Kids in fancy Western shirts casually lassoed wooden cows in front of the Aloha Cowboy storefront. Members of the Chop Suey Jazz Orchestra looking spiffy in black shirts and ties, blew warm-up scales on their horns on the stage erected on the street.
Beautiful downtown Makawao was getting ready for its monthly Third Friday block party. Expert gardener Anne Gachuhi, a long way from her Kenyan birthplace, was setting up her Samosas by Anne food booth. Tacos . . . pizza . . . ribs . . . BBQ - food trucks and booths transformed Baldwin Avenue parking places into exotic eateries. Aromas from worlds away filled the air.
Unlike nightly news reports bringing scary new evidence of global climate change elsewhere, seasonal shifts are more subtle here in the islands. The Makawao History Project's Paniolo Museum marked this first weekend of summer by inviting a group of writers in to sign books.
Under the eyes of rodeo riders, polo players and hardworking ranchers frozen forever in the photos on the walls, the evening was an inadvertent celebration of Haleakala - not for all its agriculture that feeds us, but for the literary inspiration that feeds our souls.
Authors John Harrison ("Haleakala Ranch"), Jill Engledow ("Haleakala - A History of the Maui Mountain"), Jackie Pias Carlin ("Spirit of the Village" and the upcoming "Aunty's Place") and Gail Ainsworth ("Maui Remembers: A Local History") sat behind their handsomely illustrated books on the table, genially sharing their stories with visitors.
As books themselves quickly become historic artifacts, it was heartening just being in the presence of all these poetic scribes working in the shadow and maternal embrace of the towering mountain visible through the windows.
The visit also provided an opportunity to catch up with Cheryl Ambrozic and Mike Foley, two of the dedicated folks keeping the charming little museum happening. It feels more like a ranch bunkhouse kitchen than a dust-covered repository of relics.
Makawao's paniolo past is way better than most Hollywood Westerns. Just because they sometimes put flowers in their hatbands doesn't mean the islands don't grow some of the toughest and most skillful cowboys, and cowgirls, in all the land.
With tack gear, farm implements, Eddie Flotte watercolors and historic group photos talking story from the walls, the unpretentious little space makes you feel - rather than merely observe - the uniquely rich and colorful multiethnic culture contained in the word "Upcountry."
The following day took us a little farther around the mountain to Gary Greenberg's garden party in Haiku. With a singular talent for making art out of science and science out of art, Gary is the guy who uses multiple exposures with with 3-D cameras to shoot single grains of sand.
Like snowflakes, no two grains of sand are the same. And like poet William Blake observed, each single grain can reveal the world - if you just know how to look.
With all Gary's artist friends, his parties feel like salons - only they're under palm trees instead of in a Paris salon in the '20s. Among the creative folks there Saturday were Michelle Sewell, Jacob Liberman, Bill Paynich, Sandra Florence, Robert Pollock, Jo Danieli, Robert Stone, Tom and Nancy Vendetti and Martha Woodbury.
Barry Sultanoff and Juan-Jose Iuorno Paladino - better known on local airwaves as Dr. B and JJ - updated me on the return of Mana'o Hana Hou Radio. But the guests of honor were probably Gary's son and grandson, Jason (or Dorje) and Ronan, paying a visit from Capitola, Calif.
Solstice weekend came to a soothing close Sunday afternoon, putting an audience of around 4,000 under the calming spell of slack key music at the free annual Ki Ho'alu Festival, sponsored each year by The Maui News.
Event organizer Milton Lau was the first friend I ran into in the sea of faces basking in the sunshine. Smiling as he always is, Milton was savoring some national publicity earlier that morning for this celebration of one of Hawaii's unique art forms.
"This is our 23rd year," he beamed. "We must be doing something right."
As far as Art Vento - the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's president and CEO - was concerned, one of the right things was that it was free. The night before, the center had presented Art=Mixx Bohemian Feminique drawing around 2,500 Generation X-ers. It was also free.
In fact, the MACC has entertained some 17,000 folks for free over the last six months, Art told the crowd, adding that those events are just as important as the internationally known headliners in giving the center its identity.
And they feel even more welcoming in the soft season of summer on Maui.
* 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.