Friday, July 8, 2011

Postcards From The Edge Of The World

The call came in early tuesday morning. "Tomorrow is the day! Let's do it!" said the voice on the other end of the line. The voice belonged to none other than old friend, celebrated author & recently "retired" nationally syndicated columnist Tad Bartimus. 

I first met Tad roughly ten years ago when she first decided to settle here on the island. Tad & her husband had fallen love with the remote village of Hana, nested on the craggy, lava strewn, wind tossed and wave beaten eastern coast of the island... maybe not exactly the "edge of the world" but it might as well be. 

Separated from the civilized parts of Maui by a narrow, formerly pot-hole filled & winding road of fifty-two one-lane bridges... Hana seems like another country separated in time & space. Hana Maui offers the visitor none to the great Disneyland-Golf Course By The Sea attractions most guests of the islands seem to come for. There's no shopping mall, no golf course, one hotel and only a handful of bed & breakfast joints and campgrounds for the adventurous traveller. There's a general store & another small market. There's one gas station (I noted that the price for regular was $6/gal). Cellular phone service is spotty at best. 

What Hana does offer is the opportunity the really get away from it all with it's pristine empty beaches, secluded waterfalls with the obligatory pools for cool, refreshing swims in icy mountain water. Every shade of green is proudly on display along the roadside as your drive out, each winding turn growing deeper in shade &  verdancy. Frequent rains impregnate the air with moisture... you can smell mother nature working overtime.

Ah... but I digress. Let's get back to Tad; the reason I found myself hurling thru the hundreds of turns and over those narrow bridges along the eastern coast well before dawn last wednesday morning. I mentioned at the beginning of this screed... already out of control long before I've gotten the the meat of the matter, that Tad was retired. Certainly a misnomer of the first order... the word retired implies that one now has free time to pursue their bliss or to do nothing at all. And, while Tad is definitely pursuing her bliss from what I could see during my brief visit, inactive she is NOT. Tad retired her widely read column a year ago and is now writing for local state publications these days... that is, when she's not busily involved in her tiny community. And involved she is... Tad has truly embraced the Hana lifestyle & from what I could see, Hana has completely reciprocated and embraced her back. 

My part in all of this was to drive out and capture portraits of Tad in her environment to illustrate one of her recent stories destined for print publication. The photo editor even upped the editorial fee because I was going to have to go to Hana to complete the assignment. I wasn't going to tell him that Hana is, hands down, my favorite part of the island & any reason to head out that way was A-OK by me.

Tad, the retired columnist, had other plans for me in the works. When I awoke & checked my email in the pre-dawn hours of wednesday morning, she had already sent a list of things I should get familiar with & photograph in anticipation of another handful of articles she was pitching to various publications while I was in town.

Our plan was to meet at the hotel where she and a group of kupuna (elder community members) met regularly to exercise in the heated waters of the hotel pool. "The bobbing-heads", she called them... "lovely folks".

Arriving at the hotel gates at the appointed time, I was warmly greeted by a feisty group of seniors... men, women, Hawaiian, Haole... all residents of the village. As a gentle rain began to fall, the heads slid gracefully into the water to begin their routine. I watched quietly as an elderly, wheel-chair bound gentleman was rolled onto the deck by an obviously devoted wife. Frail & challenged on land, he entered the water and was immediately set free, swimming lap after lap of the large pool's length, an immovable smile plastered across his lips the entire time.

The women gossiped among themselves, flirting shamelessly with the buff young hotel fitness guide as he led them through a series of aquatic maneuvers. As the rain drifted in a thick mist, I lay prone beside to pool with a long lens as these gracefull heads drifted in & out of my view... the soft light ethereally illuminating the blue water.

At the end of the pool session, a small group of the women approached me asking if I had heard the expression "banjo on my knee"? I nodded the affirmative in response, a little confused, when one of the women lifted up her knee, the others cackling in laughter...

"Banjo On My Knee"

Next on Tad's shot list was a trip to Mahele Farm, the Hana community garden. Here, family groups and kids from local schools come & go... planting, weeding & maintaining what looked to be about a 2 acre plot of land brimming with leafy greens, beans, corn, herbs, tomatoes, the ubiquitous taro and god-only-knows what else. The activity when I arrived showed small groups of men, women & children busily tending to the plants while in the shade of a wooden lean-to, another group sorted through the abundance of the morning's harvest. 

The word Mahele means "to divide". In exchange for a couple of hours of labor in the fields each week, those that choose to participate in the roots agriculture program take home as much of the bounty as they wish or need each wednesday. I talked to a few of the people working the fields who told me that there were maybe 20 or so families that showed up regularly to till the soil each week, but the produce they took home each week fed hundreds of Hana residents.

Impromptu "classes" were also being held with the school age kids about how to farm... how to plant & tend for the plants,... basic classes in sustainable organic agriculture.

The sprit of cooperation and shared effort here was so obvious immediately upon my arrival. Also obvious that there was something growing here besides food crops. Seeds were being planted both in the soil & in the souls of the participants. 

Kaio Martin works a small patch of carrots tucked amongst the elephant-ear leaves of a taro patch
Seth Raabe, agricultural expert/advisor at Mahele Farm, shares a "bean-eating" grin

Sadly, I had only an hour at the farm (I'll be back!) before I had to meet Tad again and begin work on my actual assignment. This time, we met at a small tidy home, nestled in a small neighborhood overlooking Hana Bay. The home, occupied by "Dot" one of the "bobbing heads" from earlier in the morning, has become the defunct "social club" in town. Dot, a retired beautician for years at the hotel, is the resident beauty expert and hairstylist extrodinaire. In a  enclosed sun porch converted to a make-shift salon, Dot tends to the coifs of the towns fairer sex... no fees are charged but clients will usually leave behind a donation for her services. In the shade of what's left of the porch not entirely enclosed, friends gather to play backgammon, catch up on news and gossip or sip on a cool drink. Known to everyone as "Dot's Social Club", this is THE place to get the inside scoop on what's going on in Hana & beyond.

After an hour or so at Dot's, I had a handful of reasonable Tad portraits and we were off to meet more friends & take more pictures. Time doesn't allow for any of that now... but we will continue this little tale very soon.

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