If you're the sort of person who adores pigs--and I don't mean as a dinner option--there are currently two snortin', inquisitive little porkers to be had out at the Felicite Latane Animal Sanctuary, as well as three friendly, apple-lovin', adult porkers. There have been many tales attesting to the intellectual prowess of the humble pig: Southern dope growers have used "guard pigs" to patrol their pot fields, for example. But my favorite has to be the pig who--when her owner fell unconscious--ran to the front gate, nudged it open (a feat she'd never attempted before and rushed into the street until a car stopped and the driver followed her back into the house, where they then summoned medical help for her owner. Heroic pig indeed!
The pigs were brought to Felicite Latane after being abandoned and neglected by their former owners. The nonprofit animal Sanctuary is part of the Animal Protection Society of Orange County and is located near Mebane, about 10 miles from Chapel Hill, as the crow flies. Although there aren't tours of the center, you can volunteer to care for any of the animals, ranging from raptors such as red-tailed hawks and barred owls to turtles, opossums, and--on the day we visited--two downy mallard ducklings peeping contentedly in a makeshift bathtub "pond." The wild animals are reintroduced into their natural habitat, but pets such as the pigs, dogs or cats, as well as exotics such as snakes, rabbits or goats--are available for adoption. As for the two piglets (or their parents), call the shelter at 967-7383.
Best idea on wheels
What's sadder than a broken bicycle? A kid without a bike. Carrboro-based The ReCYCLEry has the solution to both problems. They collect busted and rusty two-wheelers, replace faulty parts, spiff them up and get them back on the road again by giving them to kids who can't afford them.
"We thought that there were plenty of bike lanes, that this was a bike-friendly community, but then we noticed there were plenty of kids who don't have bicycles," says Rich Giorgi of the ReCYCLEry.
Since they got rolling last summer, the ReCYCLEry has given away more than 50 bikes. But their staff doesn't just donate the bikes, they share the skills kids need to keep things pedaling along smoothly. With the group's "Earn a Bike" program, kids learn by doing, repairing their own bikes and then hopefully passing their know-how on to their neighbors. So go to your storage shed and ask yourself if it's time to liberate your underused hunk of metal and spokes.
Best place to call with obscure information requests
Got an odd question? A really, really odd question? Over the years, the reference librarians at the Durham County Library have heard some doozies. Among the most memorable: "How do I calculate how long it's been since the world began?" "Where is Ulysses Grant's horse buried?" and "How can I get my pet squirrel on TV?" (See answers at the end of this item) The reference desk handles more than 5,000 queries a month for book titles, correct spellings, geographic locations, Web sites and squirrel talent agents--among other things. In short, says department head Anne Berkley, "Reference librarians are the interface between people and the world of information." Library cardholders can get three pages worth of information faxed to them free of charge. Visitors to the reference desk will find a computer for visually impaired library patrons and databases chock full of government, media and genealogical information--as well as those expert librarians.
Answer key: (1) In making this calculation, you do not need to add an extra year for "the year zero." (2) The horse's exact burial site is unknown, but his name was Cincinnati and he was retired to a Kentucky horse farm. (3) Consider calling your local cable-access channel but remember, it's illegal to have a squirrel for a pet.
Best wallpaper job
The title of best wallpaper job goes this year to The News & Observer, which revamped its lifestyle section in mid-January, officially marking the transition from "The Old Reliable" to "The Easy Reader." If articles about sweater fabrics, movie-star makeovers, and Britney Spears' navel are any indication, The N&O clearly cares more about design and capturing the Capri Sun set than the quality of what's in the newspaper.
Best place to spot a disoriented deer drinking out of a construction ditch
No fewer than three times have I driven past Chapel Hill's Meadowmont--the "Southern-style" mega-development--only to see a remarkable and cruelly poetic sight.
Amidst the chaos of the evening rush hour on N.C. 54, just over the bluff from chattering construction crews and countless tons of earth-moving machinery--a deer. Doe-eyed, if you will. Robotically hunched over a dirty puddle, lapping up the deep brown water with all the muted enthusiasm of a junkie.
The silver lining? No, it's not all those extra lanes on N.C. 54, or those nice new people that will appear out of thin air, move in and spend their summer evenings admiring their front porch rocking chairs through the Venetian blinds. The silver lining is that the same place that gave "Tree Protection Area" a whole new meaning may also turn out to be a great little spot for deer huntin'!
Best talking farmer mannequin
In these days of tobacco lawsuits and the extinction of smoking sections, there's something quaint about a visit to the Duke Homestead and Tobacco Museum. The museum is a sort of love song to tobacco, celebrating the prosperity and pleasure it has brought to so many. The best exhibit is the talking farmer. If you've ever suffered through a kid's party at Chuck E. Cheese's, you know how frightening talking mannequins can be. Imagine a sun-beaten farmer in overalls standing in a darkened corner. At the push of a button, he begins to gesticulate, explaining the particulars of tobacco farming. His skin looks as if he rubs himself down with Old English; his movements are proto-human in their lack of speed and precision. Finally he stops, the lights dim and you think he's done, when a strange rewind action kicks in and his head repeats several of the movements he's just made, only in reverse order. He doesn't speak, but in the moment before he finally rests, he stares directly at you, as if accusing you for all the hardship of his life. It is a second of terror akin to that moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey when you realize that HAL has taken over.
Best buried treasure
The Schley Community Store is an aesthetic excrescence against an otherwise undisturbed backdrop of rolling farmland and red clay, just off N.C. 57 in northern Orange County. At an unconscionably early hour on a weekend morning (owner Bobby Crawford peddles his wares between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays only), Denice Williams belts her Footloose opus, "Let's Hear it for the Boys," and the shack begins to sway. Lulled by unopened and rusting cans of Harley Davidson brew, a dizzying slew of auto parts, antiques in varying stages of disrepair, and that old Aiwa dual cassette player impetuously freed from its owner's grip in 1984--passers-by, whether they're Virginians fleeing the hills or locals with nothing better to do than shoot the breeze with Crawford, can hardly resist unearthing buried treasure at the Schley Community Store.
Best knitting circle
So perhaps FiberSpace's first Tuesday of the month knitting circle is not "the best," since knitting tends to be a hobby done in the presence of old friends, but who are we to approve or disapprove of the company you keep? Instead, for those lone knitters in search of a place to belong, FiberSpace welcomes professional and novice knitters alike to exchange gossip and advice on the shady business of keeping us in sweaters and scarves. Basic rules are honored: no pets, no babies, no food. Ouch, you say, but darn it, it's a "knitting" group after all, and while Norman Rockwell may dig kittens playing with yarn, they do nothing to help a good cable stitch. Show up, project in hand, at the shop on the corner of Durham's Ninth and Markham streets between 7 and 9 p.m. and let those needles fly.
Best use of human waste
Do you blush when you flush? Don't. Because No. 2 can work for you.
In most cases, you flush your toilet and it's out of sight, out of mind. But when you flush the upstairs toilets at Exploris, the water and everything in it doesn't go straight to the sewer, then to the river, through a treatment plant, and then back to your drinking glass. Instead, the water flows through the "Living Machine," an all-natural, organic, sustainable waste-treatment plant on site at Exploris. Designed to be a model for the future of waste-water treatment, the Living Machine cleans 300 gallons of waste water from the second-floor restrooms every day. Down the pipe from the bathrooms are four different waste vats, using combinations of microorganisms, plants, algae, bacteria and air to take dirty water and make it clean. Once clean, this water will be used to irrigate the vegetation in the courtyard of Exploris. You can even see the little bottom-feeders under the microscope inside the museum. To those of you who think there is no good use for human waste, we say: Waste not, want not.