The shoe-boxes we carried on our laps on the flight to Maui contained our parakeets, a little anxious and aflutter about their surroundings and the strange goings-on. But there was Barney, an English budgerigar slightly larger than the others gathered around him, serving as the group leader and a calming presence. We were all on our way to a new life on Maui, a 40-foot Matson container containing the stuff of our existence was somewhere on the ocean below us and would catch up with us in a few days, delivered to our door in Ha`iku. In the meantime, we would acclimate to our new home with a stroll around the neighborhood.
The neighborhood in which we now find ourselves is very unlike any of the neighborhoods I've lived in during my first half-century of life. I doubt another half-century of moving around would turn up anything like it. We'd been here two or three weeks and I was still apprehensive about my new life, severed from my moorings and viewing my new surroundings with a suspicious eye. This time it wasn't a visit. Right away, just days after our arrival, I came face-to-face with the realities of the Hawaiian insurance industry and the innumerable rules and fees imposed upon residents by an overzealous and archaic state legislature.
Three days on board and I was having second thoughts. Insurance companies and legislatures can do that to people. Then came some words of advice from my brother, Robbin: I was to “chill.” “Relax, bro. You just drove up. Take some time, get into the neighborhood. Don't sweat the small stuff.” He was right, of course. Robbin is my younger brother and points out the obvious while embarrassing me for my lack of vision and patience. But it's okay. He and I have lived a lifetime of rescuing one another when the need arises.
The neighborhood itself, within the township of Ha`iku, is called Kaupakalua, one of several named districts within Ha`iku. All such districts, along with neighboring townships, are within what is informally known as “Upcountry.” Kaupakalua is also the name of the roadway off of which we live. Ha`iku doesn't even boast a sidewalk, let alone a traffic signal, yet encompasses an area large enough to hold, say, all of Manhattan. The last time someone was spotted wearing a necktie in Ha`iku, Calvin Coolidge was in office (modern missionaries excepted). The locals always seem to pronounce Ha`iku with two syllables, like a sneeze (hai-koo!), rather than the three syllables Hawaiian grammar intends. Backwards, it's a familiar three-syllable township in Northern California, Ukiah, whose only other resemblance to Ha`iku is the ability of some residents to cultivate high quality illicit hemp. Like all of East Maui, Ha`iku is dominated by the massive silhouette of Haleakala, much in the same manner that the 780-pound Israel Kamakawiwo`ole once dominated a performance stage: a powerful presence, still and quiet, awesome and mysterious, impossible to ignore.
The neighborhood landscape is wonderfully varied. Gently rolling pastureland of brilliant greens carry up the mountainside, divided here and there by stands of eucalyptus. Herds of cattle dot the panorama. A stream cuts through a gulch before spilling 20 feet down a rock wall into a secluded pool ringed with ferns. Its course follows an ancient man-made rock wall that predates the haoles; here, taro was grown. On all sides you see banyan, mango, bamboo, palms, heliconia, wild orchids, and the invasive-but- stunningly-beautiful African tulip tree. Guava, citrus, papaya and bananas abound, in local backyards and in the wild. Ha`iku apple-bananas are regarded among the finest found anywhere. There are of course numerous insects as well, from exotic to other-worldly, along with the lizards, spiders, toads, and birds whose job is to keep them in check. Almost strange that this Garden of Eden has no snakes.
Two-lane country roads wind through the countryside, east to Ke`anae and Hana, west to Makawao and Pukalani, north to Pa`ia and the ocean, and south, up the slopes of Haleakala, to Olinda, Kula, `Ulupalakua and, eventually, the 10,000-foot summit. It is said that the Haleakala Highway, from sea level to summit, is the shortest such route to a 10,000-foot elevation found anywhere on the planet. Hairpin turns, roadside poultry, and pasture fenced with wire stretched between kiawe posts repeat themselves in all directions. Now and then you'll see new growth, actual limbs, sprouting from the top of a fence post and be reminded how much things here like to grow. Heading west from our home (named “Ululoa” in years to come), we pass a property fenced in front with bomb casings left over from WWII; 500-pound blockbusters standing upright on airflow tail fins, like blunt-nosed rockets ready for take-off. Just farther on a neighbor has placed life-size, plastic livestock at his front fence and gate. Life-like cattle and horses peer out at passersby, but day after day remain quite stationary. One day a memorial blanket appeared draped on the big handsome-but-plastic steed: “Rest in Love, Big Sam.” The plastic horse is still there, representing, I suppose, the real Big Sam. It didn't take much to imagine the love his owner had for him, and I began to wonder if he was named for Scarlet O'Hara's former slave and protector in scenes from Gone with the Wind.
Pickup trucks are the vehicle of choice in Ha`iku. More often than not, the family dog(s) is in the back, looking out with a silly grin, face to the wind, jowls flapping, an eager and vigilant happy passenger. Pay attention! Cars sometimes appear from hidden driveways as if from nowhere. Beware the inattentive driver! I've come to suspect that Ha`iku's only effective traffic sign is the hand-painted, psychology-reversed “Drive Faster!” admonition on the West Kuiaha downgrade. Don't take it as an angry or obscene gesture if someone holds up an oddly waving 3-fingered fist at you, thumb and little finger extended outward, forming perhaps the symbol of some secret society. It's just, “Shaka, brah! Howzit?”
The neighborhood commercial center is “Hanzawa's Variety Store.” Everything is in one room not much bigger than a garage. If they don't have it, you probably don't need it. The Levi's are on a shelf next to the anchovy paste. Fine wines and liquor are available from behind the counter. Arugula you say? Homegrown in the produce section. I've known people who judge the habitability of a neighborhood based on the availability of arugula. Hanzawa dogs and grey poupon? But of course. A bulletin board provides local classifieds. If you hang out long enough, you'll likely meet every soul residing in the Kaupakalua district of Ha`iku. Should you actually encounter a tourist, an unlikely occurrence, he or she is probably lost.
Hanzawa's was established as a business in 1928. In 50 year-old gossip it is alleged that Hanzawa was caught on the roof of his variety store with a flashlight, attempting, it is supposed, to signal his former countrymen during a WWII blackout (“This is Ha`iku—Drop Bombs here!”) Personally, I find it just as likely that old Hanzawa simply stepped outside to pee and fell victim to a member of a vigilante committee assigned the task of keeping an eye on the local Japanese, post-Pearl Harbor. I wear my Hanzawa's T-shirt with pride.
During WWII, Ha`iku was once home-base for some 20,000 marines bivouacked at the 1,600-acre Camp Maui, just a stone's throw from our `Ohana property. One relic of this occupation lies hidden in overgrown jungle within the `Ohana: a tunnel with an eight-foot bore carries a quarter-mile through the hillside to what was Camp Maui. It has been proposed that the purpose of this tunnel was to ferry explosives, underground, from a storage bunker to artillery placements in the event of Japanese attack . In later years the tunnel ended in a pineapple field, suggesting to some that maybe its purpose was irrigation of some sort. Some 20 years before our move to Maui, while visiting, I went on a raiding party with my brothers, through the tunnel into the pineapple field, swiping armloads of pineapple—mischievous misdemeanors on which the statute of limitations has now tolled.
I have neglected to mention that it sometimes rains in Ha`iku, “...slightly more than somewhat,” say some. Green doesn't come without its price. The rewards, however, are worth it. We are soon producing fine fruits and veggies, more than we can consume.
Here lawn happens. On its own. You need only to mow. If you don't mow, jungle happens. Rust happens; black iron lives a short life in Ha`iku. Dry rot and termites happen; care and vigilance are required. Garden and hardware enterprises flourish, some attracted to Ha`iku by the needs of back yard pot growers.
The sun comes out and there it is again: Haleakala, looming on the horizon, taking up the whole sky, embodying a mystical life-force all its own, seeming to resonate with the heartbeat of Gaia. It takes my breath away, only to again be replaced with the sweetest, cleanest air found anywhere on the planet. Here life happens and thrives, far from tall buildings and the faceless legal entities that occupy them. Here it is okay to dress free and loose, to embrace the bosom of the Earth Mother, to respect her, to reach out and reap her bounty.
The shiver in my spine comes from a gentle breeze that caresses my backside as I walk a moonlit gravel road through the Ohana, our 13-acre all-family neighborhood. It whispers to me hauntingly, “ … chill,” and I notice that I have. Funny how we say “chill” when we mean otherwise. It feels like a warm and relaxing thaw to me.