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Circling Home

John Lane

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Contents / Map

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pp. x-xv

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Prologue: Drawing the Circle

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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...

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How We Came to Live Here

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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...

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Dream House / Green House

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Our Indian Country

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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...

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Fred's Cache

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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...

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Suburban Renewal

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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...

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Across the Creek and into the Suburbs

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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...

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The Upper Shoals

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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...

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The Mill Downstream

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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...

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Nearby Fields of Leisure

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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...

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I'll Take My Stand

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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...

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Bottom Dog

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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...

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The Unnatural History of a Clear-cut

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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...

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Driving the Circle with Fred

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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...

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Epilogue: Is

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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...

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pp. 203-206

Environmental historians and the ecocritics often talk about the "layered history" of a particular place. Recently, GIS technology has taken this idea even further, producing actual layered models of space and time in which you can add or subtract any information set you choose---topography, population, geology, plant life, industry, school districts...

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342801
E-ISBN-10: 0820342807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820330402
Print-ISBN-10: 082033040X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Natural history -- South Carolina -- Spartanburg.
  • Spartanburg (S.C.) -- Description and travel.
  • Spartanburg (S.C.) -- Biography.
  • Outdoor life -- United States.
  • Lane, John, 1954- -- Homes and haunts -- South Carolina -- Spartanburg.
  • Naturalists -- United States -- Biography.
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