When you think of Maui, you think of warm days at the beach. The warm waters of the Pacific lapping gently over your feet while walking, unhurriedly, in the early hours of the day, eagerly watching the sun rise over an ocean as boundless as your dreams. You think of the Polynesian food, so delicious, that any ideas of dieting seems like a silly concern. You think of the hikes through the pristine forests, butterflies fluttering, birds singing with joy, happy to spend another day in paradise. You hear the occasional rooster crowing, heralding the coming of a new day, even as the first hints of sunlight begin to bathe the land with its life giving warmth.
Beyond the beaches, on a winding road that zigs and zags its way to the peak of Haleakala, is a national park that simply takes your breathe away. Probably because at its altitude, there is less oxygen going inside your lungs with each deep breathe that you take. You wake up shortly after midnight and in the darkness drive for hours, in the quest to see the sun blaze through the clouds, to marvel at a natural light show that no amount of fireworks can hope to match. You look out towards the ocean and see eternity, bathed in light so sublime that in that joyous moment, heaven and earth are one.
On top of the summit, in the hours before daybreak, in the midst of August, I was reminded that altitude has an attitude. A cold one. It was freezing. It was wonderful.
It snows in Haleakala. The wind howls at Haleakala. It gets dark in Haleakala. So dark that some of the world’s great telescopes are on the summit of the great mountain, mirrors trained unflinchingly at the star strewn night sky, partaking in the greatest quest humanity has ever taken. The exploration of our universe. We who live near the great cities forget that above our heads, perpetually moving in the celestial sphere, are the stars that the sun calls its brothers and sisters, the collection of gases, condensed and yet to condense, the filaments of light that we collectively call the Milky Way. And at Haleakala, when the sun hides in the other side of the world, you explore. You wonder. You dream.
And I almost forgot. Haleakala is a volcano. Dormant, beautiful, imposing, surprising. The beaches may beckon, but at Haleakala, in the ethereal grandeur of cinder cones juxtaposed with grass covered slits of rock, you can imagine, with a sense of wonder, the alien worlds that awaits us as we explore the universe. And marvel at the delicacy of the planet that we call our own.
In the cold morning air, with twilight still approaching, I gazed upwards upon countless points of light and smiled. For at that moment, I have touched the sky.