With each hairpin turn I made, the road got narrower and narrower. Up and up I climbed, and if it was cloudy that day, I surely would have been in one. Over 2600 feet elevation from my home in Pukalani. At 3820 feet, it’s near the tree line before the barren stretch to the top of Haleakala Crater. At times there was only room for one car, the trees and rocks protruding onto the roadway, and each switchback corner was a head-on disaster waiting to happen. Not only that, the sun was glaring off the windshield at times like a strobe light as I went under huge trees and canopied tunnels of living green.
The directions on the internet were vague. Turn right at four corners downtown Makawao onto Olinda Road. Go until you see the Bird Sanctuary on the left. A small parking lot will be on the right. I had been on that road only a couple of times before, and only as far as a private school, Seabury Hall, which looks like something out of the Harry Potter movies. That was about a mile out of Makawao, still quite a rise in elevation for only a mile. Going past Seabury Hall, the road gets very narrow and curvy, and the surface of the road is poor. There were goat farms, unmanned fruit stands, shanties and mansions, and curves with stuffed monkeys hanging in trees to honor someone who died. I think I encountered only two cars coming down the volcano in that 25-minute drive, and both were hogging the center of the way too narrow road and I turned into the side vegetation to avoid a head-on.
Beautiful would be an understatement of the surrounding scenery, with occasional glimpses of the ocean and distant land. At times I would consider living in such an off the grid sort of place, and other times not. Today I wasn’t looking for a home, I was looking for a trail. Just when common sense told me that maybe I should consider turning around and heading to safety, there it was, the Bird Sanctuary. Almost unnoticeable was also a small highway sign denoting that it was also the end of the Maui County Department roadway. Onward I went.
I was only about another half mile when I came to the parking lot, really just a dirt pull off good for about 10 cars. I pulled next to the four that were already there, it was about 10AM. It was in the middle of a huge pine forest, and the trees were either very old, or they grow fast and big over here. The ground was covered with pine needles and pine cones, of which I brought home a few. A gate was closed at the start of the trail, but I could see where the wire fence was pushed down around it, and I assumed, rightly, that I was good to go. So in I went.
The first thing that struck me was the quiet. You know that almost “hurt the eardrum” kind of quiet that you seldom get to experience these days. The silence between the sounds. This is one of the truly remarkable things you can get out of nature. Quiet. How often do you really get to experience that? I’m not talking sound machine when you are sleeping or having the radio off in your car. I mean the true absence of sound. It’s almost mystical.
I think about my kids and about the constant bombardment of noise in their lives. That can’t be healthy. Overstimulation in any one organ, especially one of the senses tips you out of balance. Just the base level noise that comes from living near humans, with their cars and mowers and TVs and music and chatter, and as I write this, firecrackers exploding in celebration of New Years. Add to that all the noises that fill in the rest of the space. They say that your subconscious records everything you see or hear in a lifetime. If that’s the case, I would think that people are just about running out of subconscious storage space, which I believe contributes to some of the ills that society has these days. If we could all just have a little less noise in our lives, we would all be much better off. But I also believe to get my kids off their noise addiction would be next to impossible.
As I walk, the fallen pine needles make the sound of my walking barely perceptible. I hear an occasional bird singing, and in the distance, the sound of children talking.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
In that silent forest, I pictured ancient islanders walking where I did, being one with nature. Nature is a patient mother. When you need her help, she will always welcome you back. It’s rare to get time with her. It felt good.
After about a half mile or so, there was a fork in the road which had signage telling you that you could either go around the loop trail, to end up back where you started or to a spring, about a mile away. I decided to go for the spring. In about ten minutes of walking, I came upon a couple, very silent, sitting on a fallen log. Near them was a sign and trail pointing towards the spring which looked to be almost a straight drop to the forest far below. I asked them if that was the trail, and they said it was. I then asked if it was hard, to which they also replied it was, and that was the reason they were sitting there. They were waiting for a companion who had gone on without them. I gave them a smile and headed for the edge.
In my youth I spent an enormous time in the woods, climbing trees and rocks, fearlessly forging forward through all kinds of terrain. I have to admit, this looked a bit daunting. An experienced mountain climber, on the other hand, would have run down it. I carefully made my way, placing each foot far enough from the edge to keep the ground from caving in and tumbling over. It was a little damp, and the leaves were quite slippery. If it rained, it would be impossible to go. It would make a great ride at an amusement park in that condition though if wet. I would rest from time to time and admire the beauty and solitude of it all.
I have never really thought about the limitations of my body. Today I did. I wondered how I would get out of there if I fell and broke something. Would anyone find me if I tumbled over the edge? What in the world was I thinking coming down here, I still had to get back up. Maybe I will have a heart attack. You know, all those crazy old person thoughts. The sound of those children snapped me out of it. Their laughter was coming from the forest below, just out of sight.
Almost to the bottom, I could see who was there. There was a young couple with a dog, they had on hiking gear and looked like they did this a lot. Then there was another young couple with two kids no older than three, and a dog. And finally, the two children laughing with their Mom, the kids about 10 and 12, and a dog. The kids, the hiking couple, and a dog were going in and out of these small caves that were on the side of the towering cliff. Of course, the dogs were doing what we as humans struggle so hard all our lives with, enjoying the moment. I mentioned to the kid’s Mom how I thought they were quite brave to make the trek, to which she replied they come here a lot, and no big deal. She was dressed like she was going to the store to get groceries. At that point, I guess I was feeling a little foolish for doubting my abilities. I felt better to know that there was someone around though.
I stayed and watched the action for about a half hour, then the couple with the youngest kids headed back up. The Mom called her dog because she wanted to go too, kids complaining not to leave. I figured that’s my chance. If I went behind the first couple, then knowing the Mom and kids would come behind, they would find me if something happened. Just being careful I thought.
The hike back out took a while, but I never did catch up to the first group until I reached the top. The log couple was gone by then, and I headed back up the trail towards my car alone. I was grateful to be in the silence again. It was only about ten minutes to my car, and I was torn internally on wanting to stay or leave. I wasn’t really prepared for the hike. I had no water or snacks and today was just to see what it was all about in case I wanted to bring my kids back. I found out that it was another half mile to a spring from the bottom of the cliff. I will save that for another time, good reason to come back.
The return trip was fabulous on that curvy narrow road, with endless views and lush forests and fields. I could sense a feeling of stress as I came to the stop in town, with the tourists already streaming into the shops, and cars and trucks roaring up and down the streets.
For me, my little day trip reminded me of our need to be with nature. To let go of the hubbub of daily life, remove all the noise stimulation, and have some solitude. It also reminded me of my frailty, that when you take away all the crutches of society, the cars to get around, the stairs for climbing, the soft chairs, the phones, and TVs, and refrigerators, you are left with you. It made me more aware and in touch more with our ancestors and the struggles but also the simple peace they must have felt.
I have always been a bit of a loner, and comfortable that way. Today I saw my need not only for possible protection or help but that people have an innate sense to want to be in the company of others. I felt that comfort and connection in those grand woods, even though my contact with them was minimal at best. This is a shared experience we all have as humans. The true recipients of the experience were those kids, who just let themselves be in the moment, and not think about minute minutiae adults have swimming their heads at all times. Their honest laughter was a testament to that.
I’m going to bring my kids there. I can already hear the protests. Perhaps it will move them like it did me, perhaps not. I want them to know nature, and all the lessons she can teach. Someday, they may tell their kids of their hike in the Makawao Forest.