Last week, while catching up with poet Natalie Diaz about her experience as the first artist in residence, a favorite story about W.S. Merwin came to mind. It’s one my colleague Sara shared with me in my early days at the Conservancy. She recalled a sunny afternoon a few years ago when she brought a group of middle school students to visit the palm garden. At that time in William’s later years, on the rare occasion when people visited the garden, William kept to himself inside, and visitors passed swiftly and silently by the house to respect the privacy and quiet he so valued. But on that day, hearing the footsteps of the group in the valley below, he called down and extended a rare invitation to come inside and say hello. The kids were nervous and excited to meet “Mr. Merwin, the famous poet,” the man who had planted each of the thousands of palms among which they’d just been wandering. A brave one among the group said to William, “Wow, Mr. Merwin, that must have been so much work!” William responded with playful incredulity, and in a way that recaptures my imagination each time I hear the story: “This wasn’t work, it was pure indulgence!”
I can picture the faces of these young people as the sights and smells of the garden settled into their bodies, and a simple idea took root: one person can heal one’s environment profoundly, and with profound pleasure and joy.
It was this story that drifted back to mind when Natalie Diaz spoke so vividly of her time here. She recalled a sensorial overload – the vibrant and varied greens of the garden, rhythms of the rain on the fronds, the aliveness of the house itself. “It changes you physically,” she said. “Your body comes back a little different. It’s more body than you arrived with.”
I love that we can enact our concerns not just as obligations—though they are indeed that, faced as we are with the realities of a climate suffering from much needed and too long deferred expressions of care—but also as acts of pure indulgence, opportunities for sheer and visceral joy. Indeed, William’s garden itself is a testament to the idea that there is another way—another way of living, of interacting with the earth, of manifesting our concerns with communion and pleasure. The Conservancy is thrilled to offer intimate garden visits that resonate deeply and personally with our visitors, and remains committed to safeguarding the intimacy of the experience and the quiet and stillness of this sanctuary. We are equally committed to sharing the essence of this place near and far through our programs and projects, and through the timely and timeless stories it inspires. Thank you for being part of this joyful commitment.