Paradise is not what it was. Much of the native flora and fauna of the Hawai'ian archipelago has disappeared under the onslaught of species from far away, from axis deer to tulip trees. (Here, anywhere else on earth is far away.) Importing uninspected fresh fruits or vegetables is strictly forbidden, likewise pets, whether quotidian or exotic, likewise livestock. Everyone here is, or ought to be, a soldier in the war against "invasives."
Nonnative bamboo, for instance, which is wreaking environmental havoc on Maui. "It just keeps growing," W.S. Merwin notes with a rare flash of temper. "The man who invented the planting of temperate bamboo in the tropics is burning in hell right now."
What, though, of Mr. Merwin's hundreds of nonnative palm species, smuggled in huggermugger over the decades? Could not at least some of them likewise have been devil's seed, just waiting to run rampant? When I put the question to Mr. Merwin for my recent Cultural Conversation with him for the Wall Street Journal, he waved it off with a seraphic smile, more than once. A less Zenlike answer came from Sir Ghillean Prance, former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and an eloquent champion of Mr. Merwin's palm forest. "As a family," Sir Ghillean said, "palms are noninvasive." Whether or not Mr. Merwin knew this from the beginning we may never discover. Either way, praised be his wisdom, luck, or fate.
For a virtual tour of Mr. Merwin's property, visit merwinconservancy.org