Thank God for Hana
The Kona vog hung thickly in the air, as ominous as Governor Linda Lingle’s promise to sign special legislation to bail out the Hawai‘i Superferry. A flash flood watch was posted for the next four days. Undaunted, we packed the car, preparing for a weekend sojourn to lush East Maui. Hana has a special place in our hearts, as Heather and I honeymooned there seven years ago.
Like a deep massage of the spirit, romancing all five senses, Hana beckons. Even with its daily caravan of rental cars and guided tour buses, this part of Maui has retained a sense of place that has slipped away elsewhere. Here, nature’s elements take priority. Sky meets the mountains and ocean meets the shorelines in dramatic splendor.
The Hawaiian ancestors stand vigilant. Each bright blossom, sprouting coconut and moss-covered lava rock evokes awe. Far from Kahului traffic, cane smoke, County Council deliberations and deadlines, Hana is like mental floss.
As we approached Hana town, many quaint roadside stands offered fruit, flowers, “world-famous banana bread,” coffee and more. A banner advertised the upcoming third annual Hana Film Festival. Then we arrived at our friend’s home, perched on a hill overlooking the undeveloped Mu‘olea Point shoreline.
Karen Davidson is a wonderful color-outside-the-lines artist who recently completed her home and art studio. She crafts dreamy cloudscapes and large colorful florals from handmade paper, and they float three-dimensionally on the walls of her high-ceiling structures.
Davidson is also a member of the Mu‘olea Point advisory committee, formed after joint efforts by the Trust For Public Land, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, County of Maui and the U.S. Department of Commerce—through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant—acquired the 73-acre coastal parcel.
Though then-Mayor Alan Arakawa and the Maui County Council suffered through a rancorous relationship, acquisition of Mu‘olea was one instance in which the greater good of preservation efforts trumped political posturing.
Heather and I vowed to hike down to the ocean, but first headed towards Kipahulu to hook up with friends she had met in Bali.
We crossed the temporary steel bridge at Paihi Gulch, where federal engineers deemed the old bridge unsafe after the October 2006 earthquake. Soon after, we approached one of those narrow spots where vehicles hug either side of the road so they won’t clack rearview mirrors with oncoming cars. As we inched past a tour-bus minivan, the local driver, complete with mini-microphone leaned towards us.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Do you have any Grey Poupon?”
In Kipahulu, one of the many signs denoting “One Lane Bridge” has been carefully graffitied, with “Lane” crossed out and replaced with “Love.”
Such is the vibe at the Laulima Fruit Stand, near the end of the road, where a barricade prevents traffic from traversing the “backside” through Kaupo until structural repairs from the earthquake can be completed. Laulima is a charming snapshot of creative sustainability, with a backdrop of organic gardens and fruit trees.
Red sugar cane stalks are run through a hand crank, with the juice collected for fresh drinks. A stationary bicycle generates electricity for a blender, so customers can pedal their own smoothies. A variety of local fruits and foods are available, as well as locally grown and roasted coffee.
In an adjacent small, circular grove of black bamboo, Rachel displayed her Bali batik clothing designs, using traditional natural dyes. Her husband Rob took turns minding their one-year old boy and playing a bouncing African tune on the kalimba. Dogs and people wandered in and out, while people half-heartedly swatted away mosquitoes.
A short while later, we swam in a clear freshwater pool, sculpted out of water-worn rock, languishing under the graceful arches of a bridge built in 1911. We never quite made it to the film festival at Hana Bay, opting instead to play music and sing around a fire, outside a community kitchen hale. The sound of the waves drumming the shoreline set the background rhythm, pulsating energy through the dark.
Back at Karen’s house for Sunday breakfast, I kept an eye on the Packers game before we headed out on adventure. Rob from Bali and Heather both grew up in Sheboygan, and Heather’s grandfather actually played for the Packers back in the 1930’s, one of the original meat packers who played football on the weekend. Even watching play-by-play simulation on the computer, the game provided high drama, with Brett Favre pulling out yet another fourth quarter comeback win from his bag of tricks.
Later we drove around Hana town, taking in the sights. I couldn’t help but think that a ban on vacation rentals would hurt the local people here as much as anywhere.
I recall hearing someone say that to live in Hana, one either has to be rich or work for someone who is rich. While that may be true to some degree, it may be more accurate in places like Wailea and Kapalua. At least in Hana, there is family land, lots of open space and a sense of community.
By mid-afternoon, we returned from our explorations, and I retired to the art studio for some horizontal time. My nap carried me into a wild reverie, as storm winds and rain outside built to a crescendo. Wind chimes clanged a wild gamelan tune, and thunderclaps rumbled through the sky.
The Kona winds dropped a large monkeypod limb from the tree in the driveway turnaround, narrowly missing both our cars. When the storm let up, I spent an hour or so with a pruning saw, trimming smaller branches off the fallen limb. I was rewarded with homemade peanut butter cookies, fresh from the oven.
As we fed carrots to the horses in the neighboring pasture, clouds lifted and the Big Island came into view. Then, much to our delight, the sunset painted the sky in an amazing palette of pinks, golds and purples.
The following morning, Karen led us down to Mu‘olea Point. Once a summer home of King David Kalakaua, it’s rich with cultural features and rock walls hidden beneath the spreading hau bush, Christmas berry and other invasives.
Karen said the Mu‘olea advisory group has been less inclined to accept grants for preservation and restoration efforts, preferring to do clearing through weekend volunteer efforts. They’re also sponsoring cultural and botanical surveys.
The property contains a grove of coconut palms, planted from a strain linked to original Polynesian introductions. A rare strain of poisonous seaweed, know as limu make, also grows there.
The jagged lava coastline contains acres of tide pools. Near where Papahawahawa Stream meets the ocean, a large group on a plant survey in April 2006 noticed a fin protruding from one of the pools. Under closer examination, it appeared a dolphin had become stranded, perhaps after swimming in at high tide the night before. It was scraped up and exhausted, but still alive.
The stranded creature was most likely a juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale, an expert said later after examining photos. With state Department of Land and Natural Resources response time likely to take a long while, the group sprang into action to rescue the whale. Men took off their belts and wrapped them around its tail to turn it around, while children collected wood to place over the sharp lava.
With everyone in the tide pool, they somehow managed to muscle the 10-foot cetacean back into the ocean. As they did so, two or three other whales appeared and came to escort the injured whale. Everyone’s clothing was soaked in blood, a baptism of sorts.
Reflecting on the incident later, one of the elders remarked that this was exactly the kind of community effort needed to restore Mu‘olea, with many hands together accomplishing what might seem to be an otherwise insurmountable task.
Such heroic efforts are taking place all over Maui, but are often overshadowed by the big money-making proposals of those who would view the riches of our island as a commodity. Caught on an economic treadmill, we tend to lose sight of those essential ingredients that nourish our souls in ways that only nature can do.
Hana reminds us that there is a different way of seeing, and a different way of being. Esthetic beauty holds more value than retail conveniences. A healthy community is more important than economic success. Tending to the history of the land and culture is a noble, and truly priceless, pursuit.
Hana is a place where the web of life is shimmering in the sunlight, like dewdrops on a spider’s gossamer strands. Hana gives hope that we might not only wake up and smell the coffee, but possibly even wake up and grow the coffee. MTW