Tag Archives: Caldwell County NC

Bill Stone ‘Not a Team Player’

Fellow BOE member Houston Groome: ‘You are not a team player. You’re a Bill Stone player’

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article. Part 1 can be read here.

Caldwell logoLENOIR, N.C. – As reported on Oct. 31 on this site, Bill Stone, the chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Elections (BOE), has had at least three complaints filed against him with officials in Raleigh regarding allegations of wrongdoing during Early Voting in Lenoir.

This is nothing new. The North Carolina Republican Party has done everything in its power since taking over the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011 to subvert voting rights of minorities, the poor and vulnerable in North Carolina. They’ve largely succeeded – despite the many court rulings against them – because of people like Bill Stone.

FTR BOE meeting

For instance, at the Caldwell BOE meeting on Oct. 30, Stone would not allow questions from the public because public input was not on the agenda. Fortunately, Stone is not the only member of the board. In addition to Stone, there are three other members of the BOE – Vice-chairman Fred Piercy, Secretary Houston Groome and member Pete McIlwain. Like Stone, McIlwain is a Republican. Piercy and Groome are Democrats.

In any event, Groome put forward a motion that in future meetings, time for public input be allowed. Groome looked at McIlwain and asked, “You’ll second that won’t you Pete?” McIlwain did. Stone said he didn’t like the idea, saying, “These comments always get personal. I don’t want that.”

Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.” – Houston Groome, Caldwell County BOE Secretary.

Groome replied, “Bill, the only ones that are personal are directed at you. You’re a lightning rod for controversy. You need to stay out of the parking lot.” Groome referenced an incident the previous week, when voters were complaining about aggressive behavior by volunteers for campaigns. Director of Elections Sandra Rich asked all four board members to go out together to talk to all the volunteers. As Groome noted, “Bill, the three of us could not get out of our chairs before you were outside saying whatever you were saying to them.”

Groome added, “Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.”

Groome also noted that when he had previously served on the board, public comment was part of the agenda. He said, “They can say anything they want about any item on the agenda or anything about voting. That’s why we’re here.” Piercy also called for adding a public comment period, saying, “We serve the public.”

Ultimately, a public comment period was added to future BOE meetings on a voice vote. Director of Elections Sandra Rich said after the meeting, “In the past, anyone could come to the meetings and be allowed to speak. But since the board has changed, that ended.”

The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.” – Caldwell BOE Director of Elections Sandra Rich

Groome and Piercy also cautioned Stone about appearing to favor Republicans. They asked Stone to not roam around the parking lot during early voting, as his time speaking with Republican Party candidates and workers calls into question his impartiality. Instead, as reported in the first story, when others at the table reminded Stone that he represented the BOE and hence had to be impartial, Stone replied, “I am going to represent myself.”

When asked about the complaint leveled against him by Michael Careccia, Stone seemingly underscored the concerns expressed by Groome and Piercy. Stone refused to answer, but did turn to McIlwain and say, “This is politics. We need to take this up with the (Republican) executive committee.” Immediately thereafter, though the meeting was not in recess, Stone and McIlwain retired to Rich’s office for a sidebar conversation.

So, during a meeting intended to have impartial discussions about voting rights, Stone was doing political calculus rather than heeding the calls of his BOE colleagues to hear from those complaining against him.

Rich finds Stone’s behavior disturbing. “As a board, when they come in that door, they are to leave the party at the door and serve all of the voters of the county.”

Indeed, Rich, who during her many years as the Director of Elections would never comment publicly or privately on board members, said she could remain silent no longer about Bill Stone. “The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.”

Stone We the People

Rich is right. We can do better. The people serving on the Board of Elections are supposed to be advocates for voters. Bill Stone, ironically, is actively working to discourage voting. Because the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly has mangled election laws so badly, the future of local boards of elections is unclear. Hell, everything about North Carolina’s future elections is unclear thanks to the intentional undermining of our democratic processes by the North Carolina GOP.

What is clear however is this – it’s time for Bill Stone to go. Our voters deserve someone that believes in our Republic rather than actively works to subvert it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo: Bill Stone, center, conducts the Oct. 30 Caldwell County BOE meeting. “We the People” photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash.

Advertisements

Caldwell, NC Elections Chair Bill Stone Accused of Wrongdoing

Stone, a Republican and Caldwell County Board of Elections chairman, responds defiantly

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part article. 

LENOIR, N.C. – Bill Stone, the chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Elections (BOE), has had at least three complaints filed against him with election officials in Raleigh regarding allegations of wrongdoing during Early Voting in Lenoir.

These are bullshit. We’re not going to do anything. Just send them to Raleigh.” – Bill Stone, Chairman, Caldwell County Board of Elections, responding to complaints against him.

Complaint 1

In one complaint, Michael Careccia, a campaign staffer with the campaign of state senate candidate Art Sherwood, alleges that Stone both misrepresented and failed to properly exercise his authority as BOE chairman. Careccia sent his complaint to the North Carolina State Board and Ethics Enforcement earlier this week. The incident Careccia reports occurred on Oct. 22.

Careccia presented copies of his complaint to the full BOE at the beginning of its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Stone took exception to the presentation of the document. After Careccia left the room, Stone rebuked Sandra Rich, the Director of Elections for the BOE, saying, “You know when we get these sort of things you need to bring them to my attention.”

Rich countered that she would not present a document to just one member, but the entire board at once. In an interview after the meeting, Rich reiterated that view. “I give it to the whole board because I serve the whole board.”

Stone BOE meets

Careccia’s complaint recounts, “On Monday, October 22, 2018, I was working at the Lenoir Early/Open Voting location …. Shortly after noon, I noticed a green pick-up truck parked in a parking spot designated for voters only. Upon noticing that the owner of the truck was not there to vote but to pass out political literature, I went into the county Board of Elections office to report it.”

Careccia added that because Stone had stated that he “was the person in charge,” “I asked Mr. Stone to have the person move the vehicle. He refused. After multiple attempts to request that he enforce the rules that he had presented to candidates and poll workers only a few weeks before during a BOE training … (and) since Mr. Stone had said he was in charge, I insisted that he had invoked jurisdiction and was therefore responsible to enforce voting laws.”

Careccia concluded, “He continued to ignore my requests until I informed him that I would report him to the state and take legal action if necessary. It was only then that Mr. Stone finally asked the owner to remove his truck from the designated voter parking spot.”

So, Careccia posed six questions to the Board of Ethics:

  1. Does Mr. Stone oversee the local Board of Elections staff, or does the Director (and hence staff) not answer directly to the N.C. Board of Elections?
  2. As Chairman, is Mr. Stone’s legal standing not limited to his role and status only when the Caldwell County Board of Elections meets as a corporate body, or may he (or other members) act in an official capacity apart from a legally called public meeting?
  3. Are there times when Mr. Stone (or any person in the position of BOE chair/member) is the person designated as the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) on behalf of the Caldwell County Board of Elections? If so, when?
  4. If Mr. Stone was the AHJ, why did he fail to act immediately?
  5. If Mr. Stone is not the AHJ, then did he not misrepresent his role and overstep his authority?
  6. If Mr. Stone is not the AHJ, who is?

Following the meeting, I spoke with Rich about these questions. She was unequivocal about Stone’s authority over her. “I am hired and fired by the state board.” Regarding the questions about who is in charge, again she was clear. “Me. By statute, the Director of Elections is the person in charge.”

Complaint 2

Two other complaints were filed, both having to do with incidents that happened on Oct. 24. In one incident, Lorene Reece, a worker in the office at the Lenoir Early Voting location, recounted an event when Reece was taking a complaint from a voter about the behavior of Republican poll workers who “… really felt threatening.” According to the report by Reece, Stone replied, “Let her (the voter) fill out her complaint. It would not go anywhere. These campaigners can say anything they want to as long as the don’t put their hands on them. They can campaign anywhere they want to.”

Stone article Campaign workers

Stone’s statement is not accurate. There are specific rules regarding campaigning outside of an election precinct, and Stone should know that since he was one of the trainers in Caldwell County for campaigns and candidates this election cycle regarding campaign law.

When Rich presented the board members copies of the other two complaints, Stone snapped at her, “You know I’ve got a problem with an employee making a complaint.” Rich again stated that all board members would be shown complaints simultaneously. After the meeting, Rich noted that Reece was well within her rights and insisted, “She was doing her job.”

Complaint 3

The third incident involved Robert Reece. He reports that when he came to the voting location to take his wife to a doctor’s appointment, “As I was heading into the building at the single glass door entrance, I spoke to a campaigner at the area near there and asked him why he was there instead of up in the designated area assigned to campaigners. He told me he could campaign anywhere he pleased.” Reece continued, “I returned outside with my wife through the same door where I saw him and Mr. Stone laughing and joking around at the bed of his truck. He told Mr. Stone that ‘He’s the one,’ indicating me.”

Stone was with the husband of the Republican candidate for Clerk of Superior Court. Reece continued, “Mr. Stone told me that Mr. Kidd could campaign anywhere he chose. I said I thought I would call Raleigh and confirm that. Mr. Stone said he was chair of the Board of Election and that that those rules meant nothing.”

FTR Stone

Stone was defiant throughout the meeting, not only regarding the complaints, but also in response to pleas for cooperation from Rich and the other three board members – Houston Groome, Pete McIlwain and Fred Piercy.

When Rich pleaded with him to understand that he represented the entire board, Stone said, “I am going to represent myself. So unless you have three votes, go on with your agenda.” When Groome replied, “Bill, every time you go outside something happens,” Stone exclaimed, “I’m not going to change!”

Stone then added, “I keep an attorney on retainer.”

When Piercy asked Stone to work with the other board members, Stone argued, “Show me the statute.”

Piercy replied, “It’s just common courtesy and decency.”

And on it went until Stone returned to the complaints. Looking at Rich, he said, “These are bullshit. We’re not going to do anything. Just send them to Raleigh.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo: Bill Stone, center, chairs a meeting of the Caldwell County Board of Elections on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Middle photo: Campaign workers outside the Early Voting location in Lenoir, N.C. Bottom photo: Signs outside the Early Voting location.

Early Voting in Appalachian County Shows Strong GOP Turnout

GOP early voters are outpacing their registration numbers by nearly eight percent

Unaffiliated voters and Democrats accounting for less than half of ballots cast

LENOIR, N.C. – Republican Party voters in Caldwell County are starting off the 2018 election cycle as they ended it in 2016 – energized and voting.

FTR GOP logoIndeed, after only three days, of the 3,609 votes cast so far, 52 percent – 1,894 – have been by Republicans, a number that exceeds the number of GOP registered voters by about eight percent. It represents a burst of energy that began on the first day of voting this past Wednesday and has not subsided.

Democrats account for 909 votes, or 25 percent; and, unaffiliated voters have cast 798 votes, equaling 22 percent of the total, according to data provided by the Caldwell County Board of Elections.

Vote totals through Friday represent nearly seven percent of the 54,515 registered voters in the county. Republicans make up the vast plurality, accounting for 24,747 of the total voters, or 44 percent. Unaffiliated voters now outnumber Democrats. There are 15,867 unaffiliated voters, accounting for 30 percent of total voters, and 13,901 Democrats in the county, representing 25 percent of the voters. Less than one percent of voters are registered with one of the other political parties.

Voters have been turning out consistently since the first day, averaging about 1,200 early voters per day at the county’s two One-Stop Voting locations.  In Granite Falls, 1,420 voters – 39 percent of the county’s total – have voted; in Lenoir, 2,188 have cast ballots, accounting for 61 percent of vote totals.

Analysis

Caldwell County Republicans are voting at a pace that could be record-setting, especially for a mid-term election. Unaffiliated voters, which Democrats are undeniably counting on this cycle, are not turning out, as their voting numbers are eight percent below their percentage of registered voters in the county. Democrats are holding steady with their registration numbers.

CCDPIn a perfect year for Democrats, overcoming such registration numbers would be virtually insurmountable; ticket-splitting is virtually nonexistent today. So, while unaffiliated voters can be a wild card, those registered by party are counted upon by party officials to vote their ticket. There is no evidence to suggest this year will be any different.

Republicans are enthused; Democrats are not; unaffiliated voters are yawning. Since 2016, pundits and politicians on both sides have said that 2018 is, “The Most Important Election of our Lifetimes.” It’s rather obvious the Republicans believe so, but they would appear to be alone in that thinking, at least in Caldwell County.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

How and Where to Vote

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.

 

There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot 

Where are the Democrats?

Is Appalachia heading towards another red autumn?

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – If the Democratic Party is going to enjoy a “Blue Wave” in this year’s mid-term elections, it isn’t going to start in Caldwell County. That is if the campaign activity – or the lack thereof – by the Democratic Party and its candidates at the One-Stop (early) Voting location in Lenoir is any indication.

GOP poll workers

GOP volunteers work the Lenoir early voting location on the first day of voting, Oct. 17.

Also, the first day of early voting totals reveal an energized Republican base. At the county’s two early voting locations in Lenoir and Granite Falls, a total of 1,217 voters turned out. Of those, 632 were Republicans, making up 52 percent of the total vote. The 329 Democratic voters accounted for 27 percent of the vote, numbers consistent with their registration levels. Unaffiliated voters accounted for 251 ballots, making up 20 percent of voters. Less than one percent cast ballots as Libertarians.

Also of note is that of the total votes cast, 473 – 39 percent of the voting – took place in the predominantly Republican south end of the county at the Shuford Recreation Center in Granite Falls. The only precincts in the county that could be considered remotely favorable for Democrats are centered in and near Lenoir. Low turnout there combined with the absence of Democratic candidates and poll workers would not seem to lend itself to a Blue Wave anywhere in the county.

Also, in the year of the #MeToo movement, women were outvoted by men yesterday by about four percent. Women cast 48 percent of the ballots – a total of 580. Men cast 633. Blacks cast 70 ballots, nearly six percent, a number relatively consistent with population totals in the county.

Mark Cook and Sherri Yi.jpg

Mark Cook and Sherri Yi campaigned for Kim Clark on the first day of early voting in N.C.

The Democrats did not have a tent set up as customary, and only two people were actively campaigning for a Democrat. Incumbent Clerk of Superior Court Kim Clark had two people volunteering for her, but they were both Republicans. And one was her husband, Mark Cook. The other was Sherri Yi.

Ironically, the only incident of acrimony I witnessed was when Cook and Yi attempted to hand some campaign literature to a voter wearing a Trump hat. Flipping his hand towards them like he would a bothersome cat, he grumbled, “She’s a Democrat. I don’t vote for Democrats.” Yi simply replied, “Yes sir,” and backed away.

Nathan E Dula

Nathan E. Dula campaigns for School Board candidate Elaine Setzer-Maxwell on Oct. 17

School Board candidate Elaine Setzer-Maxwell had a campaign volunteer out, Nathan E. Dula. He had positioned himself under a small shade tree and was approaching potential voters alone without having to compete with other volunteers. Closer to the doors of the ground floor of the City/County Chambers on West Ave., though, no less than a half-dozen GOP workers approached every voter. Some voters strolled on by, but many stopped to chat and take a copy of the party’s sample ballot.

Speaking of which, when I went into vote, there was a Republican sample ballot in the voting precinct on top of the stack of county’s official ballots. The two look virtually identical. However only official ballots are allowed. It isn’t clear if it was placed there inadvertently by a voter or intentionally, but when it was pointed out to election officials, it was thrown in the trash.

The official ballot can be seen here. It is printed in yellow, as is the GOP sample ballot. So, look at the top of the ballot on the left-hand corner. It should have Sample Ballot, Caldwell County printed on it, with a bar code in the top right-hand corner. The GOP sample ballot has Republican in the top left-hand box and no bar code in the right. And, of course, they’ve marked the ballot for you. So, be on the lookout for that.

The Republican workers were jovial and talkative. When I asked where the Democrats were, they mentioned the name of one veteran Democrat, saying he had stopped by for a while. Meanwhile, the GOP workers had several of their candidates popping in and out.

Oh, and there was no shortage of poignant bumper stickers.

Taking Back the Rainbox and Trump 2020 signs

One day does not an election make. However, for a party that is supposed to be energized to send Freshmen legislators to Raleigh to help Gov. Roy Cooper and to break the 5-0 hold the GOP has on the county commission, one would expect to see a blaze of blue at the polling places. The only thing I saw blue was the clear sky above me – perfect for greeting voters.

How and Where to Vote

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.

There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Wednesday, October 17 through Friday, October 19: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Art Sherwood Seeks to Change State’s Direction in N.C. Senate

Retired biomedical engineer, active Baptist focused on education, healthcare, jobs and Voting Rights

Voting Begins Tomorrow!

LENOIR, N.C. – In late 2011, Art Sherwood retired from his career as a biomedical engineer helping veterans recover from spinal cord injuries. But he did not retire from his vocation of helping to analyze and solve problems. Indeed, after retiring, he immediately began devoting more time to politics until in 2016 he made his first run for public office, when he ran for State Senate in old District 45.

Art Sherwood primaryThe reasons he ran two years ago have not changed; in fact, they’ve intensified, so he’s at it again, this time seeking to represent redrawn State Senate District 46, which includes Burke, Caldwell and Avery counties. He is looking to unseat Republican Warren Daniel.

Perseverance, it seems, is a family tradition. Sherwood’s great-grandfather, the Rev. James Justice Lafayette Sherwood, helped establish First Baptist Church in Blowing Rock and served as pastor at First Baptist Church in Boone twice, from 1893-1895 and 1904-1906. Like his great-grandfather, Sherwood is a man of active faith. He served two five-year terms as a trustee of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and he has provided leadership in local congregations wherever he has lived.

Following completion of his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Duke University in 1970, Sherwood devoted his career to helping veterans and others with spinal cord injuries maximize their ability to function independently. He worked for three decades in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and concluded with a decade in Washington, D.C., where he helped formulate research policies to aid those who have sustained life-altering disabilities.

Sherwood has clearly devoted his life to helping others. And, being retired, he could do anything. Instead, he has decided to run again.

Why Run?

I was first motivated to seek election to the North Carolina State Senate so that I could be part of restoring North Carolina’s public education system to its former prominence and student-focused outlook. … I am further motivated by the GOP-led assault on Voting Rights in this state. It is shameful – and as the courts have repeatedly said – unconstitutional.”

In far-ranging discussions we’ve had during the past several months, I’ve asked Sherwood the first question I am sure his family members and friends asked – Why have you decided to run again? He explains, “I was first motivated to seek election to the North Carolina State Senate so that I could be part of restoring North Carolina’s public education system to its former prominence and student-focused outlook.” He continues, “I am further motivated by the GOP-led assault on Voting Rights in this state. It is shameful – and as the courts have repeatedly said – unconstitutional.”

Child painting kasturi-laxmi-mohit-1101453-unsplash (1)

Still, he was not inclined to run again. That is, until a call one late evening early this year from Governor Roy Cooper changed that. He told Sherwood that the Democratic Party was determined to compete for every legislative seat, and that Sherwood’s campaign in 2016 positioned him well for this cycle.

So, on the ballot he is. Sherwood argues, “My background, my family history, and my faith all guide me as I identify and work towards legislative priorities to offer solutions to the problems I’ve identified.” Still, he resisted prioritizing the many issues he wishes to address. “Trying to say one issue is more important than another is absurd. All are vital topics of the day.”

Sherwood also wishes to focus on how the local businesses and artisans can build a local sustainable economy that is immunized from the boom-and-bust cycles of the furniture, textile and other manufacturing enterprises.

Finally, as a person that has spent his life in healthcare – as has his wife, Gwen – he knows that people are suffering because they cannot access proper healthcare. As he notes, the United States doesn’t have a healthcare system; rather it has a health delivery industry. It is uncoordinated and profit-motivated, thus causing its ostensible purpose – to alleviate and heal the suffering of people – to be subverted to lobbyists for the pharmaceutical, hospital, insurance, medical equipment and related industries.

Voting Rights

There is nothing more fundamental to our Republic than the voting rights of her people. Without that right, we are mere pawns. … I will vigorously oppose gerrymandering by supporting the establishment of an independent commission to draw congressional and General Assembly districts.”

He pointed to the assault on Voting Rights as a classic example of the challenge of deciding which issue is the most urgent. He explained, “There is nothing more fundamental to our Republic than the voting rights of her people. Without that right, we are mere pawns. Therefore, I will work to ensure open and convenient access to polling places for all voters and eliminate burdensome requirements designed to suppress voter turnout. I will vigorously oppose gerrymandering by supporting the establishment of an independent commission to draw congressional and General Assembly districts. Republicans, including our own House representative, argue that gerrymandering is constitutional.

MeToo mihai-surdu-415698-unsplash

Sherwood argues, “Considering the many court rulings saying otherwise, Raleigh Republicans have forfeited their right to hold office. It’s not a stretch for me to promise voters I’ll protect their rights. I’m quite confident that is what people from our founders to Martin Luther King Jr. to those in the #MeToo and #IfIDieInASchoolShooting movements rightfully expect that of public servants.”

Education

“Regarding the many challenges facing public education, in particular front-line teachers, I will work to ensure that public schools are properly funded, teachers paid a fair and living wage, classroom management is not held hostage to standardized testing, and local control is restored. I will work to ensure adequate funding and forward-looking technical and liberal arts curricula in the district’s community colleges,” said Sherwood. He added, “It is time to develop a teacher pay structure consistent with that outlined by NC Policy Watch. It is time to provide teachers with the assistants they need to serve our children, and it is time to move North Carolina to the top of the nation in terms of per-pupil funding.”

HealthCare

It is understandable that a man who devoted his life to alleviate the suffering of others would have some expert insight into healthcare. “I support universal health insurance that will permit people to seek medical care in a timely manner, and to optimize the care provided at all stages of life, from prenatal to geriatric. I will work diligently to move us to a single-payer system to put the focus where it belongs, on improving the health of North Carolinians, which would also simplify and streamline the accounting, thereby reducing costs. And, I will work tirelessly to minimize government intrusion on interactions between patients and properly-licensed providers.”

The North Carolina General Assembly had a chance to expand Medicaid with federal funding and declined, leaving billions of dollars on the table and the people it was intended for in distress. Clearly, the Republican controlled super-majority in the General Assembly does not support affordable health care.”

He continued, “The North Carolina General Assembly had a chance to expand Medicaid with federal funding and declined, leaving billions of dollars on the table and the people it was intended for in distress. Clearly, the Republican controlled super-majority in the General Assembly does not support affordable health care.”

Jobs

On jobs, Sherwood argues, “Because of the damage done to the workers and families in the district by large manufacturers closing and abandoning the community, it is up to local leaders in the arts, nonprofit sector, towns and county to come together with a list of priorities for the legislature to support. Lenoir is quickly becoming known as ‘A funky little town’ because of our strong musical and arts heritage. We can and must continue to build on that. The same is true for Morganton and other towns in the district. And, it’s always good to have artists around, for they are the most fearless when it comes to speaking truth to power.”

He continued, “We also have to be judicious as we look forward. Many economic forecasters say that in roughly a decade, one-third of our nation’s workers will have to learn a new trade to remain employed. We need to prepare now by enhancing continuing education opportunities and providing broadband internet everywhere. Together with renewable energy jobs, that will provide a huge pool of good jobs to assure economic viability.”

The Environment

“We must protect our environment. That means acknowledging that Climate Change is real and aggravated by human activity. We need not waste time with attempting to change the minds of climate change deniers; in time, Mother Nature will do that for us. Instead, we must simply work to reverse the primary cause of Climate Change – our dependence on fossil fuels. That is why I support a moratorium on fracking and related pipeline development. I will fight to require municipal ownership of public water sources so that money is reinvested in infrastructure, not sent to out-of-state investors. And, I will work to re-empower the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to provide strong oversight of the fossil fuel industry in North Carolina. The presence of coal ash in our tributaries, streams and the Atlantic Ocean from Hurricane Florence is a sentinel call to our state to make ecological preservation a priority.” Sherwood notes also, “Our climate is ideal for solar and wind power. In fact, the solar industry now employs more people nationally than the coal industry. We must tap into that future. It is also the responsible thing to do to reduce our ecological footprint.”

Other Issues

Sherwood pointed to other issues that the General Assembly should address. “As we look at our abandoned buildings in the district, which distract from our region’s natural beauty and hard-working entrepreneurs attempting to revitalize the district, we must adopt a balance of tax incentives for these small, sustainable private entities and designate public funds to demolish or repurpose abandoned buildings.”

Suggesting a way to mitigate the impact of the box store and fast food cluster on U.S. Hwy 321 north of the Lenoir Crossroads, Sherwood shares, “We need to find a location to build a Visitor’s Center like the one recently built on U.S. 421 between Wilkesboro and Yadkinville. We can work with the Chamber of Commerce to promote the museum, the arts council, our natural beauty, Fort Defiance, the Wilson’s Creek Visitor’s Center, our ‘funky little downtown,’ and ideas just waiting to be developed by our artists and musicians.

Conclusion

Asked if he has anything else he’d like the voters of Caldwell, Burke and Avery counties know about him, Sherwood says simply, “I will strive to reverse decades of polarizing politics to find compatible folk on both sides to work with for the common good.”

Voting Begins Tomorrow!

One Stop/Early Voting begins tomorrow, Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 3. Election Day is Nov. 6.

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.

There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Wednesday, October 17 through Friday, October 19 : 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot 

 © Michael M. Barrick, 2018. #MeToo photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash; photo of girl painting by Kasturi Laxmi Mohit on Unsplash; Star-Spangled music notes by Ministries Coordinator on Unsplash

Editor’s notes offered in the spirt of full disclosure:

  1. I served on the Caldwell County Board of Education from 1998-2001 while a Republican. I was the Republican nominee for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2000 and a candidate in 2003 before dropping out because of a friend’s terminal illness. I have volunteered or worked as a paid staff member in no less than eight Republican campaigns from municipal to federal elections, not counting my own. Right now, the Republican Party is doing all it can to destroy our state government. I am ashamed of it and plead with moderate Republicans and unaffiliated votes (like myself) – to choose the best candidate. As a former candidate, I can promise you that Art Sherwood, Amanda Bregel, other Democratic candidates and their volunteers are among the hardest working people in North Carolina right now. For that determination alone they deserve your support. Most importantly, they represent true North Carolina values.
  2. I was the campaign manager for Art Sherwood in 2016. We have forged a relationship out of that battle that continues to this day. It goes beyond politics. We are friends. But he also knows this article wouldn’t be written if I didn’t believe in him.

Poetry Caldwell Features Jonathan K. Rice in Western N.C.

Caldwell Arts Council to host event Oct. 18, which includes Open Mic time

LENOIR, N.C. – After a short summer break, Poetry Caldwell is back at the Caldwell Arts Council (CAC), with artist and poet Jonathan Kevin Rice set to appear on Oct. 18. As always, Poetry Caldwell is free and open to all.

JONATHAN RICE

Held in the upstairs gallery, the event starts at 6:30 p.m. A short open mic will be held following Rice’s reading. Interested individuals may sign up to participate in open mic by calling the CAC at (828) 754-2486.

Rice edited Iodine Poetry Journal for 17 years and served as a co-editor for Kakalak in 2016. He most recently co-edited “Of Burgers & Barrooms,” an anthology published by Main Street Rag Publishing in 2017.

He is the author of two full-length poetry collections, “Killing Time” (2015), “Ukulele and Other Poems” (2006) and a chapbook, “Shooting Pool with a Cellist” (2003), all published by Main Street Rag Publishing. His poetry and art have appeared in numerous publications, including The Aurorean, Cold Mountain Review, Comstock Review, Empty Mirror, Gargoyle, Inflectionist Review, Levure Litteraire, The Main Street Rag, Wild Goose Poetry Review and the anthologies, “Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race” and “The Southern Poetry Anthology VII: North Carolina.”

His art has appeared in a number of group and solo exhibits in the Carolinas. Most recently his show “Excursions: Paintings by Jonathan K. Rice,” ran through June 2018 at the North Charleston City Gallery.

He is the recipient of the 2012 Irene Blair Honeycutt Legacy Award for outstanding service in support of local and regional writers, awarded by Central Piedmont Community College. Rice lives in Charlotte.

For further information about Poetry Caldwell or any CAC programming, contact the Caldwell Arts Council at 828-754-248 or info@caldwellarts.com.

Caldwell Arts councilThe Caldwell Arts Council presents the arts in all its forms to the people of Caldwell County. Located at 601 College Avenue SW in Lenoir, N.C. 28645, the CAC is open Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photo of Jonathan K. Rice provided by CAC. Feature (Home page) photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

Editor’s note: When first posted, Mr. Rice’s first name was spelled incorrectly in the headline. Sorry for the error.

 

N.C. Gerrymandering No Laughing Matter

Rep. Destin Hall’s vigorous defense of Republican gerrymandering causes stunned laughter from audience at NAACP forum in Lenoir

LENOIR, N.C. – Destin Hall, Caldwell County’s representative in the North Carolina General Assembly, was greeted with stunning, uproarious laughter from the audience at the NAACP candidate forum on Oct. 6 when he vigorously defended the Republican legislature’s gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative districts.

Despite repeated court rulings that the gerrymandering is unconstitutional, Hall said otherwise. Fortunately, his remarks were recorded on video, which you can see here.

And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.” – Destin Hall

He was asked by an audience member, “What would you do to fix the gerrymandering problem in this state?”

Hall responds, “So in my opinion, partisan redistricting is what the Constitution calls for.”

NC Nothing comparesHe then continues speaking, making unsupported claims of gerrymandering being historically constitutional, and essentially arguing that those opposing the GOP’s efforts in Raleigh are sore losers.

He also proudly states, “This is actually a topic I know something about.”

That’s because he, no doubt, like every Republican member of the General Assembly, saw no problem with drawing maps to exclude minorities and members of the opposition party. Hall’s comments that gerrymandering is legal is laughable, as you will obviously see in the video. More chilling though, is that Hall did what the GOP is becoming expert at. Telling the big lie.

He concluded his remarks by saying, “And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.”

The audience wasn’t buying it, as they responded with uproarious, spontaneous laughter.

Unfortunately, it’s no laughing matter, but one can understand why the audience laughed in his face; it’s better than crying. Ironically, he smiles in response, either clueless or arrogant. The latter wouldn’t be surprising, as shortly after Republicans took control of the N.C. General Assembly in 2011, courts ruled they gerrymandered districts along racial lines. Then, earlier this year, by their own admission, Republicans were again found to have gerrymandered districts unconstitutionally, this time along party lines. Indeed, if you will look up the phrase North Carolina unconstitutional gerrymandering on the Internet, you will discover at least 86 articles written about these and other cases since the 2010 takeover of the North Carolina General Assembly by Republicans, including this one that ranks our state just above Cuba as a “deeply flawed democracy.”

NC State MottoThis can be reversed though. Early voting begins next Wednesday, Oct. 17. It is time for our state’s leaders to live by its motto – “To be, rather than to seem.” The Republican Party in North Carolina clearly doesn’t believe that.

I think our people do though. If you agree, you might want to take a look at Hall’s challenger, teacher Amanda Bregel.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Amanda Bregel Looks to Represent Caldwell County in NCGA

Fourth generation teacher motivated by concern for students and families, enjoys strong volunteer support

LENOIR, N.C.Amanda Bregel, a teacher of English and Caldwell County Studies for sophomores at the CCC&TI Early College High School, is looking to unseat Destin Hall in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). Hall represents House District 87, which includes all of Caldwell County.

Amanda BregelBregel, a Democrat and quick learner supported by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, is undaunted by the task of trying to unseat a Republican incumbent in Caldwell County, where the GOP enjoys a significant voter registration margin. Referring to questions about her experience to challenge Hall and serve if elected, her answer could be that of any teacher: Anybody that can successfully manage a classroom of 20 students, work a 12-hour day and have a 10-minute lunch break can handle just about anything. Indeed, Bregel has proven she does indeed manage a classroom well, for she has been Teacher of the Year and earned a Teacher’s Fellowship.

Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all teachers. In fact, her great-grandmother taught in a one-room school house. She emphasizes the importance of being a lifelong learner, so it’s not surprising that she had many thoughtful insights when I sat down with her earlier this week for the following interview.

Q: Why have you decided to seek this office?

A: I am running to stand up for my students and families because I spend everyday to help the children in our county. My fellow teachers and I do what we can to provide for the children with so little. I realized I could help them not only in my classroom, but also another way – by influencing the laws that impact our students. I have the knowledge about our needs and want to have influence on the state budget, as 50 percent of the state’s budget goes to education and 65 percent of the budget for Caldwell County Schools comes from the state.

I think a teacher’s perspective is needed on the floor of the House. Right now, they can just look out the windows at teachers as they did earlier this year. With teachers in office, they will have to listen to people with experience in the classroom.

Q: If elected, what would be your legislative priorities?

A: People. I am focused on supporting people, so I’m focused on education, healthcare, and rural support. We must also ensure that we have a transparent state government.

I would vote to expand Medicaid to help with the opioid crisis and address many of the health issues, such as cancer rates. To me supporting the rural community means paying attention to NCDOT decisions early and speaking up when laws favor big business. This means supporting environmental protections since so much of our county is rural, natural beauty.

Q: What would be your priorities for public schools, community colleges and our universities?

A: I will pay attention to their legislative priorities. I know the legislative priorities of CCC&TI and Caldwell County Schools (workforce development and teaching assistants, calendar autonomy, and money owed from the state). I support Governor Cooper’s initiative to make North Carolina a Top Ten Educated State by 2025 – emphasizing early childhood education, increasing enrollment in pre-kindergarten, improving our high school graduation rate and increasing the percentage of adults with a higher education degree. Although I work at the Early College High School, I do not believe all high school students in Caldwell County need to be enrolled at a four-year university after high school. We need to give teachers the breathing space to create relationships with students-at all levels so they can get to know children and help students figure out their strengths and possible career path. Apprenticeship programs are something so many businesses in this area are interested in, so why aren’t we developing these programs?

I think a teacher’s perspective is needed on the floor of the House. Right now, they can just look out the windows at teachers as they did earlier this year. With teachers in office, they will have to listen to people with experience in the classroom.

Q: Do you support term limits for legislators?

A: No. Term limits can be seen as a way to limit the people’s vote. The people aren’t choosing their representative if he or she is being forced to retire. What I really believe that legislators who have been in office should be doing is “building a bench” as they say or finding and strengthening the next generation of leaders instead of staying in office for so long. You don’t want all of your experience leaving office and leaving only the lobbyists, full of knowledge about their cause and no cap on their number of years in the job, ready to influence new politicians. I do support more voter education and new legislation on campaign finance and transparency.

Q: If you were to give a “The State of North Carolina” speech, what would you say?

A: The North Carolina Constitution directs the governor come to the legislature to “give to the General Assembly information of the affairs of the State and recommend to their considerations such measures as he shall deem expedient.” Right now, what would be really expedient is to support the people. We can only really support the people by working together. North Carolina is represented equally by both political sides. We should be a beacon of bi-partisanship. We must praise examples of bi-partisanship, reach out and stop blaming each other’s parties.

Q: What is your vision for Caldwell County and North Carolina?

A: My vision for Caldwell County is a place where we can preserve our heritage and natural beauty while also providing people with the tools and support they need to thrive. I want us to keep growing and improving. I tell my students that Caldwell County is a special place because there are so many people here working so diligently to improve daily life. My vision is a county where these hard-working visionaries have the tools they need from the state and county to complete their projects and we can foster partnerships to benefit the people.

Q: There is no denying that the furniture industry was the primary driving force in Caldwell County’s economic development during the 20th Century. However, it also created a mono-economy that essentially caused great distress to the county in the 1990s because of NAFTA and other trade agreements passed by Congress. What can you do in the North Carolina General Assembly do to insulate communities throughout our state from this happening again?

A: This ties into the education question because we need to emphasize a diverse education and completing a program that trains you for a job in our area. We must adopt Skills-Based approach to fulfilling workplace needs. There are jobs available here, but can we house people so they live in Caldwell and invest here? Can we train them to fill those jobs and be able to provide for their families? We can if we keep using incentives from the state to bring in businesses like the building reuse program, which has been used in over 30 projects since 2006 and the OneNC Fund from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Q: From its inception, when Lenoir was known as Tucker’s Barn, music has been an important part of the city’s culture and growth. Doc Watson was heavily influential in the city, and the city and county has and continues to produce hundreds of musicians (as demonstrated by the success of the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase and Happy Valley Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention). Are you committed to champion and fund the arts community in the NCGA? How?

The creative industry contributes to North Carolina beyond our economy. Value creativity is essential to our quality of life, appreciation of our heritage, and pride in our community identity. The arts, history, and libraries are integral to our strong education programs and unique sense of place. So, I will strongly support the North Carolina Arts Council.

A: Yes. Arts in schools is a big need. We must protest when cuts to arts come up. We need to recognize the impact the arts have on our state’s economy. The creative industry contributes to North Carolina beyond our economy. Value creativity is essential to our quality of life, appreciation of our heritage, and pride in our community identity. The arts, history, and libraries are integral to our strong education programs and unique sense of place. So, I will strongly support the North Carolina Arts Council.

Q: About 20 years ago, the EDC brought in local consultants to help the county after the furniture industry abandoned it. One of the key points these outsiders identified was the appearance of the county, in particularly abandoned buildings. Yet still today, there are dozens of large abandoned factories and other businesses. It would seem this problem has been kicked down the road during that time. What can you do in the NCGA do to mitigate the effect of so many shuttered and dilapidated buildings and businesses?

A: A lot of our vacant buildings are superfund sites, so I support economic cleanup and environmental protections. They are dangerous and are health, safety and environmental concerns. I am proud that the City of Lenoir is working to get grants to clean up superfund sites. Still, vacant buildings are a concern, especially since it costs so much for a city to demolish a site and that’s taxpayer money for a site owned by a business or person. I’ve learned it costs about $10,000 just to demolish a vacant home.

As a member of the NCGA I would vote to re-fund the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and reinstate regulations that were rolled back the last few years. We can follow the lead of towns in other states that are using grants from environmental groups to knock down vacant houses. We can also capitalize on technology to find abandoned buildings and owners. We must make businesses responsible for the messes they make so that 50 years down the road the next generation isn’t dealing with the problems we are creating today like we are.

I tell my students that Caldwell County is a special place because there are so many people here working so diligently to improve daily life.

Q: Western North Carolina continues to grow as a tourist destination. What can you do in the NCGA do to ensure that it is a community that not only benefits from this growth, but helps facilitate it?

A: We should not always indulge the tourism industry right away. They don’t always have the best intentions for small towns like ours at heart. I will do all I can to make sure projects like the 321 superstreet doesn’t leave Caldwell behind. Becoming more involved with the NCDOT however I can is going to be a big priority. Communities know their needs, so as the representative I should vote for ours, not along party lines. Protecting our environment also helps with Western North Carolina tourism.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like voters to know that I have not asked?

A: Yes. I know as a teacher you never know what your day is going to bring. I’m not used to having a lunch break. I work every moment of my day for other people. Teachers work a 12-hour day. I will work!

Also, as a teacher I am a constant learner. You can only be a good teacher if you are constantly learning. The same is true with our state representative.

Amanda for NC House jpgWant to know more? Visit:

amandafornchouse.org
facebook.com/abregel

 © Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Music along the Hillbilly Highway is ‘Handmade & Heartfelt’

Kay and Patrick Crouch have taught and inspired thousands of students and others in the region; they are also premier promoters of the music of Caldwell County and Southern Appalachia

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the sixth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” It is an abridged version of an article originally published in 2017.  Learn more here.

6 Showcase Grand Finale

The Grand Finale of a Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

LENOIR, N.C. – Before we ride the Hillbilly Highway out of Caldwell County for now, our first leg of our tour along the Hillbilly Highway would be incomplete without first acknowledging a couple that have worked tirelessly to preserve and pass along Appalachia’s musical heritage – from Blues to Bluegrass and everything in between.

Handmade & Heartfelt

When I interviewed Kay and Patrick Crouch in 2017, just a few of weeks before the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, they were relaxed – the kind of relaxed that is rooted in two decades of experience – as they discussed preparations for the concert during a visit to their home studio. (The 20th Annual Showcase was held in 2018, and the 21st is already scheduled for March 9, 2019).

Patrick explained the genesis of the theme for 2017, “Handmade & Heartfelt.” He said, “Some years I have the title in my brain and then get the musicians that fit. This year, however, I had this group of people who I love and admire as people and musicians that I’ve been wanting to get on the show. So, it will feature various styles of music – some is original, but all comes from the heart.”

Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language … .” – Patrick Crouch

The 19th Showcase included eight groups or individuals, including Strictly Clean and Decent, which is Patrick and Kay’s collaboration with Ron Shuffler. The total of musicians performing was about two dozen, in addition to members of the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.

Pointing out that 19 years of experience of preparing and hosting the showcase has made it easier for them, Patrick shared, “Now we have a tradition established. I already know what we’re going to do for the 20th.”

Showcase SC&D

Strictly Clean and Decent (Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler) host the Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Patrick and Kay acknowledged that not every one of the more than 200 musicians that have appeared in the showcase as of this year are Caldwell County residents, but all have roots to the county. “It’s the traditional music that’s the connection,” offered Kay. She continued, “It’s good to connect with folks from outside Caldwell County. The real value is that these folks see what we’re so proud of.”

Patrick shared, “It is unfathomable to think that more than 200 musicians who live in or have ties to Caldwell County have performed. Our goal was 100. After 10 years, we had reached 128. When we started this, this was our stage that we wanted to share. It is incredible to think about how many musicians we have shared that stage with.” Smiling, and looking at Kay, he added, “It’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have such a community of musicians here. It’s going to just keep growing.”

He continued, “Music flows. It flows from the performer. It’s not something you think about. It’s what we do. The sign of an artist is playing whatever they want.”

Patrick Crouch by David Cortner

Musician Patrick Crouch of Lenoir, N.C. always takes plenty of time to share a story or two about the history and music of Appalachia © David Courtner

That’s exactly what happens at the Showcase. Patrick sends out a schedule to the musicians, tells them how much time they have and how many songs they can play, but does not tell them what to play. He explained why. “Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language. The audience knows that. The biggest challenge is for the musicians to limit their selections.” He continued, “I don’t give a lot of direction. Early on, we met a lot. Now it’s better to just let things be as they may.”

Besides the quality of musicians that play at the Showcase, Patrick says another reason for its success is how the community of musicians support it. “Those who don’t play in it still come out. Some come during sound check just to see folks they haven’t seen in a while. And, of course, we’ve enjoyed the support of the people of Caldwell County from the beginning.”

Sitting in a room surrounded by CDs, musical memorabilia, instruments and a recording studio, Patrick sat up in his chair and shared, “I stick my chest out when I say I’m from Caldwell County and am talking about our music.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017-2018.

 

The Hillbilly Highway Ideal for Pondering Life

Slow down and seek out a ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady’ spot

Note: This is the fifth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here.

By Michael M. Barrick

“Find yourself a piece of grassy ground, / Lay down close your eyes. / Find yourself and maybe lose yourself / While your free spirit flies.”

– From “Cool an’ Green an’ Shady” on John Denver’s 1974 “Back Home Again” album.

5 Cool Green and Shady path

Entrance to an old logging road near the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina

GLOBE, N.C. – I always find the song above by John Denver soothing. It is largely because of the subject matter. It was also released the year I graduated high school and left my native West Virginia for Charlotte.

Moving to North Carolina was not on my list of options at first. But then the state of West Virginia decided it needed our home to build a bridge. So gone was our home with its many cool, and green and shady spots in the woods of our lower back yard along Elk Creek. Within a few weeks of moving out of that house, I was on my way to North Carolina to work for the Charlotte Ambulance Service.

5 Harpers Creek

Harper Creek near Edgemont, N.C.

Fortunately, when I moved to North Carolina, I was immediately introduced to the mountains of Western North Carolina in Caldwell County by my uncle, who moved here in the early 1960s. He knows every back road, especially those adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest.

It was with him that I learned to slow down a bit. Over time, I was slowing him down as we would camp. The silence of the forest, interrupted only by songbirds or the occasional rustle of an unseen but nearby critter, mesmerized me. And it reminded me of my home that no longer existed. I needed it. Badly.

What I have learned over the 44 years since I first left West Virginia – and returned and left, repeat, etc. – is that my favorite places along the Hillbilly Highway are those places that few dare to travel. The trails, paths and old logging roads of the Appalachian forests lead into deep green forests and the mysteries held beyond the next switchback.

Bird 2 D Smith

Photo by Debbie Smith

But this is also where you will find the places that John Denver called ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady.” His lyrics could not be truer for me. “Find yourself and maybe lose yourself /While your free spirit flies,” happens to me every time I venture into the forest. A rock, a stump, the ground, it doesn’t matter. As I sit and listen to the songbirds celebrate the woods, I want to stay among them as did the ancient natives who preceded us, simply sitting against a tree as I dissolve into my essence.

One day, I believe I will.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018