I returned recently from three weeks away at points east - cold, snow, so difficult to go outside. There's beauty in the ice on the trees, powder dusting the mountaintops, and comfort in cozy fires, but oh, how good it was to unwind from the wretched economy airline seat ($9 for a Thai chicken wrap!) and hear the familiar local lilt of the gate agent welcoming us to Maui.
I don't think I'll ever stop appreciating the caress of the soft Hawaiian breeze on my face, the deep blue sky and high puffy clouds, the way everything here moves and flows and breathes like a single organism. The doves cooing, the jacaranda and golden trumpet blooming when much of the world is locked in winter, the fields of pine and cane.
"This is paradise," I thought anew, which got me thinking about the relief other travelers felt on first setting foot in these fair isles.
I know it's fashionable to bash the missionaries for their punitive religion and cultural suppression, but few can doubt the contribution the Rev. Dwight Baldwin made to the Hawaiian people. Among other things, he saved Lahaina from smallpox in 1853, and the few West Maui Hawaiians who were able to claim kuleana in the Mahele were members of his informed congregation.
On Tuesday, June 7, 1831, a breeze wafted the whaling bark New England around "Diamond Hill" toward Honolulu Harbor, carrying Baldwin and his wife, Charlotte, safely to their new home in Hawaii after 161 days at sea. They came from New Bedford around the South American horn in a pitching, rocking 107-foot ship the size of two modern tour buses end to end.
The sandy plain of Honolulu hove into view, a village of 5,000 inhabitants with 800 thatched huts and tall, plumy coconut trees fanning the shore. The land rose through gardens and farms to brown hills, then the cloud-draped, chiseled ridges of a mountain range transversing the island.
"I never beheld a more beautiful landscape than the mountains back of the town present," Charlotte wrote in her journal.
Baldwin and his fellows were rowed ashore to meet the American Protestants, who in their collars and vests, thin jackets and pantaloons were easily discernible in the throng of Hawaiians. There was so much to discuss that the afternoon slipped by without thought of their wives.
Back on board ship, the "dear companions" prayed together and waited eagerly for their husbands to return.
"We deferred our tea, thinking our companions might return and bring us some fruit, but at last we once more, cheerfully, too, sat down to our table of salt junk and sea bread," Charlotte wrote. "About dark, our husbands arrived bringing much love & fruits, bananas & oranges, sweet potatoes, cake, pies, etc. We partook of them with thankful hearts."
They awoke the next morning to the friendly chatter of Hawaiians who piled aboard selling milk and vegetables. Twenty outrigger canoes circled the ship, sailing in all directions, and the muscular figures of the Hawaiians, black hair flying as they powered their crafts forward, contrasted starkly with the prim ladies, clad in bonnets and loose dresses of light calico and gingham, as they were let down in chairs to the whaleboats.
Hawaiians of all ages circled around on shore with cries of "Aloha!" and ran alongside the wagon bearing them the short distance to the mission houses at Kawaiaha'o.
Some missionary sisters covered their eyes at first sight of the "naked" Hawaiians, but Charlotte was fascinated. They wore cloth made of mulberry bark around their middles, she reported. Some added a shirt or a jacket, but others owned barely a covering at all.
"Had I not been prepared for it I should have been much shocked," Charlotte wrote. "It was a new scene indeed to us. I felt myself among an interesting people."
I like that reaction.
I was pushing a shopping cart back down Baldwin Avenue to Mana Foods one afternoon soon after I returned. Blocking my way on the narrow Paia sidewalk were two male tourists ambling along in shorts with shirts tucked in as if they had all the time in the world.
I fell into a busy resident's rise of impatience. Then I allowed myself to adjust to their pace, and I got it. How easy it felt to walk so slowly, how free. No coats, no cold, no hassles. They were basking as they idled along, drinking in the beauty and the warmth.
We have a sacred trust here. This island is not ours. It belongs to the world as a haven and it is our duty to protect it. As the battle goes on over the Maui Island Plan, may the highest good for all prevail.
* 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 email@example.com.