On any walk through the palm garden, here and there you will come upon tall, neat stacks of palm fronds. True to his word that everything from the garden would remain in the garden, W.S. Merwin dragged fallen fronds to these carefully placed piles—he called them bio-piles—and they’ve risen up over decades. To me these are monuments of and to impermanence, made not to withstand the effects of time, but to invite them. They honor the full cycle of life; palms enriched the soil, enriched soil nurtures new palms. Fronds weren’t the only thing that amended the soil in William’s garden. For a long while, he put much of his mail out to compost. He didn’t like to throw anything away. (Where, after all, is away?) I learned quite recently that several poets who visited the garden just after William’s death tucked poems and notes of remembrance in among the fronds. I like to imagine these notes, William’s correspondence and manuscripts shedding words into the soil.
Books, too, are returning to the earth here. Outside the house, on the lanai just off the library, a set of books sits on a shelf. Most of the titles befit their home out among the elements, standing at the ready as counsel to an avid gardener: Gardening with Compost and Down to Earth Fruit and Vegetable Growing. Others I’m surprised and delighted to find there: Specimens of Early French Poets, The Spirit of the Spanish Mystics, The Silence of Love: Twentieth Century Korean Poetry, Lives of the Saints. Perhaps this bookshelf hosted whatever William was wondering about at any particular time, books moving in and out of the house and through his imagination as he worked in the garden. And I wonder if what sits here now gives a kind of snapshot of his last days out among the palms. On the other side of this wall of shelves, inside the library, we are taking care to preserve the books in just the right conditions, and here on the lanai, for now, we are taking care to let these books go the way of the elements.
Last week we followed the lead of the books on the lanai, the visiting poets, and of the piles themselves. We tucked an old, disintegrating copy of Biographies des Troubadours that we found in William’s study in among the decaying fronds (see our Storied Object video here). It seemed at once a gesture of continuity, and an act of letting go. And an expression of what all of us in our community do: put life back into the earth in a place William and Paula long lived and dearly loved.
With warm wishes,