About the Conservancy
The Merwin Conservancy was founded in 2010 to preserve the living legacy of W.S. Merwin, his home and palm forest on Maui, for future study and retreat for botanists and writers. Additionally, The Conservancy’s mission is to engage the community in discussion of the values related to the life and work of W.S. Merwin, from the environment to the arts, through community events and media.
The Merwin Conservancy’s current projects include:
- Palm cataloging of over 850 species, including DNA vouchering, tagging, GPS mapping, in partnership with the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which will hold the palm samples in their Herbarium. Possible seed bank once the scientific information established.
- Independent documentary, Even Though the Whole World is Burning, in collaboration with Cicala Filmworks and director’s Stefan Schaefer and Williams Cole. Filmed in Maui, France, and New York City.
- Arts + Ecology Speaking Series to begin in 2013, presented by The Merwin Conservancy, a quarterly salon.
- Endowment Campaign to begin in 2013.
The seed of this project was planted over three decades ago when Merwin purchased a plot of land in Peahi Valley on the north shore of Maui, Hawaii. Over the span of nearly thirty-five years, Merwin built an ecologically conscious home for himself and his wife Paula as well as planted more than 4,000 trees representing nearly 850 species of endemic, indigenous and endangered palms. He has transforming a place that was once considered “wasteland” into a lush and rare 19-acre tropical forest.
Initially, the soil was too stripped of nutrients to support the species of native trees and shrubs that had originally thrived there before it had been ruined by agricultural use, but Merwin says, “the condition of the soil did not, in itself, daunt me. I had long dreamed of having a chance, one day, to try to restore a bit of the earth’s surface that had been abused by human “improvement.” I loved the wind-swept ridge, empty of the sounds of machines, just as it was, with its tawny, dry grass waving in the wind of late summer.”
Merwin began to fulfill his dream the day he signed the escrow papers in 1977 and planted the first saplings along the road. He has continued to plant trees every day since, nurturing young palms with the help of compost, manure and buckets of dishwater hand-carried from the sink until the plants can fend for themselves and thrive on rainwater alone. The Merwins also survive on rainwater, which is held in cisterns around the property. The water is “pumped” by gravity and filtered by charcoal, sand and coral for use in the home.
In fact, every aspect of the home and the garden reflects Merwin’s ideas and feelings about nature and art. The property is as close to self-sustaining as the Merwins could make it. While preparing the site of the house, Merwin wanted to disturb the land as little as possible so no heavy machinery was used. The only cement—and Merwin tried to use it as little as possible—is in three cisterns, the floor of a small tool room, and the footings of the house. For 25 years, electricity has come from solar energy. The forest of trees keeps the house naturally cool.
In recent years, Merwin partnered with the Hawaii Coastal Land Trust and his publisher, Copper Canyon Press, in order to establish the Conservancy which is intended to safeguard the land and ensure that the home and palm forest will be properly cared for when he and Paula are no longer able to do so. Merwin says, “I hope that the planting of palms will continue to fill parts of the land that have not been planted up until now. I hope that a future head gardener will have something of the same desire that I have had: to try to grow as many species as possible of the world’s palms, wherever they can be acquired. That is an abiding part of our hope that a Conservancy will want and will be able to save this bit of the Peahi streambed — what we have made here for those who come after us.”