Keiki o ka ‘Aina

I never really saw it this way until now, but I think Maui County has it in for monkeypods, the old shady ones on our streets. That’s the conclusion I draw from the bizarre case of the threatened one at 545 Front St. in Lahaina.

It’s a great tree, 50 years old, healthy, that casts a wide arc of shade, just the thing in steamy old Lahaina.

The monkeypod falls in the historic district and makes a verdant bridge between Kamehameha Iki Park and the start of town. The LahainaTown Action Committee, the Cultural Resources Committee and the Arborist Committee have all indicated a desire for its preservation. Which is why I fail to see why the county appears to be so bent on cutting it down.

We came across the tree one night as we walked back to the car from my birthday dinner at Pacific’O. We’d snared a table on the water and had some laughs at my date’s annual ingestion of a chocolate martini and the wit that invariably follows. (Usually I request an impersonation: This year it was a Starbucks customer from hell.)

We were high on the conversation and the complimentary cake until we came across the controversial monkeypod in the middle of the sidewalk, around which orange traffic barriers have been erected in a parking stall to provide a superwide detour.

I got curious. What’s the problem?

The tree had lifted the sidewalk and someone complained a wheelchair couldn’t pass. “It’s a matter of equal access,” I was told, a violation of federal standards. It seemed the county didn’t want to give up the parking space to make the detour permanent.

I found it hard to believe people in wheelchairs would demand such a sacrifice, so I began to investigate. That’s when I discovered the report done gratis for the Arborist Committee by Ernie Rezents, author of the county’s tree planting plan – a model for the state – and the most esteemed arborist on Maui.

He pointed out that there are 39.5 inches of space on one side of the Front Street monkeypod, and 39 inches on the other, dimensions similar to those of the new sidewalk in the state’s recent highway widening project near Shaw Street.

In that, the state went out of its way to preserve the monkeypod canopy at the entrance to Lahaina – “You’ve just got to think outside the box,” Charlene Shibuya, the project engineer told me – even though it meant narrowing the sidewalk to 38.5 inches. This, she informed me, is compliant with federal law. In fact, for “short runs,” such as that around a tree, only 32.5 inches is required.

Eureka! I thought. The tree is saved! All the county would have to do is waive its excessive 5-foot wide sidewalk standard that allows two wheelchairs to pass, not simply one.

But no. It turns out the county arborist has deemed the tree “hazardous” and “unstable,” because one surface root was cut a few years ago, according to a neighbor, to make room for wheelchair passage. As any qualified arborist will tell you, cutting one root does not make a monkeypod unstable. They can tolerate up to one-third of their roots being cut and still be safe, if properly done. Many local experts can testify to this.

Still, the county moves ahead with its case against the tree. The point seems to be that even if it is not causing problems now, it will do so in the future. Plans are in place for replacement trees “with canopy and proper root barriers,” smaller ones that will take years to provide valuable shade.

On the Mainland, cities that want to preserve their old trees install rubber sidewalks that can be lifted up when root pruning is needed and laid back down again at low cost. In Carmel, Calif., trees encroach on sidewalks and officials deem it charming. In Honolulu, street trees aren’t destroyed until every alternative has been exhausted.

Here, not only are we eager to cut them down, monkeypods are no longer being planted in county parking lots and parks. We have a sizable parks budget for cutting down trees and precious little for planting or maintaining them.

Ironically, Maui is envied on other islands for its monkeypod boulevards. A long-term vision for old street trees – particularly in the historic districts – needs to be put into law, making preservation a priority.

Maybe it would help if the County Council got involved.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

The old photograph from 1916 told a powerful story.

Imagine Kuau Bay with broad, sandy beaches. And on the land sweeping to the point on the north, nothing but low, windswept plants. No million-dollar homes, no fat-leaved spreading trees, no gates.

Nothing. Nothing, that is, but the 10-bedroom, two-story gabled home of Antone F. Tavares, “the Makawao orator,” one of Maui’s most successful immigrant pioneers.

His family came from the Azores in 1881, landing on the boat from Oahu at Maliko in 1882, where the family was taken immediately to work in the fields at the East Maui Sugar Co., living in a plantation camp at Kaluanui. When Antone, then a lad, fainted on the job, the doctor advised school, where he excelled.

He caught the eye of Jim Anderson, the Makawao postmaster, who hired him as his assistant. Tavares apprenticed to a lawyer in Honolulu, and passed the bar, becoming one of Maui’s early attorneys. He went on to become Makawao postmaster, a tax collector and served from 1911-1929 in the territorial House and Senate. He also managed Haiku Fruit and Packing Co., started Maui Loan and Finance Co. and controlled much real estate in Paia.

At a time when most people were struggling in the sugar cane fields, Antone F. Tavares could afford an impressive house and a good life for his wives (three) and children (12).

In the foreground of the photograph is a perfect little cove below the house, where three of the children played – Rose, Ernest and Fred, the latter two destined for fame as performers of Hawaiian music, particularly the steel guitar.

The cove is formally named Lamalani, but everyone calls it Tavares Bay. What of the beach now? Nothing but shiny black boulders.

It was a gorgeous day as only Kuau days can be, windy but warm and cool at the same time. I was sitting on the porch with Bill Tavares, the 11th and sole survivor of the children, enjoying the view out to the cove and Kaulahao Beach beyond, unswimmable due to the shelf of beach rock, but a welcome entry point for surfers.

The photo of Antone Tavares’ 2-acre family property shows a three-car garage (with room for horse and buggy), a washhouse and water tank, and a row of small coconut trees, now 100-year-old beauties that frame the shore and cost the family $1,600 a year to trim. Bill watched the old house evolve from “wood stove to kerosene stove to gas stove, I’ve seen it all.”

A businessman approached his mother after World War II, thinking to purchase the ideal property and put up a hotel. “It’s not for sale, I want it for my children,” she replied.

The old house came down in 1959 – “termites” – and five houses eventually arose for Bill, his wife, the former Martha Fernandez – “I was so lucky to get her” – and their children.

Wow. Lucky to be a Tavares.

Bill and I settled in for a talk – and if you know Bill, the former Makawao Elementary School principal – a talk and a talk and a talk. He is alternately described as “the Kuau orator” and “the mayor of Paia,” and at 91 his faculties are more than intact. He’s a walking archive of Maui lore with a passion for the subject and perfect recall. “There’s so much history, I tell you,” he said. “It’s hard to keep up.”

That lovely afternoon, I was reminded of the old Kuau landing, used when Paia plantation was in its infancy. Back in the 1870s when Samuel T. Alexander and Henry P. Baldwin were getting started, sugar was bagged at the original mill at Paliuli, site of Makawao Union Church, and dragged by ox cart to Kuau where the steamer James I. Dowsett waited outside.

The Pacific Navigation Co. generated plans to build a wharf in deep water off “Kuau beach,” allowing sugar from the Paia and Hamakuapoko plantations to be loaded directly. But Thomas H. Hobron persuaded Baldwin to use his new Kahului Railroad instead, and the proposed pier was never built.

I asked Bill if he knew where the landing was, something I’ve pondered for years. “Sure,” he said, and pointed to what locals call Coleman Beach, “a beautiful eight-foot beach,” named for the people who lived there, a few houses north. Bill and his brother Carl spotted the landing pilings one day when they were out paddling a canoe made of a corrugated tin roof.

I was thrilled.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

I am always on the lookout for the old Hawaii, something that awakens in me the spirit of an easier, happier time. I found it the other morning when we made a Saturday run to First Hawaiian Bank in Kahului. (Nice parking lot, kou trees, a bit tattered, lauae fern.)

While the business was taking place, I wandered off to the beach that rims the harbor. There are three ways to get to the sand. One is along the access road where the homeless guys hang out, laughing and joking. Not an option. Another is by cutting through to the grass in front of the old Chart House restaurant, now Cary and Eddie’s Hideaway.

Then I discovered the semi-hidden pathway leading to the rock wall and French doors of the restaurant’s private dining room at the far side of the building, a rambling, wooden affair built in the ’50s.

Nearby are high old coconut trees, probably left over from the days when they lined the Kahului Railroad right-of-way, which came in from Paia and ringed the bay before heading off in the direction of Lower Main Street. The path is lined with round ocean stones and leaves from a grand old banyan tree that buries the area in blissful shade.

Something in that, the protective old tree, the shade on a hot morning, the beach view from a low-key building, the privacy, the quiet, the lack of manicure, took me back.

It was a gorgeous morning. The wind was calm, the water peaceful, and out in the harbor three guys in kayaks were sailing along like high-flying birds. How I envied them. There was a fine view of ‘Iao Valley – marred by the Harbor Lights condominium dead-center in the foreground.

We wandered over to the canoe hale of Na Kai ‘Ewalu next door, the columns and furnishings of which are painted purple to distinguish it from the hale of the Hawaiian Canoe Club, painted blue, down the beach. That club is set back farther from the ocean and has a lot more real estate, a nice lawn in front and its original thatched hale still intact.

We counted 27 canoes on the beach and contemplated their fascinating names. Na Kai ‘Ewalu has two named for channels surrounding Maui. “Ko Pailolo Mana” speaks to the power of the 7.5-mile wide channel between Maui and Molokai, which an old copy of the U.S. Coast Pilot informed me is “clear of obstructions,” save for a 0.75-mile fringing reef south of Molokai and Mokuho’oniki and Kanaha Rock near its easterly end.

“Alenuihaha” is named for the tricky channel that is 26 miles wide at its narrowest part between Kailio Point southwest of Kaupo and Upolu Point in Kohala on the Big Island. It’s a rough one during strong trade winds when the current sets westward and ships have been wrecked. “Kindy” Sproat once told me how canoes were built in the great Kohala valley of Polulu, where the current made it easy to invade Maui. During Kona winds it flows the other way.

Some of the canoes at Hawaiian have auspicious names: “Pomaika’i,” good fortune, blessedness, good luck; “Keola,” life, health, well-being, and “Ka’uhane,” soul, spirit.

“Kaheiheimalie” is named for one of the many wives of Kamehameha I, who was the mother of the the reliable, sedate Kina’u who succeeded Ka’ahumanu as kuhina nui of the kingdom in 1833. It was Kina’u who gave birth to kings Kamehameha IV and V, and bestowed the odd name of Lili’u (“smarting”) to the future queen in commemoration of the eye infection she, Kina’u, suffered when the child was born.

Back at the main entrance to the Hideaway, a white cat lounged near the entrance, where the screen door has a big puka in it. The place – operated by Caryle “Cary” Munoz, the owner, and Eddie Hernandez Rivera, the chef – is a local favorite, voted on one Best of Maui 2012 list as Best Barbecue Lunch and Dinner. An elderly tourist assured me he had a fine mahimahi lunch in the dining room overlooking the bay.

We plan to go back for what I hear is a sensational Sunday brunch someday, and a deeper investigation of the collection of miniature liquor bottles on display near the bathrooms.

Back at the First Hawaiian Bank parking lot, a young woman with fake boobs and tight jeans strutted back to her expensive car, whose engine she had left running to preserve the air conditioning with the window open. There the spell ended.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

I just got back from a trip to New Mexico, that other land of enchantment, or so the license plates say. I liked it; I liked it a lot. I’m familiar with people who gravitate between Maui and there on some kind of invisible axis, and now I know why.

Like us, it’s got big views. Here, the ocean is ever-present on the horizon. There, it’s the vast high desert, encircled by the mountains ringing Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the tail end of the Rockies, always in the distance. We too have a blue, blue sky, but theirs is cloudless, unbroken and serene.

“The sky is our ocean,” someone explained.

I like the Santa Fe style. The artist colonies of the early 20th century had great influence on the development of the city and like ours on Maui, their historic vision is preserved by design guidelines. Houses, tan versions of the adobe, are modest on the outside, vibrant with color and life within.

I like the fashion. It’s as though the landscape is a canvas on which women paint their own aesthetic, with jewelry and textures and colorful patterns. I saw long ’60s-style skirts and shawls, worn with lots of Indian jewelry.

On a full-moon night I was invited to a peace pipe ceremony in an old adobe near Old Town in Albuquerque, the dwelling small but wonderfully sculpted throughout. A Sufi leader named Mugit, a sprightly elderly man with dancing eyes and a white beard, led the proceedings, carefully laying out the precious pipe with its beaded and feathered adornments in the center of the circle.

“You are the center,” he said. From that still point within, the intelligence of the universe is available, ever adjusting to our needs.

When it came time for me to speak, I spontaneously invited the spirits of Hawaii to attend, a gesture that attracted murmurs of approval from the Native Americans present.

I got a headache from the sage, sweet grass and other herbs that were burned in the ceremony and spent the rest of the evening on the front porch huddled under a blanket beneath the cold, brilliant moon, luminous in the clear desert air. The landscape was so spare, so clean, so magical.

(No, I hadn’t ingested THC. I’m violently allergic to marijuana and hope they never, ever legalize it. I can barely walk down the street in Paia or go to a park or an outdoor concert any more without becoming sickened by someone else’s secondhand smoke. How will lawmakers deal with that issue? But I digress.)

Native Hawaiians believed in the union of all things. Each deity had its complement on land and sea, and encountering one was evidence of the other. That same sense of life in the animate and the inanimate pervades the spirit of New Mexico, too.

I was at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, and the presiding genius, Dr. Vasant Lad, a deeply spiritual man with a clinical knowledge of Western medicine as well as the 5,000-year-old ayurvedic system, made this point frequently.

One night he told of standing at a gas pump when a hawk swooped down into the parking lot and sat on a pigeon, ready to pierce its breast. “No!” The cry erupted from Dr. Lad’s kind heart. The hawk stopped, looked over and then brought the pigeon to him, repairing to a telephone pole where she watched as he released it.

The system of ayurveda, based on the interplay of the elements earth, air, fire, water and space, was divinely revealed to the ancient rishis. I used to think it was quaint but not really relevant, until I listened to Dr. Lad teach the subject night after night, expounding its many refined details.

The idea, much simplified, is this: Disease stems from impairment of the inner fire, or “agni.” Poor food choice and bad digestion leads to accumulation of toxic matter called “ama,” which moves into the tissues and causes deterioration. The nature of these imbalances – and a person’s innate constitution – is discerned through careful pulse reading. Then herbs, oil massage and diet are prescribed to pull the toxins out of the tissues and to call back the “ojas,” or subtle energy fueling the life force.

I know, logic-based Western medicine scoffs at this, but as Dr. Lad said, “Logic has no wisdom. Logic will leave you at a certain level.”

After two weeks I felt marvelous, cleaned out, stripped down, light as a feather floating down from a hawk on a high pole.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at