I ate my lunch the other day at Euro Beach in Spreckelsville, a pocket oasis of coconut palms, kiawe and white powdered sand. It looks out onto pale turquoise and green water, flecked with breakers, unusual colors lightened by the shallows.
It's hidden behind Papalua Point, so the scene is of paradisiacal isolation. No civilization in sight.
What you see at the end of the beach are the lucky denizens of the vacation rentals along Laulea Street, a gorgeous row of huge oceanfront homes with every manner of flowering tree. These people have their own access to this special little beach, but for the rest of us there are signs along the road, of course, that say "No Beach Access, Private Drive."
The beach is a microcosm of Maui these days. Happy windsurfers ply their rainbow kites back and forth in the wind at their little spot, while the sails of the lordly kitesurfers fly to the east.
Reality intrudes every few minutes when a jet lifts suddenly out of the trees, long, sleek, flying low off the Kahului Airport runway, markings visible. The Mainland-bound planes head due north, the local ones bank and head west toward Honolulu.
This interlude reminds me that there are still refuges on our beautiful island, where beach access is carefully protected for one and all, even if we do have to bump down a dirt road to get there.
Once upon a time this was crown land, part of the Wailuku Commons. Hawaiians were free to use it as they pleased until the rapacious Claus Spreckels swindled Kalakaua out of the whole thing. More on that later.
The first sugar cane to be grown commercially along this oceanfront stretch from Spreckelsville to Paia was about half a mile east, past Kaunoa, at James Alexander's Seaside Farm, begun in 1871.
This beginning coincided with the purchase in 1870 by his brother Samuel T. Alexander and brother-in-law, Henry P. Baldwin, of 559 acres of grazing land at Sunnyside, down what is now Baldwin Avenue from Makawao, for $8,000. Known as Bush Ranch, it was formerly part of Haiku Sugar Co.
The two young partners called it the Alexander & Baldwin plantation, and contracted with Robson Hind to build a mill at Paliuli on the site of what is now Makawao Union Church. On the west, their property abutted Thomas Hobron's Hali'imaile Plantation, whose other boundary was with with the moku of Wailuku along Kailua Gulch. This is hard to locate, but there is a small bridge where it lets out, roughly at the golf course end of the Maui Country Club, before Baldwin Beach.
(Are you still with me? I love looking at old maps to figure out precisely where things were.)
The A&B and Hali'imaile plantations both swept down to Paia but for some reason stopped short of the coastal strip adjoining them, land that today would underlie Hana Highway leading into Paia and Baldwin Beach park beyond. This is where James decided to try his luck sugar farming, on unirrigated land where the rainfall was barely adequate.
James McKinney Alexander was the second son of the missionaries William P. and Mary Ann Alexander of Wailuku, born in a grass house in Waioli, Kauai. He was as studious as his older brother, William DeWitt, who became president of Punahou School and surveyor general for the kingdom under Kalakaua. He was as witty as his younger brother, Sam, the entrepreneur.
James was ordained as a minister in California and moved back to Maui from Oakland with his wife and son in 1871. He built a fine farmhouse in Kokomo called "Glenside," which passed down through the family for several generations. A second piece of land along the ocean at Hamakuapoko completed his plantation.
Back in those days the only way for an educated missionary son to make a living in the kingdom was to go into sugar. James was offered the manager's job at Wailuku Sugar Co. when he was younger but turned it down.
He was not interested in making "tin" (money), he once told his sister Emily, who married Henry Baldwin. "Happiness springs only from self-denial, and the highest happiness from self-denial for the good of others."
It's a timeless sentiment. Blessed are those in this day and age who strive to live by it.
It's sunset at Paia Beach, at the other end of what used to be Seaside Farm. The moon shines high through the branches of a big old banyan tree that guards the remains of a pier at the beach's far end. From here you can see the lights of Kahului.
A local family has held on to their red and white plantation-style enclave on the beach, with plenty of picnic tables, local-style. Good for them. Some homeless guys hunker down in shelters backed against a fence. They look out upon rolling green waves that wipe the sand perfectly clean.
How perfect this beach once was, not cut into pieces with housing and erosion as it is now. How wide, how pristine. How things have changed since the Hawaiians sailed their canoes and threw their nets and cane grew along the sea.
* 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.