A Visit to Pu'u Kukui on Maui, Day 3)

A Visit to Pu'u Kukui on Maui, Day 3

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It's Saturday, 12/19/98, and we're scheduled to put in a day's worth of labor along the lower section of the Pu'u Kukui trail. Just like the morning before, I'm up early and spend 45 minutes outside gazing at the pre-dawn sky, the flicker of lights along the Kaanapali shore, and the distant lights of Kaunakakai on Molokai. The air is crisp and fresh here, and the only sounds are the echoing whistles of crickets and leaves occasionally rustled by a gentle breeze. The temperature is probably in the low 50s, and when I exhale, I can see my breath.

Everyone is up by six, and we tend to the business of preparing breakfast. Like the previous morning, Grant restokes the blaze in the fireplace, and we enjoy its warmth and pleasant ambiance as we eat our morning meal. We wonder how hard we'll have to work today. Based on what we saw of the trail on Friday's hike, the weed infestation is intensive in several places but overall not unmanageable. I predict that we'll be able to clear the two-mile segment from the barbed wire gate back to the trailhead by noon.

At 8 a.m., pulling up in his company truck is Scott Meidell, Hank's field tech colleague. Prior to setting out, we spend a few minutes chatting with him, and among other things, he tells us about being attacked by large boar while hunting in Honokowai Valley. Apparently, one of the hunters he was escorting tried to fell the animal with a .22 pistol to no avail. Enraged, the animal turned on Scott, gouging his foot with its tusk despite being blasted at close range by three rounds from Scott's .45.

We depart from the cabin at 8:25, and stop at a couple transect points to check rat traps Hank had set the day before. Success! One trap has killed a good-sized i'ole, and Scott lobs its carcass into the brush and says he'll reset the trap when we return in the afternoon.

Thereafter, we continue along, enjoying the cool of the morning air as we make our along the mountain path. Knowing that Hank had given us a detailed tour of the trailside flora and fauna the day before, Scott pauses only occasionally to point out plants or points of interest.

Our plan for the day is to hike two miles to the barbed wire gate and then work our way back to the cabin, yanking blackberry and tibouchina as we proceed. A few minutes before 10, we reach the gate, and spend 20 minutes resting there and talking story.

Scott, probably in his mid-30s, is an easygoing man with a ready smile. A former drug enforcement officer for the Maui Police Department, he began his stint with Maui Land and Pine as a volunteer guide and field worker in the company's mauka landholdings. "Police work was interesting, but dealing with the dregs of society wasn't for me," he admits. "And when Randy offered me a paying job as a field tech, I jumped at it."

Our break over, we shoulder our packs, put on our gloves, and begin the march down the trail in search of our weed enemies. There are sections of the trail, mostly places that are shaded and ridgey, that are pristine and composed almost entirely of native vegetation. In contrast, the alien pests proliferate at locales that are more open to sunlight and the wind, and it is at these places where we form a weed-yanking line and commence pulling with abandon. On this visit, Scott asks us to narrow our focus to the 8- to 10-foot area on either side of the trail corridor. Complete eradication of blackberry and tibouchina is impossible, but by clearing the trail corridor and keeping it clear, further spread can be controlled to an extent.

While tibouchina is shallow-rooted and is extracted fairly easily by hand, blackberry is much harder to uproot. An added hazard of blackberry is its piercing thorns, sharp enough to scratch a cornea and to leave legs and arms bloodied if mishandled. Scott asks us to exercise caution as a result. After a while, it's easy to tell when someone has located and is trying to yank a blackberry. More often than not, the puller groans while straining to uproot the found pest. Equally often, a cheer arises when success is met, especially when a larger plant has been yanked.

During one of our early rest breaks, Scott tells me how impressed he is with our enthusiasm and work ethic. "What's with you guys?" he asks. I explain that we're used to working in the mountains as longtime volunteers for the trail maintenance crew of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. Plus, having labored together so long, we've developed a nice rapport and enjoy talking story and poking fun at each other while we work. Equally important, we all share an affection for being outdoors, for hiking, and for visiting places not often visited by people. Add all that up and we have a pretty solid team.

At noon, we gather at a clearing in the shade of a Sugi pine tree and plop down to eat lunch. Just ahead is a particularly nasty stretch of weedy trail, so stopping to rest and refuel at this clearing makes sense. For lunch, we eat cold cut sandwiches, oranges, and powerbars and gulp down water to quench our thirst. We also talk story with Scott, and we continue to be impressed by his open, gentle manner and his extensive knowledge of the area.

Our lunch break lasts about 45 minutes, and after unhinging our creaky joints, we continue with the blackberry/tibouchina assault. We make nice progress down the trail until 3 p.m., when Scott says another priority (his fiancee) must take him from our company and back to Kaanapali. Even though Scott gives us permission to end our labor then, probably because we're a collection of compulsive personalities, we insist on finishing the rest of the trail to the point where we reached on Thursday.

Before Scott departs, someone jokingly wonders if we can make it to the Pu'u Kukui summit and back before dark. We all laugh at the remark, as does Scott, and he leaves us, trusting us not to try anything of the sort.

And, of course, even though it is clear and beckoning to us, we make no try for the summit, knowing that we'll have other chances if we do good work on this visit. And so we continue our labor, completing the final segment before 5 p.m. While my prediction that we'll complete the lower trail Pu'u Kukui trail by noon is off the mark, we do complete work on the entire segment. A great crew indeed.

Our day of labor pau, we move into clean-up and dinner-preparation mode. For our evening meal, we dine on June's curried chicken and vegetables with rice and some fresh cornbread baked in Grant's backpacker's oven. For dessert, we have Judy's chocolate snickers/m&m brownies. Like I mentioned in a previous installment, we eat well and much on service trips.

After dinner, we do more stargazing and then settle down in front of the fireplace for a couple of hours of talking story or "caveman tv," as Grant refers to it. Among the things we learn is that Ken was a drummer for a local rock & roll band at one time and that Grant learned Vietnamese for his job as an interpreter for the Army during the Viet Nam War.

Since this is our last night at Haelaau Cabin, we savor the evening, with everyone, save Kost who's in his bunk by 8, waiting until after 11 to sack out.

Next: The final day--Aloha Pu'u Kukui and Hello Haleakala

--Dayle


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