No, this post isn't about me falling out of my kayak in the Okefenokee... It's a review of a book with a very cool title! I've not yet gotten around to writing my recent adventures in the swamp, but I returned with all my fingers and toes intact. The story of this feat will be out soon.
John Lane, Waist Deep in Black Water (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002), 187 pages.
This collection of essays by John Lane, a professor at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, explores his relationship with the natural world as well as with his own family and his future. Lane is surprisingly open about his life. His mother and her family had been from the mountains, but had moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina to work in the mills. His father, a World War II veteran, was the descendent of tobacco farmers in Eastern North Carolina. The author was born in North Carolina in 1955. His father owned a service station in Southern Pines. In reading this, I couldn’t help to draw connections to my own life as I, too, am a descendent from tobacco farmers and was born in a neighboring town two years later. In 1959, Lane’s life took a tragic turn as his father, who’d suffered from alcoholism and had repeatedly attempted suicide, finally succeeded. His mother moved back to Spartanburg, leaving Lane with many questions. As he is exploring the world in which we live, he ponders the meaning of his life and the future as he accepts that he’ll probably be the end of the line for his branch of the family as he has no children nor any prospect for having them. He explores his strange inheritance (his father’s suicide and an aunt’s stay in a mental hospital) and what these events might mean for his own life.
Lane self-disclosure is honest especially when dealing with his own faith journey. He graduated from high school and remained a virgin until he was in his junior year of college due to religious convictions. He later, as he tried to make his way as a poet, he read Buddhists literature. Although doesn’t say much about where he is today, it appears he is deeply spiritual even if he is not religious.
Lane recalls his first dream he can remember, from the year of his father’s death, when he was running in a local drainage ditch only to be chased by a wall of water. “Water is an aspect of my interior landscape to which I often return, and it remains central to my understanding of the world as a roaring river. (131) Water becomes the unifying theme in these essays. He quotes the poet A. R. Ammons, “If anything will level with you water will.” (101) Lane explores a swamp filled with alligators and cottonmouths in a search for old growth cypress. He drags college students to study the headwaters of a river, where he and his co-instructor is more excited about the possibility of adventure than the students. His last essay is of a paddle on a nearby river that that he’d overlooked in his younger days when he sought whitewater. Some stories have humor such as having Montezuma’s revenge descend upon him while paddling a canoe with little solid ground as a group surveyed crocodiles in the shadow of Mayan temples in Mexico. But that doesn’t compare to his telling of misadventures of three guys in that same canoe catching a six foot croc and realizing they’d forgotten the duct tape to secure its mouth.
Literature is another unifier in these essays as Lane draws from his readings. After all, Lane is an English professor. I was pleased to see that his readings of rivers were not limited to the usual (Mark Twain and Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It.) He’d read John Graves, Goodbye a River, which I had read and reviewed in my blog. I was excited to find that someone had paddled one of my favorite rivers from my younger years, the Waccamaw. Franklin Burroughs, The River Home, which is about his exploration of the Waccamaw, has been placed toward the top of my reading list.
I look forward to reading more of Lane’s writings, especially My Paddle to the Sea, a travelogue of his eleven day, 300 mile paddle down the Broad and Santee Rivers of South Carolina. He recently published his first novel, Fate Moreland’s Widow, which is set in the labor unrest within the southern textile mills of the 1930s.