Dear Friends of The Merwin Conservancy,
Down near the shade house and the small clearing that was once W.S. Merwin and Paula Merwin’s vegetable garden, a special project is underway. We have begun restoration of their garden dojo and potting shed—a small, two-sided structure that engages both mind and hand. The potting shed, facing the shade house and veggie garden, was the hub of William’s daily gardening activity: preparing soil, potting up keiki palms he grew from seed. And around back, a serene meditation space sits suspended in the canopy of palms. It’s screened against mosquitos, and open to breezes and birdsong.
While the restoration work unfolds down in the valley, up at the house we piece together the biography of the garden dojo from snippets found here and there in notes, and by way of memories shared by William and Paula’s family and friends. Here’s a recent find—a note written by Paula in May of 1984:
“William has found a way to do what I’d hope we could do — build a combination teahouse (or guest sleeping porch) and garden shed down under the mangos, out of sight of the house. We are very excited. He drew the plans, and we went down and looked at the place. It should be very nice.”
We’ve not yet learned whether any guests slept there (I plan to do this myself in a few short weeks), nor do we know if friends ever sat together for tea (the idea alone is enchanting). But we do know from scribbles on the back of snapshots that by 1987, it had become a space for meditation; William’s robe, meditation cushion, and a beautiful altar remain. Other found notes convey a sense of the care and attention that went into the creation of the garden dojo; the hefty, specially made ceramic tiles arrived by barge just a month or so after William drew up the plans, and were hand carried down the steep hill—three or four at a time.
Now, with the very generous support of a group of dear friends, and together with a thoughtful and talented carpenter, we replace cracked tiles, repair steps and screens, sand and refinish the dojo’s cedar walls and the pine floors of the shed, and shore up the structure itself atop the rock William first placed as a foundation.
The garden dojo will remain a space of quiet ritual—maybe even the site of an occasional tea—and will continue on as a place of mind, spirit, and hand. We imagine visitors to the garden sitting there alone or with a friend, immersed in the sights and sounds of the garden. Until then, I invite you to step virtually inside the garden dojo, with a visit to artist duo Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris’ video work.
We send our aloha to the friends and donors who came together to make the garden dojo renovation happen: Janie Davis, Sherri Kandell, Arlynna Livingston, Pauline Sheldon, Lydia Shigekane, Jana Wolff.
With warm regards,