Maui Nei

For many island families, holiday is synonymous with flying. In the old days, that meant driving down to the airport, getting a ticket at the counter and walking out to the airplane. For the uninitiated, it’s a little more complicated today. OK. Fire up the computer. Search for the airline website, plastic money at the ready. Fumble through the promos obviously aimed at off-island travelers. Ahhh. Here’s the stuff needed to buy a ticket. Follow the directions.

At the airport, stuff the truck in a parking stall. Hand the printout to the ticket lady. Nope. She says use the machine in front of the counter. Follow more directions. The machine spits out a boarding pass. Head for the TSA security check da kine. Oops. Wrong line. Doing stuff at home ahead of time apparently qualifies the passenger for “priority” clearance. Zip through the metal detector. Nope. Belt buckle sets off the machine. TSA guy smiles. Pull off the belt. Try again. The machine sayeth not. Wait at the gate. Kill time with a little conversation with a young couple headed home to Oahu. A bag with boxes of Krispy Kreme pastries give them away. Suggest the next time they try Maui’s Home Maid Bakery apple fritters or Komoda’s cream puffs.

Onto the plane. It’s the end of the day, but the stewardess still has a smile. Find the right row of seats. Hmmm. Which is which? Guy sitting in a row behind explains. “Don’t get off the island much, do you?” he says with a laugh.

The plane flies out of the darkness over Maui into the last rays of sunset over Oahu. The holiday is underway.

Christmas actually began a couple of days before at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. The off-island jaunt forced gift-getting ahead of the usual, last-minute buying. The center stores had just opened, but Santa was already on hand. A line of parents with small and not-so-small children waiting to have pictures taken with a Maui representative of the man from the North Pole. He’s impressively authentic, right down to a real beard the more inquisitive, or skeptical, children can tug on.

Don’t tell the kids, but this Santa is Charlie Silva. He takes the job seriously and is proud of the fact he is the only pidgin-speaking Santa who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Since he retired from the county, Charlie has spent 12-hour days leading up to Christmas with children in his lap. The gig gets underway some months before. It takes time to grow a Santa beard. Somehow, he’s turned his normally brown face fur a snowy white. His Santa charm takes no preparation at all. It’s natural. Ask anyone who has known him in any of his various incarnations.

Tourists were charmed when they stopped at Rice Park. Charlie, the park caretaker, spread aloha while answering questions and telling island stories. Various homeowners were charmed by Charlie, the weekend landscape maintenance guy. (As with many Mauians, one paycheck just wasn’t enough.) Visitors to the historic Makawao Cemetery were charmed by Charlie, the guy who kept the grounds neat and tidy.

Charmed might not be the right word to describe the bikers who knew Charlie as a member of the Alli Motorcycle Club, but they certainly could appreciate his organizational abilities. At one time, Charlie put together the only motorcycle show ever held at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. And, there was a much fabled party at the old Puunene Club House around 1980. The biker bash included a bikini contest emceed by Liz Janes. The T-shirts promoting the party have become coveted by collectors of Mauiana.

Charlie’s motorcycle days came to a close – at least for now – not so long ago. He was out riding this new Harley when he was hit by a car. Charlie was banged up but escaped serious injury, mostly due to wearing a helmet. The bike, however, was totaled. It wasn’t his first crash, but it was the first in several decades of riding. For the time being, Charlie is sticking with a truck hauling landscaping equipment for most of the year and a sleigh during the Christmas holiday.

During the long hours with a succession of kids in his lap, Santa Charlie never failed to listen carefully to the kids. On at least one occasion, he spent a few extra moments with an older kid who seemed to have some sort of problem. The conversation ended with Santa giving the kid a big hug. The memory of the kid’s smile eased the humbug of needing to get a plane to share Christmas with a loved one. There’s more than one way to give a gift.

I hope your Christmas was joyful and the new year brings you peace and love.

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

Maui Nei

Mahina is a seductress. In addition to the silvery light, she exudes a kind of energy. At least, for some of us. Time for a ride over to Haiku for some food and music. Make that music and food.

Head out to the garage to suit up and trundle Baby Dancer out next to the truck. It’s been cold in Kula, more like February or March than December. Kauai and Oahu have been getting rain. The south and west sides of Maui have been dry. At this time of year, at 2,000 feet altitude, no clouds equals low temperatures. Even the most ardent motorcyclists turn to their four-wheel cages for night rides.

Not tonight.

Long sleeves. A heavy leather jacket. Snap shut the neck flap. The motorcycle fires right up. Modern electronic fuel injection compensates the way no carburetor can. Mahina is just cresting the northwest slope of Haleakala. Underway, it doesn’t seem that cold. Burble across Kula. Arrrgh. Every time the highway dips into a gulch, it’s make anu, literally, not warm. The sleeves and jacket feel good. Face gets pinked.

There’s no reason to hurry. Time enough to enjoy the Christmas lights adorning houses up the hill. Most of the decorations – at least from a distance – are mostly a string of lights marking the roofline. Left thumb gets a workout, flipping from low to high beam.

The low beam does a good job of lighting the road when it’s straight. It does little or nothing for showing the way around curves. On a bike, it’s necessary to look down the road in order to set up for the swoop. Flip up for a curve but not when there’s oncoming traffic. Blinded drivers are not the safest motorists to approach.

There’s a solid line of headlights heading the other way. Drivers hurrying home, no doubt. Maybe coming from a Christmas shopping expedition in town. Watch for cars turning left. Rely, sort of, on turn signals. Often, modern cars have amber blinkers right next to the headlight, making them hard to see in the glare.

Wonder just where the thermometer has landed. Probably not that far, but decades of living in the tropics turns blood to water and penetrates bones. Iwi makule complain about anything below 65. Never mind the wind chill created by a self-generated 45-mph breeze. Maui is a long way in years and miles from a childhood in the Midwest where the cold can actually hurt. The deep-freeze memory is warming on Maui.

It’ll be colder later. By the time the thermometer bottoms out an hour or two before sunrise, I should be safely ensconced under warm covers with a “heater cat.” Thanks to Minnesota broadcaster Garrison Keillor for that description. Cyrano, the house cat, likes to curl up inside bent knees. On cold nights, the outside fur dudes tend to come into the garage, sleeping in the warmest corners they can find.

Gear down for the turn on Makawao Avenue, watching for traffic off Haleakala Highway, aka the Pukalani Bypass. Nothing coming. Maximum speed up to and beyond Kalama Hill is 30 mph – slowed by a stream of traffic that often comes to a courteous halt to let side-street drivers onto the road.

Come to the four-way stop at the Makawao-Baldwin-Olinda intersection. For once everyone seems to understand four-way etiquette. The first to arrive is the first to go. When two arrive simultaneously, the one on the right is first.

Down to the Bill Balthazar bridge and over to Maliko Gulch, left thumb is busy. Turn left at the Makawao-Kapakalua-Kailiili-Kokomo intersection. It probably confuses tourists and newcomers, but Maui’s roads are usually named for their destination. Lots of oncoming traffic. Take the road’s right-left wiggles on low beam and memory.

It seems warmer in the dry night. Haiku is known for wet, not cold. Hit Haiku Road and turn in at Fukushima Store. The young clerk breaks into a smile at a wisecrack about “da ‘riginals,” unfiltered Camels, the smallest and most expensive cigarettes in the rack. Old habits and tastes die hard.

At the Haiku Marketplace, Mahina flirts with clouds and the branches of old mango trees. Pull up next to the Hana Hou. Turn off Baby Dancer. Ah, the sweet sounds of the Hula Honeys and the aroma of carefully prepared food eaten on this night in the company of a Hawaiian music legend, the elegant Emma Veary.

It’s warmer here at a favorite spot, under the Mahealani moon, the 16th day of the lunar month, night of Mahina piha, the last full moon of the year.

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

Maui Nei

It’s the time of year to anticipate a feast of ground lights when the sun sets. Hawaiians called sunset ahiahi, the time of burning clouds. The ao were important harbingers for those living in deep valleys, particularly in East Maui where the land hid the sun’s final dip into the sea, leaving only the red and orange clouds overhead to signal the arrival of po, the night and the next day. Hawaiians measured their days from sunset to sunset.

For hundreds of years, the islands’ only light at night came from the moon, the stars and the flickering flames of fires and kukui nut lamps and torches. Then came candles and oil-burning lamps. And finally, electricity created islands of light in the darkest nights.

At this time of year, the islands of light are augmented by fanciful creations that have evolved from traditions and celebrations begun a world away in northern climes. It’s the season for Christmas, a day set aside to celebrate the birth of a Messiah. Never mind the fact Dec. 25 may have little historic accuracy. Never mind the fact “Christmas” is trumpeted for more than a month.

The whole idea of associating Christmas with lights has its origins in lands where winter meant cold days of snow and even colder nights. Light in the night meant warmth and survival. At this time of year, Christmas was synonymous with warmth and survival.

The islands, anchored securely in the tropics, are far from the lands that gave birth to snowscapes peopled by the likes of Santa Claus, elves and workshops at the North Pole – a tradition that can be traced to the 1820s, the same time New England missionaries and their message of Christianity first arrived in the islands. Christmas followed almost immediately, needing only the arrival of a few more haole to become a community affair, smack in the middle of makahiki. The Hawaiians’ four-month-long celebration of the new year was a time of sports, religious observances and maluhia. Peace reigned because warfare was forbidden.

Where torches might have lit the night for royal parties, islanders have elected to create elaborate fantasies on and around their houses. Electric icicles drip from roofs that have never known a freeze. Snowmen, Santas, elves and reindeer coexist with nativity scenes depicting wise men, a stable, Joseph, Mary and a baby Jesus.

It’s possible to guess the age of the fantasy-land creators. Old-timers cut characters out of wood and lit them with blue, green and red bulbs. For years, St. Joseph’s Church in Makawao was overgrown with extension cords and old-fashioned lights. The 1974 oil embargo, subsequent higher electricity costs and concerns about safety ended the display. Today, Makawao’s major contribution to seasonal festivity is a giant star in the top of the town’s tallest tree, plus the ubiquitous icicles on stores.

There was a time when ornaments and lights were not that easy to come by. In the 1960s, local ag officials were excited when they learned of a Christmas tree decorated entirely with the painted shells of snails. Not so today. Maui retailers have all manner of decorations, including complete, plastic and metal trees that require only a nearby outlet.

In recent years, yard decorations have become dominated by wire armature figures and inflatable characters that take on any kind of life only when lit. There’s been one household on Makawao Avenue that included a big sport-fishing boat with a Santa on board under a canopy of white lights.

Slide along any residential street on any night, and it’s possible to enjoy the creativity and Christmas exuberance of many householders. Some displays grow from year to year with the addition of new characters. Pick a few favorites to revisit and when the lights are no more, mourn the passing of a dedicated Elf.

Many equate darkness on our sunny island with a kind of emptiness. At this time of year, that emptiness is filled with lights celebrating a season of hope. The displays can be elaborate or simple.

Two favorites, not far from home in Waiakoa: The relatively new house sits on a rise overlooking an intersection. The house itself is unadorned. West-facing windows frame a tall, well-shaped tree holding what appears to be a galaxy of tiny stars. Not far away is a house hidden by trees. High above the roof shines a simple three-dimensional star that is more than enough to light the night.

Travel the island after sunset and you will see.

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

Maui Nei

History is usually written from facts, but it often ignores vital details of individual life. Jill Engledow’s new novel, “The Island Decides,” offers a look into an unheralded segment of Maui’s social history – the “hippie invasion” in the late 1960s.

Young, rootless malihini came, following the promise of a pastoral, live-off-the-land paradise pictured by a series of surf films. Nonsurfer members of the so-called counterculture took note. For the most part, The Maui News and city papers ignored all but the most sensational events surrounding the young who distinguished themselves with long hair, weird clothing, weirder lifestyles and a devotion to rock ‘n’ roll and freewheeling sex, both amplified by the use of drugs.

There were two major encampments. One was in the kiawe scrub behind Oneloa Beach at Makena. The other was “Banana Patch” in Haiku, where a kindhearted landowner allowed the construction of a shanty town. Both were closed down by a series of legal actions.

Some of the surfers and hippies were intent on inventing a new culture. Others were simply escaping from Mainland restrictions during and after “the summer of love.” Engledow, a longtime journalist and writer of two notable nonfiction books about Maui, explores the counterculture from the viewpoint of a woman.

As did many of the young women of her time, Carrie Ann follows a man from Oklahoma to San Francisco. He’s a rock ‘n’ roller. She’s a product of a society that casts women in the role of helpmeet, someone who nurtures whatever life is picked by “her man.” The irresponsible man – really a boy – abandons her and his unwanted daughter.

Through a series of believable, if bizarre, events, the daughter ends up with strangers on Maui. The novel revolves around Carrie Ann’s search for the child. She finds her daughter is a foster child in a local family ready to hanai the little girl. Getting and keeping her in the face of official skepticism is the backbone of the story.

With no money and the help of a public attorney, Carrie Ann ends up with one of the more stable hippie families. But . . . Carrie Ann is smitten with another man who is a motorcycle-riding Adonis. Is it love or lust? There are torrid, but tasteful, scenes between her and a man who is obviously not good for her and her daughter.

Any reader of modern fiction will recognize the sexual escapades, but will be surprised and educated by the fact they are told strictly from Carrie Ann’s viewpoint. She’s an enthusiastic participant, all the while hoping his attraction to her goes beyond the physical.

The conflict between carnal desire and love of her daughter is a central theme of the novel. The female viewpoint might make this a “woman’s book,” but it is light-years away from what is known as “romances.”

Maui readers will be fascinated by what was happening on the island during that time now 40 years in the past. There is also interaction with Hawaiians, including one lovable, unassuming kane who typifies island compassion and love of children.

In the end, the more sensational aspects of the book play a background role to one of the eternal dilemmas faced by modern women, particularly those fighting the fight before feminism was established as a cultural fact. At first blush, the main character seems doomed. It takes careful reading of the ending to imagine a brighter future for Carrie Ann and her daughter.

The 295-page novel is an easy read. There’s a page-turner quality to the structure and writing. The characters – both those the reader likes and those the reader despises – become enduringly real in the movie created by the prose. It’s one of those books which stick in the mind with all the vivid color of a Kodachrome snapshot.

“The Island Decides” is available at the Maui Friends of the Library bookstores, Collections in Makawao, Kula Marketplace, Hui No’eau and Ulupalakua Ranch Store. has both paperback and e-book versions.

Art has been defined as the distortion of fact to arrive at truth. That’s always been the strength of fiction. Jill Engledow’s book is fiction set in fact. The hippie invasion of Maui did happen. Jill, a longtime friend, colleague and honest woman, knew the invaders well. Ask any of the survivors who are around today.

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