Every column should have a point, and here’s mine, right in the first paragraph (this to save you from having to read through to the end if you are in a hurry, or if you are a dog person and not a cat person) — nothing will come of nothing.
Admit it. Shakespeare himself couldn’t have phrased that better.
Here’s the point expressed another way: you get what you pay for.
And if one cliché is good, two must be twice as good: Nothing in life is free.
I write this while admiring the red streaking that radiates along my left arm from the wrist area, like the October sky toward evening when the sun begins to set.
My cat, an evil beast I’ve had for 17 years and, despite my hopeful scrutiny each morning, shows no indications of willingly leaving this earth soon, bit and clawed my wrist Friday afternoon. While I was rescuing him from the jaws and claws of a very large tomcat, that could have dispatched my geriatric cat — Edgar — with one swipe of his huge tomcat paw.
What was I thinking? Fortune knocked. And I, idiot that I am, slammed the door in her face.
Eighty-percent of cat bites become infected, the physicians’ assistant told me Saturday at the urgent care center in Franklin. Where I went with great reluctance on that beautiful autumn day. Which should have been spent outside, as I’d intended and made plans to do.
She assured me that yes, I really needed treatment, and no, I couldn’t have just ignored the streaking and hoped for a magical (read, free) cure.
Nothing will come of nothing? Try $123 at the care center, and $103 to the pharmacist.
Within 20 minutes of my showing up for treatment, an animal-control officer was on the scene. I explained to this young man, who works for the Macon County sheriff, that yes, it was my cat that had bitten and clawed me; and no, Edgar doesn’t have rabies; that yes, he was up-to-date on his vaccinations (which might not exactly be true, I don’t remember when he was last at the veterinary clinic, but I am confident the little bastard — oh oops, did I actually write that in bold black-and-white letters in a family newspaper — isn’t rabid.)
Here’s the kicker. Macon County’s sheriff, Robby Holland, gave me the cat all those years ago when he (Robby, not the cat) was getting his start in law enforcement as the county’s first animal control officer.
I was equally green, having recently become a reporter for The Franklin Press. We were both in our 20s, and we became friends. And no, that doesn’t influence my news coverage, or his devotion to the law, if it comes to that. I like his campaign opponent, George Lynch, a lot, too.
Robby, however, played a dirty trick on me all those years ago. I still owe him. And I figure he owes me, too — $226 for Saturday, plus nearly two decades worth of payments for cat food, toys, litter and trips to veterinarians.
I remember Robby showing me the most beautiful kitten I’ve ever seen. A lovely gray-and-white ball, so young, the kitten was being spooned baby food for sustenance. Beauty and vulnerability be damned. I should have been wary. The kitten had been living with Robby and his wife, Marci, and Robby had been roughhousing with the tiny creature while trying to find a Good Samaritan (read, sucker) to adopt him.
“But Quintin, I’ll have to take him to the pound if you don’t adopt him,” Robby said plaintively, the tiny kitten cupped alluringly in the palm of his hand and thrust forth for my review.
I didn’t ask why he and Marci didn’t keep the kitten. My other cat, I told myself, needed a friend. I have never been more wrong. She neither wanted nor needed a friend. Minerva hated Edgar until the day she died. With never-wavering passion and intensity.
That’s the end of this column. The point is in the first paragraph, but I’ll give you another jellybean for having read this far: never look a gift cat in the mouth. Because even if that cat has only one fang left in his head, given an opportunity he’ll sink the filthy, yellow thing in your wrist. It will get infected. And cost you a bunch of money, and ruin your weekend to boot.
James looks at me, briefly averts his eyes, then looks at me again, this time with a purpose and a certain intensity, as if I am an algebra problem he’s about to solve. There is a flicker of recognition, a slight smile beginning to form. He knows me.
“James,” I say, relieved, sticking out my hand. “It’s so good to see you.”
But even before he takes my hand, I see that the flicker is gone, the tiniest ember of recognition turned to a cinder. Now he is looking for my nametag, a white sticker with my name Sharpied on it in capital letters. I see this, and quickly pull aside the lapel of my jacket and thrust my chest forward like Wyatt Earp showing his marshal’s badge.
“Oh, Chris,” he says, nodding. It’s the nod you give when you look up the answer to the algebra problem in the back of the book, and it comes to you in an instant how you missed it, how close you were, but not really. “Good to see you, too. Do you know my wife?”
There is surreal, there is just plain weird, and then there is your 30-year high school class reunion. Salvador Dali never painted anything stranger than a group of people bearing down on the age of 50 gathering in a place called the Silver Dollar Saloon to compare notes, photographs, memories, and a rather acute sense of shared disbelief. We are like survivors of a plane crash, walking around in our pressed shirts and khaki pants to see who made it out alive, and what they remember about it. Our wounds, if not mortal, are crow’s feet, a few pounds here, a few more pounds there, male pattern baldness, and the hair we do have touched with gray, some of us a little more than others. It’s fitting, I guess, that we’ve chosen mid-October, as the leaves here are beginning to turn, just as we have. Nobody wants to say so, except in a variety of jokes and jibes, but autumn is upon us.
Some of us really have not changed all that much. Others need their nametags. But one thing that is abundantly clear is that we are all still so profoundly us, which will sound insane to many people, I realize, but not to people who have just attended their 30-year class reunions.
If you are a younger reader, I will let you in on a little secret, one you may find liberating, reassuring, or terrifying, depending upon your circumstances. The secret is, you are not going to become a different person when you reach middle age. You are not going to suddenly become someone else, losing all of your interests or your personality quirks. You are not going to become your parents, as you have been warned that you will. You are still going to be you, through and through, and you’re going to have a hard time believing that 30 years could pass so quickly.
Yes, I am well aware of the cliché there. I also know that there is change, most of it for the best, if you don’t count the aches, pains, and assortment of “mechanical problems” that factor into 30 percent of our conversations at this reunion, compared to, oh, zero percent of our conversations at our 10-year reunion. What can I say? We’ve got a few miles on us now. Every so often, the “check engine” light is just bound to come on.
Otherwise, we are doing pretty good, maybe better than ever. By now, we know who we are. We’re more comfortable in our skins, wrinkled or not. We don’t have to impress anybody. We either drive nicer cars or don’t give a damn if we don’t. We’ve learned a few things, among which is not to say, “I wish I could go back to then with what I know now.” Most of us are pretty happy right where we are. If we could go back, it would be only for awhile, just to check in and say, ‘hi,’ but certainly not to stay.
If I could go back, it would be to tell my 16-year-old self, “Hang in there, buddy. It’s going to take awhile, but you’re going to have it all, everything you ever wanted. You’re going to know love, know happiness, know contentment. You’re going to love and be loved. You’re going to like your life and not wish it to be any different. And, oh yes, you’re going to have a hot wife and a kick-ass stereo!”
By the end of the evening, dear readers, we took to dancing. I had made a mix-tape CD of some of our old favorites for the occasion, a soundtrack to the late 1970s in a small southern town, mixing in a little disco on the off chance somebody might want to shake it to “Brick House” or something. Well, someone did, and before you know it, the dance floor was full. We danced and danced, partied like it was 1979, and at the very end, everyone remaining at the Silver Dollar Saloon danced to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” as required by law in all southern states. You may not believe this, but after a verse or two, we spontaneously formed a giant circle, everyone holding hands, old friends bonding again after three decades apart. It sounds unbearably corny, the very kind of thing that would cause most people to cringe and our children to die of embarrassment, but as I may have mentioned already, one of the perks of being this age is not caring about any of that.
I think my 16-year-old self would have grimaced at this news, but I also like to think he would have smiled just a little, maybe recognizing himself well enough not to have to look up the answer in the back of the book.
(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Waynesville.)
I was sorry to hear that Spring Street Café in Sylva had closed. Emily Elders opened the restaurant about a year ago. It was downstairs from City Lights bookstore, a happy marriage of good books and fine dining. Eat and read: my perfect life in a nutshell.
Spring Street focused on using locally grown organic foods. It was hip, and fun, and seemed well thought out and executed. I thought the recipes, service and atmosphere generally on target. So what went wrong? Well, these are still hard times, as Emily reminded us in an announcement she sent out about being forced to close.
“While no words can express our collective sadness at seeing our dreams come to an end, there are some important things we wanted to share with you,” Emily wrote. “In spite of all of our best efforts, this economy is, well, difficult, to say the least. It’s hard on everyone here in Sylva and throughout Jackson County. We hope that you will follow our lead in supporting your local businesses in every way you can, particularly over the next few months.”
I, for one, have been slipping when it comes to concentrating my dollars locally. Emily’s reminder is a timely one, particularly as we head toward winter. When shopping, try to shop locally, I’m reminding myself … again. I shouldn’t have forgotten in the first place. And, patronize small, independent businesses.
We all have our individual definitions of ‘local.’ To some, it is made up solely of the town or county in which they live. Locally, to me, however, means Asheville west. I’ve lived or worked in every county and town in that geographic region, and I view our local economy as encompassing this same area.
If I thought more about it, I’d probably include a slice of north Georgia in that mental map, too — at least Rabun County, because it kisses the Macon County line, and U.S. 441 is such an easy and quick route from one county to the other. And for those of us living on the Blue Ridge escarpment — in Cashiers and Highlands — it is equally natural to consider Transylvania County and Pickens County, South Carolina, ‘local.’ In fact, I think one should.
Wherever we are talking in WNC, or northern Georgia or upstate South Carolina, running a small business is tough stuff. I know this firsthand: until recently, I was an organic farmer and beekeeper, and my livelihood was directly tied to people’s willingness to buy what I sold. No sales equaled no money. That meant no food on the table. There was a wonderful simplicity to my lifestyle then.
I learned a lot not working for others. Those three-and-a-half years represent the only period that I’ve worked for myself. (At least since I started gainful employment all those years ago. My first job was as a not-very-adept waitress at the Fryemont Inn in Bryson City. Spilled tea on the mayor my first week or so, in fact, and cried bitterly. Life can be very hard when one is 14.)
Working for myself enabled me to learn many valuable lessons. I discovered one’s bank account doesn’t automatically take a jump for the better every two weeks. In fact, the opposite is usually true. I learned humility. Oh, and upon losing the farm (isn’t my life a wonderful cliché?), I discovered what the Greeks meant when they discussed hubris. But that’s a topic for another day. Or, perhaps not: self-revelation can be a real bore for everyone but the individual involved. I’ve learned that, too.
One thing, however, I’m happy to have discovered is that Western North Carolina is a wonderful place to own and operate a business. People are supportive. Fellow business owners are generally helpful. There is a lot of encouragement.
The darker side? This region is downright scary come winter. The customer base dwindles to practically nothing after Christmas. Paying bills, buying food, putting gasoline in the car, these things can become very difficult, if not impossible, when cold weather sets in.
This is what Emily reminded me of, during a time when it would be natural if she thought only of the loss of her dreams.
So I’m hoping you give it thought, too. Define what local means. Buy locally when possible. It might help prevent another sad situation, such as the loss of Spring Street Café in Sylva.
When Haywood county commissioners decided a few weeks ago to adopt new rules guiding public comment at their meetings, some cried foul. I wondered what took them so long.
The Smoky Mountain News and most of our brethren in the print news business in this region take very seriously our role as local government watchdogs. The very fact that there are so many newspapers in the mountains that retain what some might regard as an old-school attitude about this fourth estate tradition only means good things for readers and citizens. It’s rare that public officials in the mountains can stray from accepted rules of behavior and not get called out by someone, either in a news story, an editorial or column, or a letter to the editor from an irate constituent.
In my world order, that is just as it should be.
Treating as sacred the process of open government does not, however, mean that elected officials have to conduct their business amid a backdrop of incessant, often irrelevant, time-consuming complaints from their constituents. A true democracy can indeed be very messy, so it has to adopt rules to keep things both civil and efficient.
Of course elected officials, county commissioners included, have to listen to the public — especially when the public is pissed off about something they have done. It comes with the territory. If these new rules were in any way written so that it was obvious that the intent was to squelch public debate, then we’d be raising more hell than anyone.
In Haywood County, though, some meetings have been opened with up to two hours of comment on a wide variety of issues, some relevant and some very irrelevant. County employees, those with business before the board, and commissioners themselves have their time wasted. Often the public comment session is more about grandstanding than trying to get a word in with election officials about an important issue.
We will always be the first in line to stand up for the public’s right to open government, including access to elected officials. But we still have to go by rules that let government be as efficient as possible. The guidelines adopted by commissioners will at least keep the meetings moving along more smoothly.
And those with a beef can always take the time to meet privately with their elected officials. Truth be told, those one-on-one meetings will usually accomplish more than a few minutes at a podium during a commissioner meeting.
It’s one of those seemingly contradictory ideas, but one that is wise: logging at the Waynesville watershed will provide environmental benefits.
The Waynesville watershed contains some of the purest water in the state, and the town has locked up nearly 8,000 acres in a conservation easement to protect its drinking water source. But that easement contained language that allows limited logging, and it was a controversial plan when it was approved in a 2005 by a 3-2 vote of aldermen.
Now the rubber is hitting the road, so to speak, as a plan to cut white pines on about 50 acres of the watershed is up for consideration by town leaders. Despite the worries of some that the logging will do more damage than good, the wise management of this watershed — including some logging — should make the forest healthier.
Yes, the town stands to reap some money from the logging. However, the agreement put in place five years ago does not allow town leaders to consider potential profit from logging as a factor in their management decisions.
Modern forestry and the old logging of bygone years are as different as night and day. This is a plan to make the forest healthier and thereby increase chances that the water in the reservoir will remain clean and viable as a drinking water source. It’s just a good idea.
There is a story about Katharine White — an editor and writer for The New Yorker magazine — that I enjoy recalling this time of year. This is good fodder for mulling over while you plant bulbs or move perennials. Both are timely tasks right now for our section of the world.
Katharine White, her husband, E.B. White, wrote, would pre-select a day each fall for planting the spring bulb garden. Bad weather didn’t matter.
“The hour had struck, the strategy of spring must be worked out according to plan,” he recalled in his introduction to “Onward and Upward in the Garden,” a book of his wife’s gardening articles he selected and edited.
Katharine White would dress in a raincoat, a little round wool hat, a pair of overshoes, and then go and sit at the edge of the plot in a folding canvas chair — a director’s chair. From this vantage point, she would direct her gardening helper on precisely where to plant new bulbs and basketfuls of old ones.
E.B. White recalled, “As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion — the small, hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.”
I fully comprehend Katharine White’s passion for planting. It is easy to garden if working land you anticipate spending the rest of a lifetime, hopefully a long one, enjoying. But the true test comes with impermanence. When the gardener doesn’t know whether she’ll be there next spring, next year, in five years, or a decade.
Fortunately, the madness for gardening usually overcomes doubts and wisdom. It is October, so we dutifully — even joyfully — plant bulbs, and the garlic that won’t be harvested till late next summer. Or we set out young perennial plants, knowing full well none will put on much of a show for several years.
Who will be there to enjoy them? The gardener, or perhaps someone else? No one? In the end, it doesn’t much matter. Writers write, painters paint, gardeners plant.
Henry Mitchell, hands down my favorite writer on the subject, wrote in one of his last columns for the Washington Post: “You wonder after many years if any of it was worth the bother. The answer is, I think, more or less yes. … Entire sections (of the garden) have to be rethought and old friends given up. All seems to be nothing but change and irregular advances and collapse, as if paying little attention to the gardener, who is seen to be far less consequential than we had supposed.”
Mitchell died shortly after he wrote these words, while helping a neighbor plant daffodils. I suspect Mitchell would have been touched and gratified by such a fitting demise, but also a bit amused by just how apropos his ending was. He is so good, I feel compelled to quote him at length on the subject of gardening faith. Or gardening madness, if you will:
“So there is no point dreading the next summer storm that, as I predict, will flatten everything. Nor is there any point dreading the winter, so soon to come, in which the temperature will drop to ten below zero and the ground freezes forty inches deep and we all say there never was such a winter since the beginning of the world. There have been such winters; there will be more.
“Now the gardener is the one who has seen everything ruined so many times that (even as the pain increases with each loss) he comprehends — truly knows — that where there was a garden once, it can be again, or where there never was, there yet can be a garden so that all who see it say, ‘Well, you have favorable conditions here. Everything grows for you.’ Everything grows for everybody. Everything dies for everybody, too.
“There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who, ruin after ruin, get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises. It sounds very well to garden a ‘natural way.’ You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes gardeners.”
Winter looms, all is impermanent, we rent instead of own, the transportation department might build a road where our house is, the bank might foreclose, the river might rise, we could die tomorrow.
I say, what the hell — let’s all plant hundreds and hundreds of bulbs anyway.
By David Redman • Guest Columnist
When did we, as a nation, transition from courteous and abiding by the ” laws of the highway” drivers to drivers who are aggressive and “to heck with speed limits and other laws and rules?”
At this writing I’m on southbound on I-81 nearing Wytheville, Va. So far this trip’s total mileage is approaching 2,000. Haven’t seen one law enforcement vehicle in two days. However, I’ve witnessed more aggressive drivers and nuts than the miles I’ve driven … and that’s just in the past eight hours.
Why has exceeding safe speeds and aggressive driving taken over our driving mentality? Is it the lack of law enforcement? Can we shift blame to NASCAR? Seems as if our roads have become more like a Daytona 500 on the 4th of July.
In reality, the root of the problem is the individual driver — nothing else!
Speeding is a choice. Tailgating is a choice. Aggressive lane changing is a choice. Each, however, is illegal. In North Carolina driving in the left (passing) lane at a speed slower than the posted speed limit is illegal as well.
I reported a speeder last school year to Jackson County 911. The driver’s estimated speed at the Smokey Mountain Elementary School area in Whittier was 75. Deputies stopped the offender several miles past the school. The driver’s reason for driving so fast in a school zone was “I was running late for class at Southwestern Community College.” Good grief!
Today an older Suburban loaded with a family and towing a travel trailer passed me on I-81. However, it tailgated me for about a mile and then passed me doing about 80 mph. Did the driver feel that tailgating and excessive speed was necessary to get to his destination, especially with his cargo of family?
Whatever happened to the “rule of thumb” safety margin of staying one car length behind the vehicle in front for each 10 miles of speed? No wonder accidents are so horrific on our highways. Common sense has been blown out the tailpipe when it comes to our collective driving habits.
Parents are teaching children that not obeying laws of the road is acceptable. Thus, we have an upcoming generation of probably more aggressive and less law abiding citizenery in the making. Being allowed to drive on the nation’s highways is a privilege which has laws governing same.
Give me a radar gun and authority to issue tickets with a commission of 20 percent. Station me at the bottom of the either hill coming into Dillsboro. Bet my annual income could easily reach $100,000 on speeding and reckless driving fines.
It seems either people can’t read numbers and match speed limit signs to their speedometer or the signs are useless. I’ve often thought that speed limits should be painted on the highway, just like the stripes. Business signs, highway signs, and political signs during election, are distractions for the driver.
Our court system is burdened with traffic offenders. If you’re a good driver, you should attend one of the traffic court sessions to see what law enforcement and the courts are dealing with. I encourage it. Get to the courtroom early and stay late. Get ready for a jam-packed room.
Request a copy of the docket for that session. Read the arrest reports published in the area newspapers. Make a list of the offenses by category. Listen carefully … the courtroom is an very interesting place.
Like Jon Stewart of the “Daily Show” and his “Restoring Sanity to America” rally, I encourage all drivers to “Restore Sanity to America’s Highways”.
(David Redman is a Sylva resident.)
Just tell the truth. That’s what we teach our children, it’s what we need from our loved ones, and it’s what we have to have from friends and co-workers. Without it, life’s a house of cards that won’t stand up.
During election season, though, truth gets twisted like a pretzel. What started as a fact becomes someone’s favorite sound bite, but the flavor has changed completely.
This is happening mightily right now in Jackson County. There are some folks who are working feverishly to oust incumbent county commissioners Brian McMahon, Tom Massie and William Shelton.
Anytime someone has been in office, opponents can certainly look at their record and come up with legitimate arguments for why they don’t want them to continue in that position. That is, they have a record of votes that opponents can stand against. That’s the democratic process, and it works.
But some of those writing letters to local papers and speaking up in public are twisting the facts. It’s not necessarily those running for office who are doing the damage. No, it’s mostly just average citizens who, in their zeal, may be just forgetful.
It’s tough enough to be an incumbent these days. According to the results of a Smoky Mountain News-WCU Public Policy Institute poll conducted in June, 46 percent of Jackson County voters have an unfavorable opinion of Jackson County government. The unfavorable ratings for the federal government among Jackson County voters is 62 percent.
First and foremost in the mistruths being bandied about in Jackson County is that the sitting commissioners have raised property taxes. They have not. The tax rate of 28 cents per $100 of valuation has not been raised, and in fact over the last decade as re-valuations have occurred, the actual tax rate has decreased.
Obviously, the amount of tax paid by individuals may have risen as their property values have gone up. No one is arguing that point. But counties are required by law to set property values at what is deemed a fair market value. There is a process for determining that value that is used throughout this state and pretty much the entire nation.
In other words, the value placed on someone’s property will be the same no matter who is in office. It’s not controlled by county commissioners, but by the market. Period. Anyone who can prove their home was valued otherwise will get a new valuation.
Another issue in which the facts are being twisted revolves around the temporary moratorium on subdivisions that was put in place for just over three months in 2007. Jackson County commissioners did not enact a building moratorium. Hundreds of subdivisions and thousands of lots already approved were not affected by this temporary measure. Private lots bought after the temporary moratorium were not affected.
The short-term moratorium on new subdivisions gave the county time to develop a subdivision ordinance that, as it turns out, is very reasonable.
And here is perhaps the accusation I find most ridiculous — that Jackson County commissioners are responsible for both the unemployment rate and the building slowdown in Jackson County. That is almost too crazy to even address.
The real estate and building industries are in a shambles in Jackson County, indeed. But it is the same in the entire state, the entire Southeast, the entire country, even most of the world. Banks are slowly crawling out of a credit crunch, and loans once easily available are simply gone. There is little building going on an anywhere. Hanging that on the Jackson commissioners just doesn’t stick.
The same with unemployment problem.
Editors like me are challenged to keep our facts straight. One of the most difficult arenas in which to do that is in our opinion pages. These pages are supposed to allow people to voice their own views, so editors take different approaches to editing submissions. I tend to lean toward letting people have their say.
But over the last few months, some of those writing have taken a few liberties with the truth. When that happens, sometimes it is just best to set the record straight. Call this an endorsement of truth. I always try to vote that way.
To the Editor:
Sediment in our streams is our biggest water quality threat. Everyone takes notice when more than $150,000 of our tax dollars are spent (the other $150,000 comes from the Assembly) to dig out Lake Junaluska, but every year our drinking water sources are polluted, fish growth and reproduction are damaged, and our stream habitats are destroyed when sediment from construction sites, agriculture, and quarries wash into our streams.
This practice is against the law and the French Broad Riverkeeper and the Western North Carolina Alliance are training volunteers through the Muddy Water Watch program to help clean up our waterways from this serious pollutant.
The MWW program is currently working to clean up the consistent discharge of sediment from the Harrison Quarry into Allen’s Creek, a tributary that leads into Lake Junaluska. The quarry is applying for a permit to expand its operation, but the community around this mine, the West Waynesville Environmental Protection Group, and the Western North Carolina Alliance believe the quarry needs to protect the neighboring community and environment. Learn more about this at www.wnca.org.
French Broad Riverkeeper
Community Outreach Manager,
Western North Carolina Alliance
To the Editor:
Last week, Mr. Ron Robinson of Jackson County quoted a statistic in support of re-electing our county commissioners; our property tax rate is one of the lowest at 28 cents per $100 of valuation (“Incumbents are best for commissioner seats,” Sept. 22, Smoky Mountain News, www.smokymountain-news.com/index.php/component/k2/item/1492-incumbents-are-best-for-commissioner-seats). But, there is much more to this story.
What he didn’t talk about was the fact that our property tax rate used to be at 26 cents before it went up to 28 cents. He didn’t mention that our county’s solvency or our ability to pay our long-term debt obligations has taken a nosedive of 30 points from a high in 2007 (www.nctreasurer.com-/dsthome/State-AndLocalGov/lgcreport).
The more important statistic we should look at from the report created by the N.C. Treasurer is the county’s overall financial performance and how much it has improved or gotten worse. Ours has plummeted in the last three years from about 18 percent down to 2 percent for 2009. In fact, if you look at our performance compared to our peers — Macon, Haywood and Swain — we have fallen 35 percent, which is the highest possible percent of change that is even measured by the N.C. Treasury Department. These numbers do not support Mr. Robinson’s argument to re-elect our county commissioners.
Our property tax rate might be low, but more importantly it went up. The statement that we have one of the lowest rates is just another way of saying we are one of the poorest counties (with the highest paid upper-level county employees, specifically, our county manager). Remember that our tax rate went up, and remember that our highest paid county employees got a million dollar raise during a time when our financial performance was sinking.
Also, those pay raises went against the $25,000 research results from the Mercer Group. But the most disturbing fact is that the Mercer group reported that it was our lower-level employees who were not paid enough. The same people that gave themselves the big pay raises, trashed the research and took away the measly 2 percent cost-of-living raises from the underpaid employees. That is not fair, is not right, and is not just. It’s right next door to “low-down.”
Lastly, as for the new ordinances, when have you ever seen a county ordinance enforced? That’s a non-issue. I don’t know all the people running in the election yet, but at this moment I’m thinking that I’m just going to vote against ALL the incumbents. It couldn’t get much worse than it is now. Surely.
Huntsville, Ala. (Jackson County native)
I am learning to move at the speed each task demands. This is a lesson the barnyard teaches. It is a good lesson for me to remember out of the barnyard, too.
The animals — seven goats, two sheep, 30 or so chickens, a couple of massive guard dogs and Jack the cat — sense when I’m in a hurry. My need to have been at work 15 minutes ago is instantly communicated when I arrive to feed and milk. The more I rush and bustle about, the more uncooperative and stupid they become.
The sheep, a young ram and his intended mate, are the worst offenders. Lately they’ve been confined in a paddock. This requires carrying food and buckets of water down a steep hill twice each day. The inconvenience is preferable to allowing them with the other animals. Then the sheep rush the gate at feeding time, and the days I’m short on minutes they generally succeed in knocking the buckets out of my hands.
If I do manage to get through the gate unmolested, the ewe and ram still usually eat the goats’ food. The ewe is adept at bumping her head against the underside of the feeding troughs. This causes them to unhook and dump. The goats are too hoity-toity to eat food that has touched dirt. Not the sheep, however. Down the pair’s great greedy throats it goes.
The ram poses additional problems because of his ardor for one of the goats. She is a particularly winsome thing. Light colored except for a dark stripe down her back, dainty on her hooves, with a fetching, come-hither way of twitching her tail. When not confined, the ram follows his chosen love about with a creepy, lascivious gleam in his eyes.
Though I cannot deny she has pleasing physical attributes, he was not brought to the barnyard to develop a case of I’m Romeo, please-be-my-Juliet for a goat – he is, after all, a ram. I find the ewe a pest, but she seems good looking enough to me, as far as sheep go.
But, I digress. On days I rush, even with the sheep secured, chaos reigns. Sometimes it’s the five-month-old, more than 90-pound puppy that is the culprit. Forgetting he’s supposed to guard his flock, not menace it, Tuck will snatch up a chicken in his huge drooly mouth. He looks confused and shattered when screamed at, as if he can’t believe anyone could be so cruel as to shout at an innocent pup. The poor chicken emerges from his vast jaws like some loathsome creature of the deep, feathers slicked down, strings of saliva trailing behind, wild eyed and staggered by the shock.
At other times, Brownie the wether has been to blame for my barnyard angst. A wether is a male goat that is less than he once was — neutered, cut, fixed. Not allowed to propagate because, frankly, he doesn’t bring all that much to the table. Brownie, just recently, was given a purpose in life. To serve as the male companion of a billy goat, who, at the exorbitant cost needed to acquire his regal services, probably would be well advised to bring a whole lot to the table, and quickly.
Until designated the billy goat’s particular friend, Brownie existed on this earth to annoy me. His level of resistance seemed directly correlated to the amount of time I had available to fool with him. The more hurried I was, the fleeter of foot he became. Sometimes it seemed as if he flew about the barnyard on winged hooves, suddenly and inexplicably transformed into Pegasus.
I have learned to hesitate before going into the barnyard. To gather myself, no matter how hurried I feel, no matter how late I am. Someone wise once told me farmyard animals love routine. That’s true. They also respond to calmness. When I slow my movements, everything gets done quickly. When I hurry, the barnyard falls apart. There was a book written some years ago about learning everything you need to know in kindergarten. It is taking me much longer than that. And I require a barnyard.