2018-01-05 / Business

Tom Poland and S.C.’s back roads

By Warren Hughes

With characteristic modesty, South Carolina author Tom Poland might deny it, but he shares a kindred spirit and eloquence with late New England poet Robert Frost. Both he and Frost have been drawn inexorably to the road “less traveled and that has made the difference” to both of them.

Frost immortalized his life journey in the famous poem, “The Road Not Taken.” And now, son of the South and our own Midlands photojournalist Tom Poland is beguiling us with his upcoming book, A Place Called Obscurity: The Back Roads of South Carolina , to be released in April 2018.

On Thursday, January 11, he will be treating fans with a lunchtime presentation at The Lourie Center. It will feature a visual and story presentation of “South Carolina’s crumbling treasures, abandoned stores, old train depots, forgotten cemeteries, and villages,” as depicted in his new book.

Like a road adventure, the event will include a potluck picnic lunch. Hot dogs and buns will be provided. Participants are asked to bring an inspired side dish, dessert, beverage, or condiment to share. Free and open to all, it will be from 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. at the center, 1650 Park Circle, adjacent to Maxcy Gregg Park near Five Points.

“In his metaphor for how we live, Robert Frost urged us to ‘take the road less traveled’ for the lesser-traveled road tells a story,” Poland said in an interview about his new book and the upcoming program.

“ Well,” he continued, “That applies literally to the back roads. Miles become pages, trips become chapters, and a tale unfolds. When you travel a back road, your gas mileage goes up and your blood pressure goes down. I think of back road journeys as a kind of therapy.”

Poland also considers back roads as a great escape from monotonous interstates and as a tonic to the mad rush of modern times, as the average American spends three hours a day in a car.


Tom Poland Tom Poland “I used to drive I-20 a lot, and it was like traveling across a desert—not very pleasant and not much to see,” he says.

Quiet to the contrary, he declares, a back road journey is a most rejuvenating diversion. “It’s like resurrecting your grandparents and visiting them once again. You’ll discover the bones of the land, the DNA of real life. Vintage sights to me translate to a time when life was harder but more real.”

And, oh the sights waiting to be seen, he urges persuasively. “I see beautiful wreckage along the back roads. It’s out there, a chest of tarnished treasure.”

Along back roads, he reflects thoughtfully, “I pay attention to old churches, stores, and home places, and sometimes I spot old-fashioned petunias. I come across burnt homes. Sometimes only chimneys remain, but delicious and colorful sights balance out dark moments.”

Each season brings its own gifts, he notes. “Come summertime I’ll spot glistening blackberries or get a close look at a peach orchard and maybe come across heirloom tomatoes. I’ll see poles hung with white gourds imploring purple martins to nest.”

Wherever he ventures, there is always something to catch the eye, be it a place of lovely repose or some odd eccentricity to amuse.

“How about old cars stuck on poles as car shop advertisements. I love seeing a real cemetery with old stones and trees. One good thing about belonging to small churches in the South is that many of us have family plots. We know where we will be buried. I mean the very spot where we’ll rest,” he observes.

He easily persuades like-minded travelers to join him on the way. “The real South Carolina and the South in general is still out there. While it’s true that interstates relegated once-busy highways to back-road status, think of that as an act of preservation.

“The state’s hidden beauty, history, and mystery wait along forgotten byways and back roads. With great patience they wait for you and me,” he promises. “We can hope people too busy to care keep passing them by. I hope discovering them remains the private domain for those of us who like places in obscurity just as they are.”

In addition to his upcoming book, Poland has also authored Classic Carolina Road Trips from Columbia; Georgialina; A Southland, As We Knew It; and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. 2. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground, in 2011 and 2012.

Poland writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.

Poland earned bachelor and master degrees in media at the University of Georgia. A Columbia resident, he loves to write about Georgialina, his fond term for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

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