Beach Bites

BY Jessica Haywood Lia Kerner Marimar McNaughton and Jules Norwood

A word with Captain Mark Davis

Our own Jules Norwood spends a day and night aboard the USS North Carolina — Virginia Class nuclear-powered submarine

The call to serve on the USS North Carolina (SSN 777) was a welcome surprise for Commanding Officer (CO) Capt. Mark Davis. He was two months from the end of his tour as CO of the USS Montpelier (SSN 765) — which would have been his last aboard a U.S. Navy submarine.

“I had been scheduled to go do another job after my last ship and I was two months from getting relieved ” says Capt. Davis in the wardroom of the sub on maneuvers off the coast of Florida as the crew continues to
prepare for May’s commissioning
ceremony in Wilmington. “Those days were the most horrible of my life because this was something I’d been looking forward to my whole career and in two months it’s over and I have to go do something else.”

Instead Davis was asked to take command of the North Carolina when another captain was unable to take the position. “They said ‘Hey will you come do this?’” Davis explains still seemingly amazed. “And I said ‘You have to be kidding.’”

Since then he has seen both the sub and the crew come together from bits and pieces.

“The ship was in a building; it wasn’t put together. It was a bunch of guys. And now a year and a half later to see … this ship has a personality this crew has a personality unique to us.”

Every time the sub gets under way he can see how much they’ve improved and how well they work together.

“I have 140 guys out there and seeing them succeed at something and pull all together is so rewarding ” he says of his crew. “I feel very fortunate to get to do it for a second time.”

Now Davis and the crew are more than just a team; with the amount of time they spend together and their complete reliance on one another they’re a family. Davis knows every sailor on the ship on a personal level — stories about them their wives their kids. And all of them he pointed out have embraced the connection between the sub and the state of North Carolina.

“The guys that came in World War II had an incredibly challenging life ” he says of those who served on the submarine’s predecessor the battleship USS North Carolina (BB 55) which participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater and now sits moored in Wilmington as a floating memorial. “It’s incredible the things that they did so I am personally very proud of our heritage. We have a very tight association with the people from the battleship we’ve met some of them and heard their stories. I spent about eight hours touring the battleship and it’s remarkable the things that those people went through too.”

Getting the sub fitted out and ready for service has been a long and arduous process. The officers and crew have had to learn to operate this new class of submarines with systems and capabilities different from and beyond their previous experience. “I have done several things been on numerous ships and this is the hardest most challenging job I’ve ever had and in the past year the year leading up to delivery [it’s also] the most that I’ve ever asked of a crew ” remarks Davis. “The last year imagine building a home and living in it at the same time and trying to keep it clean while there’s 50 carpenters sawing wood and stuff and — oh by the way — learning to operate it.”

Following Wilmington’s May 3 commissioning ceremony the submarine will receive a round of updates and then begin its active service. Davis says what impresses him most about the Navy’s newest class of submarines the Virginia class is the subs’ range of capabilities.

“The world we’re in today who knows what the next challenge is going to be?” he asks. “This ship is so capable and so flexible and can do any mission that a submarine could possibly do — special operating forces anti-submarine warfare anti-surface warfare Tomahawk strikes you name it. … We’re flexible enough to go out and do things that we’re not even sure are out there yet.”

With the conclusion of this command Davis’ undersea service will come to an end as well but he will always be a plank owner of the USS North Carolina a member of the crew when the sub was placed in commission.

“Over the past year and a half developing a relationship with the people in North Carolina ” he says “… they’re just phenomenal people; they love the ship and they’re very proud of the ship and what we do. I feel very privileged to be associated with the state of North Carolina.”

With that Davis moves rapidly from the wardroom to the control room — time for another drill. — Jules Norwood

Concert kickoff

Fourth annual Mayfaire Music on the Town concert series

Music is the universal language that almost everyone loves and enjoys. People all over the world spend hard-earned money to listen to their favorite performers and that’s good. But free music is even better! For the fourth year in a row Mayfaire Town Center is sponsoring free music every Friday night beginning May 2 and continuing through September 26. Artists and bands will play from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the green behind Linens-N-Things and World Market for a crowd of approximately 250 people. “We have everything from bluegrass to rock ” says Melody Lemmon property manager at Mayfaire Town Center. “We try to please all the listeners.” Be sure to bring a cooler to keep you refreshed during those hot summer nights. You can also bring your favorite furry friend to enjoy the tunes. For more information call (910) 256-5131. — Jessica Haywood

Movies under the stars

Fabulous Fantail Film Festival

Starting Friday May 9 you can watch movies the way WWII crewmembers of the USS North Carolina Battleship did — on the fantail of the battleship! Classic films celebrating the “Many Moods of Love” will play on the back deck at 8:30 p.m. Here’s the lineup: May 9: Shop Around the Corner May 16: Notorious May 23: African Queen May 30: Bringing Up Baby. Popcorn and soda are available for purchase. Admission is $1 at the door and does not include a tour of the ship (hey you’d miss the movie). For more information call (910) 251-5797 ext. 2049. — Jessica Haywood

Ginger Spice

This culinary powerhouse could be growing in your backyard

Is tonight’s dinner yet another array of dishes seasoned with salt and peppered with pepper? Throw your shakers and grinders to the wind — it’s time to spice things up. Enliven your meal with a pinch of Zingiber officinale from the Zingiberaceae family. If the presence of “Zing” in the name doesn’t ring any bells for this feisty spice you may recognize it by its more traditional title ginger. Coming from the Sanskrit word “string-vera” meaning “with a body like a horn ” ginger has been renowned for thousands of years for its culinary and medicinal properties.

Pungent and spicy ginger can be used to add exotic flavor to traditional dishes. It is often used to spice up Asian cuisine especially fruit and vegetable dishes. Fresh ginger root is available year-round at local markets and comes in many forms: pickled ginger powdered ginger preserved ginger and crystallized ginger to name a few. A quick tip for the kitchen: Combine ginger with tamari olive oil and garlic to make a zesty dressing for a spring salad.

Ginger is easy to spot. The knotted beige underground stem often extends 12 inches out of the ground with narrow green leaves and white yellow-green or orange flowers. While the plant is known for being easy to grow it is also known to possess many medicinal uses. Ginger is known to eliminate intestinal gas and often works to relax and soothe the intestinal tract. It can also be beneficial in easing pregnancy-related ailments such as nausea or vomiting as well as seasickness. Its anti-inflammatory effects can be beneficial to sufferers of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. —Lia Kerner

Got a green thumb?

Try growing ginger in your own backyard. Tom Ericson of The Transplanted Garden in Wilmington says most locally grown ginger is for “ornamental purposes but cardamom is an example of one type that can be grown for cooking.” This plant is known for its aromatic stems and leaves which if crushed give off the fragrant aroma of ginger. Bushy and dense cardamom grows well on the Azalea Coast because it is not threatened by harsh winter frosts.

While all gingers are edible certain types can be breathtaking additions to any garden. The tall and slender Kahili ginger blooms fragrant yellow/orange flowers along the plant’s stem from late summer to mid fall and is the perfect plant to grow on a shady back porch.

Helmets required

River-to-Sea Bike Ride is still cruising almost 20 years later

On Saturday May 3 at 9 a.m. you can pedal safely slowly and happily from Historic Downtown Wilmington all the way to beautiful Wrightsville Beach courtesy of Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization’s BikePed Committee and numerous sponsors. Between an estimated 75 and 100 people will ride the River-to-Sea route in this free bicycling event that has taken place for close to 20 years. The fact that this isn’t a race makes it more enjoyable for everyone (no speed demons breathing down your neck no competitors looking to pass you on the straightaway). Participants will meet in the Thalian Hall parking lot before the biking begins. “It’s a very interesting ride through Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach ” says Katie Ryan program supervisor for Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation. For a map of the route visit For more information contact Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation at (910) 256-7925. — Jessica Haywood

Can you dig it?

28th Annual Surf-Sun-Sand Volleyball and Bocce Ball Tournament

If you love that special feeling of the sand between your toes the sun on your back and a ball in your hands you will not want to miss the 28th Annual Surf-Sun-Sand Volleyball and Bocce Ball Tournament on Saturday May 31. Sponsored by Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation the games begin at 8:30 a.m. on the north side of Crystal Pier (Access No. 36). The registration deadline is Wednesday May 28 at 5 p.m. Volleyball competitors are separated by skill level — novice teams are made up of six people and intermediate teams are made up of four though more can be on the roster. The fee is $85 for New Hanover County residents and $95 for nonresidents. Bocce ball teams are comprised of two people with as many as four on the roster. The fee is $35 for New Hanover County residents and $45 for nonresidents. Participants will receive a free T-shirt and winners will receive prize bags. Winners and runners-up will be given team trophies. To register visit the Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation office or call (910) 256-7925. — Jessica Haywood

There’s no place like home

The Wizard of Oz drops into Thalian Hall

Almost everyone has seen the classic movie The Wizard of Oz but not many people have had the chance to experience it as a live musical in an equally famous and historic theater. Wilmington residents will get that opportunity on May 8 through 11 and May 15 through 18 at Thalian Hall. Come watch Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz with the Scarecrow Tin Man and Cowardly Lion as they battle the weather the poppies the flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch of the West. Adapted by the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed by Troy Rudeseal the play “is going to be a big extravagant production with the actors flying ” says Tom Briggs executive director of the Thalian Association. Jonathan Barber will direct the music we all know and love and David T. Lowdermilk will choreograph. Tickets are $20. There are senior student and group discounts available. For tickets or more information call 800-523-2820 or (910) 343-3664 or visit — Jessica Haywood


The Greek Festival is back and delicious

As you fine diners well know a multitude of ethnic foods are available for consumption here on the Azalea Coast. Japanese Chinese Thai Indian Italian Mexican French and German are some of our popular choices. But none is more popular than Greek and for those of us with a special yearning for spanikopita (and who among us doesn’t have a special yearning for spanikopita?) the enormously popular Greek Festival will be held on May 16 17 and 18 in time to satisfy all our Grecian cravings. During this fabulous weekend event 20 000 people will visit St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on College Road from noon to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Festival guests will experience Grecian culture through the sounds of the Greek band Lazaro the fancy footwork of an award-winning Greek dance troupe cultural presentations on the history of Grecian heritage cooking demonstrations a tour of the church and a Greek-style marketplace. Jewelry statues paintings and more will be for sale. Admission for the entire weekend is only $3 and children under 12 get in free. That same $3 also enters your name into a raffle for a home entertainment system. Proceeds go to a local charity and to the church. For more information visit  — Jessica Haywood

Calling all kayakers!

Fourth annual Wrightsville Beach Challenge

Paddle over to Salt Marsh Kayak on May 10 at 11:30 a.m. for the fourth annual Wrightsville Beach Challenge. One of the first warm weather races of the year this 6-mile challenge designed for intermediate to advanced kayakers will start at Salt Marsh Kayak (across from the Blockade Runner Hotel) continue to Masonboro Inlet to Crystal Pier and back. A beautiful 17-foot Chesapeake Light Craft sea kayak will be raffled off after the race. All kayakers will receive a free ticket. Non-kayakers can also buy raffle tickets for $10 apiece or three for $25. An entry fee of $35 per kayak $15 per teammate and $5 (if not a member of the American Canoe Association) is required and due by Thursday May 8 at 5 p.m. or a $10 late fee will be added. All money raised will go to the Cape Fear Community College Boat Building School one of the most unique programs of its kind on the East Coast. To register visit — Jessica Haywood

Surf’s up

Seventh annual Longboard Classic

Longboarders will gather in front of the Shell Island Resort for the seventh annual Longboard Classic on May 17 and 18. This contest offers two days’ worth of fun-in-the-surf-and-sun events for boarders to enjoy. In addition to the normal competitions there are contests for super tankers (boards 11 feet or longer) and classic loggers (pre-1968 boards) as well as a paddle team relay race and a stand-up paddle race. All ages are welcome to compete. Trophies and prizes donated by local surf shops will be awarded to the top three finishers in each division and a surfboard and other prizes will be raffled off. The cost is $35 for the first event and $20 for each additional event. All proceeds will fund two $1 000 scholarships that the Wrightsville Beach Longboard Association awards to a local male and female collegiate surfer. To register for the event pick up an entry form at a local surf shop or email [email protected] — Jessica Haywood

You might be missing out

What you should know about the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension Arboretum

New Hanover County’s Cooperative Extension is one of the few if not the only extension offices actually located on an arboretum. The NHCCE is a partnership between N.C. State University N.C. A & T State University and New Hanover County (every North Carolina county has an extension office). Extension staff members are associated with the colleges. Funding comes from both the state and county and the services are free.

In 1985 to accommodate growing pains the NHCCE moved its offices to the seven-acre site of the old Bradley Creek School located off Oleander Drive on Greenville Loop Road. With the help of the Cape Fear Garden Club and many volunteers the arboretum was dedicated soon after in 1989.

“We use the arboretum for educating the public about horticulture ” says Melissa Hight county extension director. “We educate people about foods and nutrition 4-H youth development what grows here what it looks like and what the newer things are that are on the market.”

Staff members teach classes based on issues identified in the community. Master gardeners undergo 12 weeks of training and are only then ready to take their turn in the plant information clinic where they answer all kinds of gardening questions. Have a problem with a plant? Bring in a branch or a soil sample and let the experts tell you what’s wrong and how to fix it. Can’t cart your whole oak tree to Oleander Drive? Call your problem in. Clinic staffers are happy to help.

Even if all is well in your garden visiting the arboretum is a wonderful and educational way to spend a few hours. All the plants are labeled so if you see one you like you don’t have to search high and low to figure out what kind it is. Also mailboxes have been set up at various points around the arboretum — as part of an Eagle Scout project — and inside each one is important information about the plants in that area or specific garden.

It’s a dynamic place in that things are changing all the time. We’re bringing in new things and planting them for people to see ” says Hight. “We try to plant our gardens so that people can see how it will actually look in their own garden.”

Some of the arboretum gardens Hight is referring to are: a rose garden bog garden children’s garden vegetable and herb gardens Japanese garden native habitat garden aquatic garden a deer-resistant garden and an ability garden.

The ability garden is a unique feature of the arboretum. Special adaptive equipment helps nursing and group home patients physically and mentally handicapped individuals and others who might need special assistance participate in horticultural therapy. Led by a horticultural therapist anyone can join in the relaxing yet rewarding act of gardening.

The arboretum is constantly being improved. New in May 2008 is a special parking lot extension that will be a demonstration area for storm water management and practices. There will be a bio-retention area a rain garden and permeable pavement.

The arboretum’s centerpiece the three-quarter-acre water garden is having the concrete replaced with stone brought in from Pennsylvania to give it a more natural look. It will also have a new filtration system.

Visitors are welcome from sunup to sundown seven days a week. Many families bring lunch and enjoy an afternoon in the gardens. The arboretum is also a popular place for weddings — held almost every weekend between April and September — because of the gorgeous surroundings. Electricity is being added to the gardens in order to make events such as these even more accessible. An arboretum wedding under the lights will soon be possible.

For more information about wedding fees classes programs or gardening advice call (910) 798-7660. —Jessica Haywood


Rare red bay discovery

When I stepped out of the truck I said ‘I have no idea what that thing is ’” laughs Scott McGhee arborist for the Autumn Hall development “but then the instant I saw it up close I knew. I’d never seen anything like it.” McGhee is referring to the rare size of the champion red bay found at the Autumn Hall site in March.

While red bays are common in the Wilmington area they are typically very small with trunks only 6 inches across.

The Autumn Hall red bay was something completely different. On Thursday March 13 with Autumn Hall developer Raiford Trask III McGhee and others from the company there to witness the unexpected special event the North Carolina Department of Forest Resources viewed measured and analyzed the Autumn Hall red bay and proclaimed it the state champion. With a remarkable circumference of 121 inches it is the largest tree of its kind in North Carolina topping the previous record holder’s circumference by 39 inches!

The champion red bay sits alongside the property line of Autumn Hall on Eastwood Road. According to McGhee the builders of Autumn Hall under Trask’s watchful eye are doing all they can to make sure the tree is conserved and protected. “Right now the red bay is not near the construction but when the construction moves the land will be blocked off and no construction will take place there. We’re doing everything we can to make sure this tree is happy ” says McGhee.

Along with efforts to preserve the red bay Trask is going more than the extra mile to develop Autumn Hall in as eco-friendly a way as possible. “I started with the attitude to maintain existing vegetation and not stress our water systems. Bradley Creek is not in good shape so we have opted to eliminate our footprint on it ” says Trask.

When Autumn Hall construction is complete it will include 51 acres of parks and walking trails along with an 8-acre lake. For more information visit — Jessica Haywood

Uncorking the muses

The Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens: A Tribute to Minnie Evans

By all counts it was a labor of love. The Bottle Chapel and sculpture garden — the dazzling jewel in the crown of Airlie Gardens that honors renowned visionary artist Minnie Evans gatekeeper of Airlie — was created over a yearlong period by seven area artists and one gardener as a temple to the memory of Evans and her lasting inspiration. The shrine is made from 5 000 recycled bottles chicken wire and cement embellished with handmade works of copper clay and glass tile.

The Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens: A Tribute to Minnie Evans a 32-page book released this month is dedicated to those artists who collaborated on the enchanting installation: designer and lead artist Virginia Wright-Frierson Karen Crouch Dumay Gorham Brooks Koff Hiroshi Sueyoshi Barbara Sullivan Tejuola Turner and Michael Van Hout.

The book is a precious memento of their creative process. It was written by Fred Wharton a native of Great Britain and husband of UNCW Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo. He taught Elizabethan drama at Glasgow University in Scotland and then at Augusta College in Georgia where he chaired the English department and was a member of Airlie Gardens Guild. Wharton’s text discloses the brief history of the group project and balances profiles of the artists and the unique contribution of each to the whole.

Like many new to the Wilmington area Wharton was drawn to the garden. “I became fascinated with the original artist Minnie Evans. This project that Ginny Wright-Frierson put together … was such a collaboration ” Wharton says. “To get eight artists working together with one vision is truly an achievement.”

Wharton dove into the archives at Cameron Art Museum to familiarize himself with Evans’ oeuvre and interviewed the Bottle Chapel artists in their studios or by telephone.

Over a six-year period Wright-Frierson a painter muralist and illustrator of children’s books had created a bottle house prototype in her own backyard that was inspired by the outsider art of Grandma Prisbrey a visionary artist from California. Wright-Frierson’s original idea was to produce a stained glass chapel at Airlie inspired by Evans’ designs “and the symmetry of her work and her bright colors and have light pouring through it ” she says.

The Airlie Garden site however is a magnet for electrical storms and hurricanes. Wright-Frierson revisited her bottle house at home which had withstood the elements for 15 years and thought “I could do the same thing in this framework of heavy treated wood wire and mortar mix.”

Slaving through the heat of the summer and suffering the raw chill of winter she built the chapel walls.

“She was quite a soldier ” Wharton says.

Wright-Frierson not only crafted the original vision for the chapel she invited seven other artists to collaborate with her and “all of them seemed really honored to do this ” she says.

“I could have chosen dozens who were influenced by Minnie Evans ” Wright-Frierson says “[each of whom] could have added something wonderful to this whole garden.”

Hiroshi Sueyoshi resident potter at Cameron Art Museum was the first she asked.

“I respect him so much as an artist and I knew he could add an element to the garden that would just be essential ” Wright-Frierson says.

Sueyoshi created the entrance to the Bottle Chapel sculpture garden — a likeness of Evans at the Airlie gatehouse where she created most of her paintings and a fountain carved with images from Evans’ paintings.

“Tejuola Turner was one of the first that occurred to me. She’s our only African-American artist and is somewhat of a visionary artist herself. She’s known most for doing incredible gourd carvings that are in the collection of the Cameron Museum ” Wright-Frierson says.

Turner working outside her medium created four benches embellished with symbols found in Evans’ work.

“One of the hardest workers of all was Brooks Koff ” Wright-Frierson says. Koff coordinated a mosaic project with area schoolchildren: They made a stepping stone for every year of Minnie Evans’ life. Koff introduced the students to Evans’ work and hand cut and glued each of their designs. When completed the 95 tiles weighed 35 pounds each.

The Bottle Chapel was the first big public project for sculptor Karen Crouch who created the life-size tree planted inside the sanctuary.

“She probably more than anyone steeped herself in Minnie Evans’ inspiration ” Wright-Frierson says.

Working continuously Dumay Gorham was the first to finish a pair of angels.

Michael Van Hout’s bronze dove sculptures actually attracted a tropical dove to the chapel after it was dedicated in 2004.

“That was just a miracle ” Wright-Frierson says. She believes the bird represents Evans’ spirit. “We had hundreds of bird watchers come to take pictures. It lived there for two months.”

Barbara Sullivan selected plant materials that supported the artistic illusions created by the others. But none worked as tirelessly as Wright-Frierson herself who reported to the site daily accompanied by her dog. One day a storm brewed up a batch of wind with bolts of lightning and rumbling thunder. As the wind blew through the chapel the bottles started to sing producing what Wright-Frierson describes as “organ music with thousands of different pitches.”

Susan Taylor Block Airlie Gardens’ historian was a frequent visitor to the gardens during the construction process and scripted a seamless introduction to the book.

“I went to the dedication and walked through with people all around me and listened to their comments ” Block says. Working from the image of a circle within a spiral a poem poured out of her. Of Arcs and Artists: The Bottle Chapel of Airlie is the book’s touching epilogue.

Illustrated with photographs by Arrow Ross published by The Publishing Laboratory of the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of Creative Writing and distributed by John F. Blair Publishers the book Block says is a celebration of not just Minnie Evans but of her spirit that lives on and “would inspire an artist of Ginny’s caliber to think up this whole entire project and to orchestrate all of the other artists. It’s just an amazing thing all around.” —Marimar McNaughton