For at least half of the eight years I taught at the Maui Writers Conference, held each year around Labor Day, I didn't know what "Maui lucky" meant. I just heard everyone who lived there saying it, the way you might hear people in Boston say "Good morning." What they meant was simply this: We don't take this gentle gorgeousness for granted; you're lucky to be visiting, and we're lucky to have been born here. 

Subscribe to the AARP Travel Newsletter

They were so right.

Before my first stint there, in 2003, I had never been to Hawaii, much less to Maui, but I'd heard others rhapsodize about its beauty.

AARP MEMBER DISCOUNTS SEE MORE

Hmm, thought I.

In my experience, nowhere on earth ever lives up to its hype.

Then I stepped off the plane at the airport in Kihei and experienced a rapture I can compare only to falling in love. You don't even have to open your eyes; on Maui it's love at first scent. The unique bouquet is earthy and visceral, and cannot be replicated by any cologne. Only in later years would I be able to pick out the peachy fragrance of plumeria, the heady essence of tuberose, the clean comfort of eucalyptus — all pierced by the tang of salt and rich mud. My friend Pam and I were each holding our baby sons, who are the same age, and I had brought along my older son Dan, then 15. As representatives of the county circled our heads with leis, I asked, "Is someone spraying the air?"

The aunties in their long ruffled dresses laughed. "Welcome to the Valley Island," one said. "Maui lucky."

The airport was essentially the last time I would see Dan for 10 days — if you didn't count his running in the door of our hotel room to grab sunscreen, chattering about the beautiful girl who was teaching him to surf, the giant sea turtles he had named Ahab and Elvis, the pineapple squash with crushed ice …

I never felt the need to rein him in.

Though I know that Honolulu struggles with the same issues as any other metropolis, Maui felt as familiar as a favorite shirt from day one. Children were universally welcomed: The word for "child" in Hawaiian is "keiki," which means "the sprout that grows from the orchid plant." By the second day, people were hailing the younger kids by name. In years to come, some even remembered Will and Carter (who returned as kindergartners) and greeted them with delight.

Part of the joy I felt was that I was teaching, not writing — hard work, yes, but with the supreme satisfaction of sharing something that could change the course of a life.

Another part of it was that doing almost anything on Maui — from scrubbing out swimsuits in the sink to reading in a hammock — could coax up the corners of your mouth.

My workday was bracketed by two exquisite interludes.

Just after dawn, once the possibility of meeting "the man in striped pajamas" (the tiger shark) was remote, Pam and I snorkeled near the hotel in Kapalua — or, if we felt ambitious, just down the road at Turtle Town, so called because of the gorgeous big creatures that fly through the water there. The sand was soft, the water calm, and Maluaka Beach at Wailea was still (somehow!) relatively uncrowded. We'd walk down the beach to the rocky area at the south end, with Dan or one of my students keeping an eye on the little ones, and feast our eyes on the bazaar of red, orange, electric blue and yellow fish patrolling in squadrons, until it was time to rinse off, slip into linen pants and — hair still wet — slip into my class.