Mushroom-Shaped Clouds In Makawao

As promised, my path to the LSD-assisted psychotherapy community was long and circuitous. This is part three. I wrote about the first part here, and the second part here. As that second part ended, in 1971 I was 24 and living on Makena Beach, a nude beach on the island of Maui. Hey, a young man has to live somewhere … so why not a nude beach in a tropical paradise?

Somewhere on the beach, I got over-entangled with a woman who was deep into crazy witchcraft, “black magic”, spells and such. It was from being with her that I came up with a new rule of thumb—“Never go to bed with a woman more than twice as crazy as you are.”

I mean, some crazy is good, it’s interesting and valuable. But more than twice as crazy? I wasn’t wired for that high a voltage. So she went her way with my blessings and goodwill, and I stayed on the beach.

But the monotony and inadequacy of the diet of “All seafood! All the time!” encouraged me to come out of retirement. Somehow I ended up meeting a guy named Dave who had a cabinet shop up in the lovely town of Makawao on Maui. In addition to running his shop, he’d started building a boat, and then stalled after making the strongback and a few frames of the boat. We got to talking. He was looking for someone who could work wood. I said I’d never built cabinets but I’d built boats. That worked. I moved to Makawao, went to work for him, and we went partners on the building of the boat. He’d provide all of the materials, I’d provide the labor, and we’d go fifty/fifty.

GE makawao and maui.png

I’d been living on Makena Beach, down at the lower left of the main part of the island of Maui. Makena is in a dry desert. Compared to Makena, Makawao is green heaven. I didn’t know it until I moved to Hawaii, but tropical islands in the trade winds have a dry side and a wet side, and I do mean “dry” and “wet”. Here’s a rain map of Maui. I added a scale in metres for those who are imperially challenged …

maui rain meters 2.png

The wet sides of the two mountains get up to thirty feet (9m) of rain per year. Makena Beach gets maybe ten inches (25 cm) of rain. Think cactus. Makawao is about half-way around the island from the prevailing wind, so it gets both rain and sun. You can see that it’s on the edge of the green forested side of Maui. The town next door is called “Pukalani”, meaning “Hole in the Clouds”. Both are verdant pastureland. There is a local rodeo, along with a proud history of cattle ranching in the area. Given that I grew up on a cattle ranch, I felt right at home.

Dave’s cabinet shop was in an old movie theatre. It had a couple of oddities. From the theater days, the part of the floor where the chairs had been was sloped, and part nearer to where the screen had been was flat. And it still had the small old projection room way high up by the ceiling. It was just above when you came into the building. The building dated from the time of movie films that were highly flammable. So the projection room was required to be totally encased in thin sheet metal. For fire safety reasons there were only two small four-inch (10 cm) openings to the outside, high up in the front wall. They were the holes through which the two projectors had once shown the film. (You need two projectors and two holes so you can swap out reels while the film is running.) And in the outer wall, someone had cut a tiny hole, about six inches (15 cm) square, with a small light-proof shutter. No glass, it just let in a tiny bit of light and air. You could peep out, but you couldn’t see much of the street, the hole was right above the wooden awning. That was the projection room.

Below is a look at modern downtown. To my surprise, downtown Makawao is pretty much unchanged. The old movie theater that was Dave’s cabinet shop is on the right. Whitey’s sail shop was just across the street. General store, green building, back left. Main crossroads, at the town’s one stop sign straight ahead.

makawao maui.png

Dave said I could live in the shop, so I moved into the projection room. It fit the definition of shelter, it kept off the rain and was dark and warm. I found the name quite humorous … “Where do you live?”

“In the projection room.”

“What, like astral projection?”

“No, just the usual kind …”

I started working on making cabinets with Dave, usually half-days, and both afternoons and when there was no paying cabinet job in the shop, I worked on the boat. It was a lovely craft, good for one’s spirit. My old boat-building mentor Clayton would have approved. It was a 22-foot (6.7m) “Cape Ann Dory” built exactly from the lines in Howard Chappelle’s “American Small Sailing Craft”. It’s a very seaworthy boat. In 1876, some crazy fisherman named Alfred Johnson sailed a customized twenty foot Cape Ann Dory from the US to Liverpool. It took him 66 days and showed that the dory could handle most any weather.

cape ann dory.png

Dave and I built it to those exact specifications, with three sets of oars made by hand in the manner I learned from Clayton Lewis. It had a “sprit-sail” rig as shown with a wooden “sprit” that holds the top corner of the mainsail up. The sprit rig was used back in the day because it allows for a short mast. That way, when you take the mast down, it stows out of the way inside the boat for safety and convenience.

The frames were made of locally grown eucalyptus, the “robusta” variety. It’s a hard wood to work, with interlocking grain, but it is rock-hard and doesn’t split.

So I got to be taught a new trade by Dave, cabinetmaking. I’ve made lots of money making cabinets off and on since then. I also got lucky in the matter of the sails for the boat. A guy named Whitey opened an upholstery shop across the street from the Makawao theater where I lived. He’d been a sailmaker in the US Navy for years. Of course, these days Navy sailmakers don’t make a lot of sails, but they sew miles and miles of canvas. Boat covers and gun covers and instrument and sensor covers and flags and chair upholstery and boat seat upholstery and even the odd set of actual sails. So there was nothing that man couldn’t sew.

Whitey had a high-speed sewing machine that didn’t have a speed control or even a disc clutch to start up slowly. It just had a “dog clutch” that hooked it into an already-spinning motor. It went zero to sixty faster than any race-car, but there was no easing in or out of gear. It was all or nothing. Whitey took me and my sail project under his wing. He taught me to disdain feeding the canvas into the sewing machine one handful at a time, the way my mom showed me how to sew on her old Singer. He thought that pins were for wimps—he didn’t allow one around his beloved sewing machine, he cared for his machine’s needles. Whitey showed me how to feed canvas to the machine in long sections, running the full width of the sail without stopping, hands moving constantly, offsetting the incoming pieces just enough to give a sweet, straight seam on the far side of the needle. His lines were always sweeter and straighter than mine, of course, but when Whitey got done with me, under his tutelage I had made a beautiful set of sails for the boat. More importantly, I’d learned how to use a sailmakers palm and needle, how to hold the beeswax to coat the thread, how to stitch and repair torn sails, how to sew in the boltropes, how to feed and care for the sewing machine … always more to learn in this world of wonders.

During this time, I resumed my study of Aikido that I had begun with Sweet City Dick at the Black Bear commune … but that’s a tale for another time. On Maui back then, all of the police were trained in Aikido. It’s a martial art whose name, ai-ki-do, means the path (“do”) of harmony (“ai”) with energy (“ki”). You learn to control a physical situation by first merging with the attacker’s energy flow. Then you can take them to the ground and immobilize them. The intention is to never injure the other person, just to stop and immobilize them. I was privileged to study with a famous sensei, Shinichi Suzuki. Writing this article I looked online, and I found the notice of his death in 2009.

shinishi suzuki aikido.png

Sensei Suzuki was a Major in the police force, and as you might imagine, the kind of Aikido he taught his men and the younger instructors was stripped down to the essentials. When he talked about controlling a situation through harmony, he was talking about and training his men for violent street-brawl situations. Aikido contains a variety of ways to either throw someone or to take someone to the ground and hold them without hurting either them or yourself. Harmony, but of the very persuasive kind. As in, the Maui cops could easily disarm you and pin you to the ground and hold you so all you could do is say “ouch” when you tried to get away.

Plus, Aikido is done with a partner, not an opponent. Half the time you are throwing your parter, half the time you’re being thrown. So half of the art is learning how to fall and roll from any angle. The mat is seen as an additional sensei, another teacher. I’ve not had much use for these skills in my life, but a few times when I needed them I was really glad I had them. So twice a week, I hitchhiked from Makawao into Kahului for Aikido class.

There was another great thing about living in Makawao—the mushrooms. All around that town, the conditions are just right for the “magic mushroom”, the psilocybin kind. You can find them growing on the cow patties wherever the cows graze, and they’re the only kind of mushroom that grows right on bovine exhaust. The mushrooms are very distinctive looking. You can’t mistake them. I used to work all morning for money, making cabinets in the cabinet shop. At lunch, I’d go walking in the fields, and I’d eat just a little tiny piece of magic mushroom, hardly enough to notice, and then I’d work all afternoon at a lovely pace on the building of the boat.

I see that lately, the FDA, the US Food and Drug Administration, has approved the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, for a drug trial for use in “treatment-resistant depression”. This is a huge advance, in my opinion, because the use of hallucinogens in conjunction with psychotherapy can be extremely useful, as I was soon to find out … but I was not quite there yet.

psilocybin fda.png

In any case, the construction of the boat continued at its glacial pace, and I tried to emulate Clayton’s ability to make wood fit together, with at least partial success. Boats go together piece by slow piece, bit by slow bit, I built the rudder, and the oars, and the centerboard, and the floorboards. Day after day I sawed and cut and shaped and glued and screwed and sanded and filled and painted and built on the boat.

Finally, the mast was complete, the tiller was carved, the hull was fiberglassed and painted. We put it in the water … and she sucked. Tippy as all getout, hard to keep vertical, unstable in any sea condition. It took a couple of days to realize it needed ballast. We realized that in the old days, people didn’t go out in an empty boat, there was always gear and food and water and the like, so the boat needed that weight to function. Dave hit on the idea of small, flat, rounded beach stones underneath the floorboards. That worked perfectly.

With that ballast weight, it sailed like a champ and handled the Hawaiian seas quite well. The rule of thumb I got out of this one was from Euell Gibbons, who said: “An island is a bit of land surrounded by the need for a boat”. Having even a small boat on an island is a necessity.

So once again, I had it made. My life was set. My plan was, use my lovely boat to get familiar with the Hawaiian waters around Maui, make cabinets for mad money, eat a bit of mushrooms, continue playing my music, live the good life … but the Spirit laughs at the plans of mere mortals.

Result? As usual, a series of misunderstandings and coincidences intervened, and I ended up leaving it all behind, moving to Honolulu, and joining what was either a bizarre cult or a daring method of LSD-assisted psychotherapeutic intervention … you can judge which one it was, or perhaps it was both.

As always … to be continued …

Here on our forest hillside, we had a heavy fall of bb-sized clear round balls of hail that froze together into a marvelous pebbly texture on the table and the deck. The day dawned clear after the storm, and the panes of frozen hail on table and deck broke the sunlight into flashing, coruscating diamond colors … breathtaking.

With warmest wishes for lives full of joy and sunlight for all,


12 thoughts on “Mushroom-Shaped Clouds In Makawao

  1. I love your recollections Willis, they never fail to remind me of a time, long ago, when I was young and full of piss and vinegar. Thank you !!!


  2. Nice recollections. Reminded me of my life-long friend who retired to Maui a few years back. We were best-bud next door neighbors until I was 6 and moved away. We met again in high school. He was into psychedelic psychotherapy in our first year of college at the University of Texas in Austin. A bit too much, as he flunked out that year. However, he eventually went back to school and became a Doctor of Osteopathy. He moved his practice to Hawaii around 20 years ago and eventually ended up in Maui. He told me one of his patients was Baba Ram Dass (Be Here Now book from the 1970’s). He retired on Maui a few years ago because of failing eyesight.

    I’ve never been to Hawaii, but like many places around the world, I enjoy making quick tours via Google Streetview. Will have to check out Makawao and Makena Beach.


  3. As I am sure you know, around the corner from Makawao and down the road a piece, is the Road to Hana festooned by its tropical forests, ocean vistas, black sand beaches along with the obligatory prohibition of continuing the route around to Wailea-Makena, to the dry side. On the outer drive, prudence and patience are the watchwords for the trek, yet the experience is worth the effort. Lovely, even when meeting vehicles coming your way, just creep around each other, and…no worries. Once around and secure in a village, the early morning driving to sunrise at 10,000 feet on Haleakala is as advertised.

    The Maui trip, for me at least, did not require any other mood adjustments.


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  8. Great read Willis, you’ve finally brought me out from under Lurker rock…

    “22-foot (11m)”

    Being an Englishman born in 65, just before the UK joined the silly continentals in 73, I worked imperial with my father, metric at high school, back to imperial labouring for a builder when I left school at 15, metric at apprentice engineering school a year later, back to imperial on the shop floor for the next 3 years, and then a casual mix of the two in the Royal Navy depending on which branch I was working with. I guess you could say I’m Bi-standard by nature, for my own DIY stuff I use whichever is more convinient at the time, depending which way up my bi-standard tape masure is, I estimate real small in mm, up to 10 meters in ft, up to a mile in meters, over a Km in miles, my milometer is in Km (imported jap truck) but I drive in MPH and measure fuel in MPG, I may be bi-standard challenged!

    If you can fit 11M into a 22ft boat, you must be a very talented boat builder indeed 😉


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