Blythewood writers rub elbows with Pat Conroy in State of the Heart

Blythewood outdoor writer Pat Robertson, center, displays the final of three volumes of State of the Heart that includes contributions from him and fellow Blythewoodians Jane Zenger, left, and Chris Horn. | Barbara Ball

Book Signing Set for Nord House, Sept 20

BLYTHEWOOD – When Blythewood outdoor writer Pat Robertson, 80, was asked to contribute a piece about one of his favorite places in South Carolina for inclusion in the third volume of the State of the Heart book series published by The University of South Carolina Press, he didn’t hesitate.

“When I saw who some of the writers were who had been asked to contribute to the previous two volumes, I jumped at the chance,” Robertson said.

Indeed, that list was formidable, including the state’s best playwrights, sportswriters, historians and more.

Novelist Pat Conroy had been so impressed after a sneak preview of the first volume while it was still in the works, that he wrote the forward. His widow, Cassandra King, wrote the afterward for the recently published third and final volume.

Upon Conroy’s death, The State newspaper chose that forward from the first volume to memorialize him.

The series has been described by New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe (Beach House Memories) as “a rich collection of personal stories, reflections, historical facts and front porch yarns as colorful, timeless and inspiring as the people and landscape of the Palmetto State.”

Sometime prior to 2013, South Carolina writer and former publisher of The Sandlapper magazine, Aida Rogers, came up with the idea for a book about some of the special places in South Carolina – some of them well known, others known well only to the people who cherished them. Those stories eventually became the acclaimed State of the Heart book series.

The third volume contains the writings of Robertson and two other Blythewood writers: Chris Horn and Jane Zenger.

The places these three write about are not necessarily famous nor frequented by tourists. They are just places that are special to these writers, places that, for one reason or another, became places in their hearts.

Robertson, a longtime South Carolina award-winning newspaper writer and photographer, may be best known for his outdoor sports columns that appeared in the Columbia Record and The State for over 30 years.

“Summers on Stevens Creek,” Robertson’s contribution to the third volume of State of the Heart, is rooted in what he says are fond memories of fishing Stevens Creek with his Grandaddy Bridges. But the story is not just about fishing. It is a summation of his youth and the outdoor life that became him. There, just upstream from Stevens Creek, Robertson, as a teenager, took mental note of the mundane details of a fishing day – of his grandfather’s nearby logging crew who felled and trimmed trees by hand, their bulging biceps, shiny with coal oil used to repel mosquitoes, the cool shade on the riverbank where Robertson and his grandfather shared fresh tomato sandwiches as they kept one eye on their fishing lines.

Robertson’s story is testimony to his deep connection with the out-of -doors, his appreciation of “a rare plant community like no other,” common rock formations, lazy streams, trees, directions, weather and sloping banks – the landscape of his world.

“If Stevens Creek is itself a near-hidden scenic wonder, then the bluff just above the bridge on County Road 88 near where my Granddaddy Bridges cut pine trees is the crown jewel in the setting,” Robertson wrote.

Chris Horn, a writer who has spent his career at The University of South Carolina, the author of two books and now a podcaster, wrote a short piece called “Once More to Campbell’s Pond.”

While the story on the surface is little more than a nostalgic fishing story of a teenager’s simple dreams of catching the big one, Horn’s anecdotes about his favorite minnow-mimicking lure – a red-and-white Cisco Kid – are threaded through the story, leading the reader effortlessly to the end.

“I clipped the line to tie on a different bait, but absentmindedly didn’t notice that the tip of the rod was hanging over the water, not the boat. Gravity did its work, and the Kid hit the pond. I watched as the untethered lure faded into the murk in slow motion. Only when it vanished did it dawn on me that my favorite lure, the same one I had rescued time and again that day, was now irretrievably gone,” Horn wrote.

In just two and a half pages, Horn grows into adulthood and finds himself once again on the dam overlooking and appreciating all the more the pond of his youth and all it meant to him.

If Jane Zenger’s story, “My Wild Life in Cedar Creek” tells you anything, it’s that she is besotted with where she lives “on the edge of a magical forest” in the Cedar Creek community.

“We knew this property from our college days, having fallen in love with it when three friends purchased the original 80 acres. We were all students or faculty members at USC then. During those years we hiked the property and enjoyed peaceful parties at their 100-year-old farm house,” Zenger wrote.

Her story is about everything Cedar Creek – her neighbors, the land her family finally came to live on, the house that she and her husband built and the glorious history of Cedar Creek and the people who lived there over the last few hundred years. It is about the rare flora and fauna, the trees, the undergrowth, mushrooms, ferns, birds, river bamboo, fireflies, the seasons and ring-necked snakes who warm themselves on flat rocks in Cedar Creek.

The three books are each thematic. The stories in the third volume, like those of the Blythewood writers, revolve around a love of the easy, natural worlds they live in – fishing, fresh air markets, island people, land, water, mornings, animals and birds, homes and gardens.

A wine and pound cake book release party for the third volume of State of the Heart will be held Thursday, Sept. 20, from 6-8 p.m. at the Blythewood Historical Society, 100 McNulty Street in Blythewood. Moderator Aida Rogers will lead a lively discussion about the stories in the book, and there will be readings by Robertson, Horn and Zenger.

The book has just been released and is available currently in hardback at Uptown Gifts in Columbia for $39.99. Rogers said copies will be available at the Blythewood release party.

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