Cynthia Oi
Under the Sun
Cynthia Oi

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Technology can block
views and dull senses

MAPS count the miles from Highway 11 to the Mauna Loa trail head at 13.5, not a long drive in distance, but the pavement is narrow and curls in shallow traverses up the mountain, and around almost every bend there is something to tempt explorers to slow down or get out of the car.

On a recent day, when nothing in particular demanded time or attention, a friend and I chugged up the road for a look-see. We've been there and done that many times, but the views are spectacular and changes to the familiar are interesting.

Sunlight teased through fleeting clouds, stippling forests and gleaming off snow higher up the slope. A trail left to grow over had been newly groomed so we stopped to check it out. Even though it dead-ended shortly in a rugged field of ankle-busting a'a, it took us to a world enclosed in green, where the sky radiated that concentrated blue only altitude produces.

In fits and starts, we finally reached road's end. Our slow pace had rewarded us with glimpses of Pu'u O'o and its persistent column of smoke 50 miles below, comical encounters with pheasant as the silly birds scuttled in front of our tires for yards before careening into the brush to get away and a brief but dense shower of tiny, pale-yellow blossoms, source unknown.

A half-dozen cars were parked near the trail head and another arrived just behind us. Out tumbled a little boy and his sister, followed by their parents. The curious, boisterous children climbed trees, jumped from the low branches, poked fingers in the dirt and vegetation and ran helter-skelter through the small lava-rock pavilion.

After organizing backpacks, dad and mom managed to herd the kids up the trail, the girl anxiously leading the way and the boy toting a snowboard he insisted he'd need to ride the icy slopes.

We laughed, knowing that the snow was more than 10 miles and an arduous climb up 7,000 feet of boulders and lava, but such naive optimism and the enthusiasm with which the family attacked the trail deserved respect.

Soon after, another car braked to a stop. In no time, the driver and the young woman riding in back got on their cellphones. Both hit their speed-dials and began talking away. The man eventually left the car, pacing inside the pavilion with phone to ear. The woman sprawled across the trunk of the car, chattering about shopping and the lack of stores at her present location "on top of some mountain."

Meanwhile, the teenage boy with them, not equipped with a phone, wandered around the clearing. He examined the signs at the trail head, took a few steps up the path, then came back to see if his companions were still electronically engaged. He seemed eager to see what was around the bend. "Hey, Dad?" he called to the man several times, but his appeals were waved away.

We sneaked away to our secret viewing site and moments later, heard the phone team drove off.

I guess communing with nature isn't everybody's favorite thing and that some people like to share their immediate experiences with others, which cellphones allow them to do.

Still, I wonder if the young woman would not have found something to appreciate in that beautiful setting had not the technological ability to make a phone call distracted her. And would not the man have made another connection with his son if he'd given the boy in front of him a little attention instead of reading to someone far away the informational poster about "knee-knee" geese.

We left before the first family returned from their hike. I have no doubt they had a good time even though the trail is tough, even if they didn't reach the fields of snow.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.

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