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Fresh off the coconut wireless


hawaii graduation leiGraduation Lei-ing

Buried beneath a mound of lei, Hawai‘i’s graduates grin through garlands offered by friends and family.

The image is so typical that even on election night, lei-bedecked politicians are described as looking like graduates. The tradition has spread—grads from Berkeley to Harvard now wear lei—but no one piles them on like Hawai‘i.

The ancient Polynesians wove leaves and flowers as ornaments of worship, a custom that evolved into a ritual of decoration, greeting or congratulation. Appropriate for any special occasion, giving lei has become essential.

Families spend graduation morning scouring the neighborhood for plumeria, stephanotis or pakalana blossoms for their own graduate and their child’s friends. They may receive lei of scented maile, glossy kukui nuts and sweet-smelling pikake, currency folded origami-style into butterflies or roses, or of coins, candy or ribbon in school colors. And an occasional joker tosses in a ring-shaped life preserver!

Some schools have started sharing the riches. Graduates donate their lei for Memorial Day commemorations occurring soon after graduation, or give them to residents of nursing homes. Graduation lei may be fragile, but the aloha they symbolize holds up well.

–Jill Engledow


Ono-kine Shave Ice

When I was growing up, summer wasn’t summer without the cold crunch of shave ice. Wedged into a paper cone and drenched in syrup, this island treat was responsible for many a shave-ice war, as my sister and I flung spoonfuls of the stuff at each other till we were both sticky and cold. I’m still haunted by the awful embarrassment of smiling at a cute guy, only to realize later that my lips were tinged blue and my teeth were glowing green. And of course, every local knows the feeling of dropping shave ice on your slippers, and the consequent stickiness of the syrup gluing your toes together as you walk. Many shave ice stores have come and gone, but a few of my favorite spots are still open today.

Tom’s Mini-Mart, in Kahului, is an old-fashioned family store that has been around for at least 50 years. Renamed 18 years ago after one of my grade-school classmates, the store serves some wicked shave ice. With over 42 homemade syrups, from passion fruit sweetened with condensed milk to green tea topped with azuki beans, Tom’s offers something for every taste. Another Kahului locale for great shave ice is W&F Washerette. A laundromat selling shave ice? Yes! W&F has been serving the icy treat for 15 years. If you like root-beer floats, order one of my favorites: a softball-sized heap of shave ice with root beer and vanilla syrup on top of vanilla ice cream. Relax and enjoy your dessert while contemplating the constant whir of washing machines.

If you are cruising over to the north shore, don’t miss Aloha Island Shave Ice. Conveniently located next to Pa‘ia Bay and Baldwin Beach, this hole-in-the-wall has become an institution of aloha and living Maui-style. A lone, elderly fellow runs the place, which means it can take 5 or 10 minutes for your order, but the result is so worth the wait.

–Kali Speere


Fleur de Leis: Art, flowers and the local economy

David Brown, Jr., is jealous of the produce industry. “Vegetables, they’ve got all the representation in the Farm Bureau; cabbage, onions, asparagus, all the edible commodities. But flowers . . . no respect.”

The irony is that, while it’s challenging to envision Hawai‘i without flowers—whether strung in lei or blossoming along Hana Highway—it is their very abundance that makes the industry invisible. Flowers, Brown says, “are taken for granted because we’re in such a tropical environment.”  And while nobody assumes they can get a bunch of yellow bananas for free, the same cannot be said for their bright-orange and nonedible cousin.

But Brown, owner of Ha‘iku-based Maui Tropicals and Foliage, and board president of the Maui Flower Growers Association (MFGA), says ornamental pink pineapples and towering birds of paradise will rise on the “agricultural totem pole”—eventually.

Helping to move them up the ranks is an upcoming multimedia contest, titled Arts and Flowers, sponsored by the association in conjunction with Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao. Participating artists will visit one of MFGA’s 50 farms to photograph or sketch Hawai‘i in bloom, then create works  of art that celebrate the island’s flora.

On Friday, June 8, a jury will select winning submissions, which will be displayed in the Hui’s gallery June 9 through July 15. Winning artwork will also be reproduced for use on the association’s brochure, calendar, and other promotional materials.

Credit for the idea goes to Carmen Gardner, the association’s executive director. “I’m also an artist . . . so I thought, Why don’t I marry the two things I know?”

Throughout the exhibit, the Hui and the Maui Flower Growers Association will offer classes in ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), wreath and lei making, and floral design. And on Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Hui grounds will be transformed into a Hawaiian garden for a flower festival, where visitors will be able to buy fresh bouquets and orchids. Visit for further details.

–Sujata Gupta


A Blaze with a Silver Lining

Ribbons of orange lit leeward Haleakala during a seven-day fire in the Kula State Forest Reserve earlier this year. Conifers and eucalyptus burst into flame, and ash rained on Maui’s Central Valley. Aided by low humidity and lots of fuel, the fire jumped 1,800 acres, 6,000- to 7,600-feet in elevation.

An army battled the blaze: 60 firefighters, eight bulldozers and four helicopters worked to contain it. The Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR) was joined by firefighters from other islands, and the National Parks Service. Ranches and construction companies lent volunteers and heavy equipment, while air transport companies also assisted. Once the blaze was put out, investigators used forensic techniques—following soot layers, char patterns, and heat shadows—to trace the fire’s footprints to a cigarette butt on upper Waiohuli trail.

The fire never seriously threatened any structures, though popular Polipoli State Park suffered widespread damage. The park cabin was spared, thanks to preventive fire-safety measures. Several rare, native plants were lost, including stands of sandalwood and geranium. The park and surrounding trail system remain closed through May, because of falling trees and smoldering underground root systems. “Stabilization of the area is primary right now,” says DLNR Maui Branch Manager John Cummings. “Erosion is definitely a concern.”

Even as the blaze roared on the mountain, DLNR foresters began devising reforestation strategies. The recovery plan includes replacing some of the devastated forest’s exotic species with native koa and ‘ohi‘a trees—a prospect applauded by island conservationists. Dr. Art Mederios, the U.S. Geological Survey research biologist in charge of nearby Auwahi Preserve, has offered to donate both native seedlings and volunteer labor to the effort.

—Shannon Wianecki


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