This last Sabbath, I had the chance to visit poet W.S Merwin and his wife Paula in their palm forest on the Merwin Conservancy lands near Haiku, Hawaii. In his widely-celebrated poem, Place, Merwin’s plaintiff call is this: “On the last day of the world/I would want to plant a tree.” And since 1979, he has treated nearly every day he has labored at home doing just that, restoring acres of land by transplanting out more than 2700 individual palm trees of more than 400 species assigned to 900 horticultural varieties.
It seems that from his years in the south of France, Merwin absorbed some of the spirit of Jean Giono’s mythical character Elezard Bouffier in “L’homme qui Plantait des Arbres.”
As I sat with him on the porch overlooking the deep greenery of the majestic forest he has nurtured since 1979, Merwin exhibited a mischievous grin as he recalled the visitor to his Maui refuge in the early days. The visitor from a faraway city naively asked him, “How can you stand doing so much ‘yard work’?” Merwin was silent for a moment and then quietly stated, “I’ve never thought of it as a chore… it is so integral to the life that Paula and I share here that I cannot imagine not having participated in it.”
And so, it is not surprising that his new book of poems from Copper Canyon Press, Garden Time, begins with these lines from William Blake: “The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but wisdom: no clock can measure.”
Brother Coyote, OEF