Last Sunday, I got my best friend Robbie to help me take pictures of Flat Lotus at the summit of Haleakala. Flat Lotus, for those who missed last month's column, is a 9-inch-tall paper doll, drawn by my 7-year-old granddaughter (Real Lotus) and sent to me from her home in Michigan as part of a class project. My assignment is to show Flat Lotus around our island home before sending her back to Battle Creek along with photos and souvenirs. And we did get some great photos. Flat Lotus flapping in the brisk wind at the crater rim, Flat Lotus with the rare and beautiful silversword plants, Flat Lotus dancing atop cotton candy clouds.
As we cruised Crater Road, Robbie and I chattered and chuckled over our favorite moments on our favorite mountain. Good thing Flat Lotus can't hear, because a few of those memories were not suitable for 2nd-grade ears. Nor are they appropriate for a morning newspaper. Sorry.
Although we didn't meet until adulthood, Robbie and I both grew up on Maui around the same time. Reminiscing with her is even more fun than rehashing old tales with someone who was there, because I get to hear new stories about familiar places and people. She told me about her father taking groups of visitors into the crater on horseback. I recalled a tattered black-and-white photograph of my mother, a pigtailed adolescent, sitting next to a trailside marker on the crater floor. I remember being utterly amazed and impressed when I first saw that photo, probably at around the same age Mom was when she hiked in with her older brother's Boy Scout troop. It took several decades and a tenacious husband for me to make the trek.
When Barry and I met, he couldn't believe I had lived here all my life and never ventured into the crater. It was his favorite place on Earth, his temple of worship and source of inspiration. He went in as often as possible, for four or five nights at a time. Sometimes he'd get lucky in the cabin lottery, but I think he actually preferred sleeping under the stars. Each time I dropped him off at Sliding Sands or Halemau'u Trailhead, he'd say, "One of these days, you've got to come with me." I'd smile and nod, but the truth was, I preferred room service over roughing it, still do.
But Barry wouldn't take anything less than a resounding yes for an answer, and so, finally, one Easter weekend, I got dropped off with him. By the time we emerged through Kaupo Gap, I too was a true believer. It is impossible to spend a night, let alone three, in the crater without being overwhelmed by its mystical majesty. We made several more trips in before Barry died in April 2007, also on an Easter weekend. We even took a couple of groups of Kaunoa Senior Services participants for overnight stays.
I've visited the crater several times since Barry's death, on certain occasions. I believe his spirit, or at least some remnant of it, lingers there. Each time, he's made his presence known, through the appearance of a solitary bird or an extraordinarily shaped cloud. Once, at a favorite lookout spot, I swear I heard his voice on the wind.
A few months ago, I took a special gentleman friend to the summit during his first visit to Maui. Since we were only going for a quick look, we didn't bother with hiking gear. As we strolled the path from the parking lot to Sliding Sands, one of Kurtis' rubber slippers broke. Did I mention he was wearing a pair of slippers bought for Barry but never worn by him? Undaunted, Kurtis carried on barefoot, only to cut his toe on a rock. We returned to the car, and while I rummaged through the trunk for the first-aid kit and a roll of duct tape (for the slippers, not the toe), I spoke silently to my late husband.
"OK, that's enough. Remember when I came here two years ago to tell you I was ready to move on with my life? I felt your blessing then, and I'm asking for it again now. Surely you can see what a good man this is. So lighten up. You don't own this mountain and you never cared for those slippers anyway."
The bleeding stopped, and I applied Neosporin and a Band-Aid. A little farther down the road, we pulled over to gaze at the Central Valley below. Standing on a hillside, holding hands, we each made a wish as a wispy bank of clouds moved up the mountainside to envelop us in cool mist. I didn't hear Barry's voice, but I could feel his smile. Still do.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.