doorbell never rang ... crying.

In our world today we have access to professional psychologists and counselors for the young and adults. There are organized support groups that can help a spouse begin to reason with the heartache, loneliness, anger, and guilt that can follow a person the rest of their lives from a tragic life changing event like the lost of a parent, significant other or child These structured support services often require financial resources to gain access.

Ten years ago 343 firemen and paramedics were killed from the attacks on the World Trade Center. A total of 2,819 people lost their lives either at one of the two Towers, at the Pentagon Building or on United Airlines flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. It is estimated on New York Mag.com that 3,051 children lost a parent.

A decade later, I will be honoring those who lost their lives by bicycling 10 days on a memorial ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In our own region of the world there was another tragic explosion and fire that took the life of firemen Captain Jeff Bowen on July 28, 2011.

I have teamed with the Mission Hospital’s Healthcare Foundation to provide a path to accept donations to build the Fallen Firefighters Fund that will provide financial support for his surviving wife and three children. The days, months and years ahead will be accompanied with second-guessing, fear, and self-doubt. The Bowen family will need human support to cope with the loss of a husband and father; to live again sooner than later, to build self-worth and achieve total forgiveness moving forward.

If you find it in your heart to take action and join us, thank you! There is a link to a secured web site that will take you directly to the 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride with more information. http://support.missionfoundation.org/site/PageNavigator/911MemorialBikeRide.html. Once on the web page there is a link to a news article about the July 28 fire, along with buttons on the left side to follow my journey or learn more about our team, and donate.

Come join me in this 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride by showing your monetary support, or meet me at a Milepost and ride with me; add the link above to your favorites on your web browser then click on the button “Follow Keith on Twitter” for updates of the trip.

To mail a donation make your check payable to Mission Healthcare Foundation with a written Memo message of “9/11 Memorial Bike Ride” Mail a check to: Mission Healthcare Foundation, 980 Hendersonville Road, Suite C; Asheville, NC 28803-1740. To donate by telephone call Ms. Shaana Norton at 828.213.1052.

Keith Corbeil is a father, performance consultant, and competitive tri-athlete and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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