Arts + Entertainment

op beckmanBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

Forty-two years ago a very interesting man moved into the broken, haunted brick mansion two doors up from my parents’ house. 

Dave had just retired from 33 years in the U.S. Army as a machinist, welder, mechanic, builder, inventor and general problem-solver in charge of keeping America’s troops and machinery moving. He had set his new sights on restoring the old place singlehandedly as a retirement project. His personal passions and areas of expertise included photography, systems design, the arts, public service, governance and sharing his skills and knowledge with many.

op beckmanBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

About eight months ago I had a misunderstanding with a pile of lumber which, when resolved, left me with shattered right wrist. Yes, that right wrist, just like the one you use everyday. Two surgeries and a stack of medical bills later there is still a lot of recovery yet to do, both physically and financially. 

My wife and I have paid for private health insurance out-of-pocket every month for the past 25 years. Our policy has a $5,000 deductible that we pay before the insurance kicks in and then we pay 30 percent of all covered expenses after that, as well as all the uncovered ones. Even a relatively minor incident can end up costing plenty.

op frJohn Beckman • Columnist

The discussions and debates regarding health care on both the local and national levels have been going on for years as people everywhere have tried to come to grips with rapidly rising costs, a huge number of uninsured people and loss of benefits from  providers. The volume of the discourse has risen to screaming new levels since the passing of the national Affordable Care Act and the botched launch of the website enrollment in recent weeks. The controversy has given rise to many instant geniuses on both sides with much of the opinion being offered short on fact, insight or applicability to the real world the rest of us inhabit. 

What seems to be missing in all this is addressing the underlying question: How does our great nation get health services to those who need it in an affordable, efficient, ethical manner?

op frBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

There’s a lot to be said for making careful plans in our lives, crafting a logical, well thought out path to get us from point A to point B without getting too lost in between. How we navigate through the multitude of choices and directions we have in life depends on a variety of factors derived from all that we have seen, heard, learned, experienced and dreamed. 

op beckmanBy John Beckman • Columnist

I’ve had quite a few cars on the road in the past 40 years, and I’ve noticed that they all start to fall apart when the odometer begins showing nervously higher figures. The breakdowns that happen depend largely on how hard the operator has been on the pedals and buttons and how diligent they have been in preventative maintenance and regular upkeep. 

op frBy John Beckman • Columnist

Thirty-five years ago, I moved into my first dorm room and this small-town lad had high hopes of the excitement and new people he would meet at this big university hundred of miles from his sleepy town. I surveyed the 60 or so inhabitants at the Introductory Floor Meeting that day and noticed a few “possibilities” for friends and a bunch of “forget-its.”

Among the latter was a short, loud, monied know-it-all, Jewish guy from New Jersey — “Nothing in common here, I thought. People like this annoy me.” But as might have been guessed, I’d soon sing a different tune. Once the partying and shenanigans began, we found our vast differences to be great compliments, and the next semester, we moved into a house off campus together with three other guys and the “Moose Breath Club” was born.

op frSince I was old enough to talk, I’ve been told that being an American was something special, something I could take great pride and assurances in, and that my dreams and aspirations were indeed possible here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

This notion seemed logical as a child since our family always had shoes to wear and plenty to eat, a warm house in winter and presents under the tree every Christmas. We were never shot at, our town was never attacked by enemy forces, nor had anyone I knew ever been imprisoned without just cause and due process. I grew up respecting and honoring our public officials, knowing that they were working hard to protect our national interests, our individual rights and our position as a world leader promoting liberty and justice for all.

op dogsBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

I’ve read the letters regarding the barking dogs issue and the responses from both sides. It’s clear to me that the central issue is not dogs at all, but how Jackson County and the region has changed, and how residents are needing to cope with these changes.

I have been in Jackson County for 19 years, I have three dogs, I own guns and would not deny anyone the right to legally hunt. But with that right comes the responsibility of abiding by the laws and to recognize the impact it has on our fellow citizens. Hunting is not a “God-given right,” but a right granted by state and federal law, under which we are all equal. Many people living here were not born here. Does that mean that we have fewer rights than someone who’s great-grandpappy moved here 100 years ago? Under the law, the answer is obviously “No.” It would appear as though some feel that they are more entitled since they were here first. I would argue that unless you can trace your family back to the first Native American, you are indeed an immigrant to the area, just like the folks who moved here last month.

When planting season is upon us, gardeners and farmers of all stripes are making plans and counting seeds. As long-time gardeners and seed savers know, the winter months make for great opportunities to do both easily from the comfort of an easy chair beside the woodstove.

Last growing season I raised a couple of varieties of squash and a watermelon that were big hits at the market and here at home, so I kept the best fruits for next year’s seed and set them in the cool storage in October to fully mature. A chilly winter day is perfect for cutting into a still beautiful squash and seeing next season’s opportunities hanging in sweet-smelling strands of vegetable innards. I carefully separated the magical capsules from the slippery gook and set them in a container of water for a relaxing bath, the first of their life’s projects accomplished.  

After a day or two of soaking and a good rinse, I set my five types of seed aside on dinner plates in the kitchen where they’ll sit for a couple weeks while being irregularly rearranged for optimum drying and personal reassurances that spring would return. A week quickly passed and soon we were hosting a get-together at our home, whereupon my wife instructed me to “move my seed mess” from the dining table, which I dutifully did for the safety and protection of the seeds, as well as my own personal welfare. I marched the plates into the living room and tucked them out of the way on top of our wine cabinet, sliding aside the old, Chinese-style vase that my wife rescued from her grandmother’s throw-outs 40 years ago. A week or so later I remembered that they were still there and went to finish the job only to discover the seeds missing — all of them — everything. Ouch. The picture of a starving hill family flashed in front of my eyes at the thought of next year’s crop being robbed before even being planted.

After the initial shock had worn off and my heart rate returned to more normal levels, I began to examine the evidence. I suspected a visiting (or resident) mouse had made off with the goods in the still of the night and had stashed those hundreds of gene packets somewhere for later distribution and use, probably as dinner. Like Sherlock Holmes, I set out to recover the stolen merchandise the little nemesis had absconded. Applying my best mouse-like intelligence, I began my search, checking both the obvious and the most dubious of possible caches, but I came up empty-handed.

The search continued for days, even reluctantly enlisting the help of my wife, who found the whole parade quite amusing, and thinking the thieving rodent’s antics were “cute.” A couple of days later, when I had all but given up my quest, I went to move the old vase from the top of the wine cabinet for some overdo dusting. The chunky, sentimental artifact has graced our homes all these years, and we’ve often kidded about taking our “Ming” vase to the “Antiques Road Show” and discovering it to be a rare piece worth thousands, if not millions.  

As I moved the vase aside from the oncoming cloth, I heard a strange rattle from deep inside. I shook it once again and turned it over to find the source of the noise and seeds of several shapes and sizes began to flow from its mouth, my stash of garden hopes being found.

That silly old vase may not be a rare antique nor worth the stack of cash we’ve joked about, but this year it proved itself quite valuable, and I doubt I’ll ever look at it in quite the same way again, thanks to my own neglect and one small, forward-looking mouse.

(John Beckman is a farmer, builder and part-time seed saver in Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

The first 19,000 days

By John Beckman • Guest Columnist

I had a birthday recently, which seems to happen every year about this time, and I paused to contemplate what this occasion really meant in everyday life to me and to the world I inhabit. By this exercise in reflection I was hoping to glean some insights into something of incredible importance, but what I found was a jumble of numbers and references that left me somewhat more informed but completely exhausted.

With my computer nearby I found out I share my birthday with Charles de Gaulle (think French history), Lady Bird Johnson (think presidents and wildflowers), Billy Jean King (think tennis and chauvinist pigs) and Rick Nielson (think rock guitarist for Cheap Trick), which together made me think I had a nice, diverse group of birthday compatriots. I discovered that on the day that I was born the “Chipmunk Song” made No. 1 on the charts (yes, Alvin and the Gang), and a photo of a flying saucer over Muszyn, U.S.S.R., appeared in the papers.

On the day of my third birthday, the U.S. tested a nuclear device in Nevada, and my next birthday found the Russians testing one of their own in Novaya. It’s amazing what a year and a couple of letters will do when it comes to nuclear arms I thought.  

My 20th birthday was the day Kenny Jones became the new drummer for the Who, and the people of Thailand adopted their constitution. I suspect the former had the greater influence on me that day. And just 12 years later on that special day, Lech Walesa was sworn in as the first president of Poland who came into office by popular election. I was starting to feel better about the day, but wanted to know what had happened in between all of those historic events and where were those many days I’d watch flicker by? I thought it a good time for some reassuring statistics.

With a little math (and a calculator) I discovered that I’ve spent some 19,000 days on planet Earth, and somehow I’ve been filling those days doing something. My armchair analysis uncovered that I had spent over 6,000 of those days sleeping, snoringly unaware of what was going on in the world around me. No wonder some days I’ve felt like I may have missed something. I

’ve used around 700 days sitting in classrooms getting (theoretically) smarter and dreaming of the day I could get out of the classroom, and 850 full days watching television according to the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). I also burned up 800 more days in the bathroom, time those around me would not have wanted me to miss I presume.

I couldn’t help but think of the time I spent as a kid playing baseball, riding bikes, delivering papers and the like, and another 1,100 days vaporized in front of me. About 1,700 days have been spent eating, and another 500 were wisely used vacationing, which I’m sure is where some of the eating comes in.  

I added up the time I’ve spent working a job and watched 5,200 days slip through the cracks, and another 800 or so days lost inside a car or truck going somewhere. I figured I must have racked up 900 days on college campuses, but for some reason I don’t remember a lot of details from then.

I noted that I’ve had a computer and a cell phone for only the past 4,000 days, and it made me wonder what I did with all my time before that. I’ve been with the same gal for 9,000 of those days, and I could say sometimes it feels like more, but I won’t because I know better after that much time. Add in the time spent doing laundry, dishes, paying bills, shopping, cooking meals, cutting grass, hobbies, etc., and pretty soon I started to wonder how I crammed so much into only 19,000 days.  

I opted not to try to calculate how many days I spent looking for my lost keys, procrastinating, fixing my old trucks or drinking beer with my buddies for fear of running out of days before my time.

I got a little fatigued by all these numbers adding up and decided instead to look toward the future and all the days that lie ahead. If statistics can be trusted, then I have around 12,000 days left before returning to dust or something similar, and I planned to make the most of them. I deduced that if I can stop wasting all those days ahead sleeping, I’ll gain another 10 years in time I can spend doing more important things. I could use that time to work for world peace and discovering new cures for diseases. I can invest those newfound hours helping to repair the environment, educating our youth and cleaning-up Wall Street’s woes as well. My days could be well used feeding the hungry and sheltering the unsheltered, building solutions for healthy communities and fixing the world’s dilemmas. This would be a most useful and valuable way to spend the 12,000 days I have left, I solidly concluded. That’s a lot of work to get done and I’ll have to start soon given my ever-shrinking number of days.

Well, maybe right after my nap. After all, it’s my birthday, and we only get so many days like that.


John Beckman is a farmer, builder and part-time day counter from Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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This Must Be the Place

Reading Room

  • Books that help bridge the political divide
    Books that help bridge the political divide Time for spring-cleaning.  The basement apartment in which I live could use a deep cleaning: dusting, washing, vacuuming. It’s tidy enough — chaos and I were never friends — but stacks of papers need sorting, bookcases beg to see their occupants removed and the shelves…
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