Letters from Maui
January 27-29 Leaving Home. Coming Home.
With the excitement of a time traveler, I boarded my flight to Honolulu from Philadelphia. (Temperature 19 degrees) I was leaving for a first time ever winter trip that had more vacation and recharge planned, than painting. Oh, I will admit the trip was also to be a cure too, a least a short term remedy for the mind and soul and a medical thought or two…besides February in Goshen, NJ can be both beautiful and like a page from “The Shining”.
We had one short stop in Phoenix and the ride was smooth and for me quick. Even though I am ADHD, mildly claustrophobic and tall I have learned over these past years of travel to plan well, have lots of pockets for gadgets and needed items and to breathe deeply and melt into my window seat.
My first leg seat companion was, lets just say a flame that never got lit. He preferred battling elbows to small talk. Business class on US Airways gives you and entire inch more than the coach, but I would have preferred a tighter seat and a smile, after all I was going to the land of smiles.
During the flight I was able to re-read The Art Spirit/Robert Henri, I used my son Joseph’s method of underlining and dog-earring pages that meant the most to me and those I read over many times. I often quote and recite from the book during workshops, and I felt there might be some passages I was missing. Boy was I right. Sometimes I feel this book is more useful than brushes to an artist.
The movies on the flight were weak and the screens too far away to enjoy so I did what any boy would do on a long flight…..watched the clouds out my window and dreamed, amazed that I was in a chair at 37000 feet, warm, comfortable and safe. The cloudy East and Plains gave way to open skies over the Rockies just as we crossed them, having spent so much time there at least once a year since 2005, I was able to call out the land forms and peaks to myself, I pointed one out to “Bob” and he didn’t even turn his head. To be fair, people have issues that we don’t know about so I should just pass, but on the other hand he was stuck in a middle seat, who chooses middle seats when flying alone?
The Rockies gave way to the coast of California and by chance our plane flew directly over Los Angeles and I was treated to a aerial view of Santa Catalina Island where I spent four weeks in 2002 on my big California escape. I recognized it immediately and spent some time recalling the great painting adventures I had there.
As you can imagine after California, it is just the Pacific Ocean in all her glory. Whimsical and exotic clouds below me, smiling I shot pictures and kept them from Bob. As the 6 hour flight came near its end, I knew if I watched I would see the Hawaiian Islands, what I didn’t expect was full on views of islands so green and red, sandy beaches of many colors and water so blue. As we approached the airport the Navy sent out a submarine to make a smiley face for me in the water, maybe it was just my Dad’s spirit as he was the Grand Mariner and the reason we got stationed there in 1963.
Onto the island…. I stayed for two nights at the Modern Honolulu Hotel. Awesome place. Away from the crowd, but on the beach as far as I needed it to be. Greeted by sporty valets, smiling, a beautiful clerk named Dawn, smiling, and a gentleman bearing a tray with a hot towel and fresh lemonade to ease this tired traveler into paradise. Never been much for porters, can carry my own bags, but you know what, they just won’t let you and do it with smile. Great young fellow that Jonathan was. They must use the Force because everyone knew my name, and called me by it the entire time. Dinner at the non-chain Chart House and to bed after a walk along the very casual beach level path that catches all the night life and cafes along the beach. I got hooked on KINE 105.1 Hawaiian music radio.
Day 2 had a plan. For years I wanted to go back to my old home, maybe knock on the neighbor’s door ask for my buddy Lester and Miss Helen. The valet pointed in the general direction and with a handwritten return address from a letter my mother received in 1966 I went out and found the street in 15 minutes. All the memories came rushing back, the second story balcony of the “apartments” across the street where we watched the open slop truck go by….the vent patterned cinder block walls, the louvered windows….the coconut tree……wait the tree was gone? And the buildings were surrounded in high chain link? Imminent destruction. Our little downstairs apartment surrounded by broken cars and heaps of boxes and a couple of growling dogs. Things had changed. I took a couple of pictures, one against the wall where I had my picture taken in a Hawaiian shirt at 4, I hoped I look the same. Maybe my head was swollen from the flight and the martinis the night before, but the saying you can’t go back, made serious visual sense. So many good memories, I didn’t need it to be that way again, I knew new memories would be built.
Instinctively I headed out and turned left towards the beach, passing parks and a Zoo and remarking how this all seemed the same. Pulling up to Waikiki Beach, finding the first parking spot reserved for me, and making my way to the water. Gorgeous day. Remembering the whole scene, the smells and sounds, made me think about calling someone. And as I reached for the phone, I smiled and remembered, she won’t answer….my mom passed away 10 years ago. I so wanted to tell here how things were here. Very great feeling of spirit. Well onto more exciting things, I was at the beach where I drowned as a boy. Yep. Pulled up and resuscitated by the lifeguards, I thanked the young man on duty and let him know their efforts have lead to a life of wonderful things, sharing, family, art…..he professed he wasn’t on duty, yet he was intrigued by that idea that people they save, go on to live a new life…..he wanted to look up the rescue and I told him it must have been in the summer, he smiled deeply, at which point I began to realize it is always summer here.
Diamond Head the North Shore, Zoo and Pali.
The Crater hike was fun, right to the top of 761′ foot extinct volcano rim. Le’ahi as it was known in Hawaiian meaning brown ridge and Ahi Tuna as the shape picks up the form of the dorsal fin. Crowded hot and interesting, I did a small painting to break the “ice” and headed of for my trip to the North Shore to see the big waves.
Not saying there wasn’t some beautiful views along the way, but it really is built up, suburban and slow moving at times. Not until I got to the far end of the island did it really feel good again. There were big waves 10-15′ but they were expecting another swell of 20-30 later that night. I could only imagine. Powerful surf, agile surfers, dangerous conditions, best for watching not even thinking of trying. Volcom and all the surf companies were there, TV, Helicopters and more lookers than do-ers.
Leaving the North Shore I also began to realize the sun sets later this far south, the southern most state, the only state made of islands, the only state part of an archipelago, the only state not in the America’s as it is in Polynesia or Oceania, with the fourth longest shoreline, the only state with an Asian majority and a Caucasian minority, the only state with an official other than English language, Hawaiian. In fact it is the only state with a Palace…..one of two states that do not observe Daylight Savings Time …….i could go on.
Pineapples and Sugar. The biggest crops still cultivated here. It took back to back hurricanes in the same year striking Puerto Rico in 1899 to change the dynamics of the Sugar industry in the world. Hawaii was capable of filling the needs. There is an amazing history for these islands. From being inhabited from about 800 AD by Polynesians to first contact by Capt James Cook in 1778. That first European contact also brought the beginning to the end of of the isolation and endemic beauty of the islands. Smallbox, measles, rats, chickens, goats, and eventually invasive species equally decimated the native peoples, flora and fauna. So many species have gone extinct in just the past 5 decades alone. On my last day on Oahu, I visited the Honolulu Zoo, great time, small peaceful and clean. Great boisterous monkeys!
the above link is a video, click to watch
I then reached down deep and decided I had enough time to take the Pali Highway to the overlook, where my father used to scare the beJesus out of my mother on the steep cliff hugging, non guard railed, heart attack inducing goat path that cars found themselves on for some reason…… Unbelievably I went right to the top, fierce trade winds ripping thru the canyon, so strong you could lean into them and not fall. Where was the scare? Why the fear? Well, once I read the sign that said this is a new overlook built above where the highway was, I looked over the edge and saw the remaining section of road that no car ever should have been on, I was looking at my deepest fear of heights and remembered every heart beat.
I’m headed to Maui next, will write again soon.