Aloha from the north shore

The only problem with vacationing in Hawaii is that all your friends hate you for it. It’s impossible to write postcards (those old-fashioned 4×6 things with photos on them of impossibly beautiful, and sometimes faked, images) or emails or, yes, blog posts without making the people you love most wildly jealous.

I know. I get that way when other people vacation in stunning or exciting or out-of-the-way places. We all do. It’s one of those human things: We’re jealous creatures who want all the good things of others for ourselves, too.

So that’s why, upon reading this blog, I encourage you to loosen your lips, stick a relaxed tongue between them and blow me a big raspberry.

Feel better?

Besides, you’d hate Kauai. No matter how lovely the photos you’ve seen of this greengreengreen island, I always tell people that Dick and I go to the soggiest place possible. Two years ago in December, we were on island for ten days, and it rained—no, it poured—for all ten of them.

Hanalei taro (photo by Dick Schmidt)

We drove around the two-thirds of island you can drive here, looking for sun. Hanalei on the north shore seems always to be drippy—it’s what makes it beautiful, when the clouds hang low over the rim of mountains behind the town and gorgeous bay. Lihue, the main town, lay under cloudy gray, damp skies. Poipu, the “sunny” south shore—ditto. Only when we drove up the mountain to the often drenched Waimea Canyon (“Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Mark Twain allegedly said), did the sun peek out a wee bit amid the passing clouds, parting like white curtains to reveal glimpses of dramatic red rock.

Kalapaki Beach sunset (photo by Dick Schmidt)

“It’s a good thing we’ve been here before,” I said to Dick. “If this was our first trip, we’d be mighty disappointed.” But the truth is, Kauai is stunning in all weather. And, as they say here, if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes. It changes that fast. Usually.

This year, though, we apparently brought a bit of Sacramento winter with us. It’s been below 60 degrees pretty much every night here (and there are no heaters in Hawaii—who needs heaters in the semi-tropics?), and the locals are freeeeeeezing, poor things. We, who left behind 40-degree fog, think it’s heaven. Any time I can chuck my long undies, slip into shorts and sandals and put my feet in warm ocean water, I’m happy.

Jan on one of her favorite beaches (photo by Dick Schmidt)

Yesterday we went to an afternoon slack key guitar concert put on by Doug and Sandy McMaster in Hanalei. They perform twice a week here, very informally. Doug is the slack key guitar master, and Sandy talks story and strums a ukulele. If you walked in wound up about anything, within ten minutes of listening, you’re a wet noodle. You leave your shoes or sandals at the door, as people do in Hawaii, wander in to find a folding chair, and settle in for a lovely couple of hours in your bare feet.

But poor Sandy was wearing socks. Socks! Doug had boots and socks on. It was almost as shocking as if they’d been wearing mittens.

But when Doug starts to play, Sandy often puts her uke in her lap and her hands on top of it, closes her eyes and listens. You can’t help but do that, too, and let the music take you where it will. The McMasters promise that slack key will slow your heartbeat and lower your blood pressure, and it’s true. You can feel every soul in the room decompress until they’re all floating on a wave of gentle notes.

The McMasters have a CD with Doug playing and Sandy talking that is so meditative, they warn you not to play it while driving. No joke.

Doug and Sandy McMaster, slack keyin' it and talkin' story.

So Dick and I sat there, floating and listening to a style of music the Hawaiians adapted from Mexican vaqueros who brought their guitars when they arrived in Hawaii to help with wayward cattle in the late 1700s. The Hawaiians didn’t know how to tune the guitars and figured out tunings that worked for them (they have lovely names like “Taro Patch,” “Punahele” and “F Wahine”). And so ki ho alu (which means “loosen the (tuning) key”), or slack key guitar, was born.

Doug played what has become a local favorite for his second-to-last song, his arrangement of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” He arranged this under pressure years ago by a two-and-a-half-year-old named Emma Rose, who, Sandy told the audience, is now twelve-and-a-half. Emma Rose and her parents came to the beach where Doug and Sandy played more than 2,000 consecutive sunsets and asked Doug if he knew “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” He didn’t, and the next night, Emma Rose was back. “Do you know Puff yet?” she asked.

“You better work on an arrangement,” Sandy said. “She’ll be back.”

So Doug did and performed it for Emma Rose when she returned. Sandy recalled that Emma smiled and danced. “She still asks for her song when she’s here,” Sandy said.

I would, too, but I didn’t have to. Instead, I sat with closed eyes and restful mind and floated in that land called Honalee, which is awfully close to Hanalei, the little town ringed by mountains that resemble a dragon’s back. In Hawaiian, the dragon is a mo’o, a giant lizard, and his head lies atop the water at the north end of the bay. But he is a peaceful mo’o, like Puff, who lives forever in song.

Doug and Sandy finished the concert, as they always do, with “Hawaii Aloha,” which may be my favorite Hawaiian song, even if it does make me cry. Though there are English lyrics for it, I’ve only heard the Hawaiian ones, and they’re beautiful. It’s a song often played at the end of Hawaiian concerts or gatherings or church services, its lyrics written by the Rev. Lorenzo Lyons, a missionary to the Big Island, and sung to the tune of an old church hymn, “I Left It All With Jesus,” by James McGranahan.

The chorus goes:

E hau’oli na ‘opio o Hawai’i nei
‘Oli e! ‘Oli e!
Mai na aheahe makani e pa mai nei
Mau ke aloha, no Hawai’i.

And it means in English:

Happy youth of Hawaii
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Gentle breezes blow
Love always for Hawaii.

Yes, oh, yes… love always for Hawaii.

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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3 Responses to Aloha from the north shore

  1. hilary says:


  2. Louise Johnson says:

    Oh how I envy u 2…lovely story Jan, lovely pics Dick, luv from cold/windy/dusty Palm Springs, Lou/Bill ps yes I did give u the raspberry!!

  3. Cora Johnson says:

    Mahalo for the post. You made me feel as though I were there with you enjoying Kauai and doug and Sandy McMaster’s concert. What a lovely couple to story and play at such a beautiful time in Hawaii. I’m sending you my raspberry 🙂

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