“It’s almost Mai Tai time!”
Not one person on the airplane was in a bad mood. We were, after all, trading a long stretch of Alaskan subzero temperatures for the soft balminess of the Hawaiian island of Maui. Among cheering and clapping, the airplane descended slowly into a valley, between mountains, coned and lush and green, in tropical contrast to the white landscape we had left behind. We alighted, felt the silky, warm air on our skin, looking distinctly Alaskan in the bulky layers we were still dressed in.
“I want to see a black lava beach!” Helen announced excitedly.
“Let’s hike onto a volcano!” was Yanni’s agenda.
I wanted merely to sit on a lanai surrounded by blooming bougainvillea and hibiscus.
The pretext for our trip was Nick’s continuing medical education seminar. He needed to attend a certain number of these, to accrue the necessary credit hours in order to remain in good standing with Alaska medical licensure. For the rest of us, it provided the perfect excuse. I had leafed through his continuing medical catalog, looking up conferences in sunny destinations that I felt he could “benefit” from, topics he should learn about. Beaming, I presented him with a conference in Maui: “Topics in Internal. Medicine”. The kids and I would tag along on Alaska Airlines companion fare tickets. Who, after all, was better equipped than us to make sure that Nick would attend most of the lectures?
It did not take long for us to quickly immerse ourselves into a time that seemed to, suddenly, stand still. We switched momentum in minutes, on this volcanic island, thousands of years in the making, erupting, then cooling, the cratered summit of Haleakala still standing tall at its center. We eased, stepping into the slower rhythm of this island paradise. We languished in wicker chairs beneath gently swaying palm trees, felt the warm sandy beach between our toes, tasted sweet pineapple chunks. Nick joined us, cutting out of seminars early. Shorts and flip-flops had replaced his khakis and button-down shirt.
In order to imbue some culture into the kids, I roused them occasionally from their recliners by the swimming pool to go on an excursion. We walked along the coastal trail to Honokahua, an ancient burial mound, where, according to Hawaiian belief, ancestor spirits still watch over the land and the people. At sunset, we paid attention to the blowing of a conch shell, serving a practical purpose in ancient times, for those in canoes who sought the welcome and direction from those on land. Nowadays, the ceremony, symbolically performed to summon mana, energy, from all four directions, still resounds in its effort to say mahalo, thank you, at the close of the day.
Enough of philosophizing, we decided, when the ceremony drew to a close. Our thoughts veered instead towards what we should eat for dinner: mahi mahi or shrimp tacos or huli huli chicken. Deliberations about which eatery we should frequent absorbed a good portion of our enthusiastic discussion every evening. In our food-obsessed family, no meal would ever go unheeded.
Other times, we absorbed the landscape. A stony labyrinth, built of rocks and grass, on a rocky outcropping overlooking the crashing, spume-covered waves, provided the perfect earthwork, through which we slowly walked, following its unicursal path. In Lahaina town, we stood beneath an enormous banyan tree, whose aerial roots covered an acre, spreading a huge canopy above us. We hiked through bamboo thickets, coming across twin waterfalls cascading into a shadowed rock pool when we were only looking for a stream. We stopped, enthralled.
Hawaii is enchanting, drawing us in with its waterfalls and fragrances and sea vistas. By the end of the week, I am, however, ready to return to Alaska. I miss the quiet winter, the frozen lakes, the snow-covered hillsides. If Hawaii is a love story, toying with pleasure, satiating my senses, then Alaska is still tugging at me like the old trusted friend I have left behind.