IN 1943 my husband spent several months at a little naval airfield in the midst of sugar cane fields at Puunene on the island of Maui. The natural beauties of the Valley Isle helped alleviate preparations for carrier duty in the Pacific. So did the hospitality of several island families - the Zabriskis and the Von Tempskys - who lived on a great cattle ranch in the cool upcountry at 4,000 feet on the flanks of Haleakala volcano. Generous hospitality was part of a long tradition. In her enchanting memoir, ``Born in Paradise,'' Armine Von Tempsky describes her unique early 1900s childhood on the ranch. She remembered, ``Guests were no novelty. We had permanent guests, semi-permanent guests, week-end guests, drop-in guests - guests for dinner, wild-cattle hunting, Christmas polo, and the Fourth of July.''
What a treat for the young fliers to be a part of this family tradition.
And what a childhood Armine had! Cattle ranching on Maui may seem odd to today's tourists in the hotels and condominiums lining the island's beaches. And yet cattle ranching was a major industry in the Hawaiian islands long before it flourished in the American West.
Armine grew up with three great passions: her father, horses, and writing. When Armine was one month old, Louis Von Tempsky, a successful ranch manager and a dashing figure, put his small daughter in the crook of his arm and rode triumphantly around the ranch. Her nursemaid's tears and her mother's hysterics discouraged neither father nor daughter from a lifelong joy in riding.
An aspiring writer, Armine ``bungled along,'' as she told her father, ``writing about what I felt were stirring things: explorers in polar snows, hunters stalking lions in Africa.'' Finally she realized that ``Hawaii was dramatic virgin ground which has only been scratched on the surface by outsiders.''
In 1940 she published ``Born in Paradise.'' It lyrically describes an insider's experience:
``Like most Island-born children I always woke early, sensing a vague, pleasurable stir in the atmosphere long before light welled into the sky. I knew as I lay in bed listening to wind prowling down from Haleakala that the stars outside the open windows were subtly changing. I knew grazing stock were raising their heads for an instant in their salute to the unending wonder of light being born out of darkness. Ah Sin was stealing into the kitchen, the lantern he carried making great shadows, like opening and shutting scissors, as his legs moved. Presently the smell of kerosene being poured on a wood fire and lighted drifted through the house, followed by the sound of coffee being ground and the swift rush of water in Dad's shower.
``Then, mysteriously, from being just a small girl, I was transformed into an atom of the wide splendid life about me. Shivers of pleasure, mingled with anticipation for the royal new day being born, chased over me as I listened to whips cracking, the rush of horses' hoofs in the pastures and snatches of hulas being sung as men went about the great business of a sixty-thousand acre ranch....''
We returned to Maui recently. Up at Kula we located the Zabriski and Von Tempsky homes. The jacaranda trees were in full glory, Haleakala reached above our heads for the sun, and its lower flanks stretched down to the Puunene cane fields and the ocean. The history of happy times and island hospitality whispered in the rustling eucalyptus leaves. We could sense why Armine wrote, ``Attaining Paradise in the hereafter does not concern me greatly. I was born in Paradise.''