The invitation was to a corporate party for cousins, cowboys and members of the community directly touched by Haleakala Ranch. It turned out to be a very family affair with the sixth and seventh generations of ranch owners racing around underfoot. It said much about aloha when a relatively recent transplant was asked to join a celebration of Maui's past, present and future.
A telephone call supplied directions to what might be called a backyard party if your yard includes some 29,000 acres of Maui's heart and soul.
"It's being held at what they call the racetrack, a flat area above the old ranch dairy on Hanamu Road," she said. "There'll be a gate just after you come up out of the gulch." Yup. I know where it is.
A ceiling of black-bottom clouds over that way prompted a brief consideration of taking the truck. The clouds seem too high for much in the way of rain. Besides, a motorcycle is always easy to park, though it might fall over in a pasture. Need something to stick under the sidestand to keep it from sinking. A cat-food can will do nicely.
There are just a few drops of rain on the Omaopio side of Five Trees. Hang a right at King Kekaulike High School and slip across the one-lane bridge just ahead of a rental van coming this way.
Abandoned pineapple field on the right. There's a reservoir on the left and spread across a pasture are hundreds of sheep. No sign of the guard dogs. Some trucks and horse trailers clustered under the trees indicate some activity at the Manduke Baldwin cowboy polo field.
Hang another right on Hanamu. There's the gate and a cluster of greeters at the foot of a rough road heading upward. One of the celebration organizers, Effie Cameron Ort, smiles a welcome shaded by a much-used cowboy hat.
Take a deep breath and motor on. Baby Dancer is a pavement pounder and the road is loose gravel. She wiggles from side to side. The gravel gives way to a pair of mud ruts that induce a more emphatic motohula. Forget it. Climb out of the rut and onto the untrammeled pasture grass. Ah, much more relaxing. There's a metaphor in there, someplace.
The road wanders up maybe a thousand feet. Civilization drops away. Nothing but grass and trees and sky in sight until the big party tent comes into view. Baby Dancer is directed to a spot next to an area reserved for handicapped parking. Hmmm, another metaphor? The cat-food can is needed to keep the bike upright. The pasture grass is thick and spongy.
The entrance, marked by a rustic arch-gate and hale bales, is around that way. There's just a hint of rain, a blessing for the Haleakala Ranch 125th anniversary party. After one more brief shower, the rain gives way to a clouded sunset to the west. The top of the mountain is clear.
The sweet, backyard sounds of Kevin and Ikaika Brown float out toward the beer wagon and the wine tent. Before the night is over, some 400 guests will be entertained and fed. Nearly 100 of those guests are stockholders in Haleakala Ranch. It held its annual meeting the day before with an affirmation to do whatever it takes to preserve the ranch, its open spaces and lifestyle.
There's a very short program with two of the fourth-generation cousins speaking. Sam Lyons talked about the ranch's commitment to preserving Maui. Maizie Cameron Sanford explained why so many descendants of Sam and Harry Baldwin, her uncle and grandfather, have different last names. She said a string of protective ranch directors had married into the family. They include her father, J. Walter Cameron, her late husband, Wallace Sanford, and now, her son-in-law, Charlie Crowley.
Over a sumptuous buffet dinner, Charlie talked proudly about his recent high-school graduate daughter, Maddie, spending days caring for younger cousins and a long day on a ranch horse. The ties between this Massachusetts-based family and the ranch are strong and strengthening.
The party was relaxed and even included an impromptu hula by three of the female Baldwin descendants. The cousins and cowboys could be spotted easily. They nearly all wore blue-and-white palaka shirts with a discrete Haleakala Ranch logo on the left sleeve. Palaka, a plaid denim, is historically tough, wrinkle-resistant and often marks the wearer as a person close to the land on horseback and afoot.
The ride down to the asphalt was easy. All those cars and trucks had packed down the gravel. E kala mai. I forgot to pick up the cat-food can.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.