I was born in Brooklyn. My most intimate tie to the land was descending a staircase on Flatbush Avenue to ride the #2 IRT subway into Manhattan. I thought the only thing under the ground was steam pipes and phone cables.
Hawai’i, on the other hand, wears its geomorphic origins on its sleeve. Stand anywhere, take a look around, and you don’t need a PhD in geology to pretty much figure out how all of this got here. Magma stews, lava spews, a mountain rises and eventually pokes it way through the ocean surface…bada bing, an island is born.
In New York nobody knew which way was north or east. There was uptown and downtown, and those related less to cardinal compass points than to how the buses were labeled. In Hawai’i, the main directions are mauka (toward the volcano) and makai (toward the ocean). In Kona, makai is to the west. In Hilo, it’s to the east. While that distinction might confuse a pilot, it doesn’t confuse a Hawaiian. Step off the plane, open your eyes and everything is clear.
It’s easy to see why Hawaiian culture is so closely associated with the ‘aina, the land.
All photos © 2015 by Lee Gruenfeld