I drove up to Haleakala with friends on one of those translucent winter days, when the light pours through the clouds like a divine dispensation and every surface seems to glow.
We, my lady writer friends and I, were leaving the lowlands of everyday concern for what Jill Engledow (freelance writer extraordinaire) and Katherine Kama'ema'e Smith ("The Love Remains") agreed is wao akua, the realm of the gods.
It was one of the mountain's mysterious days, 48 degrees at noon at the top, the crater was socked in with fog that filtered down like a fine rain.
The others - including Linda Decker ("Edward Bailey of Maui: Teacher & Naturalist, Engineer & Artist") and Gail Ainsworth ("Maui Remembers") - chose the warmth of the observation shelter on the rim, but I stayed outside, wondering if the crater would reveal herself if I was patient.
Ah, yes. Magically, the fog began to lift and a thin sun appeared high in the sky. The mist slowly receded from rocky crags and orange striations and red sands, like a Victorian lady lifting her long skirts.
Clouds blocked all signs of life below. Katherine joined me and we stood together in the wonder of it all, able to view the horizon as a full circle all around us, a sight also available out at sea. "It's the kukulu o ka honua," literally the pillars or borders of the Earth.
Jill, who is soon to publish the ultimate human history of Haleakala, treated us on the ride up to some tidbits of information true islanders would appreciate.
* National park engineers carefully designed the road to the summit, opened in 1935, so it doesn't impact the view. The first awe-inspiring sight of the crater is not revealed until you reach the top.
* It was commonly held that the road would depart from Olinda, the original route visitors took on horseback to Haleakala, but a survey revealed there were too many gulches to cross. John Arisumi, whose father once ran horse tours to the crater from Idylwild, the old home at the top of Olinda Road, told me there were two horse trails to the summit, "one for good weather, one for fog." Early in the decade, the Honolulu Trail and Mountain Club, founded in 1910 by Alexander Hume Ford, came over to Maui shortly thereafter and put signposts along the old trail, one of which Jill remembers having seen years ago.
* There is one bridge on the park road, a little one just after park headquarters and the gift shop. It's made of carefully fitted yellow-and-orange native stone from within park boundaries.
* The mountain used to be 10,025 feet, but it lost 2 feet during the war when the military built a radio installation at the summit. The cluster of gleaming observatories nearby should not be called Science City, Jill said; the proper term is Haleakala Observatories. A new telescope is planned for the site, 14 stories high, painted white, to be called the National Solar Observatory, pending the resolution of a lawsuit opposing it. Scientists say they will learn more about the sun than since the time of Galileo.
* For a while, there was a move within the Park Service to get rid of the word "crater" referring to Haleakala, in favor of the more scientifically accurate but plodding terminology, "summit valley," "summit basin," and the unfortunate term "erosional depression." The employee who pioneered the latter term is no longer on Maui, Jill revealed.
* Nobody realized there were archaeological sites on the mountain, including a heiau, until the children of Louis von Tempsky, the legendary manager of Haleakala Ranch, were sliding their horses down a pu'u one day in the 1920s and discovered a site with walls. Lorrin Thurston, who helped create the Volcanoes National Park, was along for the ride and told the Bishop Museum. The young Kenneth Emory was dispatched, thus beginning his brilliant career.
On the way down, we stopped for a picnic at Hosmer Grove, planted with conifers and pines by Ralph Hosmer at the turn of the 20th century. "Koa trees were suffering a massive die-off and no one knew why," Jill explained. "He wanted to find out what else might grow."
The tall stand of trees was at the edge of the Waikamoi forest, and native birds are doing their best to adapt to it. High up in the rainbow eucalyptus, i'iwi flashed their black wings as they investigated the white flowers, settling down again, their crimson breasts and heads shining through the leaves like lehua blossoms.
An apapane - much like the 5-inch i'iwi, but with a white rump - hopped in the mamane and pukiawe bushes nearby, what a sight to lift the heart. The air resounded with a choir of birdsong, a lush chorus of fluting calls and piercing whistles.
At the picnic table, Linda quietly pointed to the fence behind me where perched a fat little male amakihi, with showy green feathers and the telltale curved bill of a Hawaiian honeycreeper. There he was, not more than three feet away. Katherine threw out some crumbs and down he flew to join us, a tiny miracle.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.