Thursday, August 12, 2010


During the past three years we’ve traveled what southerners call the Southern High Roads in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and, now, South Carolina. Our most recent trip has been to Up Country South Carolina where we’ve experienced breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge mountain wall. We've seen lakes and Blue Ridge peaks everywhere and settled in at the Table Rock Resort near what the Cherokees called a bald mountain. Numerous state parks dot the landscape in concentrated settlements of the Up Country area: Keowee Toxaway State Natural Area, Oconee State Park, Devil’s Fork State Park, Sadler’s Creek State Recreation Area, Lake Hartwell State Recreation Area, etc.
In our travels, no matter how far into the “boonies” we go, we always find serendipity. The state parks provided views of the foothills and beautiful rock outcroppings; however, we also search for indoor bits of serendipity, and yesterday we went to Easley, South Carolina about ten miles away from Table Top Resort. There, we discovered Poor Richard’s Bookstore. The clerk said that this is the choice bookstore in the Up Country area, surpassing even the bookstores in Greenville, South Carolina, a large city thirty miles or so from Table Rock. In the bookstore, the section of Carolinian and southern writers was extensive and as well-stocked as any I’ve seen in many independent book stores in the South, including The Square Bookstore in Oxford, Mississippi. Of course, I searched for the poetry shelf (notice I speak of shelf in the singular—poetry lovers are few and far between) and found A.R. Ammons, a representative North Carolina poet. However, I came out of Poor Richard’s with a copy of Wallace Steven’s work, which satisfied my yen to read modern poets while on retreat.
Another place we discovered in our search for serendipity was the Victoria Valley Vineyards, approximately ten miles away from Table Rock. After the turn-off by Aunt Sue’s Restaurant, a family style eatery in the area, we traveled down a winding road for a mile before we spied the winery. It’s situated on a hilltop and is styled after a French chateau artfully placed at the foot of Table Rock. The hillside vineyard, meticulously groomed, is reminiscent of Napa Valley, California wine country. Wine tastings take place here all day every day, except for Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Saturday nights the place rocks with local music and five-course dinners, each course accompanied by a different wine from the winery. “The View from the terrace,” (yes, that’s how the establishment describes its lunch facility) gave us a sweeping view of the terraced vineyards and looming Table Rock.
I was interested in nearby Table Rock State Park and Oconee State Park, as CCC stonework is featured in both places. My father was part of this organization, and I always search for buildings, roads, walls, and any structures built of indigenous materials in the 30’s by these young men who enhanced the state park system throughout the U.S. One of the state parks, Croft State Natural area, is part of a former WWII Army training facility and features remnants of a Native American soapstone quarry.
Whether you’re a person who loves outdoor recreation or isolation and retreat, the Southern High Roads are worth traveling, even during the hottest months of summer when the heat index sometimes reaches 110 degrees.
Here’s a fun poem I wrote when I first arrived at Table Rock Resort:

I’m always staying at golf resorts,
exchanging a timeshare
impulsively bought
twenty-six years ago,
investing in space
where a game is played
that I never play.
This blistering August,
I enjoy viewing
the highest Blue Ridge peak
in South Carolina,
observed beyond undulations
of green expanse
where mostly men
swing iron sticks
at a small white ball,
a hard-boiled egg
with a bad case of acne,
chasing it down a rabbit hole,
a cup captured and the rapture
of placing this small ball
into a far-off hole,
as if the placement implies
life is now in sync,
the skilled swing has achieved
a perfect fit, warranting, later,
a drink at the white clubhouse,
a toast to the only life worth living,
riding in a cart on a golf course,
the green lawn stretching interminably,
hole-in-one symbolizing the ultimate:
more of the good life to come,
while I watch from the deck
of a life less-lived,
favoring the high peaks beyond.

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