October 16, 2011
Can You Go Home Again?
With apologies to author Thomas Wolfe, my question really is "will home still feel like home when I go back?" It has been 10 years since Betty and I have been to Hawaii, and probably 14 years since we have been to Maui, well before the beginning of my satisfying retirement. That is a long time between visits. It would be normal for there to be changes on Maui, and what my reaction might be.
For over 20 years I had visited Hawaii at least a dozen times. Some trips were for business, some with family, and two of them alone to decompress from business. When our daughters were growing up we celebrated two fabulous Christmas holidays, learned to scuba dive together as a family, snorkeled, saw whales, and created lifelong memories. During every one of those visits I would step off the plane, feel the breezes and smell the flowers and scents in the air, and feel like I had arrived home. I can't tell you why Hawaii, and Maui in particular, felt so comforting. But, it did. During the long time between visits I occasionally felt the pull to go back. But, a few trips to Europe, two long driving excursions, and the addition of a son-in-law and grandkids kept my need for the islands at bay.
About 6 months ago, while planning another driving vacation, I suddenly realized I really needed to come back to Maui. I needed to find out if it was the place that had so engaged me. With Betty's quick agreement we had the planes, car, and condo booked in a few days. Time passed and in late September we were back "home." I was both apprehensive and eager to discover what had changed. Would I still feel that pull? Would the island magic grab me as strongly as it did when I was younger? Would Maui have changed enough over the intervening 14 years that I didn't bond to it like I once did.
For the first several days, it seemed as though things were different. It wasn't that Maui had changed much but apparently I had. The instant strong feeling of past visits wasn't there. It remains amazingly beautiful. True, the airport felt partly abandoned. At least half the 30 gates were no longer being used since Aloha Airlines went out of business several years ago. Some wind turbines had sprouted from a hillside to take advantage of the constant breezes. A new highway or two made travel a bit quicker. Food and gas prices were astonishingly high. But, the Maui of 1997 was little changed from what I found in 2011.
That must have meant I had changed. Was it simply being older with deeper roots in Arizona? Was it a widened range of experiences collected during the trips to Ireland, England, and Italy? Was it the amazing hassle that airline travel has become? Was it not needing whatever Maui once supplied me with? Was it that since my last visit I had retired? I had no idea.
Then, on the 5th day, as Betty and I drove from our condo the old feeling returned. There wasn't any one thing that triggered it, just a sense of peace and relaxation that has always been at the core of my stays on this island. It was as if the intervening years had not passed.
Things looked and felt familiar. Lahaina's Banyan tree is still the center of the town's life. The Saturday morning art festival under its shade continues in full swing. The harbor at Maalaea had added several new buildings, but Buzz's restaurant was right where I left it 14 years earlier. The windsurfers just past Pa'ia were busy defying gravity and waves, while the surfers cut through the water with tremendous grace. The road to Hana was every bit as twisty and upcountry every bit as beautiful. Tedeschi Winery remains one of the most peaceful places I have ever been.
Even after all the previous visits this special place held some surprises. For the first time we watched the Maui Fair parade, all one hour of it, with floats, bands, fire engines, clowns, every Boy Scout and Girl Scout on the island, and amazing high school-aged acrobats. We sat for a delightful afternoon while watching the Maui Polo Club (seriously!) play dozens of chuckers (games).
The sunsets at the beach park just across from the condo were as spectacular as any we have seen anywhere in the world. Because this time of year is off-season for Hawaii we were happy to find fewer cars on the road and fewer tourists on the beaches. We approached each day with no definite plan and no agenda. Time seemed to slow down and each day felt well-spent. Betty was content taking hundreds of photos each day while I read, relaxed, and kept an eye on the blog comments.
The only real change in my reaction to Maui was my long held desire to live here for three or four months each year. The distance from family and the sky high costs have made that dream not reasonable for now. Also, there is a definite feeling of disconnect being on a small island in the middle of the Pacific. By the time I woke up and had breakfast, the stock market was about to close for the day. Football games start at 8 AM Sunday morning and are all over by lunchtime. In talking with a few of the locals, it became obvious they have little interest in what is going on in the rest of the country or world. In fact, if surf is up, it seems as though virtually every person under 30 is on a board in the ocean. Their universe is this island. I can see how it would be too easy to slip into that mindset when you are 2,500 miles away from the nearest land. I need fresh challenges and to be part of the whole.
Can you go home again? Yes and no. I was happy Maui has remained the special place it is and I could feel comfortable being there after such a long absence. But, I had changed to the point where I treated it like a well-deserved vacation rather than a prelude to living there for part of each year. Will I ever go back? Probably. Two or three weeks seems just about right. But, if I don't go back I will have learned what I needed to know about this place and its part in my life.
My satisfying retirement has completed another chapter.