I love walking along the ocean at Kalama Park at sunset.
Turtles bob their black heads up in the waves. Papi'o fishermen monitor their lines. A whale leaps, then again, such a thrill. In the distance, fellow cetaceans spout.
A Tahitian drum clatters and a girl gets up to dance. Kids zoom by on skateboards, new parents take the little ones out on strollers. A local family sets up dinner from the back of a truck. They clown around while a chicken boils merrily in a pot.
All manner of people come out to enjoy the grand event at day's end. A Mainland couple on the little beach by the river makes a ceremony of it, silent and still. His arms, motionless, embrace the golden orb as it sinks into the sea, tinting the wave tips pink. She kneels quietly nearby. An old woman in a wheelchair is parked by a bench while her caretaker alternately strums an ukulele and swigs a beer.
The park is one of Maui's oldest, named for Samuel E. Kalama, the Hawaiian Republican who was chairman and chief executive officer of the County of Maui for 20 years, beginning in 1913, according to Tony Ramil's county history, "Kalai'aina."
Kalama was a good-looking man, who lived in a well-built Craftsman-style bungalow on Makawao Avenue, painted barn red now, still there. It sits on a rise, the green hills of horse country behind, in an area old-timers call "Kalama Hill." Kalama was popular with the plantation establishment, as any successful politician had to be in those days, and led the Republicans to solid victories year after year.
Public works thrived on Maui under his administration, and he was a great proponent of the spectacular belt road to Hana, completed in November 1926, and the automobile road to Lahaina carved out of the cliffs. It's fitting that the long strip of oceanfront parkland that bears his name was constructed to commemorate his death in 1933.
Back then, Kihei wasn't much more than a row of kiawe trees along the coast reached by a gravel road. A store stood across from the old pier in north Kihei, built to service the short-lived Kihei Plantation.
This was created by Henry P. Baldwin and Lorrin Thurston in 1899, but it went broke and was folded into HC&S in 1908. Fishing boats and the sampan to Kaho'olawe used the dock. Kihei School was where the old Kihei Community Center complex is now on South Kihei Road. Frank Akina drove a truck with seats that brought the kids to school.
According to Stephen Pedro, who lived with his family on Kaho'olawe in the '30s, Kenolio Road was the main thoroughfare through town. The street was named for George Kenolio, a hand for Harold Rice's ranch, who had a prominent house in the Kihei ranch camp.
It ended in Kalama Park, and between the park and the school, there wasn't much going on in between. Most reached the Hawaiian community at Makena via the road down from 'Ulupalakua. (It's closed, but still exists.)
The park's main features back then were a wide, sandy beach and an old windmill to pump water for the lawn. The beach was destroyed shortly after World War II ended when the county asked the Navy to blow up parts of the reef in a misbegotten attempt to carve out two swimming channels and a keiki pool.
This they did, but the tide sucked the sand out through the openings until one day there was no beach. In 1971, the Army Corps of Engineers decided that putting a revetment of boulders along the water's edge would bring the sand back in. But the opposite happened until there was no longer any beach in front of either Kalama Park or Halama Street.
It's almost dark now.
Outriggers from the Wailea Canoe Club skim to shore in the enchanted twilight, turn sharply, edge in backwards onto Cove Beach. Surfers and paddle boarders make use of the last light. Their dark silhouettes stand out against dolphin-shaped Kaho'olawe, slumbering in its blue bed to the southwest. People stop, hushed, contemplating the ever-shifting display of color and cloud.
Evening stillness descends on Kihei's blissful lee.
Thank you, County of Maui, for yet another public works project, the Kalama Park beachwalk (revetment walk?), this concrete path that has opened up the joy of the sunset to us all.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.