Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photos by Sue Hudelson
Kristin Hettermann was lost and out of gas when she spotted Dennis Kaaihue alongside the road in Ke‘anae. She was visiting from Charleston, South Carolina, and had underestimated the spectacular remoteness of the Hana Highway, the circuitous route that leads ever deeper into the East Maui rainforest. She asked Kaaihue directions to the nearest filling station. The Hawaiian farmer smiled. In his unhurried, generous way, he produced a gascan and filled her tank.
Back home Hettermann sent her roadside angel a thank-you gift. The two began a regular correspondence. Kaaihue wrote of his dream to cultivate a farm and cultural center on his family land, where visitors could experience authentic Hawai‘i. He invited Hettermann back, adopting her as his hanai daughter. The 30-year-old Charleston socialite loved her action-packed city life, but as Kaaihue described the peaceful, healing powers of his land, she felt a magnet in her chest tugging her back to the Islands.
Exactly one year from the day she ran out of gas, Hettermann returned to Ke‘anae with two suitcases and an empty day-planner. She’d left behind a dynamic marketing career and real estate investments. How would she make a living here? Tradewinds blew unimpeded through the glassless windows in Kaaihue’s house, her temporary shelter. Lying in her small bed that night, listening to geckos’ territorial clicks as they snapped up moths, Hettermann wondered whether she had made a terrible mistake.