Mountain Soul Concert series – Bandit’s Roost

This Sunday, September 27 at 6:30 pm, members of Christ Church invite everyone to an evening of music by Bandit’s Roost.  Bandit’s Roost plays an eclectic mix of Folk, Celtic, Newgrass and Americana music.  Based in Elkin, NC the band features Caroline Noel Beverley on guitar, bass and vocals; Julian Charles on guitar, bass and vocals; RG Absher on banjo, guitar and vocals; and David Blackmon on fiddle.  Samples of their music can be found here.

Admission is free.  Refreshments follow the concert at Becca’s Backwoods Bean Coffee Shop in Sparta.

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Christ Church is located approximately 2.5 miles south of Sparta at 2543 Hwy, 21 South.

Manuel Rivas Alvarez – La Mexicana Restaurant

Manuel Rivas Alvarez learned on the soccer field that even the best game plan can run into problems.  Challenges arise and the plan has to be adjusted to the changing circumstances.  He has since learned that this state of continually evaluation applies to life as well.

A native of Galicia, Spain, Manuel grew into a semi-professional goal keeper with dreams of going pro.  As goal keeper, he had to be aware of everything happening on the field and prepared for a kick from any direction.  Also in Spain Manuel worked as a DJ in a large dance club.  As DJ he monitored the patrons and played music that pumped the crowd up or calmed them down. Whether on the soccer field or in the club, he recognized that success depended on his ability to adapt quickly and decisively at a near instinctive level.

At age 23, Manuel immigrated to the United States.  He went to work almost immediately as a laborer in the construction field.  In Spain, his second language emphasis had been on French so when he arrived in the United States he knew little English.  He credits music and movies as sources for his English lessons.  After five years, he applied for and was granted United States citizenship.

An old neighbor from Spain was the owner of Espina Stone Company and he took Manuel on as a stone mason.  For the next 20 years, Manuel worked in a variety of locations ranging from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Virginia Tech University.  A particularly memorable project was the renovation of the North Lawn Fountain at the White House in Washington, DC.  As Manuel describes his work as a mason, he exudes pride in his craftsmanship.  He says that he was often the first to arrive on the job site and that his employer could always count on him. This led to Manuel’s promotion to supervisor and as a leader work crews.

Life seemed perfect – a wife of over 20 years, three children and fulfilling employment. Then a torn meniscus threw Manuel his most serious challenge to date.  The surgeon anticipated a four month recovery yet after four months Manuel was still on crutches.  Another year passed and it became obvious to Manuel that his days as a stone mason were over.  He assessed the situation and adapted to his new reality.

Manuel had moved to Sparta from northern Virginia in 2009 while working on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  His wife Janet, a native of Bolivia, moved down with their three children a year later.  By the time Manuel faced his medical crisis, the family had come to consider Sparta home.  They wanted to stay in Alleghany County.

This past July Manuel and Janet purchased La Mexicana Restaurant in Trojan Village.  Their desire is to have a friendly, family atmosphere that serves freshly cooked food.  While neither he nor Janet are from Mexico, they want to create an authentic Mexican tacqueria that has an intimate feel of a working class, neighborhood café.  Manuel learned through his varied experience that while it may take years to develop a strong relationship, it only takes minutes to destroy one.  His goal is to have a business where people from all backgrounds feel welcome.  He say he wants a place that generates “that feeling you get at your mama’s house.”  He is quick to credit many local people who have assisted him in getting the business started.  Among those are Xavier Iglesias from the nearby Pizzeria and Steve Edwards of the Alleghany Meat Center.

Manuel, Janet and Maria Dimas

Manuel Rivas Alvarez, wife Janet, and Maria Dimas

Still the goal keeper at heart, Manuel has taken on this new challenge with enthusiasm.  He describes life as a book.  When one chapter is finished, we must turn the page to begin a new one.  He points out that the first page of of each new chapter in life is blank.  Manuel says that it is up to us to write that new chapter.  For him and his family, that next page begins at La Mexicana Restaurant.

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La Mexicana Restaurant is located in the north end of Trojan Village at 665 South Main Street, Sparta, NC.

Hawk Count at Mahogany Rock Overlook

Each fall thousands of hawks and eagles migrate southward along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The Blue Ridge Parkway, with its overlooks and sweeping vistas, offer numerous opportunities to observe this annual migration.  One of the most popular spots is located near milepost 235 at the Mahogany Rock Overlook.

Jim Keighton and other members of the Blue Ridge Birders spend countless hours at the overlook observing the passing hawks.  They then log the numbers and types of birds seen into a Hawk Count summary which can be viewed here.

Jim Keighton watches for passing hawks at the Mahogany Rock Overlook

Jim Keighton watches for passing hawks at the Mahogany Rock Overlook

The birders also spend time talking with visitors about their work.  A silhouette chart helps novices identify the various species as they pass overhead.  Often little more than black dots, the birds standout especially well on days with high clouds.  The white clouds offer contrast that make the birds more visible. While the birds often pass singularly or in small numbers, occasionally observers will see flocks of over 100 in what are known as “kettles” as the birds circle in updrafts to save energy for the flight to South or Central America

Kettle of Broad-winged hawks over Grandfather Mtn. photo by Monty Combs

Kettle of Broad-winged hawks over Grandfather Mtn. photo by Monty Combs

While various species of hawks are most commonly seen, both Bald and Golden Eagles also use the Blue Ridge as a travel corridor.

A Blad Eagle passes over Grandfather Mtn. Photo by Monty Combs

A Blad Eagle passes over Grandfather Mtn. Photo by Monty Combs

Weather permitting, volunteers can be found at Mahogany Rock Overlook most days from September into early November.

Mahogany Rock is located less than 1½ hours from Charlotte, Winston Salem and Greensboro.  The overlook offers a large grassy area that is perfect for picnicking while the hawks pass overhead.  No admission fees are required.

Other popular hawk watch sites in western North Carolina include Grandfather Mountain and Pilot Mountain State Park.

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Ranger Jackie Sloop – Brinegar Cabin Day

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiates 4:12b NIV

Jackie Sloop

Jackie Sloop

As the local food movement gains momentum and dreams of self-sufficiency percolates in the back of many minds, Jackie Sloop casts a realistic view of what it meant to be self-sufficient 125 years ago while raising a family along what is now the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As she worked the treadle with her foot and fingered flax fiber through a spinning wheel, she explained to visitors that subsistence farming was much like any other small business venture.  It required considerable planning, lots of hard work by all members of the family, and offered very little leisure time.  She said that Caroline Brinegar, wife of Martin, likely considered spinning yarn as near a leisurely activity as came along.

photo by Gary Boyd

Jackie’s path to Brinegar Cabin is as winding as the Parkway itself.  From Caldwell County, she went off to college and received a degree in interior design.  As children came along she was a stay-at-home mom.  While devoting herself to her family, her outside interests circled around three seemingly different topical areas: natural science, arts, and history.  For 25 years she devoted those interests as a board member and seamstress at Fort Defiance, the home of General William Lenoir who fought with the Overmountain Men at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Home spun yarns

Home spun yarns

Then life made a series of twists and turns for Jackie. In 1988, she desired to broaden the view her children had of life and the country so they struck out on a 10½ week RV trip.  They focused their stops on national parks.  Some time later she moved to the Winston Salem area and put her degree to work with Village Interiors in Clemmons.  Another curve led her to Rose Furniture where she worked in design sales.

Then as many do at midlife, Jackie took stock of her life and considered what she wanted to do in the upcoming years.  The thought of opening a bed and breakfast in the mountains appealed to her.  But, under the surface the love of natural science, art and history continued to bubble.  A job with the National Park Service (NPS) seemed the perfect path to spin all of her interests into one strand.  Jackie volunteered with the NPS for while and then in her mid-50s she was hired as a seasonal ranger assigned to the Doughton Park.  Her focal area was the Brinegar Cabin.

Jackie explains the mechanics of spinning to Brinegar Cabin visitors

Jackie explains the mechanics of spinning to Brinegar Cabin visitors

While Jackie came to the cabin knowing how to weave and make baskets, she had to learn to spin yarn.  As she works the spinning wheel in the cabin, children often ask Jackie if she lives in the cabin.  Jackie leans in as to share secret – “No, I play here,” she says with a smile.

Jackie considers herself a cultural ambassador for southern Appalachia.  While many have a romanticized view of all mountain folks living in small log cabins, Jackie points out that in the early 1900s there were actually three distinct cultures along the ridgeline that became the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Roaring Gap had grown into a community of summer getaways for affluent textile executives escaping the heat of the Piedmont.  The clapboard home of the Woodruffs near Laurel Springs is representative of the larger working farms found across Alleghany County.  And finally, the Brinegars’ home place exemplifies the small subsistence farms scattered throughout the mountains.

A key point that Jackie makes is that there is no single attribute or family dynamic that describes Alleghany County.  Families like the Woodruffs and Doughtons in Laurel Springs, the Brinegers along the edge of the escarpment, and the Hanes, Reynolds and Chathams of Roaring Gap all contributed to the tapestry that make the county Absolutely Alleghany.

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On September 26, 2015 Ranger Jackie Sloop and others will host Brinegar Day at the cabin.  There will be cultural demonstrations, storytelling, and recognition of the Brinegar family for allowing us to share in their family’s history.

Tim Stamper – Laoshi

Guanxi.  This Chinese word describes a set of personal relationships that drives the social network in China.  These relationships often span generations, but can also be formed between relatively new friends.  It was within this relational network that Sparta resident Tim Stamper was referred to as “Laoshi.”  The English translation is “My Teacher.”

Tim and Sandy Stamper are well known in Alleghany County.  Graduate school brought them to North Carolina and they moved to Alleghany County in 1990 to start a business, Pilgrims Rest Family Care Home.  With a strong background in the construction trade, Tim later became a teacher at Alleghany High School (AHS) in Construction Technology.  While at AHS he also served as an assistant wrestling coach with head coach, Paul Crouse.  He later spent time in Texas working on pipelines and enjoyed the interactions with the rough and tumble crews.  His has been a varied occupational journey.

A few years back, Tim and Sandy considered how to best use their variety of gifts and skills.  They explored different options and the one that caught their eye was through the English Language Institute (ELIC).  ELIC assigns teachers to universities around the world where they teach oral English to undergraduate students, and language and culture to graduate students.  After being accepted to serve with ECLI, Tim and Sandy left the comforts of family and friends in Sparta and soon found themselves at Jiangxi Normal University in Nanchang, China.

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Tim with Jiangxi Normal University students

As one would expect, there were challenges moving to a different country.  After living in a county of roughly 11,000 residents, Tim and Sandy found themselves in a city of over 5 million people.  The air quality was poor due to industry, the volume of automobiles, and the high usage of coal.  Their apartment had little insulation.  During the summers it could be hot and in the winter it could be cold.  The Internet service was notoriously slow.  But, they found the people to be engaging, friendly and eager to share their culture with Tim and Sandy.

A dinner guest explains the Chinese stock market

A dinner guest explains the Chinese stock market

While Tim was assigned to the university, his teaching extended beyond the classroom.  Dinner parties became cultural exchange events where he taught western culture while learning the culture of the east.  He learned that the Chinese citizens admire Americans and the United States.  Older citizens recalled the American role of their freedom from Japanese oppression during World War II.  The younger Chinese often teased Tim that the Chinese have become true capitalists while the Americans are becoming socialists.  One of Tim’s most memorable encounters and lasting relationships began with a hospital visit.

Throughout their time in China, Tim was plagued with gastrointestinal problems.  Those problems finally got to the point where he needed medical attention.  Tim made the trip to the hospital with his interpreter.  There they saw a 78 year-old doctor.  Aware that the Chinese paid before the delivery of any service, Tim asked the interpreter to ask the cost of the examination.  The doctor, who turned out to be the chief of staff raised his hand and said in English, “You owe nothing.”  Subsequent conversation revealed that the doctor had lived through the Japanese occupation and was a young professor during the Cultural Revolution.  His desire was to improve his English while getting to know someone from the United States.

Tim and Sandy with the hospital staff

Tim and Sandy with the hospital staff

That encounter led to a deep friendship.  As their relationship grew, the doctor shared with Tim his desire to see growth and development of the hospital staff’s English skills.  He asked Tim and Sandy to come to the hospital twice a month.  There they met with the staff, assisting them with English and leading discussions on western culture.  Those conversations covered everything from Santa Claus to the Good Samaritan.  It was this 78 year-old doctor who gave Tim honorable title of “Laoshi” – My Teacher.

Tim Stamper

Tim Stamper

The Chinese concept of “guanxi” is akin to an emotional bank account whose primary purpose is to assist or help others.  Deposits are made and both parties understand that a withdrawal or favor may be requested in the future.  This definition doesn’t describe the actions of Tim and Sandy Stamper.  Whether they are in Sparta or Texas or China, they have spent a lifetime giving freely with little expected in return.  It is a life philosophy that is countercultural in both the United States and China.  But, it is a great model for those of us here in Alleghany.

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If you or your group would like to hear more about the work ELIC does in China and throughout the world, you may contact Tim and Sandy at timsandy.stamper@gmail.com or by phone at 336-572-0900.

Photo are courtesy of Tim and Sandy Stamper.