March is a month of remembrance here in the garden. It is the month of Paula’s birth, and of both William and Paula’s deaths, two years and one week apart. In many ways, of course, this place is one of perpetual remembrance; in its thriving and changing, the garden itself memorializes William and Paula’s way of being and belonging to it. Even the biopiles—the tall stacks of fallen palm leaves that William made here and there in the garden, and from which, in due course, he drew enriched soil—stand as monuments to regeneration and the full cycle of life. But March each year invites its own rituals of remembering. This year, mid-month, we strung a lei of palm seeds in various shapes and colors to hang on William and Paula’s gravestone.
Over the years I have become particularly attached to another site of remembrance—the simple shoe rack that sits by the front door of the house. In the early 80s, William fashioned it from a stack of 2x4s and painted it in the avocado green of the front door. It long served as a way station for gardening shoes of all kinds. Some have remained there, where they evoke phases and fashions and stories: striped Adidas that must date from the 70s, tattered penny loafers that William rescued from the trash to reuse among the palms, Paula’s small zoris. Looking at them now, I suppose I have felt attached to these old shoes on the front lanai because they suggest William and Paula’s continued presence just on the other side of the door. I remind myself of what I wrote two years ago in Stories from the Garden, about the inevitable moment when these shoes would also succumb to the elements in this tropical place. And this March, the combination of a falling ironwood tree, long winter rains, and new insights eroded my resistance to change. In the wise words of poet and recent Merwin Conservancy resident Carrie Fountain, who like all of our early residents is a generous partner in shaping the residency experience, and opening up new possibilities in this place. She proposed this question to consider, as we make decisions about the many objects of William and Paula’s that remain in the house, and on the lanais: Is the thing that is taking up space more valuable than the promise of what could come in the absence of that thing? There are many instances when the answer remains a resounding yes!, and those when we say, yes, for now. And as time unspools away from the time of William and Paula’s vibrant lives, and opens to the creative lives of others’ who themselves make new ways of being in the world, there are times when we thoughtfully answer no. We have arrived at the moment I wrote of two years ago, when we evolve this site of remembrance in a way that makes beautiful space for others, and “invites the eager and easy movement of bodies and imaginations between house and garden,” moving new ideas between our own spaces and our shared world.
In the months to come, we will announce new residencies, compelling Green Room conversations, and new ways of connecting with this thriving and changing place.