Springtime in the Rockies is colder than the darkest day of winter on Maui.
Family matters brought us back to Montana over the weekend where I discovered that late April in Big Sky Country still has snow on the mountains and occasional ice on the windshield in 25-degree mornings. Our arrival coincided with crisp blue skies after months of snow, ice, sleet, weeks of unending grayness, unbelievable wind chills and even a recent avalanche in the city of Missoula.
The avalanche made national newscasts after neighbors and first responders had to dig three people - an older couple and 8-year-old boy - out of the wreckage and drifts after snow had roared down the west face of Mount Jumbo at 120 mph, according to news reports.
Our 4-year-old granddaughter doesn't understand what an avalanche is exactly, but the site was still the high point as she took us on a tour of her neighborhood. She showed us an excavated hole in the ground where wreckage and splintered furniture had been a few weeks ago.
Nature provides periodic reminders of its limitless powers in this college town tucked into the convergence of five mountain ranges. For all the signature big skies in the state, Missoula always feels on the edge of darkness to me, with its mining history and sturdy brick architecture of downtown bars and cafes as haunting train whistles echo through the long nights.
This is a place where spring feels hard earned, especially on Easter morning. Green grass was creeping across lawns that had been barren and brown for the last five months. Tiny leaf sprouts and pink and white buds like jewels were just beginning to fill in the veiny brown skeletons of tree branches lucky enough to have made it through the winter.
Easter is a holiday of magic. For the littlest kids, there's the Easter Bunny, a lightweight Santa Claus stand-in, unleashing exciting backyard treasure hunts for colorful eggs. When they get a little older, there's the lesson of Jesus, forgiveness and rebirth.
In Missoula this year, Easter was the reminder that after the avalanche come the blossoms. In this celebration of magic, life itself is the greatest miracle and wonder of them all.
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This was the first Easter in two decades we haven't spent at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. The Ritz's 22nd annual Celebration of the Arts has been pushed back to May 9-11 this year, offering a minifilm festival amidst its symposia, hands-on art projects and other presentations exploring the soul of Hawaiian culture. This year's theme is "Ko Makou Alanui Kupuna - Our Ancestral Paths . . ."
The films begin May 9 with two documentaries taking audiences "Above and Below Maui." At 7 p.m. waterman Richard Roshon will show "From the Eyes of a Kayak," followed at 8:15 p.m. with the preview screening of "The Quietest Place on Earth," which I collaborated on with co-producers Dr. Tom Vendetti and Robert C. Stone. The Celebration concludes May 11 with the 4 p.m. Maui premiere of Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier's "Aunty Nona Beamer - Malama Ko Aloha." At 3 p.m. May 10, the Ritz will screen "The Haumana," produced and directed by Keo Woolford. All three screenings are free and open to the public. (For details, visit www.ritzcarlton.com.)
Woolford's film brings the culture of hula to the screen, following the progress of an unlikely kumu hula as he molds a halau. The touching production had its Maui premiere at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center a few months ago, and since that time has been blazing a new trail for Hawaiian regional cinema across the U.S.
Maui filmmaker Brian Kohne, producer/director/writer of the Maui-made "Get a Job," says, " 'The Haumana' is as great a movie as we've produced in the islands (about us, by us) to date." It's also being seen by wider audiences, which Woolford built by working directly with halau on the Mainland. In the interconnected little world of making movies in the Hawaiian Islands, Kohne has cast Woolford as the lead in his new film production, "Kuleana." Subtitled, "What We Do Here Matters," it's groundbreaking in its own right - but that's for another column.
And "When the Mountain Calls," the first film I scripted for Vendetti and Stone, will have a hana hou screening at 9 p.m. Thursday on KHET Channel 11. KHET was the sponsoring station for our film, leading to screenings on some 200 PBS affiliates and an eventual Emmy nomination.
The film chronicles Vendetti's treks over 30 years in the Himalayas. Unfortunately after I began this column, one of its subjects, Sherpa Dorjee, was one of 13 people killed on Mount Everest on Friday, tragically in an avalanche.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at email@example.com or 344-9535.