Hollow and Home

The Book

 An image of the book “Hollow and Home: A History of Self and Place” by E. Fred Carlisle.

Hollow and Home explores how primary places in our lives shape the individuals we become.

A sense of place

Carlisle proposes that place is a mélange of complex and dynamic phenomena composed of geographical and constructed places, including:

  • location
  • topography,
  • landscape,
  • and buildings

—as well as psychological, social, and cultural influences acting in concert.

While drawing from writers like Edward S. Casey, Christian Norberg-Schulz, Yi-Fu Tuan, and Witold Rybczynski, Carlisle applies theory with a light touch, placing this literature in dialog with personal experience.

Carlisle concentrates on two places that he couldn’t leave behind

Clover Hollow
First is Clover Hollow in Appalachian Virginia, where the author lived for 10 years among fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-generation residents. The people and places there enabled him to value his own past and primary places in a new way.

Delaware, Ohio
The story then re-examines Carlisle’s early life in Delaware, Ohio, through the lens of his experience in Appalachia, which helped him rediscover his hometown and recognize it as his true home for the first time.

Hollow and Home transcends specific localities and speaks to the grounding relationship between self and place everywhere.


An excerpt from the book

It was a cold winter day — the temperature well below freezing.

 A snow-covered landscape

We were driving into the Allegheny Mountains to look at an eighty-acre parcel in Clover Hollow, a small valley near Newport, Virginia. Four of us — Sandy, the realtor; Barbara; me; and my daughter Janey — were so squeezed together on the bench seat of an old, four-wheel-drive pickup truck that Janey had to shift positions each time Sandy shifted gears. The main roads were clear, but as soon as we turned onto county road 601, we were traveling on packed snow and ice. At the foot of the Hollow, next to the Farrier farm, Sandy stopped, climbed out, switched the front hubs to four-wheel, climbed back in, and then crept along the glazed road for the next five miles. It was not promising. Another property we had tried to buy, five minutes closer to town, seemed to stretch the limit. Now, we were crawling along the ice on a forty-five-minute trip to the far end of Clover Hollow. Barbara was anxious. Janey seemed puzzled. I was wondering why we were doing this.

Without more than a slip or two, the truck climbed the crude road the owner had bulldozed to a meadow two hundred feet above the paved county road. The rush of wonder and excitement I felt seeing the snow-covered valley and mountains in the sunlight swept away all my doubts (well, most anyway) and virtually made the decision. Within weeks, we had acquired eighty acres of mountain and meadow. We were, it is true, fifteen miles and twenty-five minutes from work. Late at night, it seemed even farther. Our access road was sometimes impassable in winter. The land maintenance requirements sometimes overwhelmed me. Yet it was the right place.

Years before, Barbara had told me about the aristocracy of effort. We were canoeing across a Killarney Provincial Park lake in Ontario on a cool, bright August day toward a small island in the middle. After three difficult portages, we could neither see nor hear anyone else. We were exhilarated by the beauty of the lake, the steep granite cliffs falling into it, and the wooded island ahead, which on that day would be ours alone. We were aristocrats in a canoe.

Each December, I would recall that first moment, seeing the mountains and valley from the truck cab and then walking to the edge of the meadow to gaze in wonder. I remember the silence — interrupted only by our voices and crunching steps in the snow. We’d found our sanctuary. During the ten years I lived there, I saw a different landscape every day, as light, weather, and seasons changed, and I heard new sounds or heard sounds differently each time I listened. But on that first day, I did not know what I was seeing — other than a stunningly beautiful landscape. I didn’t know anyone who lived in the Hollow or in the nearby village of Newport; I knew nothing about the history of the meadow where I stood or about the Hollow below; I didn’t even know the name of the place. We acquired land as strangers with neither family nor history to connect us to the mountains. We were making a superficial, aesthetic choice. We were seeking the picturesque. Nevertheless, that first time, besides being just that, marked a turning point. The meadow was my purchase — my place for exploring the spaces of my life and for discovering a people, a history, and a place.