Tuesday, 11 April 2017


Living on Maui Time

Ann and I have returned home slightly tanned after spending three hot and sticky weeks on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Our stay constituted the longest vacation I’ve ever taken in my life. Though we were tourists the generous allocation of time allowed us to slide into the rhythms of the heat, the tides and the trade winds. For instance, one day I thought it might be a good idea to make some egg salad to keep on hand for a couple of light lunches. I got around to hard-boiling the eggs the following day. I chopped them up a day later, adding mayonnaise, mustard, pepper and diced red onion. On the fourth day I made sandwiches.

The Valley Isle is two volcanic peaks bridged by an isthmus of overlapping lava flows. We stayed in Kihei, situated along the shoreline of that scrubby plain. Maui is named for a mythic demigod who ascended Haleakala (Kingdom of the Sun), the majestic eastern volcano, to lasso the sun, hindering its celestial passage to extend the length of the days and ultimately the growing season. Hawaii has two seasons, wet and dry. Our visit coincided with the transition between them. The wet season must have been particularly parched this year because I felt exactly one ethereal drop of rain on my right elbow one evening and the County of Maui was priming the population for upcoming voluntary water conservation measures as Ann and I packed up for our departure.

Canadians are familiar with Captain James Cook. The British explorer and cartographer mapped the coast of the island of Newfoundland and the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Cook arrived in Hawaii in 1778 aboard the Resolution. He designated the archipelago the Sandwich Islands after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. Then came the whalers. The rise of the modern energy industry, Texas tea, eventually doomed the market for whale oil. The killers in this pacific sea have since been replaced by boats of paying watchers and nature photographers.

Missionaries rendered the original Polynesian settlers’ language visible, creating a 12-character Hawaiian alphabet. With religion came American capitalism. The Big Five sugar cartel dictated the economic and political course of the Kingdom of Hawaii for more than a century, to the extent of usurping the native Royal Family. The Hawaii Commercial and Sugar Company’s last working plantation on Maui ceased operation in December of 2016, a lingering victim of low commodity prices, foreign competition, its exploitive history and a controversial harvesting technique requiring sustained controlled burns. There is a derelict mill on the Piilani Highway between Kihei and Kahului which possesses an eerie, rusted and decrepit science fiction beauty. Wreckage acts as a full stop to many stories. The defunct industry’s elaborate network of irrigation ditches is dry.

Today the economy of Hawaii hinges on tourism, and to a lesser extent Pentagon largesse. Hawaii joined the Union in 1959, the last state to date. Local lore has it that statehood initiated an immediate swarm of Pam Am airliners crammed with newly mobile Americans who had more money than sense, beneficiaries of the Jet Age and easy consumer credit. James Bond even turned up in 1967, tracing a lead in You Only Live Twice. Once the Air Canada Rouge Airbus alit at Kahului, Ann and I disembarked with hundreds, and all of us followed in the footsteps of millions.

My sister Anne and her husband Al were on the same flight. We’d met up in Vancouver six hours earlier. On Maui it was late in the evening. Our arrival was the only time I felt hurried on the island. We had 27 minutes to rent a car, collect our luggage and get to a liquor store before the 10 o’clock sales cut off. Ann and I were agitated, desperate for cigarettes. Power puffs chewed up two minutes because we had to find a bin for our butts. I was left panting to collect the bags while the rest of the party engineered the wheels.

A hairy two-wheel u-turn drove us into the parking lot of a Big K. It was dark; we didn’t know that we were between a Costco and a Wal-Mart. All we knew was that time was running out. We made it. We beat the deadline. (The county bylaw was ultimately repealed during our sojourn, big news in the daily paper.) The night of our arrival was the only time we sweated anything on Maui. After our beer and wine sprint we never rushed to do anything else for three weeks, time no longer mattered; it became a mere concept and perhaps a curse for other people elsewhere.

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