Maui Nei

This is fiction, something to think about while cruising along in Maui traffic populated by more than 100,000 registered vehicles. The process is fact.

The scene is a state Department of Transportation office littered with maps and blueprints. Two politically astute engineers are in the process of deciding how much of the federal funds allocated to the state will go to Maui projects, most of which have been in the “planning stage” for decades. Of course, the governor and/or legislators will have the final say based on which way political winds are blowing.

The engineers have already decided how many federal dollars will go for projects on Oahu. The remainder of the funds are to be split among Maui, Kauai and Hawaii counties. Both of the engineers are old hands and aren’t worried about personal repercussions since they are insulated by layers of bureaucratic befuddlement.

“We’ve still got that erosion problem on Honoapiilani Highway,” said the first engineer. “The question is how much money we pour into shoring it up while the county talks about getting it moved inland. I guess, shore it up. The ocean doesn’t care about politics.”

“Speaking of Honoapiilani, shouldn’t we take a look at the some of the ideas for widening the road through the pali?” asked the second engineer. “I thought the idea about cantilevering two more lanes out over the ocean was viable. It would be a real beauty.”

“Nah. The environmental impact statement would be a nightmare and the cost would be astronomical. The problem would be taken care of if the county would get off the stick and commit to building a light-rail line between Kahului and Lahaina. We’d have little problem getting federal nonhighway funds for that.”

The office fell silent while the engineers looked at a “priority list” of Maui projects. The first engineer stroked his gray beard thoughtfully.

“What about the Upcountry-to-Kihei road? Are the Department of Defense funds Inouye got for it still available?”

“I don’t know. We’ve got the route laid out. It avoids most of the bridges needed to get over the gulches. It basically follows an old county alignment. I know Kula residents don’t like having it end up at Haliimaile Road.” He paused for a moment before asking, “Did you hear the proposal to pick a gulch farther south and then run one-way lanes on each side?”

The first engineer snorted. “Well, crackpot ideas always come out of the woodwork. I think we can forget about that project. Making Mokulele a four-laner has pretty much taken off pressure for the Upcountry project and we shouldn’t have to worry about Haleakala Highway for a decade or so.”

The engineers went back to looking at the paper on their desks, their minds filled with dollar figures and political realities. Neither one had spent much time on Maui – just weekend vacation visits to Kaanapali and Wailea. The first engineer turned to gaze out the rain-washed window. The second engineer waited until his boss turned back to the work at hand.

The first engineer sighed. “I suppose we could trim Maui’s allocation down to maintenance and repair, but that sort of thing doesn’t have much political impact and this is an election year.”

The second engineer, who’d finished near the bottom of his university graduating class but had an uncle in the department, ran his finger down the priority list. “What about the Paia bypass?

“Oh, they’ve waited this long. They can wait a little longer,” said the first engineer. “I just love those lolo guys who looked at old maps and say there are public rights-of-way we could use. Don’t they realize that when roads are abandoned and the property owners pay taxes on the land, the road is gone?”

“What does the district engineer say about funds for Hana Highway? It seems that road is always disappearing under landslides.”

The first engineer picked up the phone. “Angie, can you dig out the last report made by the Maui guy? And, while you’re at it, check with the Governor’s Office. Maybe they’ve got some ideas about roadwork on Maui. Oh, yeah, see if the DOD funds are still available for that Kihei-Upcountry road.”

The engineers went back to staring at the paper on their desks. The first engineer shoved a sheaf of paper off to the side. “Let’s forget about Maui until we hear from Angie. What’s up for the Big Island?”

All of this, except the process, has been imaginary, based on decades of listening to complaints about Maui traffic and the bumbye responses from the state.

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

Maui Nei

Critters are a fact of life on Maui. Most are benign. There are dogs, cats, horses, cows, goats, deer, pigs, rabbits, mice and rats along with chickens, ducks, geese, wild fowl and creepy crawlers.

There are few islanders who can repress a chuckle about tourists getting excited about flipping on a light and seeing a cockroach. On the Mainland, roaches – not the smoking kind – are associated with filth, which is why fancy resorts paint their luxurious plantings with pesticides.

No one likes cockroaches but it’s nearly impossible to get away from them. Once in Honolulu, home was a never-lived-in apartment on the 14th floor. Within days, there they were. That freaked out the wife who was expecting a visit from the Mainland mother-in-law. Ever live in a place that reeks of bug spray?

Sometimes, even island-born folks – usually female – refuse to accept the presence of cockroaches. One Makawao-born lady is death on roaches. She once had a teacher who demonstrated just how dirty roaches are. He had a roach walk over a series of petri dishes. The next day, each dish had grown a bumper crop of nasty looking stuff.

The woman in question is a kindhearted sort who will move spiders, geckos and trapped mice outside rather than kill them. She’s also fond of birds. Not so, roaches. The minute she spots one, she’ll grab a slipper and mash ’em. Her favorite way of dealing with centipedes is with a hammer.

A clutch of Francolins parading across the yard or the squawk of a pheasant entrances the lady and whenever nenes are spotted, she has to stop and watch them. She’s less fond of doves, sparrows and mynahs. The doves can be annoying when they swoop down in numbers and splatter cars with paint-eating excrement. Sparrows can be ignored. Mynahs are another story. These imports from Asia are noisy, like to tap dance on metal roofs and tend to be clever, but not always. Take the other day when a juvenile mynah made a house call.

There was a football game on the boob tube. It was warm enough in Kula there was no need to have a fire. Along about the second quarter, there was a strange noise. It could have come from the outside. The house cat sprang into action. Cyrano parked himself in front of the fireplace.

A scrabbling, scratchy noise came from behind the fireplace screen. The sound stopped. The cat prowled around the stand-alone fireplace. More scrabbling. It could have been a rodent, but wasn’t. Must be a bird in the chimney.

Concentrate on the TV. Ignore the scrabbling. Not much to do until the stupid bird ends up on the downside of the damper. The bird would seemingly rest before attempting another flight up the pipe. The scratching sound indicated the bird was too big to effectively spread its wings.

Oh, well . . .

Near the end of the football game, the bird was spotted on the other side of the fireplace screen. Cyrano was on full alert. OK, try to grab it. Nothing doing. The intruder went back up the pipe. More scrabbling and scratching. Then silence.

The landlord showed up with a plumber to deal with one of those problems common to old houses. “How’s it going?”

“Pretty well except for the bird in the fireplace.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Nothing much. I guess I’ll just wait until the bird finds its way out or maybe dies. Maybe climb up on the roof and take the rain cap off. Just wait, I guess.”

The plumber had a more direct approach. “Bet if you started a fire, that would solve the problem.” That seemed a little too radical.

Back in the house, no sound from the chimney. Maybe it got out. Nope. In a few minutes, scrabbling. It must be sitting on the damper. Open the screen, stick an arm up the chimney. Feel around. There’s a small explosion. The bird flies out and heads for the open front door. Blam. It hits the screen and ends up on the floor. Cyrano grabs it. It squeaks and breaks free.

Avian chaos ensues. Bird flies to windows, sits on pictures and walks along the tops of window shades. Cyrano dashes along on the floor. Bird comes to rest on a lampshade. Quick, open the screen door. The bird flies out with the cat in hot pursuit.

End of a country critter adventure. Hmmm. Might be a good idea to check the chimney’s rain-cap screen. Plenty of time for that later. There’s another football game getting underway.

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

Maui Nei

Heading home on a favorite road. It’s a night ride. The pace is brisk, jamming uphill around curves, relying on the lights of oncoming traffic to make sure the motorcycle is well within its lane.

Pulehu Road, once the most direct way from Central Maui to Kula, is a back road. It runs through sugar cane fields that give way to kiawe-studded pastures, abandoned pineapple fields and the Kula Ag park. There’s no cross traffic.

The darkness prevents sightseeing. Still . . . Pay attention. Focus. Keep eyes on the far edge of the motorcycle’s cone of light. Baby Dancer is humming, nearly inaudible. Gear down. Get ready to power out of the curve. Crest the blind hill.

Yikes! Lean on the brakes. Stomp down a gear. The road is filled from side to side by animals, spotted critters each weighing around 160 pounds. Hitting one at full tilt would not be pleasant. The deer look into the headlight, seemingly unconcerned. The bike slows to a crawl. No point in trying to ride around them. You never know which way they’ll run.

A buck with a full rack of horns leads the others to the side of the road. They leap gracefully over a four-strand barbed wire fence and disappear. All but one. It heads the other way. Take a deep breath and motor on, watching in case tail-end Charlie decides to reverse course.

It’s not an unusual event out in the country. The descendants of four axis deer brought from Molokai to Maui in 1959 are all over the island, an estimated 8,000 of them in East Maui. There are more in West Maui. Some have been spotted in town in the undeveloped part of Keopuolani Park.

During the depths of the drought, South Maui golf course managers and maintenance workers found the deer, called chital in their native India, browsing on carefully tended greens and creating divots with their hooves. Farmers have had whole fields decimated in a night or two. Deer love new growth and can chomp it down to the dirt.

Up at the top of Olinda Road, a homeowner reported a herd of deer numbering 30 or more. The biggest damage they did to the hilly, wet property was with their hooves. They created trenches which rain turned into gullies.

Killing them would be one way to control the deer that even reach up into trees to eat fruit and new-growth leaves. Hard to do, though Maui has more than its share of competent hunters. It’s illegal to fire rifles around houses. Hunting them commercially is stalled by government regulations. There has to be an inspector on hand before the animals are killed and then again when they are slaughtered.

Slaughtered is a tough word to swallow for some city folk who grew up with Walt Disney. “Oh, no! You can’t kill and eat Bambi.” They do look like the big-eyed fawn that starred in two novels written by Felix Salten and two movies created by Walt.

There were letters to the editor from tender-hearted writers suggesting fences as a solution. Good idea, except axis deer can get over a 6-foot fence. No sweat. It takes at least an 8-footer to keep them out. Down the road, a nursery specializing in native plants spent $20,000 to erect an 8-foot, chain-link fence around the 2-acre property. Many Kula property owners with flowers and fruit trees have erected similar barriers, usually after finding trees practically denuded by night-time snackers.

Venison does make good eating. The meat is extraordinarily lean and usually tender. Personal experience. Sometime ago, a neighbor showed up with a 2-foot-long piece of back strap. He’d harvested the meat in a remote pasture, using a crossbow. After barbecuing some of it and frying some of it to go with scrambled eggs, he decided to get fancy. Dig out the recipe for beef stroganoff. Do a straight substitution of deer for cow. Broke da mouth!

Axis deer first came to the islands in the 1860s as a gift to King Kamehameha V, first on Molokai where they became a subsistence source of protein, later on Lanai and some 100 years later they arrived on Maui. Hunters would hate to see them eliminated. Others would cheer.

On another night, a quarter mile above the house, came around a curve just in time to see six deer vault out of a horse paddock and head straight for a newly planted cabbage field. A telephone call later, the farmer was there to chase out the animals.

That won’t be the last time.

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

Maui Nei

Today dawned clear and cold. A short mist brought much-needed moisture to lower Kula. Low-lying light and the mist created a full anuenue. From this angle, the rainbow arced over a neighbor’s house.

“You always start your column with a weather report,” said Harry Eagar, a colleague and professional cynic. It was a fair comment, although not specifically true. Life on Maui is inextricably tied to sunshine and warmth. What TV newsman Guy Hagi calls “The best weather on the planet” isn’t news.

Up the road, Agnes Ventura, a lifelong islander, started a previous day with a question. “Where’s your jacket? It’s really cold. I feel sorry for those folks freezing on the Mainland.”

Earlier this week, nearby Makawao recorded a pre-dawn low of 63. The top of Haleakala shivered the sunrise crowd with an ice-forming 32 degrees. Rancher Jerry Thompson went uphill from his house at around 5,000 feet and discovered he was standing in a teeth-chattering 22 degrees. Three-thousand feet lower, the temperature in the house was 52 degrees.

A sister living in the middle of the Mainland’s deep freeze laughed at 52 degrees being called “cold.” “Oh, yeah? When was the last time the temperature in your house was that low?”

That stopped the laughter. The big difference between cold on the island and the Midwest: The temperature in houses there are usually heated to around 75 degrees. It’s a rare Maui house that has a furnace. Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and electric space heaters are common up on the mountain, but the warmth they create seldom radiates more than 10 feet. Beyond that, it’s what keiki o ka aina call “make anu” (mah-kay ahnoo), literally not warm. If it’s really cold, they precede the phrase with the exclamation “auwe!”

Burning wood will warm you twice, once when you chop the fuel and then when the fuel burns. Getting warmth out of the fire takes some tending to convert kindling – cutting up pallets made of pine works well – into enough flame to ignite small logs. A wind across the chimney helps. The whole point of kindling is to get a draft going. Effective warmth comes from logs – kiawe works best – that have burned down to a bed of coals.

Lately, the outdoor cats have been using corners inside the garage until there’s enough spots of sunlight outside to warm their bones. Cyrano, the house cat, likes a fire. He’ll stare intently at the flames before stretching out and closing his eyes. Every so often, he’ll stir, warming first one side of his fur and then the other. If there’s no fire, a warm lap will do.

If memory serves, Samuel Clemens once said, “Hawaii doesn’t have weather. It has climate.” Of course, he was a refugee from California’s Bay Area, where he or someone said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Warmth on Maui comes from the sun, although it seems cloudy nights are warmer than nights when a host of stars sparkle in a clear sky. Maybe the ao hold in the heat – little though it may be – from the day’s sunlight. The temperature in the house will climb 20 degrees when the afternoon sun streams in west-facing windows.

This year, preparations had been made. The fireplace chimney had been inspected and cleaned by the efficient three-person crew from Shaka Chimney Sweepers. There was a good stack of kiawe left over from a Mark DeCoite delivery last year. Kindling from a pallet taken from behind Morihara Store had been splintered.

It’s easy to escape mountain cold. Just head down the hill to the beach, even on the chilliest days. The water may be colder than its usual 85 degrees, but the sun on the sand will warm your bones.

A digression: On an August motorcycle ride through the Colorado Rockies, the temperature started dropping. ‘A ‘ole pilikia. It’ll warm up when I start down the other side. The problem: The other side went back up. By the time the ride went over a succession of peaks to Durango, hands were frozen stiff.

On Maui, cold is anything below 65 degrees. Cold is whatever you feel is cold. Cold on Maui is uncomfortable. Cold on the Mainland hurts, literally. Lucky you live Maui. Even during a cold spell.

End of weather report, Harry.

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

Maui Nei

Another year. Another day on a speck of land sailing a 2-inch-a-year northwest course away from its geological birthplace in the Pacific. The weather has been fair. The heavy stuff of late has skirted around Maui. Blue morning skies and cloudy afternoons could represent past and present. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

A year’s end conversation echoed many of the questions asked on previous days. How goes Maui, its people and what makes an island community?

Gazing at the central isthmus from 3,000 feet up the side of Haleakala, two happenstance friends talked idly, enjoying a crisp morning that promised another pretty day in a paradise going through changes more rapidly than ever before.

“Maui is still Maui, but it’s not the same Maui I knew when I got here,” he said from the perspective of 20-plus years.

“It’s largely a function of numbers,” said the haole who had arrived 40 years before when the population was something like 45,000. “I remember when it was common to come up on two cars parked in the road with the drivers talking story. It usually didn’t take long before one or the other of the drivers spotted the car behind, said their goodbyes and motored on. No honking needed.”

“It wasn’t that loose, or friendly, when I arrived,” he said, “but close.” His arrival helped add up to a population that had doubled in two decades.

“It’s hard to grumble about the population when we were both part of the increase.” Both laughed.

It was true, although a recent Census Bureau report showed the latest increase to something like 150,000 was due to births, not airplanes disgorging Mainland escapists, adventurers too timid to abandon everything they knew and the wealthy taking advantage of deep pockets.

“I don’t know what to think about the development that is going on. Do we need another discount, big box store or million-dollar houses?”

“I might be wrong, but I’ve heard Hawaiians made important decisions with seven future generations in mind.”

He smiled. “That might be more than a little tough, judging from what is going on in the world.”

“Keeping aloha alive is up to us. Aloha not only between people but for our island home.”

The words were still fresh in mind when a Christmas present was being read. “The Last Atoll,” by Pamela Frierson tells about “exploring Hawaii’s endangered ecosystems.” The island-born journalist spent months, on and off, as a volunteer researcher studying wildlife on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, including Midway and the atolls that became part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

“The name honors the deities of earth and sky who, according to tradition, are the ancestors of the Hawaiian archipelago and its people,” she wrote. “In the creation chant (Kumulipo) tracing native lineage back to these deities, coral polyps are the first life-form created by the primal union of Papa, earth mother, and Wakea, sky father.”

After reading Frierson, “The Kumulipo, a Hawaiian Creation Chant” by Martha Beckwith was dragged off the shelf of reference books. She based the book on the “Kalakaua text” printed in 1889. Beckwith consulted a number of Hawaiian kupuna who were chant experts and credited Mary Kawena Pukui as “the final authority in correction of both text and translation.”

“The night gave birth / Born was Kumulipo in the night, a male / Born was Po’ele in the night, a female / Born was the coral polyp, born was the coral, came forth / Born was the grub that digs and heaps up the earth, came forth / Born was his (child) an earthworm, came forth / Born was the starfish, his child the small starfish came forth / Born was the sea cucumber, his child the small sea cucumber came forth.”

The chant that begins with “At the time when the earth became hot” includes a list of sea creatures predating the arrival of man.

“For an island people, all life begins and ends in the sea,” Frierson wrote.

The statement had a big impact on a haole who began a haphazard exploration of Hawaiian culture only after learning to be a diver and thinking it was only proper to learn the Hawaiian names for critters found in the ocean.

It’s another year, another chance to do what we – collectively – can do to protect the island, even with further development. As the ancient poet knew, it all begins with the ocean, its reefs and the ocean around us.

One can only hope 2014 is a happy new year.

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