Human Science

In Hawaii there is a place that has captured the imagination of adventurers, tourists, and lovers alike. It is the mysterious island of Maui. While many come to vacation, snorkel, golf, and wander its endless palm-lined beaches, others come to have an experience in nature that will be moving -- perhaps even enlightening.

But where would one find such a place on this allegedly enchanted island? Probably not in the big, luxurious hotels lining the shoreline of Lahaina; nor the exceedingly wealthy gated communities on the gently sloping hills overlooking the spectacular beaches of Wailea. Rather one tends to look up to the two great volcanoes on the west and east sides of the island that soar majestically 10,000 feet above the sea -- often covered by a mysterious fog that lures one to the top where the cones and crags puncture an impossibly blue sky.

In my case, something else had that effect; or rather seemed to have that effect on others. It is an area on the northeast side of the island, hugging the shoreline, and just below the towering volcano of Haleakala. There resides a spectacular tropical forest of unfathomable beauty. It is not however the usual type of rainforest -- hidden in some deep valley; shrouded in mist, moisture, and mystery. Rather it is located astride the coastline -- on the hillside and mountains overlooking the stunning Maui shore. What makes it particularly interesting for the first time visitor is that you traverse this tropical wonderland via a one-lane byway known as “The Road to Hana.”

As you drive this mountain highway, you pass through 30 miles of what can only be described as the world’s largest and most magnificent plant store. An astonishing array of tropical plants, flowers, and trees pass by as you traverse the steep, winding road on the slopes of an impossibly beautiful shoreline. As you make your way through the sun-dappled region, navigating the 50+ hairpin turns, on a road that is often a single lane shared with oncoming traffic (!), you feel as if you have arrived at Eden -- to a real, not a mythical paradise on earth.

And yet despite the 1 to 2000 cars that navigate the difficult-to-travel road on any given day, you are enthralled by the green landscapes, the endless cascading waterfalls -- not to mention a spectacular 1/4-mile arboretum with plants, flowers, and trees so beautiful, strange, and mystical-like that you want to cry.

The Road to Hana is a journey through the physical beauty of life -- a tour de force, magical place dreamed up by some God-like artisan. In addition to the enjoyment of the ride, there is the added promise that you will find something special when you arrive at the mysterious town the road is named after. You imagine a village of artists, poets, and seekers of the New; an ideal world, of happy, contented individuals, expressing themselves through their strange and beautiful art, or musing on the nature of life in the cosmos.

However, when you finally arrive at Hana after a grueling 2-3 hour drive, you see that there is hardly anything to be found. There are a few buildings, a few shops -- even a few places to lodge; but that is all. Sure, the hillsides are dotted with spectacular homes tucked away in coastal forests overlooking the ocean, but what you find in Hana is a little underwhelming, despite the promise of its namesake road. How odd, I thought at the time, that after this thrilling but arduous journey, so little was to be found.

And yet, there was no point in dwelling on misgivings, since there was still much to see. In particular, I was eager to drive on beyond Hana, and traverse the eastern side of the island below the great Haleakala volcano. My goal was to work my way all the way around the eastern side of the island to the southern town of Kihei where I was lodging. Though I began that effort with enthusiasm, after 10 miles I came to a sign indicating that that the road ahead was closed. Undeterred by the marker -- which I rationalized as likely being out of date -- I forged ahead. After all, I was certainly not ready to go back and navigate 50 hairpin turns, impossibly difficult one-way roads, potholes filled with rainwater, and gawking, camera-toting tourists looking for beautiful shots of road-hugging waterfalls. And so I plowed ahead, seeking my next adventure.

Unfortunately, after several more miles, I came upon yet another sign indicating the same thing: that the road ahead was blocked. Pursing my lips, and letting out a sigh, I now realized that my vision of driving around the deserted part of the island below the Great Volcano for 20 miles on a dirt road crossing virgin, untrammeled, hardly-navigated and inhabited spectacular scenery would have to wait for another day.

And so now I was forced to contemplate the journey back to Hana and then further on back to civilization. It was not the happiest of thoughts, considering my physical exhaustion and my frayed nerves. However, after grumbling about the situation for a minute, I gathered myself, took a deep breath, and accepted my fate. I then shifted my orientation inward, and psychologically prepared myself for the grueling 3-hour return drive. And so I got into my car and joined the foray of vehicles that were returning to the populated areas of the island.

Then something very unexpected happened. Instead of being in a slow procession of vehicles working their way along a difficult to navigate 1-lane road, I found myself in a small caravan of cars that was moving quite swiftly! “What was this,” I thought, as I sped along at the tail end of a 10-car procession that were moving at perhaps 4 or 5 time the speed I arrived at. How was this possible?

As I revisited the same winding road traversing gorgeous rainforests above spectacular seashores, I perceived several things going on. First, I saw that there were hardly any cars coming from the opposite direction. Second -- and this was particularly striking – I did not have to concentrate intently while I was driving. All I had to do was watch the one car ahead of me, follow behind in tight formation, and I would be swiftly swept along with the pack!

I then realized that I would now make my way across the road in less than an hour, instead of the expected 2-3 hours. As I whizzed by familiar landscapes, I was utterly dumbfounded by this change in circumstance. However, soon after I understood what this was all about. It was simply life responding to my change in attitude. I.e., the moment I accepted in full that I would not be able to drive around the island, and would instead have to turn back, life cooperated from all quarters. When I shifted my attitude from reluctance to acceptance, and embraced the given that life had put before me, everything began to go well for me, as I was whisked across that landscape at the tail end of a swift-moving caravan!

In the end, the Road to Hana really was a profound experience for me -- even if it did not unfold as I expected. In fact, that lovely afternoon turned out to be not only an exhilarating outer experience, but an enlightening inner one as well. Outwardly, I was captured and enthralled by the physical beauty of a once in a lifetime locale. Inwardly, I was reminded once again of the vast power we have within ourselves to alter the conditions of life around us. In that way, The Road to Hana revealed several of its hidden mysteries to me -- providing another extraordinary moment on an unforgettable, once in a lifetime trip.

--Roy Posner 19:34, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

See also other Case Studies on Life Response

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