It's easy to become blind to the wonder that is Maui. Seeing, versus looking, takes wide-ranging interests, time and persistent eyes. Or, pick up a copy of "absolute Maui" to study, enjoy and understand the many aspects of our island home.
The large format book is made up of 175 images by 32 photographers. It must have been as a struggle to pick the best of the 9,500 pictures submitted.
It was a no-brainer to pick Tom Stevens as the writer. The specialist in elegant wordsmithing is a former staffer and columnist for The Maui News, not to mention uncounted other publications. He brings a hometown sensibility to the words, going beyond just describing what the reader is seeing.
Stevens' signature whimsy and concern is vivid in the introduction to "The Ocean," one of nine chapters. "Maui tour drivers have to keep a straight face when fielding the question posed them: 'Does the ocean go all the way around the island?' The answer is 'Yes, Virginia, it does. It does waaaaay around the island.' "
The text goes on to note the question isn't that weird since travelers often don't bother looking out the windows of the plane. "Things were different when everyone used to arrive by sea," Stevens writes. "Back then, instead of land-air-land, the trip was more like land-ocean-ocean-ocean, more ocean days, more ocean and finally, LAAAAAAND!"
The text ends with "Maui might be better served if we land-dwellers went into the ocean more often. After all, that's not just big blue scenery out there. It's our life."
Not incidentally, Stevens is island-born and has a passion for surfing, bodyboarding and beach volleyball.
"The Ocean" features underwater views, a gorgeous shot of paddlers battling waves and shots of other water activities, most of them dramatic and normally not seen. Inside the cover and at the end, there is a panoramic view of outrigger canoe paddlers practicing off Hanaka'o'o Beach Park. The sepia tone image evokes Maui's pre-contact history.
Another chapter is a gallery of close-up views of critters and plants. There are particularly affecting shots of a gecko peering over the edge of a leaf and one of a mature breadfruit with a juvenile fruit still cuddled by one of the tree's rosy-hued flowers. The "Nature Maui" chapter is a prime example of a camera being able to see detail not easily appreciated.
A portrait of Maui videographer and farmer Calvin Kuamo'o says much about the life of keiki o ka 'aina. Kuamo'o is shoulder deep in a crop of taro. He is intently examining a leaf. The composition is centered on his work-worn face and hands.
A seven-page spread honors the island's cowboy heritage with action rodeo shots, one of then-Mayor Charmaine Tavares riding in the annual Makawao parade and three working cowboys and a dog pushing a herd of cattle.
The modern section does a good job covering the span of Maui lifestyles. There are scenes of old-time places, and luxury resorts are so lushly pictured they will make Realtors and millionaires salivate. The images are romantic, but real.
Chapters in the book also cover "Scenic Scapes," "Conservation," "Hawaiian Ways," "Maui Life, "Visiting Maui" and "Future Maui." The last concentrates on alternative energy and agriculture.
According the the preface, "absolute Maui started out as a new editing of 'Maui On My Mind,' " which, in my estimation, suffered due to an off-island writer and the first edition's inclusion of a photograph showing pelicans. There are no such gaffes in "absolute Maui," although knowledgeable readers will note the cover photograph of two Maui hula students are dressed in Tahitian costumes. But, that's quibbling.
The preface says "Maui On My Mind" captured mid-1980s Maui at a time when the island had become a major travel destination, underpopulation was being mentioned, the Hawaiian Renaissance/Sovereignty was embryonic and the plantation era had entered its final years." "Absolute Maui" moves "ahead to early 21st century."
A copy of "absolute Maui" has a suggested retail price of $45. The Maui Nui Botanical Gardens has a limited supply of the books for $30 with $9 going to the gardens.
It would be a mistake to consider "absolute Maui" just another coffee-table dust collector. It is a gallery of Maui images and thoughtful text that covers the island in a way residents seldom see and appreciate.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.