Maui Nei

In the backyard, they could have been a pack of politicians scratching and pecking at some sort of campaign aimed at filling their ballot bellies. They were birds of a feather, Francolinus pondicerianus.

At certain times of the year, flocks of gray francolins roam the pastures and lawns of Kula. They seem to like the area around the house, particularly the area where dry cat food is always available. The cats ignore them. The ground-grazing birds have sharp faces and can take wing in an instant.

This was a flock of seven working an area of dry grass within feet of the house. There was a boss bird and a bodyguard bird. The boss bird led the flock. The bodyguard bird stood on the fringe, carefully scanning the area for anything that might be a danger.

With the bodyguard on duty, the others worked head down, intent on finding seeds. A couple of the birds apparently detected something delectable under the top mat of cut grass. They would peck and then scratch furiously.

Usually, just showing up at a window is enough to send them off. All it takes is the bodyguard spotting a threat and taking wing. The others follow for short flights on rounded wings much like the British Spitfire fighters of World War II.

One morning, the flock was lined up on the crossbar of the clothesline. All faced in one direction. The array made a kind of family portrait, a charming photograph. It was not to be. Retreat to the interior of the house to get the camera. Return as quietly as possible. Raise the camera. The flock immediately took off.

This time, the window was above their line of sight. Stand still to watch. Forget the camera. Bodyguard bird ignored eating, swiveling its head and body 360 degrees. On the job. The boss bird decided to roam. He, maybe she, walked off toward a concrete pad in front of a shed.

The others followed in single file. The bodyguard stayed on duty while the others paraded. As usual, there was one tail-end Charlie, intent on grubbing out another beakful. There were five birds walking away. Charlie suddenly realized he was in danger of being left behind. He scrambled to catch up. Bodyguard bird watched and took up station in the rear as the flock disappeared behind the shed.

A characteristic of this 1958 immigrant from India is to raise a barrage of noise when it’s alone. They are raucous enough to wake the uninitiated out of sound sleep. Heard often enough, the cacophony can be ignored.

Francolins appear to be family oriented. One afternoon, a pair of adults were tending a clutch of juveniles just barely beyond the fluff-balls-on-toothpicks stage. Baby Black was eyeing the chicks. The parent birds chuckled quietly and walked into the cat’s line of vision and off to high grass beneath a peach tree. The chicks got the message and scampered off into tunnels under an overgrown field. Baby Black wandered back around the house. The parent birds chuckled. The chicks came out of their hiding places and resumed eating their way across the scrubby yard.

On rare occasions, a flock of francolins would march across the front lawn, working their way down to the cat-food station and plates of leftovers. They, along with a detail of doves, would clean the plates. The doves and a few mouthy mynahs are regulars. Sated cats will lie motionless while the birds surround them. A few weeks ago, you could see momma francolins leading chicks across the road.

Usually, most follow. A tail-end Charlie would act confused and bolt to the opposite side of the asphalt. A few days later, you might see a momma with one or two fewer chicks in tow.

The easiest way to identify francolins is by the noise. The adults are about a foot long with brown feathers arranged in vertical stripes. They have reddish brown legs. According to the Hawaii Audubon Society, Francolinus pondicerianus “favors dry, open grass and shrubby habitat and coastal kiawe forest.”

Development in Kihei has driven the birds up the mountain. “You used to hear them all the time,” said an old-timer living on Halama Street. “Not so much since they built the Kihei Library.”

Francolins – and politicians – tend to avoid hubbub as much as possible while making a great deal of noise. Too bad the politicos don’t have wings. Or do they?

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

Maui Nei

Up on the mountain, the mornings have been pleasant – temperatures in the sun about 70 degrees and inside houses maybe 5 degrees cooler. Lately, midday has been another matter. As the sun works its way westward, temperatures climb.

It’s a fact that Maui residents can feel very minor fluctuations in temperature. Five degrees one way or another is often the difference between comfort and discomfort. Even newcomers from the Mainland, where 30-degree swings in temperature are not that unusual, soon become weather wimps.

During August, the islands record their highest temperatures, but it seldom gets much above the high 80s. In fact, island weather is so mellow, the National Weather Service doesn’t even bother to list all-time highs and lows on its website. Getting the information by telephone is an exercise in futility.

According to TV’s Hawaii News Now, Kahului usually has the highest temperature in the state. Guy Hagi reported a date record at Kahului Tuesday. The Maui News weather service reported a high of 92.

There’s a theory that could explain Kahului’s consistently high temperatures. The weather station, once manned by a crew of a half-dozen and now automated, is a hollow-tile building off to the side of an expanse of asphalt. It’s about halfway down the 7,000-foot runway, cooking in the sun.

When it’s too hot to gear up for a motorcycle ride with a helmet, jacket, jeans and boots, you know it’s ikiiki (stifling). Of course, those foolish squids who wear shorts, tennis shoes or slippers and enjoy the wind across vulnerable scalps probably figure otherwise.

Even at the 2,000-foot level of Haleakala it’s been too hot to ride, never mind venturing into the downtown oven. A necessary, midday errand down to Pukalani in the truck was a sweaty affair. Even with the window down for the 45-mph breeze, there was a temptation to hit the button for the air conditioning. Forget about doing anything in the yard. Being too hot is as good an excuse as any to avoid that chore.

Standing or sitting in the shade is OK, but only if there’s a breeze. Of late, the trees and brush seldom move. Auwe! Crank open all the windows, drop the shades and fire up the fan. West-facing windows become solar ovens.

August temperatures during a month in Kihei prompted the move to Upcountry 40 years ago. For some, coast living is fine. They tend to be addicted to being in the ocean. One friend seldom makes it through a day without going for a swim. A cautionary note for new water babies: The ocean may be 85 degrees or so but that’s 11 degrees below normal body temperature. If you’re not swimming with some enthusiasm, you might be a candidate for hypothermia.

Ocean warnings aside, hanging out in Kihei has other charms. On one recent night, the moon was hanging low in the sky. A light, onshore breeze ruffled the surface of the ocean. Tiny waves caught the moonlight, turning strips of the dark ocean surface into a galaxy of winking stars. The air was soft.

Daytime on the coast, most any time of the year, is just too wela (hot), often prompting memories of 100-degree days in the Midwest and nights spent sprawled across a sweat-soaked bed, hoping for some relief from 90-plus temperatures.

Nearly always, the air above 2,000 feet has a certain crispness and nighttime temperatures slide down into the 70s even during the warmest weather. Ahhh, yes. Saddle up for a ride during the magic hours just after dawn or sit and wait for that oven in the sky to disappear at the end of the day.

The swing in daily temperatures went largely unnoticed when work meant five days a week in an air-conditioned office. Ride or drive down in the cool part of the morning. Return home after ahiahi (sunset) and enjoy the night. No sparkling waves but plenty of stars up above on nights when mahina (the moon) is resting. Of course, there are nights when moonlight shrouds starlight. That’s another kind of magic.

The unreliable thermometer in the kitchen is inching upward to the mid-80s. It’s midday. Cows are standing quietly under a big old kiawe tree in the pasture over there. A mare and her foal have taken refuge in a copse of wattle up the road. The neighbor’s three small dogs are nowhere to be seen. The cats are tucked away under clumps of tall grass.

The resident weather wimp is enjoying a light breeze blowing through the house. It’s hot, but the weather’s not that bad. Is it ever on Maui?

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

Maui Nei

It’s supper time. A four-footed clock is sitting a few feet away focusing intently. Cyrano, the house cat, often seems telepathic. When asked what he wants, he licks his lips and silently mouths a meow. He seldom makes a sound. At the first sign of movement, he races off to show the way to the kitchen and begins circling around his dish.

While a mixing bowl is filled with kibbles and canned food, Cyrano works on his appetizer, a small portion of one of the cans. He finishes before the gang’s food is mixed and heads out through his door to line up with the others.

“Supper time! Supper time!” The announcement is a signal to gather. It’s not necessary. They all have clocks.

Garbanzo, the young Persian that lives down the road but eats here every day, rushes over, anxious for a quick stroking.

Malone, a whipped-cream cat with a butterscotch back, stands on the arm of a porch chair for a bit of scratching. He looks enough like Cyrano to be a litter mate. They hiss and spit at each other.

Zipper, a grey tabby, stands off to the side and meows plaintively. He sounds lost. The perception is probably anamorphic. Baby Black hangs back a few feet. She’s the smallest and feistiest of the gang.

All of them approach tentatively when Fat Face Charlie makes an occasional appearance. Judging from a new collar, he’s been adopted. He’s nice enough with people but a stone terror when it comes to other cats.

“Tigger! Tigger!” A meow comes the overgrown area on the other side of a nearby fence. He’s a refugee from another colony, hence, the unimaginative name. He’s more interested in being fussed over than he is in eating. He stays off to the side after Zipper growls. Slinky Black peeks out from under the house where it feels safe.

Garbanzo is first in line for one of the filled plates. Then Malone, Baby Black, Tigger, Slinky Black and Cyrano. He requires room service, preferring to eat some distance from the others. Zipper doesn’t wait for the plates. He dives into the big bowl of kibbles left out 24/7.

Zipper’s best buddy is missing.

Tubster was a large grey tabby who was around when the house became home more than 10 years ago. At the time, he was 5 years old or older. Judging from his reaction to humans, he was probably an abandoned pet who would have been happy to be a house cat. Unfortunately, he and Cyrano developed an immediate dislike for each other.

On one occasion, Tubster and Cyrano got into a battle royal. It was not psychological, as are most cat tussles. They were balled together, grabbing with teeth and front claws and trying to get into position to open up the opponent’s belly with hind claws. The fight was broken up. Cyrano took off. Tubster, about twice the size of Cyrano, still had a mouthful of fur and was dragged across the yard before letting go. Checking them later revealed no injuries.

In the last few months, Tubster began showing his age. He moved more slowly and gradually gave up grooming himself. Matted tuffs of fur had to be cut off. An outdoor cat who is 15 years old or older is a hardy survivor.

Still . . .

The morning jaunt to the newspaper tube included seeing Tubster and Zipper curled up together, outside near the truck when it was warm and inside the garage when it was windy, rainy or cold. Borrowing a technique learned on a farm, cold nights were warmed by a 100-watt light bulb hung over their favorite spot in the garage. Zipper always spent the night with Tubster even though cats are, by nature, solitary animals. They groomed each other. Tubster would often rouse himself for a quick cuddle and scratching. Zipper would endure a quick pet but that’s all.

Before Zipper showed up there was one stormy night when Tubster climbed a window screen, wanting desperately to come inside. He was left to his own devices while Cyrano slumbered in front of the fireplace. It’s a nagging memory.

A week or so ago, it was obvious Tubster was on a downhill slide. He had trouble getting to his food and finally didn’t eat when it was placed next to him. Periodically, he cried. He had a vacant stare, one of the signs of a stroke. His heart was beating much too slowly.

Late on a Friday, the decision was made to put him down. An emergency call was made to Alan Kaufman, a veterinarian who lives up the road. Waiting until Tubster’s usual vet was available wasn’t an option.

Tubster’s last minutes were peaceful. Three shots and he was gone.

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

Maui Nei

Riding along the first two miles of Lower Kula Road can be a journey through history – rough but tied inextricably to the land.

The remnant of old Maui begins just beyond Kulamalu and ends at Omaopio Road. Lower Kula Road itself continues – with one major interruption – all the way to Rice Park.

Look for the second intersection, or a house with a very tall TV antenna.

The house sits on a hill. The antenna speaks to the days on Maui when watching the Honolulu stations meant erecting impressive collections of aluminum tubing to snare the signals. The house itself may have been built and occupied when Lower Kula Road was the only way to Keokea and beyond. Upper Kula Road is now called Kekaulike Avenue, beginning at Crater Road and ending at Kula Highway.

Lower Kula Road is on the right side of the highway. At the intersection, a left turn takes a driver into Kula 200 Unit II via Hoopalua Drive. At first, the asphalt is a forlorn promise. It runs smoothly along white board fences typically erected to confine horses but probably is intended to keep people out of the beginning of a gated subdivision.

What appears to be a small ranch has been developed behind those fences. The road, Anuhea Place, is blocked by a gate. Looking downhill reveals a stand of trees topped by a new house.

The ranch and house were built in a small ag subdivision. The one-time pineapple land stood empty for decades. It was laid out just before the county implemented a water moratorium on development. No meters below Kula Highway.

The undeveloped subdivision was a pleasant place to visit for picnics and ride a dirt bike through knee-high grass, Anuhea ending at a circle. The hill above the circle was a favorite spot for teenagers to park and, well, act like teenagers. It was entertaining to ride down to the circle on a full-moon night, enjoy the view, quiet and see a string of cars emerge from the darkness, apparently heading home to beat a parent-set midnight curfew.

Slow the motorcycle or risk losing teeth to the incessant jarring. Lower Kula Road has turned into a suspension-testing puka-puka road. On the left is the driveway to the antenna house. On the right is a nursery operation that has lately put in a grove of plumeria trees down in the gulch.

It’s easy to imagine the road being paved originally by cinders mined from one of the volcanic vents scattered over the slopes of Haleakala. It swings this way and that, depending on the land’s contours. Facing the gulch is a high bluff of basalt rock and tree roots. Cutting the road must have taken a sweat of manual labor, a steam shovel, dynamite, or all three.

At certain times of the year, the gulch is a riot of blossoms erupting from tulip trees. The other day, the gulch was a uniform mass of green leaves and a brown dirt road running up the other side.

An old concrete bridge crosses the gulch. On the Omaopio side of the bridge a large, long-standing roadside memorial is gone. Talk has it the memorial was constructed by night-visiting teenagers after the death of one of their own.

The tranquility of the old road is disrupted by a whiz of traffic on Kula Highway, finished in 1964 – 6.4 miles of straight, slice-through-the-hills pavement. According to The Maui News, the Kula Highway was called New Lower Kula Road when it was first built through pastures occupied by scattered ranch houses, cows and pineapple fields. Confusion reigned until the Lower Kula Road name was left to the parallel track lined by housing and is the Kula route for the county bus service.

Scoot across and pass a mysterious sign that says “I like you.” Hmmm. Enjoy a few yards of smooth pavement and back to puka puka. In short order, there’s another bridge. The area below the bridge used to be an ad hoc dump. Someone has cleaned up the worst of the junk. A hand-painted sign on the bridge says “Respect the land.” Translation: Use the landfill or county refuse collection.

The first of a couple of morning walkers is encountered on the way out of the gulch. She warily eyes the motorcycle and watches her unleashed dog checking out the edge of the road with its nose. The dog ignores the slow-moving motorcycle.

On the other side of a horse-riding operation is the Cleghorn place and the return of modern Maui, road and all. It takes only minutes to run the old section of Lower Kula Road. It takes only a smidgen of imagination to believe it’s a trip through history.

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

Maui Nei

Blackie Gadarian was a never-met friend. It was a one-way relationship, but friend he was, sharing a love of Maui and a tendency to come up with quirky, common-sense observations of life on the island.

For nearly a decade, I began and ended every working day processing letters to the editor. A day that included a letter from Blackie was a delight – much like finding a note in a bottle from a far-off land, which Lahaina surely was for those of us on the other side of the island.

Except for readers of The Maui News Opinion Page, Blackie was best known for his machine shop, topped by a bar. He and his watering hole were transplants. He began in New York. The bar originally topped the terminal at the old Kaanapali Airport.

An early memory of Maui: A friend shows up with a nice looking Chevy pickup truck. “It has a Corvette engine,” the friend enthused. “They made the swap at Blackie’s.” The truck was fast when the accelerator linkage didn’t come apart. “No sweat,” the friend said. “It’s easy to put back together when it stops going.”

From all indications, Blackie respected dirty fingernails. In 1987, he and his wife, Sara, began giving more than 190 $1,000 scholarships to vocational students at Lahainaluna High School. It’s easy to imagine Blackie was an enthusiastic gear head, particularly after reading a 2012 letter:

“It is a tragedy when a man loses his driver’s license.

“My wife, Sara, now drives me whenever I need to go places. I watch Sara stopping at a traffic light. She stops at too many lights. In fact, she is a boring driver. I was an exciting driver.

“When we men get in my position, we don’t dare complain or criticize, or we will end up walking.

“I feel like a pet dog sitting in the passenger seat. Very emasculating. . . . Maybe I could qualify for a dog license. Woof, woof.”

His wife came in for a fair amount of public criticism. Once, she replied via a letter of her own. “I have to answer my husband’s Dec. 25 letter of accusations about my poor cooking skills. . . . I have given up. If he wants an Armenian dinner, she should have married an Armenian.”

During the years, Blackie wrote letters commenting on issues of the day, including misplaced bus stops, the decades-long delay in getting the Lahaina Bypass built and even the touchy subject of Hawaiian culture.

While supporting an annual Halloween party in Lahaina, he wrote: “Front Street has been recognized by its diversity of experiences throughout its history. Those who want to preserve the original Hawaii culture should move to Niihau. The original Hawaiian culture is not here any more.” You can argue with his conclusion, but not with the courage it took to make that kind of statement.

He sometimes disguised a serious comment with humor, such as his letter on the proliferation of gated communities on Maui. “Are these gates there to keep people out, or are they there to keep the inmates inside?”

But serious commentary wasn’t Blackie’s primary focus. The most enjoyable letters ran to the absurd.

* “In the past when we found a roach in our kitchen, we assumed it came from the market in one of the bags or containers. Now that many of us are using our own shopping bags when we go shopping, the roaches are returning to the market by hiding in our bags. The roaches are just trying to go back home.”

* “The word ‘feral’ means becoming undomesticated and wild. . . . How about holiday shoppers who go wild at the mall? And don’t people at rock concerts also go wild? We see frantic travelers grabbing for their baggage at the airport. Or shoving others aside trying to get their huge carry-ons down from the overhead on a plane. And don’t we go feral when we are trying to get a parking place? There is a little feral in all of us.”

* “With all the troubles of the world, we can always be sure of a few things in life. One of the things we take for granted are doorknobs. They are invaluable.”

* “Years ago there was a lot of roadkill – dogs, cats and even mongooses – on the streets of Maui. I have seen very little roadkill lately. Either the animals are running faster or the drivers have bad aim.”

* “Every time I think life is tough, I realize that some things are easy. Drumsticks are easy to eat. They have handles for picking them up. Shrimp have built-in handles, too. And best of all, French fries have two handles – one at each end.”

Arsene “Blackie” Gadarian died July 21. He was 91. He’ll be missed, especially by readers and a one-time editor of letters to the editor.

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