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.


  1. Hawaii was our family vacation spot for many years. When we transferred in and out of the states , we lived there for a month at a time. My husband did his graduate work there. It is a type of home to me. I fell like we are at our vacation when we go.
    Can you ever go home again? Is more applied to Arizona for me. The answer is no. The relationships have changed more than the environment. My home is now my family...and that is tough since both kids have chosen the vagabon life that we took them on thirty years ago.
    We'll stay in Kansas until they settle. It could be ten more years.

  2. When I was in college my parents lived on Oahu, and I spent holidays and summers there. One night a friend and I got in his car after dinner and drove all the way around the island. I realized it was too small, too far for me.

    I still go back every couple of years to one of the islands. Especially in the winter, I love the sunshine and the breeze. But the Mainland is my place.

  3. Bob,

    My special place is the Big Island. I travel there at least twice a year. A week on the "BI" is equivalent to 6 months at another vacation destination for me. I have often thought of extended stays..even purchasing a small condo in a "non-tourist" location... but I can only see prices for travel and condo fees increasing. For now, a few weeks a year will have to do. It is a special place where I can feel the stress flow out of me as soon as I arrive.


  4. Janette,

    I reached the same conclusion. Our friend who lives on Maui asked what was keeping us from moving to a place we obviously loved. My answer was one word: family. It is more important right now than any other single factor.

  5. Linda,

    I've often wondered about car thieves on an island. Where do they figure they are going to go? In particular, Oahu can be completely driven in just a few hours.

    Yes, I think I would get serious island fever if I thought I'd be be there for extended periods. But, that doesn't change the total peace I feel for 2 or 3 weeks. It is my Eden.

  6. Bob,
    Off topic ... your thoughts on smart phones for a satisfying retirement ??? .... our kids, all in their 20s, have smart phones and I think it's is good that they do .... my wife and I, each pretty tech savvy, do not .... in fact, I'm the only professional of 20 in our office who does not have smart phone, and I get along just fine with remote laptop email and an old school cell ..... I'm sure we'd have "fun" with smart phones, but we just don't see using them a lot .... but, I seem to recall a positive comment you made along the way about enjoying your smart phone .... thoughts???

  7. Rick,

    I, too, like the Big Island, especially Hilo. Kona is a bit too much like California to feel Hawaiian. But, Hilo is old and local. Except when a cruise ship is in town, it is quiet and beautiful. The north shore of the Big Island is also spectacular.

  8. Rick (number 2),

    After switching from a basic flip phone I could never go back. I use it constantly to monitor comments on this blog, receive and respond to e-mail, and text people. I check the weather and keep an eye on major news developments.

    I don't download music or movies, but I have added the free Kindle app so I can read books on plane flights or while waiting for an appointment. Occasionally I'll snap a photo and instantly e-mail it to someone who I think might enjoy it.

    My wife and i have discovered that a surprising number of our contacts have gotten away from e-mails and don't even like to talk on the phone. Texting is their preferred way to communicate. I don't understand why, but in order to stay in touch I've joined the texting crowd.

    On my just completed 18 day trip to Maui I used the laptop to write blog posts and keep in touch. But, even there my smart phone was very much a part of every day.

  9. That could have been me writing about Key West. I lived there for 20 years back in the seventies and eighties. I loved it there and swore I would never live anywhere else. A few years ago I went back for a visit and I felt so detached. It was hard. My feelings for the place had changed. I came home, cried, and never went/looked back.

  10. Roberta,

    I used to love the Florida keys, too. We owned a time share near Sarasota and often extended our vacation by going to Key West. That special feeling of being at the end of the road was hard to beat.

    Over the 15 years we visited it changed. More crowds, more concentration on the gay culture, and more T-shirt shops eventually turned us off. I haven't really had the desire to go back.

  11. This quote is a bit long, but I think you'll like it.
    "We are each an island. It is your task to bring to your island what you need. To live long and well:love, beauty, diversion, friends; work that sustains a meaningful life. Look at Maui-everything was brought in by man, insect, bird or wind. It is your life; it is short. Treat your island with regard. Do not let it go to weeds; do not give it over to anyone else. Understand the possibilities. Know the dangers. Keep away the ungenerous and unkind."
    Kay Redfield Jamison

  12. Donna,

    Very nicely said. The metaphor is a good one.

  13. That shows that it takes us several days/weeks to unwind. What do you think? I thought about living in the Caribbean again, and I honestly think it would take me 6 months to unwind and adjust to Belize or Panama; not just a few weeks.

  14. Sonia,

    Adjusting to Hawaii is probably easier than Belize! My pattern has always been for the first 3-4 days I am still wound up too tight to relax. But around the 4-5 day mark of a vacation, the bubble bursts.

  15. I love this post. It brought back many details of our last trip to Maui and gave me the determination to finally go back next year. (This year's trip was postponed by a bathroom remodel, both for financial and practical reasons.) My DH would live there, but I would get island fever. I need more room to wander. Anyway, thanks for a great post. Just discovered your blog via the Money Mag article, and I'm enjoying your posts.


  16. Anonymous,

    Glad I was the spark to get you back to HEAVEN ON EARTH! Maui is very special. I'm happy it still held the same magic for me.

    I am with you. I would certainly get island fever, not only because of the smallness of the place, but the sameness of the weather. Phoenix has at least enough seasonal change to swap out wardrobes. Maui is 85 degrees every day, 365 days a year! All that said, I love it and think of it as my haven from the stress of the "real world."

    Thanks for visiting. I hope you become a regular visitor and commenter!