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Circling Home

Circling Home

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Circling Home
    Book Description:

    After many years of limited commitments to people or places, writer and naturalist John Lane married in his late forties and settled down in his hometown of Spartanburg, in the South Carolina piedmont. He, his wife, and two stepsons built a sustainable home in the woods near Lawson's Fork Creek. Soon after settling in, Lane pinpointed his location on a topographical map. Centering an old, chipped saucer over his home, he traced a circle one mile in radius and set out to explore the area. What follows from that simple act is a chronicle of Lane's deepening knowledge of the place where he'll likely finish out his life. An accomplished hiker and paddler, Lane discovers, within a mile of his home, a variety of coexistent landscapes--ancient and modern, natural and manmade. There is, of course, the creek with its granite shoals, floodplain, and surrounding woods. The circle also encompasses an eight-thousand-year-old cache of Native American artifacts, graves of a dozen British soldiers killed in 1780, an eighteenth-century ironworks site, remnants of two cotton plantations, a hundred-year-old country club, a sewer plant, and a smattering of mid- to late twentieth-century subdivisions. Lane's explorations intensify his bonds to family, friends, and colleagues as they sharpen his sense of place. By looking more deeply at what lies close to home, both the ordinary and the remarkable, Lane shows us how whole new worlds can open up.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4280-1
    Subjects: Population Studies, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[ix])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [x]-[x])
  3. [Map]
    (pp. [xi]-[xv])
  4. PROLOGUE: Drawing the Circle
    (pp. 1-13)

    When Betsy and I moved into this house on Lawson’s Fork Creek in 2003 I tried the old rituals that had always worked to settle me when I lived alone: I placed my favorite books on a bookshelf close at hand—collected hardback editions of poetry, a few volumes of nature essays, and several field guides to birds and snakes. On the freshly painted wall of the study I hung my “Inward Society: Surrealism and Recent American Poetry” festival poster (circa 1982). It features René Magritte’s painting The Month of Grape-Gathering, with a crowd of men in black bowlers looking...

  5. How We Came to Live Here
    (pp. 14-24)

    When we decided to get married three years ago, Betsy and I also decided to build. Separate households would be disbanded and real estate liquidated, creating enough equity to finance our dream house. We were both in our forties and lucky to have found each other. We had been married to others before, but neither union lasted as long as the vows promised. My first marriage was very short in duration, less than a year. Betsy’s endured much longer and was of much more consequence. After seventeen years, when the marriage finally ended, Betsy had two fine boys, Rob and...

  6. Dream House / Green House
    (pp. 25-35)

    After a few months of searching, Betsy found our Lawson’s Fork lot about two miles downstream from Converse Heights, on the north side of the creek, in a three-street, almost empty subdivision called Forest Hills. “Forest Hills?” friends always ask. “That’s not a subdivision, it’s a tennis tournament.”

    Poking out the backside of Pierce Acres, Mustang Drive forms the Forest Hills main drag before dead-ending in the floodplain. People get lost trying to find it, even people who know Spartanburg. Laid out as a circular farm track by Tom Pierce in 1965, the Forest Hills roads weren’t paved until the...

  7. Eugene
    (pp. 36-43)

    So what if I were set adrift again, swirling free from the comfort we’ve built up around us here? What if my burrow caved in, my comfortable nook collapsed? That was how I had felt when I left my first marriage in Oregon in 1981. My first stab at commitment ended there, dead on arrival. When that brief marriage failed, it was as if I had been thrown out of the first nest I ever tried to build.

    I used to be a worshiper of the front edge of experience, a master of beginnings. My favorite time was always the...

  8. Flood
    (pp. 44-56)

    Our first December in the house the air was so warm it felt more like spring had somehow slipped the latch and walked in before winter even got started. It was unsettling. A front had moved in from the gulf, and warm rain fell ceaselessly. The creek filled up like Noah’s flood.

    Out back I could see the clay-colored water of the creek claiming Tommy’s broad reach of bottomland through the trees. The flooded creek was four times as wide, the current pressing to the inside of the big sweeping bend behind our house. After a full day of rain,...

  9. Alamos
    (pp. 57-63)

    Back in my thirties and early forties I hunted for love by gathering freedom, excitement, and adventure, and I often found them by traveling away from my hometown. I completed long hikes on the Appalachian Trail, in the Cascades of Oregon, and along the Pacific Coast in Washington. One summer I carried a pack twenty miles into the Wind River Range of Wyoming. I camped there with Terry Ferguson, his brother, and their friends in the Cirque of the Towers, turned around ten days later, and hiked out.

    Whatever I was looking for back then I found “out there” among...

  10. Our Indian Country
    (pp. 64-77)

    After we moved in I began thinking about ways to set up a series of walks to settle me, a different one every day. I scoured the maps for trails and cut-through streets. I sketched in my head a set of pilgrim paths. What better way to get the lay of my land, to get acquainted with my own walkable country, to find what John Hanson Mitchell calls in Ceremonial Time “the great undiscovered country of the nearby”?

    In the end though, because of time and laziness, it all came down to one daily half-mile evening walk, always in the...

  11. Fred’s Cache
    (pp. 78-87)

    In William Faulkner’s sense of time nothing dies. Time for Faulkner is a place where everything “is” and nothing “was.” The southern land for Faulkner is, as Frederick Turner put it in Spirit of Place, “a great conservator, repository of all artifacts, of the bone and trinkets, and even the dreams and deeds of the ancestors, for the long, tangled, tragic, and sometimes wildly comic chronicle of the ages could not have been invented for nothing and then thrown into cosmic discard. The spirits of the departed were substantive.”

    This week I’ve been thinking about Faulkner and his mythic Mississippi...

  12. Suburban Renewal
    (pp. 88-96)

    When we built our life in the borderland between Spartanburg’s stalled east-side suburbs and a few threatened scraps of forests, I knew we were buying into America’s suburban agenda. I knew our dream house would not be some rural expanse where corn is a cash crop or in some dark wilderness deep enough for bears. I know that, like it or not, our neighbors wouldn’t just be the wild turkey, white-tailed deer, bobcat, gray fox, short tail shrew, star-nosed mole. If we were to have a block party we’d have to invite others besides the black rat snakes, the salamanders,...

  13. Across the Creek and into the Suburbs
    (pp. 97-111)

    One Saturday in March I finally called my friends Manning and Mary Speed Lynch and said I’d be over in half an hour to look for the colonial roadbed—the Old Georgia Road—that runs through their property in the Glenn Forest subdivision. Manning and Mary Speed built their contemporary house on the site of the old Bagwell plantation house on the other side of the creek, and I’d wanted to walk their large wooded lot since I started thinking about the circle. The Lynch property is a place shaggy with history.

    So I cut across the circle, from the...

  14. The Upper Shoals
    (pp. 112-120)

    The upper shoals have a wildness about them—big trees, exposed rock, and falling water. I like to walk down there with the dogs and pretend we live far from town surrounded by nothing but forest. The path along the creek through the floodplain is not ours. It’s owned by the Milliken family, one of the wealthiest in the United States. We find what refuge we can among their abundant acres.

    One spring Saturday I walked down from our house, and I could hear the upper shoals before I could see them. Two ridges pinch in tight there a quarter...

  15. The Mill Downstream
    (pp. 121-126)

    Most mornings I’m up by 5 a.m. It’s usually quiet, so when I heard first one helicopter, then another, passing low overhead, I found it strange and troubling. I walked out with the dogs to get the paper and stood at the top of the drive much longer than usual listening to the helicopters downstream somewhere along the creek in the dark.

    When Betsy finally woke it was light, and we walked out on the deck and listened. She heard the helicopters downstream.

    “They’re over the Milliken property,” Betsy said.

    “They’re selling it,” I said. “Somebody’s up in a helicopter...

  16. Nearby Fields of Leisure
    (pp. 127-149)

    The first week of May my old high school friends Steve Poole and Hamp Lindsey form an early morning gallery. Close by, Foster Chapman, Norman Chapman, and Randy Judy stretch a little, standing just outside the door to the clubhouse, waiting to begin their long-established 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning golf round at the Country Club of Spartanburg. The threesome in front of them with the 8:15 tee time sprays balls all over the course. The first golfer’s hook never climbs more than three feet off the grass and pinballs through the pines. The second golfer shanks his drive, and it...

  17. I’ll Take My Stand
    (pp. 150-160)

    I’ve only been hunting once in my life. It was when I was fourteen, and my brother-in-law’s brother Ned took me into the stark, spindly woods of southern Spartanburg County near Pacolet. This was somebody else’s land, but we walked through the broken fields and woods full of rabbit tobacco and broom sedge as if we owned it. I had a borrowed .410 shotgun resting on my shoulder and red shotgun shells in my pants pockets. Squirrels and rabbits were our quarry of choice.

    My brother-in-law’s family worked in a cotton mill and still ate small game. We walked all...

  18. Bottom Dog
    (pp. 161-167)

    Within a week of moving in we saw a funny little orange beagle hunting on the bottomland trail below our house. The floodplain was the beagle’s territory. He divided up the hillsides and worked the scents he found for deer. Toby and Ellie Mae formed a chorus of similar sounds every time I got up my nerve and let our dogs off leash to run in the privet.

    The beagle didn’t live in the bottom—he had a home up the street, in a brick split-level ranch house on the corner. He lived like dogs used to in the country...

  19. The Unnatural History of a Clear-cut
    (pp. 168-180)

    On a Tuesday in August I drove to town, as I often do, along Lake Forest Drive. Just before I crossed the creek I noticed a bulldozer sitting close to the road on the large parcel of bottomland on the east side. I slowed down and saw where the big cat had pushed several trees out of the way, beginning to open what could have been a road into the bottom.

    That morning the bottomland forest off Lake Forest Drive looked deep and mysterious, like something straight out of Faulkner’s “The Bear”—“sombre, impenetrable.” We’ve seen deer, beaver, turkey, gray...

  20. Driving the Circle with Fred
    (pp. 181-198)

    The first day of summer, June 21, Fred Parrish and I set out from my house to drive the circle. It’s 9 a.m. and still cool when he picks me up in his Jeep Cherokee, but the weather calls for a red-hot South Carolina high of ninety-five by midday. We’re out to drive the whole thing, to really circle—no more out and back exploring of one area or another. This is it—we’re finally putting what Terry would call some full ground-truthing into this narrative, some hard labor in time and space.

    The old topo is folded on my...

  21. EPILOGUE: Is
    (pp. 199-202)

    The circle tightens as Fred and I drive the final three blocks to our house on Tempo Court. What have I gained from circling out and back through this tiny scrap of southern landscape? I have found some assurance that I’ve finally settled, but the basic trappings of settlement—marriage, family, home—are not enough. Even Elijah Clarke, our first pioneer, would have understood those terms. A few years after building his cabin on the Pacolet, Clarke moved on to the wilder frontier. Already by 1775 the woods and river bottoms I love were not wild enough for him. He...

  22. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 203-206)