On Saturday we threw together reading material we never get to and took ourselves far, far away to the cool reaches of Hosmer Grove in Haleakala National Park. The pilikia of household exigencies receded as we ascended through the pastures and the clouds.
A large ama'u fern clinging to a bank was the sign that we had entered native plant territory, a rarified clime, high, bright, serene. We live here. Why don't we do this more often?
The campground was full, some folks brandishing a Hawaiian flag at theirs, kids playing and laughing and making noise. We found a hideaway farther down the road, a little patch of grass with pukiawe and 'a'ali'i all around.
The bird chorus I was hoping for was silent, but the wind blew an Aeolian harp in the pines. The clouds were low, wisps blowing briskly to the west, caught by the trees. The wind stirred the tall grass, dry with seed. Red, the tips of the a'ali'i. It felt like Carmel. I could smell the pine.
I need time like this in my life.
I turned to Jill Engledow's fine book, "Haleakala, A History of the Maui Mountain," to learn out about Hosmer Grove, formerly known as McGee Spring, or Pine Trees Camp and Picnic Round Road.
Once, magnificent native forests covered Maui. Their tall trees created a canopy that blocked the drying effect of the sun, while dense vegetation below sheltered the ground from erosion and rainfall. The forest acted like a great sponge, absorbing water that soaked into the ground, replenishing the aquifer, trickling into streams, seeping underground to feed springs that bubble up even in the driest of places.
The intricately woven forest - "plants growing on plants growing on plants," as Jill quoted Fern Duvall - sheltered more than 10,000 species, an "unmatched collection of life" while supplying freshwater to lands below and protecting the ocean reefs from runoff.
How elegant are nature's ways.
But between 1100 and 1650, agriculture in the lowlands displaced their native forests, and those higher up were devastated in the years that followed, victim of the sandalwood trade of the 1800s, and ship captains who brought gifts of sheep, cattle and goats, which found their way to the highlands and wreaked havoc. The water supply diminished as upland forests turned to grasslands and . . .
I looked to my right. "I love the way the air feels, moist and pure and clean," the driver said, leaning back in his chair.
In 1904, the Territorial Legislature hired Ralph Hosmer as the first territorial forester, who knew from experience in California the importance of forests in supplying water for agricultural irrigation. In Hawaii, he created a forest reserve system of more than a million acres, 150,000 of them on Maui.
Forest decline was inevitable; it was thought. The only way to maintain one was to replace natives with fast-growing introduced species. Hosmer planted a variety of species, including eucalyptus and pines, at the grove near Waikamoi that was eventually named for him.
The new forests staved off erosion, but they tended to spread, encroaching on the native forests, and did not support native birds. The now-acidic soil further depleted the ranks of the natives. A ring of forest reserves encircling Haleakala, did, however, preserve part of that wonderfully diverse ecosystem. Fencing and hunting did the rest.
"I've got a word for you," he said. "Dendrochronology: the science of dating events based on the study of tree rings."
I looked over. There he was with his beloved Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1971, the best ever, the definitions jewels of old-fashioned literacy. It's so good, you can find a list of currencies of the world, diagrams of Greek architecture, elements of Morse code, the Beaufort scale of rating storms, and diagrams of the stage and the cow.
He showed me his list. "I've been wanting to do this for months. Why not today?"
Oneiric: of or relating to dreams. Importunate: troublesome. Demotic: in the popular style (non-rarified). Parallelopiped: a prism whose bases are parallelograms. Moue: a little grimace or pout. Euonymous: a genus of evergreen shrubs and trees. Evection . . . oh, never mind.
The day waned, the air cooled. The smell of smoke wafted over from the campground. The sun broke through the clouds in a brilliant finale and turned the grass seeds gold. Two nene soared in tandem overhead as we walked to the car, and the sky was full of angel wings.
Fulfillment. Our afternoon of small, good things was at an end.
* 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.