Thursday, June 14, 2018

Stories from Maui

Burying Zach in Makena Beach!

The week before Memorial Day, Zach and I were able to hop a plane to Maui to spend time with his brother Dustin, sister-in-law Tessa, and niece Margot, who recently moved there. (It was my first time visiting Hawaii, and my expectations were largely shaped from calendars at the mall and Disney’s Moana. I was interested to see the real thing!)

After the eight-hour flight, we met Dustin at the airport and he drove us toward their house in Maui’s upcountry. Wide prairie stretched out on either side: this area had once been sugar plantations, but were now covered with grass that looked similar to normal lawn grass back home— except five or six feet tall. 

We quickly wound up the side of the Haleakala Mountain (volcano), past surprisingly familiar-looking landscapes of evergreens and eucalyptus trees, like you’d see in California. At a glance, you’d never know you were somewhere tropical unless you spotted a glossy red-leafed ti plant, a chameleon hiding in the bushes, or a fifteen-foot-tall yucca. I pointed out all the birds— Myna birds, francolins (a kind of partridge), pheasants, and, best of all, red junglefowl (chickens)! (And yes, we did see a rooster who looked exactly like Heihei, buggy eyes and all.)

Their house was perched 3,000 feet up the mountainside with an amazing view of the plains we had crossed. We could see the south shore of Maui to the left, the north shore to the right, and the west hills, perpetually shrouded in clouds, straight ahead. Other islands were scattered in the distance. Being from a landlocked state, I wasn’t sure if I would feel nervous being surrounded by water, but Maui is a big enough island that I never felt like we were on a speck of land in a limitless ocean (even though that’s pretty much the truth). 

See the hang-glider?

We spent most of the week having fun hanging out with family. Margot, who is 21 months, has a huge vocabulary and loves to talk, and we bonded over repeated readings of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Dustin and Tessa took us to two different farmers markets (I bought vegan ice cream made from local coconuts, and Zach tried a delicious vegan miso soup topped with fresh veggies and flowers), two different beaches (the waves were perfect for jumping, and we saw a sea turtle!), and a few hikes (the woods reminded me of the Northwest, except with the sound of roosters crowing). 

We also spent a lot of time enjoying what Hawaii has to offer: perfect weather, nice breezes, and the best fresh fruit ever. I’d eat four or five oranges a day, plucked straight from the tree in their backyard, as well as fresh avocados, grapefruit, and bananas. In the afternoons I’d often sit in bed and read (Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra by Lewis; the latter was an exceptionally good choice for Maui), glancing up every once in a while to see the silver-gold light of midday gleaming on the water.

Another notable day trip was a jaunt to the West Maui hills. This involved a drive to the opposite side of the island, and I was shocked at how different the ecosystems were here. Gone was any comparison to the Northwest or California— this was sheer volcanic rock hills blanketed in a riot of tropical growth, from coconuts and bananas to all sorts of shiny-leafed plants I’d never seen before. We toured a decorative garden and hiked up to a viewpoint where we could see down the volcanic gorge toward the center of the island.

After, we ate a picnic (samosas from the farmers market) in a nearby garden that highlighted the different cultural heritages of Hawaii. We sat by the pool in the Japanese section of the garden and walked through a little bamboo forest.

On our last day, we visited Haleakala National Park, driving a long and winding road up past the evergreen treeline and through barren-looking windswept prairies to the crumbling volcanic top of the mountain. We walked to the rim of the crater and were astonished to look down into it— it fell away at our feet, marked with miniature mountains inside. Clouds spilled over the edges. It gave the illusion that the bottom of the crater was the ground, and the clouds were actually fog, or waves of the sea. We walked for a while along the rim and admired the beauty from several angles. It was definitely worth the drive!

This plant only grows on the top of Haleakala!

Inside the crater, with clouds
One of my favorite moments of the whole week, though, happened when I woke up in the middle of the night. It was the only night during our trip that wasn’t cloudy, and through the open windows I could feel the cool air and see the stars. Half-asleep, I looked up at the sky, and saw a constellation hanging above the West Maui hills: Maui’s fishhook. The constellation jumped out like diamonds woven into a tapestry. 

I blinked a few times, not believing my eyes. I had read the legends of Maui standing on Haleakala and hooking the sun, and of course this constellation was in Moana, but I had just assumed Disney made it up. What was this strange constellation, which I had never seen before? How could it be so bright, so unmistakable, hanging in the air and giving witness to the story of the demigod’s achievements? A sense of mystery, a sense of myth and legend and Otherness of this new place, fell heavy on me. I was a stranger here; this was Maui’s island, clearly claimed by these glimmering stars.

I sank back into the covers, still disoriented, and slipped into sleep with the fishhook casting faint light on my face.

The next morning, I realized that the constellation I saw was called Scorpio in Europe, the same constellation that I had watched with Zach in Bryce Canyon nearly a year ago.  But somehow that added to the magic rather than detracted from it; the same stars tell different stories to different people. 

I was grateful for the chance to get a glimpse of the stories that make up the island of Maui, shown in the stars, the menagerie of flora and fauna, and the ocean all around.


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