Sol Sanders,

Sol Sanders,

A weeklong electronic journal.
July 22 1998 3:30 AM

Sol Sanders,

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       When I opened the blinds this morning, my volcanoes were back: The "vog" (volcanic ash and fog) that has obscured them for several days was gone. Luckily, as happens in these islands, my little part of the world has a completely different climate than that of a few miles away: constant wind--too much, often--that blows away the vog. Longtimers tell me our weather has been unusual, here too affected by El Niño/La Niña, and where we usually have only 5 to 7 inches of rain a year on this slope of the Kohala Mountains, we had rain every night for a while. But this morning there was a brilliant sun and the trade wind was gently blowing off the ocean. And Hawaii was back in all its splendor.
       Driving down to the airport to pick up a friend, I listened to the latest news from North Carolina, where a posse of federal agents is trying to track down a suspected abortion clinic bomber. I was suddenly bonded to the story. For it is taking place in the mountains where I grew up in the 1930s. My hometown of Franklin (in my day, 1,500 people counting the chickens, as we used to say) hardly gets a mention. But I remember well the area in the same county (Macon) where the fugitive is said to be hiding.
       My brother and I loved to drive there with my parents. There was an incredible hard-surfaced (that meant gravel, with its treacherous ability to slide) road that led down what was called the "Winding Stairs." The road had some 30 continuous switchbacks, if memory serves. That is where a highway turns back on itself at 180 degrees as it descends. Since then the new Tennessee Valley Authority dams and artificial lakes may have swallowed it all up.
       My dad had a 1926 yellow Chrysler touring sedan, Walter P.'s first car, I believe, the first with hydraulic brakes, although they had to occasionally be manually pumped up to work. The "ride"--replete with what my brother called "airplane rides," sudden drops in the roadway that lifted the car off its springs and gave one a funny feeling in the pit of one's stomach--must have been horrendous. And I can remember my near hysterical mother calling: "Jack! Jack! Jack!" as my father without a qualm took one curve after another.
       In those days, the timbering was being packed up, cutover lands bought up for the Nantahala National Forest. But I can imagine that 65 years later a new growth has given those mountains a cover--trees and the mountain laurel and rhododendrons so beautiful in the spring--impenetrable, at least from the air. Our fugitive friend could well go on hiding, apparently aided and abetted by some of the local hillbillies who despite all the inflow of Floridians and other "furriners" still hold to their mountain ways of resistance to authority.
       What a difference, I thought, as I buzzed along. I was crossing the long straightaways over the lava fields--Mauna Lona blew in the 1980s and the local mavim tell me it will again soon, since it is a 20 year performer. And for the most part, except at the splendid oases of luxury hotels and an occasional rainy spot along the shore, it is much like the desert of the Southwest. In a way, though, I have come home. Flat landscapes with no mountains have always given me a lonely, bereft feeling. And here our lovely volcanoes have the bonus of the blue Pacific in their shadow.

Sol Sanders is a visiting fellow at the East/West Center. He was the international outlook editor of Business Week, and South Asian editor of U.S. News & World Report. His most recent book is Mitsubishi Electric: The Challenge of Globalization. He lives in Kamuela, Hawaii.