Maui Nei

The cheeky little buggahs know where the food is. For a big part of the morning that place is a piece of asphalt. They’re immigrants who arrived so long ago and are so savvy they qualify as na kama’aina.

It’s early morning. Construction and ranch guys pull big pickup trucks into the parking lot next to Morihara Store in Waiakoa. The older ones are friendly, if maka hiamoe (sleepy-eyed). They need the store’s strong coffee to get their eyes fully open. The younger guys and a clutch of women with cars full of kids are self-absorbed.

Some 45 minutes after sunrise – Maui looks glorious. Way off in the distance, a line of toothpicks marks the Kaheawa Wind Farm. Black-bottom clouds will slide across Kula later in the day. No one will mind. Recent rains have greened parched pastures, relieving ranchers from buying food for their livestock. A little more rain won’t hurt. The island is heading into the dry season.

On this morning, a mahina hapalua hope (a waning moon) hangs in a blue sky. She’s on her way to her monthly disappearance later this week and a rebirth, mahina hou, some days later.

A need for caffeine and nicotine prompted the short trek from home. There’s an added pleasure in sharing a few words with Agnes and Toni. The women are busy keeping the coffee pots full and tracking incoming supplies carried in from trucks that seem too large for Lower Kula Road.

The coffee is hot and black. The cigarette is, well, a cigarette. A shaky stomach accepts a few bites of a scone, an alfresco breakfast on the edge of the loading dock for grocery’s feed store annex. Eat about a third of the triangular treat. Share the rest with the little buggahs.

There’s a fairly big flight of house sparrows hanging around the store and the Kula Bistro across the road. The eaves of the restaurant seem to be a prime nesting area. The birds originated in Eurasia and have spread around the world. They are sometimes referred to as feathered mice. According to H. Douglas Pratt’s “A Pocket Guide to Hawaii’s Birds.” The island sobriquet is “hamburger sparrow” because they often look for handouts – or throw downs – at fast-food restaurants. Their formal, scientific name is Passer domesticus.

They came to Hawaii via Eurasia and New Zealand, according to the Hawaii Audubon Society. They were released on Oahu in 1871. The society’s “Hawaii’s Birds” says sparrows “can become a nuisance. It feeds on anything edible.” Don’t know about them being a nuisance, although they have been known to fly through one door into Morihara Store and flutter around before exiting another door. I do know they have a taste for pastries.

A first there aren’t any birds in the parking lot, although their staccato cries can be heard. Since they are always saying “cheap, cheap,” maybe they should be called budget birds. They certainly get along with very little.

A scatter of scone crumbs draws in a male sparrow, easy to spot from its black bib. He finds a morsel and tells others of his kind. They wing in, turning their heads from side to side, hop to, grab a crumb and take off. Another and another and another takes their place.

Big crumbs are snagged and carried off for swallowing elsewhere. Females, noted for their dun coloring and lack of markings, sometimes fly to the restaurant eaves with bigger chunks of the pastry. To feed their young?

The Waiakoa sparrows are akamai, if skittish. They seem to know which humans might leave a mess for the birds to clean up. I sit still and some of the braver birds come within a few feet. One slight movement and the bird takes off, prompting an immediate scattering of the avian mob.

They fly off to sit on metal fence posts and branches of a wild variety of stuff choking an undeveloped lot. They constantly move their heads from side to side on the lookout for crumbs and incoming mynahs.

The mynas are twice the size of the sparrows which are quick to give way when the bully birds land, usually in pairs. This morning, though, one exceptionally brave – or hungry – male sparrow ignores the mynas while they swagger up to a piece of the scone. They nod in time with their one-foot-forward walk. Mynas, or Acridotheres tristis, were imported from India in 1865 “to control insect pests.”

There’s nothing like watching transplants to entertain a transplant with the time to enjoy all sorts of Maui life.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

Expectations shape a person’s experience. Expectations of Maui are most likely shaped by the Internet, which today’s visitor is sure to look through before making a trip to “The Magic Isle.” That’s the name given Maui by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Maui Visitors Bureau.

Google Hawaii and you’ll turn up 515,000 items. Google Maui and there are a surprising 68 million choices to pick through. Those choices included everything from letters to the editor, news websites, individual advertising of activities, resorts, bed-and-breakfast operations, wedding planners, etc. and the HTA “official” website, broken down by island.

The individual island sites are subdivided into an overview, “guidebook, regions, experiences and plan a trip.”

“Welcome to Maui,” the copy reads under a slide show of various aspects of the island. “From its heavenly beaches to its scenic natural wonders, there are plenty of reasons why Maui has been vote ‘Best Island’ by readers of Conde Nast Traveler for seventeen years.

“Discover your own reasons to love Maui as you stroll the seaside streets of Lahaina and the lovely beaches of Kaanapali. Feel the mana (power) of Haleakala National Park or discover the arts and culture of Kahului and Upcountry Maui. From championship golf course to the scenic road to Hana, your vacation on the ‘Valley Isle’ promises to be unforgettable.”

In the copy, the words Lahaina, Kaanapali, Haleakala National Park, Upcountry Maui, golf courses, Hana and humpback whales are links to specific pages. The first page on humpback whales doesn’t mention the fact that the critters are long gone between about April and December.

One of the more interesting sections is “Maui FAQs.” For the uninitiated, that’s frequently asked questions. The first one you hit is “what is the time difference from the continental US?” No. 2 is “where is the main airport on Maui?”

No. 3 speaks to the major change in tourism on Maui since the bed and beach days of yore. “You can get around Maui by shuttle, tour bus, taxi or public transportation. But to really experience Maui, you should consider reserving a rental car in advance from Kahului or Kapalua Airport.”

One question – “Do I need my passport to get to Maui?” – revives a 40-year-old memory. A couple of tourists, identifiable by their matching aloha wear, were walking around Ala Moana Center on Oahu. “Look, honey,” she said. “There’s a Sears just like back in the states.” Just outside the store was a trash can identified by one word, “kokua.”

The whale season and “big wave surf season on Maui’s north shore” are covered by the FAQ “When is a good time to Visit Maui?” The answer begins “anytime of the year.”

Can’t help thinking these practical questions probably were not at the top of “real” questions submitted to the HTA/MVB. Is there anyone capable of spanning oceans for a vacation who doesn’t know the basics about Hawaii, if not Maui?

The main links of Maui’s first page are, in this order, “Maui Adventure, Maui Romance, Maui Culture, Family Fun on Maui, Maui Golf, Maui Weddings, Maui Honeymoons, Unexpected Maui.”

“Romance” looks mostly to be a duplicate of weddings and honeymoons with the addition of a list of activities centered on the ocean. At least there’s no mention of liaisons with beach boys or hula girls.

“Unexpected Maui” yields plugs for what might be called stomach and agricultural tourism. “Farmers’ Markets” includes “sample Maui-style cooking, from gourmet plate lunches (an oxymoron if I ever saw one) to Hawaii Regional Cuisine.” Right after markets, there is a tour and traffic note: “Follow the farm to table process by touring the upland farms of Upcountry Maui then dine in the prestigious restaurants of west and south Maui.”

There’s too much seat and eye time involved to go through all the listings, but a prospective visitor would get a solid idea of Maui. It’s all a little rosy, but that is expected with marketing material.

I was pleased to see a page on ecotourism and the line: “On Maui, respect for the land is an integral part of our local lifestyle . . . appreciating the gift that is our natural environment.”

That section begins with “You don’t need to be an environmentalist to appreciate the value of leaving a small footprint on the places you visit.” If only all would. Maybe that should be the No. 1 expectation listed by the “official” HTA/MVB website.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The Nancy Lane self-portrait is both haunting and evocative. It’s been hanging on a living room wall for a couple of months due to a casual acquaintance with the artist and the generosity of Harlan Hughes. He and his partner, Judy Anderson, were Nancy’s close friends during Maui’s freewheeling days.

“I had Nancy’s pictures stored away,” Harlan said. His elegant Japanese-influenced house has limited wall space. “I thought I would give them to someone who knew and appreciated Nancy.”

Lined up on the floor, there were four pictures. Two of them were life-size self-portraits done in pencil. One was a profile and the other was a full-face portrait that Harlan thought Nancy had probably done from looking at herself in a mirror.

The midmorning meeting in his Kula house came about after a telephone call. Actually, it took two calls. The first arranged a meeting. The second was a polite reminder I was a half-hour late. Truth be told, I had forgotten. Living the life of an unstructured retiree tends to confuse one day with another.

We talked about the portraits. Harlan was willing to part with both of them. Another case of limited wall space dictated just one. He agreed the life-size, full-face portrait was the more appealing of the two.

Once up on the wall, the attractive face began “talking.” The eyes spoke the loudest of a long-past time when Maui harbored an eclectic community of newcomers – surfers, artists, musicians, hippies and druggies. The gender ratio in this band of individuals was about 10-to-1 male. Nearly all of the newcomers were haole. A few – a very few – of the guys managed to get involved romantically with local women. The island was once a much smaller place in the 1960s and ’70s and there was little mixing between newcomers with questionable lifestyles and the local population. Locals were mostly tolerant of what they saw as aberrant behavior as long as it didn’t smack them in the face.

A creative, attractive haole had her choice of men friends. The less inhibited she was, the more choices she had among the good, the unreliable and the evil. It all made for unsettling experiences on both sides of the sexual divide.

The portrait’s eyes seem to reflect the mix of pain and pleasure so much a part of an unattached, sensitive newcomer’s life on Maui in the 1960s and 1970s. Emotional and mental pain seemed to dominate Nancy’s life. As do many artists, she channeled whatever she felt into her art.

Until the portrait, the Nancy Lane image that hovered on the edge of consciousness for decades was a lush painting. It showed an elegant woman sipping a cocktail in what appeared to be a tropical garden. It was one of the many paintings she did while living in Kahakuloa.

She had given the painting to Betty Green, aka Liz Janes and Liz Janes-Brown. As she was for many, Betty was a nonjudgmental safe harbor for the troubled. At various times, Nancy battled personal demons. Sometimes successfully and other times not so.

There was one time at the old Pizza Factory. Betty and Nancy had allowed me to join them while they discussed some theater project. Maui Community Theater often tapped accomplished artists to do set designs or posters – all gratis, of course.

One of her demons was gnawing at Nancy – specifically, individuals who “use me.” She looked across the table and aimed an accusation. “You don’t use people, do you?”

I replied with the first thing that came to mind. “Not the way you think, but as a writer I use what I learn from everyone I know.” She turned away. A definite chill fell over the table, one that even Betty couldn’t thaw.

There had been a time when, for ordinary worker pay, Nancy created original fabric designs for Otaheite, the clothing enterprise run by John and Sharon Lawrence, the same couple who built on Otaheite success by opening the first Jeans Factory stores and the Blue Max, a second-floor, Front Street rock ‘n’ roll club.

Nancy’s portrait is less gaunt than I remember her being. Maybe it was done during one of her better times. I don’t know what happened to her. It’s not important. The Nancy Lane on the wall is a reminder of a Maui when falling in love was an everyday occurrence.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

A lazy start of the day:

The sun is just high enough to hit the house. Tubster and his buddy, Zipper, are snugged up against the garage door. Tubster is the oldest member the colony and definitely likes to warm his bones. From kittenhood, Zipper has enjoyed snoozing with his nose in Tubster’s fur. Later, Tubster will move into some shade while Zipper cruises the fallow field below the house.

The front half of lanai roof is in full light. There’s shade in the back. That’s perfect for protecting exposed head skin while warming slipper-clad toes. Don’t you want to grind your teeth every time someone refers to the quintessential footwear as “flip-flops?”

While settling into a chair, Malone, the friendliest outdoor cat, scurries over. He has a dog-like affinity for humans, especially if there is a lap involved. He’s been sticking close to the house since he had a collapsed lung, probably due to being hit by a car driven by some dolt trying to turn a 20-mph road into a highway.

For a certain kind of personality, there’s nothing like living in the country. Wide sweeps of the island can be seen without having to ignore buildings and horizontal strings of cable and power lines. It’s quiet enough to hear birds and the rustle of plants in a breeze.

A Brazilian cardinal sings unseen: “Whee, tee, tee dee.” A mynah warps into a landing on the abandoned furo house. It hangs around for a bit, does a little tap dance on the corrugated tin roof and announces a takeoff. Sometimes, the immigrants congregate on the house roof, adding the clatter of feet to noisy conversations.

A dove spreads its wings for a perfect two-point landing on a fence. It surveys the yard for leftover kibbles. Doves and mynahs love dry cat food. The mynahs are careful to keep a watch. Doves are dumber. On a regular basis, there are members of the flock who concentrate on eating to the point they get eaten.

The old jacaranda bloomed early this year, spreading a purple carpet of petals on the driveway. It’s looking a little ragged, but still sports enough blossoms to lure in a buzz of bees. The purple looks good against a blue sky punctuated by a fluff of clouds.

There’s been just enough rain to encourage the hibiscus. The yellow one, rooted in the slope of yard where there’s more moisture more often, has been going nuts. Hibiscus can survive drought but they love water. There’s a bounty of hand-sized blossoms. The smaller, orange hibiscus has managed a half-dozen flowers. It was planted in a flat, drier section of yard and has gone for months without producing much more than a scatter of leaves.

Seeing the hibiscus prompted an old-timer to reminisce about her days at Kaunoa School. “Every morning, we’d collect hibiscus flowers and put them on palm spikes in the classroom. They’d all be dead by the next morning, so we had to replace ’em. Hibiscus don’t last long.” Maybe that’s why they are a favorite hair adornment for women advertising their availability, or unavailability. Romantic alliances can be fleeting.

The 20-foot-high mock orange bush blocks the view of the closest neighbor. That’s probably why it was originally planted. It needs some water. There are too many yellow leaves.

The mixed bag of different grasses is going brown. There’s red top, viny pasture stuff, fountain and some unidentified wispy blades that are hard to mow. They bend, defying the whirling blades.

There’s one swallow left in the coffee cup. Malone has settled down, abandoning his effort at getting scratched. The day is growing older. The first of the day’s serious clouds are gathering – dense, gray, fat-bottomed teases. They promise rain but seldom deliver. Well, maybe a short-lived patter, but not enough to soak the ground. In the last week, those clouds have come to rest in Kula, producing fog dense enough to warrant headlights.

If it rains at all in Waiakoa, it will fall between 3 and 5 p.m. Don’t know why, just know that’s when it does. This is a dry part of the island, a half-mile or so below the usual rain line. Without irrigation, the only reliable crop is na pohaku, rocks lying on or just below the surface of hard-packed soil – ghosts of volcanic eruptions past.

There are chores to be done. Ahh, maybe later. No, now. Besides, the coffee pot is empty.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer at The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

Every few mornings, the late Gary Moore would make the rounds of Makawao, looking at utility poles. He took a very proprietary approach to “his” town. On these early-morning rounds, he was armed with a claw hammer, pliers and something relatively sharp.

The something might have been a screwdriver or it might have been a World War II bayonet designed for the barrel of an M1 rifle. The knife was a favorite tool – and weapon. Gary kept the blade in a drawer near the front door of his shop. He sold stoves, barbecue grills, fireplaces and had a wall of hot sauces. He always warned buyers about the most fiery blends, many of them concocted on Maui.

The sauces went with Gary’s personality, volatile and to the point. The Vietnam vet who had been a scuba diver in Lahaina, a contractor and lifelong car nut, always had a dog sleeping in the doorway of his shop on Baldwin Avenue. When he bought the store from Chief Munier, the place stocked outdoor gear, including firearms. Gary switched to stoves and such when the outdoor business fell off.

Selling was his livelihood but taking care of Makawao was his passion. He was known to intimidate rowdies and got the reputation of being the “sheriff” of the cowboy town. On a more peaceful note, he was involved with getting a star planted in a towering Cook Pine at Christmas and was the instigator of the stick horse races held before the start of the annual July 4th parade.

One year, his kolohe side kicked in. He recruited some friends and painted all the fire hydrants in town red, white and blue. Authorities weren’t amused. The hydrants were soon repainted traditional yellow.

Gary Moore was a bona fide Makawao character. The big difference between him and the island’s other characters was his willingness to take on community projects such as volunteering to work the annual Upcountry fair and removing posters and notices stapled and nailed to utility poles.

He collected the illegal notices and confronted those who posted them. It was against the law to nail or staple fliers and posters to utility poles. Gary would inform the offenders they could be fined $250.

“Those things are dangerous. Linemen could get hurt,” he’d say with some heat. Those who got one of his calls seldom repeated the offense.

All of these memories came up while driving down Na’alae Road. They were reinforced by a Maui Electric ad in The Maui News.

Just a few yards off Kula Highway, a red plywood sign had been nailed to a pole. It amounted to a mini-billboard, which had been outlawed after a long struggle by the Outdoor Circle in the 1930s. The sign advertised firewood and included a telephone number. It was too high to easily remove.

Gary immediately flashed to mind. A polite call informed the wood cutter about the law. The warning didn’t take. The sign is still up there. This week, the sign was joined – on an adjacent pole – by a poster asking for help in finding a lost pet. Any pet lover could sympathize, but that didn’t mean the poster was any less illegal.

A week or so ago, there was a large display advertisement in the paper.

“Utility poles may seem like the perfect place to tack up notices about garage sales, special events or lost pets, but they’re not,” said the ad signed by one of the company’s engineers. “Nails, staples and tacks used to attach signs to utility poles can puncture insulated safety gloves and expose linemen to serious injury,” the ad went on to say.

Bear in mind all the times linemen have to work during storms, often in the dark, to restore power to homes and businesses.

One question pops up. “Why doesn’t MECO go after the miscreants?” Maybe it’s because linemen seldom climb poles these days. Most of the time, they are hoisted hydraulically by so-called cherry pickers. They climb into buckets big enough for two men. The buckets are attached to long arms mounted on the backs of big trucks. Up they go.

Even so, when the winds howl and hard rain soaks the island, a crew might have to make do without a cherry picker. Then it would be a matter of strapping on their spikes and climbing to the top of a pole. Their job is dangerous enough without negotiating a gauntlet of staples, nails and tacks.

The MECO ad calls the illegal notices “litter.” And they are. Maui doesn’t deserve litter of any type. The poles themselves are bad enough. Any volunteers to take up Gary Moore’s fight?

* Ron Youngblood is a former editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is