Rob Parsons

Getting to the Point

Shoreline preservation is part of East Maui allure

by Rob Parsons

November 08, 2007

“Thank God For Hana” –bumper sticker.

The Kona vog hung thickly in the air, as ominous as Governor Lingle’s promise to sign special legislation to bailout the Hawaii Superferry.

A flash flood watch was posted for the next four days. Undaunted, we packed the car, preparing for a weekend sojourn to lush, colorful East Maui.

Hana also has a special place in our hearts, as Heather and I honeymooned there some 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 mini-buses, this part of Maui has retained a sense of place that has slipped away elsewhere. The elements of nature hold priority status. Sky meets the mountains and ocean meets the shorelines in dramatic splendor.

The Hawaiian ancestors stand vigilant, and each bright blossom, sprouting coconut and moss-covered lava rock evoke a certain awe. Far away 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. We arrived at our friend’s home, perched on a hill overlooking the undeveloped shoreline at Mu`olea Point.

Karen Davidson is a wonderful color-outside-the-lines kind of artist who recently completed her home and art studio. She crafts dreamy cloudscapes and large colorful florals out of 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 the 73-acre coastal parcel was acquired through 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.

Though then-Mayor Arakawa and the Council suffered through a rancorous relationship, acquisition of Mu`olea was one instance in which the greater good of the preservation efforts won out over political posturing.

Heather and I vowed to hike down to the ocean, but first headed out 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 is hooked up to generate electricity to 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, created 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 made half-hearted efforts to swat 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 back 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. Karen’s telephone had been out for five days, but her internet access still worked. 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.

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. Large 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 hand prune saw, trimming smaller branches from the fallen limb. I was rewarded with homemade peanut butter cookies, fresh out of 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, and rich with cultural features, with rock walls hidden underneath the spreading hau bush, Christmas berry, and other invasives.

Karen explained that the Mu`olea advisory group has been less inclined to accept grants for preservation and restoration efforts, preferring to do clearing through volunteer efforts on weekends. Cultural and botanical surveys are being undertaken.

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 tidepools. 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 later determined to probably be a juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale, after photos were sent to a whale expert. With DLNR response time likely to take a long while, they 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 tidepool, they somehow managed to muscle the ten-foot long 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 often are overshadowed by the big money-making proposals of those who would view the riches of our island as a commodity. More than ever, those things we hold precious, like fresh water, are being viewed as a commodity, rather than the most valuable element for all life. 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 serves as a blessed reminder 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 of greater importance than economic success. Tending to the history of the land and culture is a noble pursuit, one that is truly priceless.

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. Thank God for Hana.