Hot golden sunshine covers everything along Maui's southern coast, as though someone has spilled it. On the beaches, children, sugared in sand, whittle away at their parents' patience, while honeymooners stroll by, hand in hand, through the white lace left by the retreating surf. Coppery sunbathers stretch out like cookies on a baking sheet. From the cool lanais of the luxury resorts, the view is good: sculptures, artificial waterfalls, and tropical flowers -- a riot of rich color. In the distance, white-topped combers lope in and crash, and boats slice the Pacific under a full sling of sail. Over the hollow, basso sound of the breaking waves there is the pock pock pock of tennis balls.
Not far inland, Haleakala volcano begins its steep, 10,000-foot ascent, and about half way up, there are thin layers of drifting clouds. It's 20 degrees cooler here, and the air is redolent with eucalyptus, woodsmoke, and the odors of earth and cattle. Looking down the slope you can see the beach five miles away. The sea appears as an immense blue fabric, rumpled and creased, and ends with the scrawling signature of the shore.
Here, in Upcountry Maui, Al Franco is hand cranking beans in a 100-year-old roaster at Grandma's Coffee House. Not far away George Allan is unpacking his brushes and canvas for another day's work. Dan Purdy is putting his foot in a stirrup at Ulupalakua Ranch. In her garden Helen McCord is trimming long stems of protea, their blossoms as big as dinner plates. Ethel Kitada is carrying a steaming bowl of Maui's best saimin to one of her regulars¿
And at the old Thompson Ranch, 40-year-old Jerry Thompson, the 27th of founder Charlie Thompson's 28 children, is hoisting a saddle onto a horse and politely answering questions.
"Ever been in the ocean?"
"How many times?"
His denim blue eyes dig into me like nails.
"Not that many."
Upcountry Maui is a series of many-steepled towns strung between coastline and crater rim. They're small, too small to attract the attention of Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, and Speedy Muffler King. Places like Haiku, Haliimaile, Makawao, Pukalani, Oma¿opio, Pulehu, Waiakoa, Olinda, Kula, Keokea. Upcountry Maui is ill-defined on most maps, but to the people who know it well, it's not so much a matter of geography as a state of mind. People interact with each other as though they will meet again soon. Upcountry Maui is athrob with the glorious humdrum of everyday life. It has calluses on its hands, honest sweat on its brow, and onion on its breath.
Minnie Franco's parents came here from Puerto Rico in 1899, and she began working in the cane fields as a young girl. In her idle hours she would pick wild coffee beans from the slopes of Haleakala and roast them over an open fire in her backyard. She perfected her technique and acquired a hand-cranked, wood-fired roasting machine made in Philadelphia by Burpee in 1885.
"I could put a motor on it, but it's better by hand," says Minnie's grandson, Al Franco, who still remembers running home from school when he caught the mahogany odor of his grandmother's brew. Today Grandma is 96 and retired, but she passed on her secrets of growing, harvesting, and roasting to Al, who opened Grandma's Coffee House in downtown Keokea in 1983. (The town has two other enterprises: the Fong Store and the Ching Store.)
Franco's busiest time is Friday morning, in part because 8:30 a.m. is the appointed hour for the weekly meeting of the 20 or so card-carrying members of g.a.g.o.f.f. - Grandma's Artists Gathering Official Friday Festivity. This morning Joelle Parz (watercolors) is here. So is Denise Champion (oils), Betty Hay Freeland (oils), Donnett-Gene Wilson (watercolors), J. B. Rea (jewelry), Terry McDonald (watercolors), and Tom Jennings (prints).
Coffee-primed voices rub cheerfully against each other, creating a rising tide of repartee. The conversations are leapfrogging from table to table. Dick Nelson (art teacher) is wearing a Napoleon hat folded from a newspaper. Seated next to him, fashioning a human face from half a bagel and cream cheese, tomato, and capers, is George Allan, who is widely considered to be Maui's premier artist and whose light-filled canvases hang in galleries and homes all over the world. Born in Australia, Allan painted in Lahaina for 23 years before moving to Upcountry three years ago.
"Once you move up here, you wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he says, admiring his bagel. "Where else do you want to get up and sing" - he erupts in song - "Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day"
"George, if you painted as bad as you sing, you'd go broke," says Nelson between bites of omelette.
Up the road a couple of miles at the Ulupalakua Ranch, another Upcountry artist, Emily Ball, is leading another tour of the Tedeschi Vineyards, where she works three days a week.
"It's the ideal job for an artist," she says. "You're surrounded by beautiful country; and wine - like art - is an aesthetic pleasure."
She cruises by with five tourists in her wake: "When Mr. Erdman bought this ranch in 1963, it reminded him of Napa Valley. Ten years later he entered into an agreement with Mr. Emil Tedeschi, whose family had a small vineyard in California. They began experimenting with about 150 varieties of grapes and finally settled on carnelian, a deep red hybrid of cabernet sauvignon, grenache, and carignane"
The tasting room is in the King's Cottage, which was built by the original ranch owner in 1874 for a visit by Hawaiian King David Kalakaua. Sitting on the porch there, Emily Ball says her favored medium just now is watercolors, and her favorite subject Hawaiian mythology.
"I get inspiration in Upcountry. There's still a lot of tra-dition here. There are some families that go back four or five generations."
She worked in the wine business in California's Sonoma County for ten years ("I've done everything - tasting, tours, bottling, laboratory - even worked in the vineyards") before coming here in 1987. She and her husband, a landscape architect, live in a primitive cabin on cattle-grazing land near the ranch.
"I have no telephone, no electri-city, no running water. No rent, no utilities. Just wildflowers and lava rocks. I'm the master of low overhead."
There's a small room at the winery devoted to ranch history, and Ball points to a wooden saddle on display.
"They had to use wooden saddles when they swam the cattle out to the waiting ships." She opens a big ledger book with yellowing pages. "This is the ranch time book for 1924. Here's the name of Dan Purdy, who worked as a ranch boy for 50 cents a day. Have you talked to Uncle Dan? He lives right up the road."
Dan Purdy turns off his lawn mower and walks over to greet his visitor. He is decidedly bowlegged. The skin on his arms and on the back of his neck has the texture of beef jerky, and when Purdy smiles, he accentuates the wrinkles that seem to have been hammered into his face for 84 years.
He drops into a chair inside his house while his wife, Nancy, identifies some of the 50 or so framed photographs hanging on every available wall. The best one shows Purdy astride his horse, in full rodeo garb, the loop of his lariat clutched between his teeth. Purdy wants me to look at his fingers, and he holds up his right hand. One finger is bent at the top joint to form a right angle. His horse, he explains, threw him in a rodeo and he went off head first, holding out his hand to break his fall.
Then he holds up his left hand to display a top section of finger that flaps loosely as though on a hinge. He says this is the result of a knife cut suffered while he was castrating bulls.
"Ah got me finner stedda da bulls' ba" He glances sheepishly over at his wife, who is shooting him a look that sticks two inches out his back.
Purdy still rides every day, keeping alive the long but now fading tradition of the paniolo. Hawaii's first cowboys were Mexican vaqueros recruited by Kamehameha III in the 1820s to control foraging cattle. They came to be known as paniolos, probably a pidgin word for a person who speaks Spanish. Purdy says the life of a paniolo was le'a le'a - good fun.
"Ya go work mebbe two in da mornin'. Make dolla a day, 'at's good, eh? T'day dey work eight hour. If ya work mo', ya git mo' money. Oldays bettah."
Purdy worked as a cowhand at Ulupalakua Ranch for more than a half century. There were cattle drives all year, and every six months or so the interisland steamer bound for Honolulu would anchor off Makena Landing and pick up the cattle. They would be swum out to barges and then hoisted in slings. If sharks appeared, the paniolos would ride out and flap their hands and slickers on the water to scare them off.
Cumulus, nimbus, cirrus Helen McCord is a connoisseur of clouds.
"This view is different every day because of the clouds," she says, taking in a vista from her front yard, which spreads like an oriental carpet down the slopes of Haleakala to the central Maui plain and Maalaea Bay. Fleecy clouds run in the trade winds like great ships. She is carrying pruning shears and is dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt, and red Wellingtons.
"God gets up every day and paints a different picture for us. There are so many things about Upcountry that are different from the rest of the world."
Warren and Helen McCord came to Maui from California in 1968 in pursuit of a dream - to build a botanical garden. They quit their jobs (he was a landscape architect, she a schoolteacher), sold their house, cars, and furniture, and bought 13 acres of rich, volcanic soil in Kula, the island's vegetable and flower capital. The land consisted of a steep, rocky slope and a deep, brush-covered gulch.
They cleared most of the land by hand and wheelbarrow. Warren worked as a night manager at McDonald's. Helen sold Tupperware. During a drought one year the McCords and their three children carried water in buckets from their bathtub to keep the plants alive. Eventually it all paid off.
Today the Kula Botanical Gardens is a verdant exuberance of tropical foliage. Nature trails angle up the mountainside and go across bridges through ferns, gingers, bird-of-paradises, magnolias, orchids, and hibiscuses.
The clouds have brought a misty, gentling rain to the countryside. "This is another thing different about Upcountry," McCord says. "We like the rain." And soon the land is glistening and dripping, as though freshly scrubbed.
Gordean Bailey moved to kula 34 years ago without a clear idea of what she wanted to do. She and her husband attended an open house at the University of Hawaii Maui Agricultural Substation and learned about some strange flowers that had been brought from Australia and South Africa.
"I went cuckoo over them," she says. Thus, Bailey became one of Upcountry's first protea farmers. "There are so many kinds¿" In fact, there are more than 1,500 varieties of protea, a species named for Proteus, the Greek god who could assume countless forms. Most of the flowers look like neon sea anemones.
Bailey was a hula dancer at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu in 1959 - the first year of statehood - when she was named Miss Hawaii. She went to Atlantic City and met Bert Parks. (Miss Mississippi won.) Today she is a hula teacher as well as a protea farmer. She has about 80 students, half children, half adults. They all call her Auntie.
The hula is serious business in Hawaii today. It nurtures the sense of being Hawaiian. But when the New England missionaries arrived in the early 19th century, they were scandalized by the dance and condemned it. Like most Westerners even today, the missionaries focused on the dancers; but it is the chant - the words - that are all-important. The Hawaiians had no written language and relied on the hula to preserve their history and mythology.
The hula went underground until King Kalakaua, the "merry monarch" proclaimed: "I am king! We shall dance!" Ever since, people like Bailey have kept it alive.
Sitting in her studio, she says, "The hula and native flowers are inseparable parts of Hawaiian tradition. One without the other would be an incomplete picture. My life is to keep these traditions, to perpetuate Hawaiian culture."
"Oh," she says, removing a lei-banded straw hat. "We're dancing Saturday night at a private party. Would you like to come?"
The chinese brought the onion to hawaii in the late 1800s, but it was not until 1953 that the "Maui onion" was developed during field trials at the farm of Jutaro Yokoyama on the slopes of Haleakala. Today Maui onions are prized by amateur and professional gourmets for their delicate, sweet taste. They're excellent raw, in salads or sandwiches, though Upcountry residents seem to prefer them stir-fried in garlic, salt, and butter. What accounts for their flavor?
"It's the ideal combination of range of temperatures - between 60 and 80 degrees - good volcanic soil, and pure rainwater," says Ricky Kametani, Yokoyama's grandson. He is standing in a field surrounded by softball-size yellow onions with green stems. The wind whips his jet black hair off his forehead.
"My grandfather came here from Japan in 1910 and eventually took up onions. My father followed, and I've been growing onions for 14 years. There are 20 to 30 growers here in Kula."
Behind Kametani the earth stretches down the mountain in great quilted fields. Upcountry Maui, with its three growing seasons a year, provides a cornucopia of not only onions but also tomatoes, corn, lettuce, herbs, asparagus, peppers, cucumbers....
"Fresh ingredients," says chef Beverly Gannon, digging into her pear-and-duck taco. "Because of the fresh ingredients, the level of the food is as good as anywhere in the world. I call in my orders in the morning, and the farmers go out and pick it and bring it to me that afternoon."
For many years Maui's resort hotels and upscale restaurants imported their vegetables from Asia and the mainland, while Upcountry farmers grew their produce for export. But eight years ago, a dozen chefs, including Cordon Bleu-trained Gannon, got together to work with local farmers, who now supply berries, lettuce, haricots verts, and other vegetables.
Gannon had refurbished the old General Store at Haliimaile in 1988, and there she has been turning out masterpieces of what she calls Hawaiian regional cuisine. It's creative (rock shrimp lumpia with sweet Thai chili sauce; lamb marinated in hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and black beans; passion fruit tarts) and makes maximum use of Upcountry produce.
When outsiders come to her restaurant for the first time, Gannon likes to give them the correct pronunciation of the town's name. All around her, people are eating with wolfish gusto, their mouths full of food and praise. She scans the tables, each covered with plates that look like those impossibly perfect photographs from cookbooks, and over the percussion of knives and forks insists to her listener: "It's Haliimile - HAH-lee-hee-miley."
But to Eddie Bak, whose father came to Upcountry from Korea to work in the pineapple fields, it's "Hiley-Miley." Bak remembers the General Store when it was the plantation shop, and it supplied everything he might need to keep his family comfortable. Now 79 years old and retired after 49 years in the fields, he still lives in his small plantation house surrounded with pineapple plants whose waving green blades mimic the motion of the sea beyond.
In his heyday, Bak could pick 3,000 pineapples a day, and this morning those memories bubble up to the surface. Dawn to dusk. Hot, dusty fields. Wearing canvas aprons, canvas pants, a hat with a large brim, and gloves to protect from scratches and cuts. Bandanna over mouth and nose to keep out the dust. Goggles to protect the eyes - with screen rather than glass, because glass would steam up in the heat. Bend and pick all day. Helped to be short¿
But Bak loved his job, and he still loves the land: "Love Upcountry. Knew everybody. Everybody care for each other. Japanese, Korean, Filipino, no matter."
The best burger on Maui, rumor has it, is at Kitada's in downtown Makawao: Ask for the hamburger deluxe (extra napkins needed).
The restaurant was opened in 1946 by Takeshi Kitada, and on this day his daughter, Ethel, is hustling to get everyone's order; takeout business is brisk. At the hardwood tables that are part of the original decor, customers are robotically lifting forks to mouths.
Ethel brushes back a wisp of damp hair and briefly laments the proliferation of New Age establishments that have been taking over Makawao. But she's too busy to dwell on it. The screen door opens and bangs closed, and an old man walks slowly across the concrete floor and sits down. Ethel doesn't ask him for his order; she just brings him the large bowl of saimin - also reputedly the best on Maui.
The best cream puffs on Maui, and perhaps the entire world, can be purchased just down the street at Komoda's, the other venerable Ma-kawao institution. They sell more than 700 of them on weekdays, about 1,800 on a good Saturday. The recipe is a trade secret developed by 70-year-old Ikuo Komoda, who worked with his older brother, Takeo.
Today the family business, established in 1916, is in the hands of Takeo's daughter and son-in-law, Calvin Shibuya, who retired as an Air Force pilot ten years ago. Shibuya had wanted to become a commercial pilot, but he knew that if he and his wife didn't take over the enterprise, it would die. So he works 17 hours a day - except on Fridays, when he works all night to get ready for the Saturday crush.
Makawao is an old paniolo town whose wooden, false-front buildings give it a Dodge City appearance. In fact, it was not all that long ago that cowboys would ride into town, hitch their horses, and pick up essential supplies like cigarettes and beer. Today, they'd have trouble finding a place to park. They still have a tremendous rodeo here every July 4, but Upcountry in general, and Makawao in particular, have become centers of alternative culture.
There's the Maui School of Yoga Therapy and the Grace Health Clinic, which offers shiatsu massage. At the Cafe O'Lei, New Agers eat muffins and sip cappuccino while exchanging trendier-than-thou looks. At first, it all somehow seems out of touch with the Upcountry¿
"Not so" says Kaui Philpotts. "Not so at all."
She is curled up, barefoot, on an oversize chair next to a black marble fireplace in her showplace home in Kula.
"Many Upcountry people have embraced New Age concepts. It's all very close to ancient Hawaiian tradition - natural healing, herbal medicine. A lot of it makes sense to people here. Most of my friends meditate, do yoga, and practice some form of herbal medicine. You don't have to buy into all of it. You take what you want and leave the rest."
Philpotts was born on Maui but left to attend the University of Oregon. Later she wrote Hawaiian cookbooks and became food editor of the Honolulu Advertiser. She and her husband settled in Upcountry about five years ago.
"It's the only place I'd live on Maui," she says. "The idea of aloha lives on here. I still know people I went to high school with. Weddings, graduations, funerals are all community events here, and it's considered an honor to help out with one." As if to demonstrate the spirit of the helping hand in Upcountry, she adds, "There's a church up the road that was falling down a couple of years ago, and to save it this woman started baking Portuguese bread. They call her the Bread Lady."
One's olfactory sensors come out joyfully to greet the confluence of smells at the annual Pentecostal feast at the Church of the Holy Ghost - Portuguese bean soup, teriyaki, chow fun (fried noodles), pork, and salted beef steaming in ti leaves. Looming over the scene is the church and its delicate steeple. At the soup and bread stand, Betty Ventura has already sold her day's quota of 200 loaves. (She has hidden the remaining 200 loaves so there will be some to sell on the second day of the feast. "Some people come here just to buy the bread," she says.)
The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to come to Hawaii, many arriving in 1878 from the Azores and Madeira. At first they worked on the Maui sugar plantations, but when their contracts expired, they moved here to ranch and farm. One of their first needs was a church, and in 1895 Holy Ghost Church was completed in Kula.
The church is octagonal, a design that resists strong winds. But its really special features are the altar and 14 stations of the cross. These were made under the directionof a master Austrian woodcarver named Ferdinand Stuflessor, shipped in sections around Cape Horn, and brought to the church site by oxcart. They are considered museum-quality examples of 19th-century ecclesiastical art.
About nine years ago the parishioners were told the church was infested with termites. They had two choices: tear it down and move the wood carvings to a museum, or restore the building - at an estimated cost of $1 million. In the middle of mass one Sunday, the answer came to Betty Ventura. She'd bake bread. Not just any bread, but pão doce, Portuguese sweet bread. She had a recipe with a notation on it - Ono. Ono. Ono. Good. Good. Good. But when she tried it, it didn't taste the way Ventura remembered her grandmother's bread tasting. She tinkered with the recipe until it did. And then she started baking, and the bread started selling. So far her project has earned $420,000 toward retiring the debt for restoration of the church, which was completed in 1992.
Every Sunday night Ventura sets her clock for midnight and is at the church by 1 a.m. to bake all night. She has ten helpers, whom she calls her apostles. The average month's profit is about $6,000.
"This is dough making dough," she says with a conspiratorial wink.
I remember I have an invitation from gordean bailey, and 15 minutes later I am in a hard-to-find residential section of Kula, where many of the homes are on the verge of mansionhood. At one of the biggest, a lawn party that would have made Jay Gatsby envious is open full throttle.
Under one of the bright tents, two bartenders are handing glasses wrapped in napkins to eager, bejeweled hands. The liquor is top shelf, the wine is icy chilled, and the Perrier is flowing like water. There is a roaring fire of voices, and the party is a madness of glitter and glass.
I see a dozen or more faces that I've seen several times before in the past few weeks. People are wandering in from the Holy Ghost feast. A couple of the artists from Grandma's Coffee House are locked in an earnest discussion. The host is a wealthy San Francisco investor who has a second home in Honolulu and a third one here. The occasion is the blessing of a newly built garage to house his six antique cars. Hawaiian tradition holds that whenever anyone builds a new house, adds to it, or moves into a new home, the dwelling should be blessed.
A 5 p.m. sharp, the host takes an anticipatory gulp of his cocktail and taps on his glass with a spoon. In a few minutes Gordean Bailey walks out onto the grass. She sits down cross-legged, plays a percussion instrument with her hands, and starts a chant.
Her dancers, five women and three girls, glide onto the scene. This is kahiko, ancient, hula. The women begin swaying with a fluid grace, their long slender fingers flickering. Behind them Bailey chants in a voice softer than cobwebs. A tiny breeze, no more than the wingbeat of a moth, carries the aroma of blossomed things.