A cracker in the pines

True wisdom is often born of unlikely marriages: love and death, crime and poetry, chocolate and peanut butter. Add to that list a delicate environmentalism and an upbringing in a Southern-redneck junkyard, and you have the experience of celebrated author Janisse Ray, whose book Ecology of a Cracker Childhood caused a stir in both environmental and literary circles when it was published last year. She comes to Warren Wilson College (for the second time in a month) to give the commencement address for the class of 2000 on Saturday, May 20.

Ray grew up among her father’s junkyard cars and the longleaf pines of her native Georgia; in the book, she explores the desperate human need for pattern, resulting in everything from the straight-rowed pine plantations that have replaced Georgia’s native barrens to her father’s genius for mechanical tinkering — also a sign of his mental illness, according to a Warren Wilson media release. “Janisse Ray brings to the Warren Wilson College commencement an inspiring life story that she translates into a clarion call for preserving a vanishing ecosystem — a message every graduating senior should hear,” said WWC President Doug Orr. Since the release of her book, Ray has been elevated to the first rank of lyrical nature writers.

The college is expected to graduate 141 students — a school record — in a 10 a.m. ceremony on the lawn of Sunderland Residence Hall.

To learn more about Janisse Ray, or the Warren Wilson College commencement, call 298-3325, ext. 423.

JCC welcomes Elderhostelers

Asheville’s Jewish Community Center is a place to learn, for young and old alike — from the preschoolers mastering their ABCs to the Elderhostel folks studying various religious and social traditions. That tradition will continue May 21-26, when 44 Elderhostel participants from 13 states come to Asheville to expand their intellectual horizons while enjoying Western North Carolina’s scenic beauty.

The seniors, ranging in age from 56 to 86, will enjoy more than 20 hours of classes, including three primary courses intended to shed new light on several aspects of a very ancient tradition. First, Dr. Walter Ziffer will present “The Birth of Christianity from the Matrix of Judaism,” a look at the factors that led to the separation of Judeo-Christians from Pharisaic Judaism, particularly the religious, political, sociological and psychological elements. Next, in “Muslims and Jews: Brothers and Sister?” Dr. Tom Sanders and the class will consider the importance of abandoning common stereotypes about Islamic religion and political expression, taking a close look at the life of Mohammed, the Koran, and parallels between Judaism and specific Moslem beliefs. Lastly, “Tolerance: Taking a Look at the Other,” taught by Mary O’Day, will explore humans’ need for a sense of companionship and how it can, ironically, lead to the exclusion of others.

Although the program was designed by the JCC’s Elderhostel Committee, the classes will take place at the Best Western Hotel-Biltmore, where participants will be housed.

For more information about the JCC and Elderhostel, call 253-1070.

Inspecting the inspectors

A fire-code inspection can be a tense affair for building owners. But when the Asheville Fire Department turned the tables recently — asking the good citizens of Asheville to rate its inspectors — they were overwhelmingly graded either “very good” or “excellent.”

In a follow-up media release, Asheville Fire Chief John Rukavina was understandably upbeat about the “report cards” filled out by a random sample of business owners who had just had fire inspections. The 55 who responded gave on-duty firefighters a collective 93 percent rating; full-time fire-code enforcement officers did even better: 96 percent.

“Our continuing goal is to get all inspection grades to A+ levels,” said Rukavina in the release. “Code enforcement is a tough job. I interpret the results as an indication that firefighters and fire inspectors do a very good job, and that there’s room to do better.”

The report card contains 30 separate items; the1,650 total responses included no “poor” grades, one “fair” grade, and seven “good” grades. The other 1642 grades were either “very good” or “excellent.”

To learn more about the fire-inspection report cards, call Rukavina at 259-5636, or Robert Griffin at 259-5653.

Zen and the art of insecticide

How often do we overlook simple, effective solutions in favor of far more complex — and, perhaps, more destructive — approaches? That may be why the Elisha Mitchell Chapter of the National Audubon Society recently gave the nod to the leaders and staff of Asheville’s Metropolitan Sewerage District, for their innovative solution to a persistent insect problem: enlisting a small army of purple martins.

According to an article in the May 2000 issue of The Raven’s Nest, the group’s newsletter, wastewater-treatment plants tend to attract a lot of insects (organic matter in the standing water evidently makes it a haven for larval mosquitoes and other bugs). Author Marilyn Westphal notes that such facilities often use electric zappers to control flying insects; these, however, zap anything that finds its way into them. She credits MSD Operations Manager Dennis Lance with devising an alternative plan — setting up gourd houses to attract purple martins. In the first year, 10 birds moved in; by the end of the second year, the gourds were full, so Lance began adding more. By the end of last year, there were more than 100 martins living around the treatment plant. Their diet? Flying insects.

“Using purple martins at wastewater-treatment plants is the perfect natural solution to an annoying problem,” Westphal writes. “The Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society salutes Dennis Lance and the staff of MSD for the progressive way they are dealing with insect pests. Other wastewater-treatment plants in the area could be encouraged to follow their lead.”

To learn more about the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, call 645-7123.

Learning your ABCs

Walking costs the commuter about seven pennies per mile, biking about a dime a mile; but a single-occupant automobile costs more than $1.50 per mile to operate. That’s why, say local bike enthusiasts, you should think about taking part in the Healthy ABCs, coming up on Friday, May 19.

Promoted as “Healthy Air, Body and Community,” the event is timed to coincide with other health-related, springtime proclamations and events. “The month of May is National Bicycle Month, and this week is National Employee Health Fitness Week,” said city of Asheville Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator Oliver Gajda. “So, instead of having several different events, we’re trying to bring them all together and celebrate them as one festival.”

According to a Healthy ABCs fact sheet, in the U.S., up to 250,000 deaths per year are attributed to a lack of regular physical activity; only 14 percent of adults in North Carolina engage in regular exercise; and, perhaps most depressing of all, nearly half of all urban space in the U.S. is dedicated to the automobile (even though nearly half of all personal trips involve traveling less than three miles).

A full slate of activities is planned for City/County Plaza, including a health fair (11 a.m.-6 p.m.), the Wacky Healthy Games, a bicycle mini-rodeo (5:15-6:15 p.m.), a poster contest (featuring regular Xpress contributor David Cohen), bands, food and more. A children’s nonmotorized parade will leave the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center at 4:30 p.m., winding its way to City/County Plaza. All in all, the Healthy ABCs will be rich with opportunities to get out of the car and on your feet.

To learn more about Healthy ABCs events, call Oliver Gajda at 232-4528.

— cliquishly compiled by Paul Schattel

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