Poor Edgar, doomed to an eternity with a crazy cat lady

An unhappy reader this week took me to task for writing harsh words about my 17-year-old cat, Edgar, after the little jerk sank his one remaining fang in my wrist and I wrote about the experience.

That love bite — acquired while rescuing him from a tomcat — required me to take two different antibiotics for 10 days (that’s four pills a day, each big enough to gag a horse). And, additionally, cost me $226 for medical treatment, medicine and a probiotic that the physicians’ assistant (wrongly) assured me would prevent virulent, unending, burning diarrhea, triggered by the antibiotics.

“I feel very sorry for Edgar and feel he would have been better off euthanized as a kitten (so do I, right now) than to have spent his 17 years in a home where he was not wanted loved, enjoyed, (you don’t need that last comma there, by the way) or appreciated.

“His biting and clawing you while you were rescuing him from the tomcat was because he was frightened, agitated, and confused (the comma after ‘agitated’ should be stricken, too. Write a testy email, get a free grammar lesson — nice deal for you.

Wrong on comma usage and wrong on behavioral interpretations: that makes you wrong twice, by my count. I’ve lived with Edgar for 17 years and have special insight into his psyche. Edgar went after the tomcat because he believes he is still Billy Badass rather than a geriatric pussycat. He bit me because I ‘prevented’ him from, in his itty-bitty, teensy-weensy cat brain, beating the snot out of that tomcat, which is named Jack (as in, Jack the Ripper. Who weighs, I don’t know, 50 pounds or so?))

“And, as you are hoping, I too hope he will leave this earth soon so he will not have to spend too much more time with you (I second that sentiment … diarrhea nonstop for three days was insult on top of injury). At the age of 17, you can probably find a decent veterinarian who will humanely euthanize him (hell no, I’ll just shoot him — I’m broke now. Can’t afford to pay a veterinarian bill, but bullets are cheap. Of course, burlap bags are cheaper still. Could put him in a poke and throw him into the river … ) so that you will not have to bother with him any longer.

“Your article also proves that people place no value on something they do not pay for (someone gave me Edgar, as this astute reader notes. But, I’d argue I’ve done nothing but pay: veterinary bills, food, having his little balls clipped off when he was about one year old, yards and yards of litter, cat treats, toys, cat beds, etc).

“That is another example of why ‘free’ animals usually end up in less-than-desirable situations like poor Edgar did (poor Edgar, my foot — poor Quintin is more like it. I didn’t bite him, remember? He bit me.)

“Please have the good sense never to take another animal into your home. You very clearly are not a pet person.”

(Sorry, too late — In addition to Edgar, I got two other cats in my recent, um, let’s call it a divorce, shall we? I lost the two dogs, though, you’ll be happy to know, and six rabbits, 15 hens, 45 hives of bees, and a partridge in a pear tree (I made up that last bit). Flip of a coin and all that. Apparently it didn’t flip my way, did it?

Sheesh, that makes a total of three cats residing in my home. Which makes me a cat lady, doesn’t it?

(I was always afraid that, in the end, here’s how I’d end up — a creepy cat lady. One of those sad women who becomes the main feature of a newspaper article after the police come in response to neighbors’ complaints about odor. Then, the TV people read the article and show up, too. And, before I know it, I’m on ‘Hoarders,’ the A&E Television Networks program, and there are psychologists in my home trying to help me give up just one cat of the now 200 living there. ‘But, you see,’ I try to explain, ‘It all started with Edgar …’ Of course, 10 more years have passed, but Edgar is still alive, he is 27 now, the little bastard just won’t die, you see, he just won’t die …. Ahahahahah (me screaming here) and they have bound me in a straightjacket, and have hauled me off to Broughton mental hospital in Morganton, but they feel sorry for me and bring Edgar along, too, so at least I’ll have one of the 200 pussycats for comfort. There I am, for the rest of my life, sitting there drooling with Edgar on my lap the whole time, 10 more years have passed, he is 37 now, and we die the same day … and they bury us together so we won’t ever be apart.))

A question for you, dear reader: Were you born without a sense of humor, or did circumstances suck you dry as a lemon? So that you won’t continue to fret (or cast aspersions upon my head, or write me again), I admit to liking Edgar. Even loving him. He’s outlasted my human relationships. But, just because he’s a cat, Edgar doesn’t get a free pass to bite the hand that feeds him.

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

Evil cat proves you get what you pay for

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.

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

Spending your money where it helps the most

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.

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

Sylva’s cool factor rising, and keeping Annie’s helps

I’ve been thinking recently about what makes Sylva so cool. In my view, it has only been in the last 10 years or so that Sylva has hit the bull’s eye. Previously, it was no more cool, than, say, Robbinsville, Waynesville or Franklin. Sorry folks, you are all nice enough, but you ain’t cool.

Bryson City, my hometown, is sort of cool, but only just a tiny bit. And, honestly, probably despite the wishes of most who live there. Bryson City has been dragged toward coolness, I think because people persist in opening up bike shops, and coffee shops, and so on. There’s even a brewery. What’s next, a head shop?

Anywho, back to Sylva. A bustling farmers market on Saturdays helps Sylva. So does Eric’s Fish Market, and the nearby Heinzelmannchen Brewery. The restaurants — Guadalupe Cafe, Lulu’s, Spring Street and so on add a lot, as does City Lights, the independent bookstore. A good coffee shop, such as the one below our office on the first floor of the Spiro Building, helps, too.

The Smoky Mountain News, come to think of it, undoubtedly adds to the ambiance, because every cool town needs an alternative newspaper. Though, honestly, I don’t find my new employer particularly outrageous or provocative. Kind of left leaning, yes, and the writers do sometimes pen their excessively purplish prose in the present tense, an affectation that drives me nuts.

I have observed a lot of the staff wear running shoes to work. And, on my first day helping layout the newspaper, which required me to go to the main office in Waynesville, I noticed Amanda the bookkeeper was wearing no shoes at all. I certainly never saw anyone without shoes during my many years at the Asheville Citizen-Times.

I remember at yet another newspaper company where I worked — Community Newspapers Inc., the one that owns most of this region’s weeklies — one of the owners sent an intern in Highlands back to the house to change because he wore shorts in to the office. I don’t think the owners of the Smoky Mountain News would even blink if I showed up in shorts.

It occurs to me, by extension, I’m cool now, too, because I opted to join The Smoky Mountain News as a staff writer instead of returning to the Asheville Citizen-Times. Though I’m fond enough of my previous employer and keep in touch with former colleagues, I recognize that on the neat-o-meter, working for the largest newspaper publishing company in the nation (Gannett) is really not very cool. It’s akin to working for Wal-Mart, or the state Department of Transportation, or the FBI.

There’s yet another business in Sylva that helps make this town cool. And I’m here to tell you, they are not — as rumored — pulling up stakes and moving to Asheville: at least not completely.

(This is what’s nice about working for an alternative publication. I wasn’t allowed to report on rumors at Gannett, or for Community Newspapers Inc., but the business involved needs some help on this one, and what the heck — Amanda isn’t even required to wear shoes.)

Annie’s Naturally Bakery, which has helped anchor Main Street in Sylva for the past eight years, is staying put … for the most part. The word on the street has the bakery abandoning Sylva.

Annie told me they are indeed moving the wholesale portion of the business. The bread baking will be done in Asheville, as will the wholesale delivery. Most of the 75 wholesale accounts they have are in that area, anyway, not here in the far-western counties. Too much money is being lost in buying gasoline, and through wear-and-tear on the delivery vehicles.

But the Main Street shop is staying in Sylva. Cookies, pies, cakes, all will still be made right here. And the cool people can continue to see, and be seen, in Annie’s.

“We promise not to abandon Sylva,” she told me.

Well, I think that’s great. I like Annie’s Naturally Bakery. And I promise not to leave for a while, too. It’s really quite fun to work in the coolest town of them all.

The resurrection will arrive, sayeth the gardeners

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.

Barnyard wisdom arrives, but at its own speed

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.

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

Excuses, excuses – don’t give me that

I remember my outrage bubbling up as she spoke.

“Mrs. Langley,” my fellow first-grade classmate and yellow-bellied, snitch-of-a-former friend said to our teacher. “Tink had her eyes open during the prayer.”

A few words of explanation are necessary. My nickname is Tink. This was 1971, in Mississippi.

Segregation was over. I remember, however, black children sat at desks in one part of the classroom. White children grouped in another part. No one told us to do this. We just did.

Black and white children didn’t hold hands when picking buddies. A buddy was required for passing through the corridors to the cafeteria or auditorium.

Black and white children didn’t play together at recess. This meant we didn’t use the swing set at the same time. Or clamber together on the jungle gym.

Black and white children spoke only when necessary. And I don’t remember there ever being a situation that made speaking seem necessary.

I can’t explain why things were like this. It was Mississippi. Way down south in the land of cotton. Race relations weren’t good.

In prayer only did we become one. Black and white, we all gathered in a circle each morning. We held hands, dutifully shut our eyes, and listened while Mrs. Langley recited the day’s prayer.

My eyes were open, that’s true. Regardless of her other sins, that little snake-in-the-grass didn’t speak with a forked tongue.

Thirty-eight years later I remember the feeling of shame. The looks on the faces of the other children, black and white, united for once outside of prayer. United in disapproval of me.

I didn’t fail to shut my eyes as a political statement — too young for that. I was a daydreamer. I’d gotten lost in thought. And didn’t shut my eyes during the prayer as apparently mandated by God, at least for all 5-year-olds living then in Mississippi.

What immediately struck me, but obviously escaped Mrs. Langley, is the tattletale’s eyes must have been open if she knew mine weren’t closed.

Mrs. Langley picked up the yardstick. Ordered me to hold out my hand. And lightly smacked my palm.

The use of a yardstick probably wouldn’t be tolerated these days. But Mrs. Langley’s method of control worked. We children quaked at the sight, even the thought, of that yardstick.

I remember the popping sound. And the sting that followed. The tears that squirted out and streamed down my face.

Which is a really longwinded introduction into what I’m about to do. That is, rat out my liberal friends. Turn about is fair play, they say.

I keep seeing all of you in Wal-Mart.

Peculiarly enough, most frequently we meet in the ice-cream aisle. Where you blush, glance around wild-eyed, and babble excuses.

“I’m just here to get ice.” And, “I haven’t been here in at least six weeks — I came to pick up some toilet paper.”

Not to name names, Steven, but they sell ice elsewhere. Including at locally owned stores. Which I’ve heard you rail at others about supporting.

Not to name names, Ellen, but it hasn’t been six weeks. I saw you in Wal-Mart two weeks earlier. I ducked, without speaking, down another aisle.

It isn’t just Steven and Ellen. It’s all of you. I’ve seen dozens of former customers of mine from the farmers markets. From those days when I was a simple farmer, wielding a hoe instead of a pen … OK, wielding a keyboard … regardless of what I’m wielding, answer me this.

What are you doing in Wal-Mart?

I thought Wal-Mart was off-limits. It’s the corporate entity that most represents what green, oh-so-Barack Obama types oppose. Wal-Mart kills downtowns. It doesn’t pay its employees a living wage. It harms local businesses. Remember?

But Steven needs 10 bags of ice to cool down meat and runs to Wal-Mart. Ellen needs toilet paper and runs to Wal-Mart. My former customers forgot to pick up peppers, or greens, or winter squash last Saturday at the farmers market, and all run to Wal-Mart.

Shame, I say. Shame. Shame. Shame.

In case you were wondering, I was at Wal-Mart to buy cat food. Because there is simply nowhere else in Sylva where I can buy cat food. Or ice cream, for that matter. It is simply amazing how other stores in the area fail to stock ice cream.

But not ice, Steven. Or toilet paper, Ellen. Those are items you surely could have found.

Sometimes you just know when it’s right

I felt sure this morning the thermometer was telling lies. It read 48 degrees, but the chill in the air felt positively Siberian. Woodstove weather. Harvest weather. Count the hay bales, fill the root cellar, oh my golly we’d better get ready-for-winter weather.

I, no doubt, was overreacting. But there are signs the seasons are turning. Autumn once again knocks at the door. The leaves on the very tops of the sourwoods have a reddish hue. Birds seem a little more frenzied at the feeders. I have redeveloped a hunger for hot soups, stews and casseroles, whole-wheat bread slathered with butter and honey, pinto beans accompanied by slices of cornbread, cobbler drowned in vanilla ice-cream.

Loving to eat good food topped by a dollop of vanity is what drove me, finally, out of the warmth and into the chill for an early morning run. As usual these days, I headed down Ashe Loop to nearby Fairview Road in Sylva.

Recently I read somewhere that good runners associate, mediocre ones disassociate. In other words, good runners think about running when they run. They focus. They concentrate. The run is all.

I, on the other hand, disassociate. I think about stories that should already have been written but are not; phone calls I had intended to make but didn’t; items needing immediate attention that I’ve instead ignored.

As I understand it, one of the tenets of Zen Buddhism is mindfulness: living in the moment. Meditation helps one learn to live in the moment. So does focusing on doing the task at hand as well as possible. Washing dishes? Wash dishes, then, think about nothing else. Concentrate on each plate, cup, bowl, fork. Peeling potatoes? Peel them with attention. Carefully. Mindfully.

I like that concept. I like it a lot. Running, however, is often painful. I find it easier for now to focus on anything but the fact that my legs hurt, my breathing is labored, and that if I had kept running for the past few years I wouldn’t be in such distress now, starting over again.

This morning, rather than ruminate, I tried a new diversionary tactic. I chose to admire instead the tidiness of the homes in my new neighborhood. It is remarkable how well kept most of them are. Lawns neatly trimmed, fences taut and maintained, flowers deadheaded. The horses in the fields looked brushed, as did — unlikely as this surely is — several cows chewing on their cuds as I passed.

I wonder why some people take pride in their homes and property, and others not? A few miles away, in another neighborhood where I sometimes run, many of the homes are rundown, uncared for, unloved. There is trash in the yards. The grass is rarely cut.

It can’t be simply herd mentality, can it? My neighbor is a slob, so I’ll be one, too; my neighbor’s hedge is trimmed, so I’ll trim mine. Nor can income levels explain away the differences. I’ve known plenty of poor people who were neat, and plenty of financially secure people who were not.

A few weeks ago on Fairview Road, I saw five or six men getting a field of hay harvested. While one drove the tractor, the other men worked together loading the bales into a pickup truck.

I run slowly, and passed by on both my way out and my way back. This provided ample opportunities to observe them closely. The men worked without much conversation, as if they’d done this together many times before. There were no wasted movements, though a couple of the men took the time to call out hellos the first time I passed.

Each clearly had an assigned, understood and accepted role. One man drove the truck. Another stood in the truck’s bed and straightened each bale as the others pitched them up. I wondered, were these men part of a family who are used to getting the hay in together, who unite in the fields each year to prepare for winter as families in this region once routinely united?

One of my favorite writers on agrarian topics, British author H.J. Massingham, wrote that if a thing looks right, it is right.

Those men looked right, working there in the field together. The houses along this road look right: tended, cared for and loved. My running and being here, too, feels more and more right.

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

Bucks, does, pullets and cockerels ... huh?

Auctioneer Mike Cagle’s patter mingles with the crows of roosters, quacking of ducks and chatter of the crowd.

“These homer pigeons are as fat as little butterballs. $2 a bird? They will never be no cheaper. How ‘bout $1.60 … $1.70 … $1.65?”

Welcome to the weekly animal auction at Cagle’s Family Auctions in Haywood County. Signs on the walls warn against making deals outside the official auction area. Mounds of horse tack and mounted stuffed animal heads, killed in long-ago hunts, add to the general ambiance. Inside, the air is heavy with the stench of animals. The floors are dirt. Seating consists of castoff rocking chairs, folding seats and the occasional crate.

No matter, the 60 or so folks gathered — a crowd of ball caps, blue jeans, steel-toed boots and rubber boots — were having a fine time. They know how rare it is these days to find a livestock exchange. And Cagle’s Family Auctions is the real deal. So authentic I thought maybe I’d stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. That is, if Rockwell had been portraying unvarnished, mountain-style southern Appalachia.

“I love it,” Cagle said unreservedly about the animal auction he started in 2000. There is also a Saturday night tailgate auction, and periodic estate-liquidation auctions.

If you want it sold, this is the man to sell it.

For now, Cagle is operating the sole animal auction in Western North Carolina. He’ll soon have a bit of company. Work on a building to house a regional livestock auction has gotten under way in Canton. That auction is primarily aimed at helping the area’s struggling cattle farmers. They lost their main market after a livestock auction in Asheville closed down about six years ago. Pigs, goats and sheep will be auctioned in Canton, too.

Back to Cagle’s Family Auctions: a blue-point rabbit is pulled from a wire cage and put on the table standing center stage in front of the auctioneer’s booth. “Buck or doe?” someone asks. The rabbit is unceremoniously flipped over and scrutinized. “Buck,” one man replies. Sold, then, for $6 … “Nope, nope,” the seller interjects from the back of the crowd.

“How much you need?” Cagle queries. “About $40,” the seller replies. The $6 bidder shakes her head. That’s high dollars for a rabbit, even one this pretty. The rabbit goes back in the seller’s crate. It represents a rare instance of a no-deal at an auction where people are primed to buy.

Larry Verdon is a Cagle Family Auctions regular. He was buying rabbits. Verdon wanted to please his grandchildren when they visit his home in Haywood County. He also shelled out a few dollars for an exceptionally loud duck, and closely watched the poultry as the crates holding them passed him by on their way to the table. Verdon advised me to always examine the animals before buying them. Don’t buy a pig in a poke, as it were.

Verdon recently lost 10 hens to hawks. He wants to replenish the flock.

“I can’t grow ‘em out for what I can buy them for here,” Verdon said. “For me, it’s economics.”

And, the auction is fun.

Verdon readily admitted to liking the show, the atmosphere and the old-time community flavor of Cagle’s Family Auctions. Of being part of a group that know what color eggs Araucanas lay, and spending a few hours with people who can distinguish between pullets and hens, and cockerels and roosters.

I like it, too. The auction is good, cheap entertainment. I promised myself to get to Cagle’s earlier next time. A visit first to the Haywood County Fair meant I was too late for the tool and large livestock parts of the auction. In the summer, the auction action starts Saturdays at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. later in the year.

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

Take Exit 98 off U.S. 23/74, bearing left on Hyatt Creek Road. Drive seven-tenths of a mile, the auction is well marked on the left side of the road. The auction is held in the barn.

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