Friday, August 11, 2023

Maui: Paradise Lost

Scenes of the horrific fire that has transformed the idyllic paradise of Maui into an inferno of Dantesque proportions are especially searing to anyone who has been to the Hawaiian island and the historic town of Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the early 19th century.

Gilda and I visited Maui in April a little more than 30 years ago to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.  We mixed business with some pleasure by taking a trip to Lahaina one afternoon. Picturesque, Lahaina’s central attraction was an enormous banyan tree planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the town’s first Protestant mission. 

Banyan trees feature outstretched trunks that spread out horizontally from the central core. Standing 60 feet tall in a square in front of the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Lahaina’s banyan tree’s foliage was consumed by the fire. The main trunk and limbs appear to be charred. Its viability is uncertain. 

At a time when more than 65 people have perished, with scores more expected to be added to the fatality list, it might seem callous to bemoan the loss of a tree. But trees, whether they be Redwoods in California or the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, convey a sense of permanence and solidity independent of transient conditions like war, pestilence and even fire. 

Far From Boring: Back in 2010 I described Hawaii’s weather as “borrring.”   

“Every day the temperature is 80 degrees, give or take a degree or two.”

During Gilda’s and my second trip to Hawaii, this time in January to visit Ellie during her seven months on Oahu after her college graduation, we listened to the weather report every day. It really was unnecessary, as it never varied: “Sunny, high 80 degrees with chance of scattered afternoon showers.”

Oh, sure, compared to a blizzard back in New York 80 degrees sounded appealing. It surely was a respite from bitter cold and snow. But as a steady daily diet, I’m not sure I could tolerate one season basically 12 months a year.

All that has changed with recent events. I can never again think of Maui as a tropical paradise.