Maui Connections

When the column scoops you were counting on for the week dry up all at once, it’s fortuitous to have a family of kudamonday cross your path.

Also known as ring-tailed coatimundi, these critters are related to raccoons. But with their long, vertical tails like question marks, they look like a monkey got into the family tree somewhere. They’re native to tropical and subtropical South America, but some ancestor made a border crossing, probably illegal, into Arizona, where we encountered three of them, including a mother and her baby, in Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area.

This cactus-studded setting lies on the eastern edge of Tucson, where readers of this column know we’ve spent the fall. Under electric blue skies, with mid-December temperatures in the 70s, the dramatic dragon-tooth ridges, cliffs and ravines, along with the endless variety of desert foliage, are panoramic enough to be the setting for a Western movie. Actually, they have been, for dozens of them.

The co-stars of our own movie were the grandkids, ages 3, 5 and 7. In Sabino you can ride an open-air tram several miles up the canyon road, then get out and hike down. There are several tram stops along the way, so you can get off and back on, riding and walking all day long.

It’s a good way of getting palm-size electronic things with screens out of the kids’ hands for an afternoon. They compensate by picking up rocks along the trail, and fighting for control of the selfie stick.

The rarely seen kudamonday, and a deer a little farther down the path, were bonuses last Saturday.

I’ve never been fond of making the grandkids, or other family members, column material through the decades. I don’t like sharing adorable photos on Facebook, either. In fact, I actually share concerns held by indigenous people around the planet about the power of cameras to steal our souls. In the digital age, the dangers increase exponentially.

But when it comes to making new discoveries — and how many of us have even heard the word kudamonday before? — the kids are able accomplices, if not my guides. So far, three Arizona wildlife encounters have made it into the column — this one; various run-ins with cartoon members of the wild pig family, called javelinas; and who can forget the adventure of the rattlesnake in the garage?

The stories were more like biology lessons than of kids being cute, although there was plenty of that, too. But as another Tucson chapter of “Maui Connections” draws to a close (we fly home Dec. 31), I’m reminded that it’s the Connections, as much as the Maui, that make the column.

Googling kudamonday, especially the YouTube videos, is great fun. They’re awfully cute. The day after our encounter, NPR’s “Radio Lab” devoted most of an hour broadcast to raccoons. Some belief systems hold that everything’s connected; that everything on the planet is a node on one nervous system. Those events we call coincidences are just the brief moments when it all becomes visible.

The announcement of Golden Globe nominations Monday had been prefigured in this column in recent weeks. The box-office dominance of Disney’s wonderful “Coco” — an animated look at Mexican culture’s celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) — came shortly after the column paid a visit to Tucson’s very vibrant observance of this holiday, attended by tens of thousands of celebrants in skeleton makeup and elaborate costumes.

In the parade was a group of authentic Japanese o-bon dancers — staples of Maui, and all the Hawaiian Islands’ culture every summer. Communing with departed ancestors is not the prerogative of any single culture, but a heartfelt ritual shared by many of them.

Culture is like that. The deeper you get into one, the better you understand others.

As worlds apart as Maui and Tucson may seem, you can find Hawaiian music on the radio here. And thanks to social media, you can write a local Maui column from here, too . . . especially in weeks when your scoops don’t dry up.

When a cashier in a store here saw on my ID that I was from Maui, she said she had always wanted to visit Hawaii. Her grandfather’s name was on a wall at Pearl Harbor, she said. He had been aboard the USS Arizona.

It’s all about the connections. Some friends (you know who you are) read this column just looking at the boldfaced names, checking if theirs is among them, without bothering to read the gray words in between.

But the gray words are where the connections are, out there in the bigger world where the kudamonday live.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at