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Gardening, fiber arts keep Arbuckle active

At 83, Bonnie Arbuckle is not only busy getting her hands dirty in the garden, she is pursuing a longtime interest in fiber arts. At 83, Bonnie Arbuckle is not only busy getting her hands dirty in the garden, she is pursuing a longtime interest in fiber arts.

Bloodroot and dwarf iris will make a showy display this spring in Bonnie Arbuckle's yard in Flat Rock. She has planted around 100 native plant species.

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She feels like she was born with an interest in ecology, so it's fair to say that it's a lifelong passion that has led her to enrolling in the Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate Program at the North Carolina Arboretum.
"I like to keep my mind active, and this is a good way to do it," says Arbuckle, who adds that she also likes to meet people with similar interests.
The study course at the Arboretum keeps her busy when she is not volunteering at Bullington Gardens, where she maintains a native woodland garden, and has started a rain garden and a sunny meadow area with fellow volunteers.
At home in Flat Rock, where she has lived since 1997, she has indulged her love for native species of this area — all while reducing lawn maintenance issues.
"Over the years I've taken out all the grass and replaced it with native plants," she says.
Her yard is registered as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.
A 1,500-gallon cistern that she had installed stores rainwater, as a supplement during dry spells.
At 83, Arbuckle is not only busy getting her hands dirty, she is pursuing a longtime interest in fiber arts this spring by taking another class in weaving at the John C. Campbell Folk School — this time on making Scandinavian kitchen towels.
Her love of weaving started when her late husband's mother gave her an old Appalachian-made coverlet made in Arkansas.
"Later on, I became interested in ethnic weavings," she says.
Displayed in her home are weavings collected during travels in Guatemala, Bolivia, and Panama, as well as pieces from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, from a Silk Road trip she once took.
In the early 1950s, after graduating from Mary Washington College in Virginia with a degree in chemistry, Arbuckle worked doing fiber analysis for the FBI.
"We mostly worked with police evidence," she says. "We examined things like an assailant's hair on a victim's clothing."
With a daughter, and a son and three granddaughters living in Florida, Arbuckle—who is soft-spoken about her life and experience—is focused on family.
The artwork of her daughter, a ceramic artist living in Los Angeles, graces areas of Arbuckle's home, along with the woven pieces she has collected on her travels.
She fondly recalls hiking the Inca Trail for her 60th birthday, and walking tours in Switzerland and Britain.
Of all the things she's accomplished, Arbuckle seems most proud of the work she did as president of the Women's Club in Robbinsville, when she lived there 20 years ago.
Her work with the club to launch a recycling program garnered the Governor's Award for Graham County in 1992.
"We set up regular recycling days," she says. "The Women's Club members also made reusable shopping bags."
These days, she keeps her interest in conserving resources by volunteering with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's "Green Team," which recently completed an energy audit.