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« ISLAND LIVING »
26 » Adventure/Hawaiian Soul 36 » Island Portrait ON THE KING’S TRAIL We uncover a path that encircles the island, beginning in the sixteenth century. Story by Kyle Ellison
THE PALM WHISPERER For forty years, William Merwin has nurtured poetry, the environment, and Hawai‘i’s native culture from his home on Maui’s north shore. Story by Shannon Wianecki
42 » Island Style
HOMEGROWN FASHION In praise of local designers By Tori Speere
48 » Island Business/ Mālama ‘Āina
SOUND INVESTMENT Haleakala Ranch is conserving native forest—by harvesting trees to transform into guitars. Story by Paul Wood
MNKO pages 51–82
isle 2 At Home
LOVE ENDURES Despite the odds, this dwelling keeps proving that home is where the heart is. Story by Kathy Collins
isle 14 Great Finds
BLUE HAWAI‘I Fall in love with island living— even if no ocean surrounds you. Compiled by Conn Brattain
isle 16 Architectural Q&A HOW TO CREATE THE HOME OF YOUR DREAMS Four Maui architects share their insights and wisdom. Interview by Rita Goldman
isle 26 Becky’s Backyard
HAWAIIAN SUGARCANE Years later, our dining editor has her sweet revenge. Story by Becky Speere
isle 28 Real Estate Trends
THE RANCHER’S DAUGHTER Wendy Peterson is a fourthgeneration Maui rancher, and tops at knowing Upcountry real estate. Interview by Diane Haynes Woodburn
About Our Cover
Maui photographer Daniel Sullivan captured the view at Wai‘ānapanapa State Park in Hāna for his book on the ancient King’s Trail. (See story on page 26.)
Victoria-Elle Harders models fashions by local designers, like this high-low strapless dress ($185) from Tamara Catz. Her lapis jewelry (necklace, $308; rings, $66 each; and earrings,$96) are by RueBelle. See Homegrown Fashions, page 42.
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14 » Contributors
It takes a lot of talents to make Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi the magazine it is.
16 » Publisher’s Note
By Diane Haynes Woodburn
18 » Talk Story
Fresh off the coconut wireless ~ by Lehia Apana, Heidi Pool & Shannon Wianecki
106 » Calendar
What’s happening where, when, and with whom
111 » Who’s Who
Seen making the scene on Maui
114 » A Perfect Day on Maui
JUST COAST Follow your local guide and make the most of Maui. Story by Lehia Apana
DINING In for the long haul: MNKO dining editor Becky Speere (front) and private chef Hiram Peri (back) join Captain Monroe Bryce (middle) on his boat to catch tonight’s dinner. See story on page 86. Photo by Ben Ferrari.
THIS ISSUE ONLINE
Web-exclusive content at MauiMagazine.net (available starting in March)
REBOOT Writer Kyle Ellison offers tips as he hikes the King’s Trail. See the video at MauiMagazine.net/kings-trail.
86 » Dining Feature
HOOK, LINE & SUPPER Climb aboard a fun fishing charter that helps protect native fish. Recipes included. Story by Becky Speere
92 » Dining Highlights
LOCALS KNOW Expert answers to the question, “Where should I eat today?” Story by Becky Speere
94 » Dining Guide
A short list of our favorite places to eat all over the island
TA’APE CHEF Hiram Peri demonstrates techniques for cooking this catch of the day at MauiMagazine.net/hook-line-supper. COAST Join us on a virtual tour of West Maui’s sand, sea, and places between at MauiMagazine.net/kayak-cruising. SWEET HARMONY Tune in to this video on why Maui koa may be the next big thing in high-end guitars. MauiMagazine.net/koa-guitars
THIS JUST IN! Visit our online calendar for the latest on what’s happening around Maui County. MauiMagazine.net/maui-events GET SOCIAL
SAVE THE DATE! APRIL 23, 2017 THE 15th ANNUAL ‘AIPONO RESTAURANT AWARDS GALA HYATT REGENCY MAUI Check MauiMagazine.net/aipono for information.
NOT-SO-SILENT NIGHT The tiny coqui frog is a big problem for isle residents. Hear why at MauiMagazine.net/coqui-frogs.
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There’s a saying known throughout the Islands: Maui nō ka ‘oi, Hawaiian for “Maui is the best.” We hope you think so, too.
What makes a place home for you? The kitchen is the heart of the home for our foodie family. We can cook together, eat and mingle for hours in the kitchen.—Becky Speere
PUBLISHER Diane Haynes Woodburn SENIOR EDITOR Rita Goldman MANAGING EDITOR Lehia Apana DINING EDITOR Becky Speere ART DIRECTOR & DESIGNER John Giordani STYLE EDITOR Conn Brattain WEBSITE MANAGER Adelle Lennox ASSISTANT DESIGNER Shelby Lynch
My books! The last time I moved, I spent weeks packing, hauling and arranging them on my bookcases . . . and an afternoon stuffing my clothes into garbage bags to take to my new abode.—Rita Goldman Decorating with the small tokens that remind me of my childhood, family, milestones, and people I love. —Adelle Lennox
EVENT PHOTOGRAPHER Jose Morales CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Home is where you know your waiter, barista, and bank teller by name. It’s where every mile of roadway spurs memories, and you’re content being right where you are.—Kyle Ellison Somewhere I look forward to retreating to after a long day at work, and a place where I can happily spend the entire day without ever getting bored. —Heidi Pool
Kathy Collins, Kyle Ellison, Heidi Pool, Shannon Wianecki, Paul Wood CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS
Bryan Berkowitz, Conn Brattain, Larry Cameron, Kyle Ellison, Ben Ferrari, Mieko Horikoshi, Zach Pezzillo, Jonathon Russell, Ryan Siphers, Becky Speere, Forest & Kim Starr, Daniel Sullivan CONTRIBUTING STYLIST Tori Speere CIRCULATION & ADMINISTRATION
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“Aloha,” said the cashier as I gathered my purchases. “Aloha,” I smiled back. Such a small word, and yet the simple greeting elevated my mood, and made me reflect on this, our annual Island Living issue. If I could sum up the island lifestyle in one word, it would be just that: aloha. Words have power. They shape the way we interpret our world and the actions we take. It matters what we say, and what we allow ourselves to hear. As I write this, a new administration has just taken office. As recent demonstrations reveal, we’ve become a divided country, and the stakes are high. We face big questions—not simply whether Congress will repeal the Affordable Care Act, or if a wall will be built—but how we choose to function as a society. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim nations from entering the U.S., based solely on their religion and national origin. The order turns inside out the moral character our country was founded on. Yet the issue is not whom we have elected, but how we as individuals elect to solve our problems: whether we accept the rhetoric of hate and manipulation through fear, or come together through civil discourse and mutual respect. The people of Hawai‘i have faced such issues before. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor; it would remain the most deadly attack on U.S. soil until the Twin Towers fell six decades later. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to interment camps in remote areas of the country. More than 100,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry, more than half of them U.S. citizens, lost their homes, their businesses, their possessions, their communities and their freedom in one of the most flagrant violations of civil liberties in American history. In Hawai‘i, however, relatively few Japanese were interned, thanks in large part to John A. Burns, a Honolulu policeman who then served as a special officer for the U.S. Counterintelligence Corps. Burns argued that Japanese residents were essential to the Islands’ economy, and vouched for their loyalty. (And justifiably so. Tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans enlisted, serving with unparalleled distinction in Europe as members of the all-AJA 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which earned more decorations than any other regiment of its size.) Burns’s passionate and persuasive words helped spare most of Hawai‘i’s Japanese from the harsh measures their mainland counterparts suffered. In 1962, Burns was elected governor of the State of Hawai‘i, an office he held until 1974. Those, too, were turbulent times. Nationally, Americans were bitterly divided over the Vietnam War; and in our young state, residents argued over issues of autonomy and the economy. In 1970, Pan Am began regular flights to Honolulu, its jumbo jets bringing thousands of tourists. Longtime residents feared that Hawai‘i would never be the same. At that critical juncture, Gov. Burns called for a convention, “Hawai‘i in the Year 2000,” to help determine the state’s future. More than 700 citizens took part, vehemently debating such issues as development versus the environment, and urbanization versus indigenous culture. In the midst of this fervor, one woman took the floor and stunned the delegates by speaking softly on the meaning of aloha—something, she said, they had forgotten. Born and raised on Maui, Pilahi Paki was a linguist, a teacher, and a respected spiritual leader. “In the next millennium,” she told the delegates, “the world will turn to Hawai‘i in its search for world peace because Hawai‘i has the key . . . and that key is aloha.” So profoundly did Paki’s speech move the delegates that her words later became law: Hawai‘i Revised Statute 5-7.5. The aloha spirit, encompassing such values as humility, generosity, compassion, and love, “was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians,” said Paki, “and [a] gift to the people of Hawai’i.” The statute describes aloha as a life force, and calls upon our elected officials to bring consideration of the aloha spirit into their decision-making process. Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that we’ve been at similar crossroads before. And if we stop the din of rhetoric just long enough to listen, we may hear a small yet clear voice that brings us back to what is essential and true: we need to care for and respect each other. In Hawai‘i, it’s called aloha. And it’s the law. Words are powerful. Let ours be heard—with aloha. Diane Haynes Woodburn Publisher
In a word, Aloha
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Kaluanui Estate circa 1920
The solarium in July 1924, decorated for the wedding of Frances Baldwin and J. Walter Cameron. Today the room hosts lectures, workshops and community art events. Ethel was an accomplished silversmith. At right, her hand-wrought lidded vessel; below, her annealed and hand-raised plate with pineapple decoration.
In this photo from 1918, Frances visits the ruins of a historic sugar mill below the mansion.
Today we know Kaluanui Estate in Makawao as home to Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center, but in 1917, it was home to Ethel and Harry Baldwin, and their daughter, Frances. Harry’s cousin, famed architect Charles W. Dickey, designed the mansion (with significant input from Ethel), incorporating Mediterranean-inspired elements popular at that time: red-tile roof, arched windows, stucco exterior, and an expansive courtyard. The twenty-five-acre property was once the site of East Maui Plantation Company. Kaluanui, Hawaiian for “the big pit,” was also the name of the surrounding area, and likely referred to adjacent Māliko Gulch. Ethel possessed a talent for the creative arts: crocheting, knitting, painting, ceramics, drawing, and later silversmithing, which she learned in San Francisco. She also enjoyed tending her abundant flower gardens. Laurel Murphy, a Baldwin Family biographer, says Ethel provided cut flowers for services at Makawao Union Church every Sunday. “Ethel was also a consummate hostess, creating luncheons based on color-coordinated themes, like her ‘white theme,’ where she served squab and vanilla ice cream on crystal dishes, and surrounded her guests with fragrant white flowers from her garden.” Harry was one of the first persons on Maui to own an automobile. “When Harry and Ethel moved into Kaluanui, he had a Stutz Bearcat sports car—which Frances drove to high school a couple of times, picking up friends along the way, and giving them a thrill,” says Laurel. Ethel was deeply involved in communityimprovement projects, and used Kaluanui’s solarium as her office. Wanting to form a soci-
COURTESY OF MAIZIE SANFORD-CAMERON/HUI NO‘EAU VISUAL ARTS CENTER
A Grand Dame Turns 100
ety of like-minded artists, she and Frances founded Hui No‘eau in 1934. The name loosely translates as “skillful club”; members met at Kaluanui for art lessons and lectures. When membership outgrew the estate, “The Hui” moved to the old Kahului Fairgrounds. During World War II, Harry and Ethel hosted dinners at the estate for officers stationed Upcountry. “Many Sundays, Brigadier General Robert Mittelstaedt and his aides visited Kaluanui for a horseback ride through the pineapple fields and, afterwards, dinner,” says Laurel. Four years after Harry’s death in 1946, Ethel left Kaluanui. The property eventually became a holding of Maui Land & Pineapple Company, which was managed by Ethel and Harry’s grandson, Colin Cameron. For nearly two decades, the mansion housed presidents of Pā‘ia’s Maunaolu College, but in the early seventies, it stood vacant, until Colin offered to lease the property to The
Hui, now a registered nonprofit, for $1 a year. Colin died in 1992. In 2005, Maui Land & Pineapple’s managers decided to divest the company of real estate unrelated to the core business, and entered into an agreement to sell Kaluanui to a couple from Texas. The Hui’s board and staff, horrified by the thought of losing the organization’s beloved home, launched a grass-roots capital campaign to “Save the Hui—Buy Kaluanui,” and raised sufficient funds to place an offer on the property. When the Texas couple learned how passionately the Maui community wanted to preserve the estate for Hui No‘eau, they graciously exited the purchase agreement, and The Hui became the proud owner of Kaluanui. Nowadays, the public is welcome to explore the historic estate and imagine it as it was a hundred years ago, when Harry and Ethel first moved into their new home. The main house holds a gallery in what
was once the Baldwins’ living room; here, The Hui displays up to eight community art exhibits each year. A history room occupies the former maid’s quarters, with memorable artifacts relating to Kaluanui and Upcountry Maui. Harry’s study is now a gallery shop, featuring works by local artists. Several of the estate’s outbuildings serve as open studios, where artists and students hone their craft, and welcome drop-in visitors. (The Hui conducts a variety of art classes for all ages, including some that are a single session.) Visit, and you can take a guided or self-guided tour. Kaluanui is also available for weddings and other special events. The estate is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Find more information at HuiNoeau. com.—Heidi Pool Laurel Murphy is a Maui author whose forthcoming book spans five generations of the Baldwin Family on Maui.
COURTESY OF MAIZIE SANFORD-CAMERON/HUI NO‘EAU VISUAL ARTS CENTER
Clockwise from top left: Ethel descends the staircase in this 1950s photo; the lamp is long gone, but the stained-glass window behind her still remains. What’s now Hui No‘eau’s gallery was once the living room, shown here in July 1924; the doors at left lead to the solarium. The old courtyard doubles, these days, as a reception area. Harry Baldwin, circa 1930; the steps lead from the solarium to a formal reflecting pool.
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TALK STORY day in the life
Story by Lehia Apana Photo by Ryan Siphers
NAME: Aja Akuna TITLE: Field Crew Leader, Maui Invasive Species Committee (M.I.S.C.)
KILLING THEM SOFTLY: The team uses high-pressure hoses to douse the landscape with citric acid, a common food additive that the EPA deems safe for environmental use. For more targeted sweeps, there are handheld and backpack sprayers. “Sometimes we’re working at manicured mansions to get rid of a few frogs; other times we’re in a gulch packed with strawberry guava, cane grass, and all kinds of other stuff you don’t want to be going through,” says Akuna, adding that rough terrain means that the crew must forge a path with chainsaws and machetes to reach their target. The frogs have no natural predator in the Islands, and a single female can produce up to seventy-five eggs every two or three months. “It’s a physical job, but the mental part is even tougher,” Akuna says. “We’ve worked in areas where it seems like we’ve gotten the frogs under control, only to come back later and have it sound just like it did before.” CRITICAL MASS: While the Māliko Gulch area is the greatest threat, Akuna and her team have been following the tiny croaker across the island. “We’ve cleared areas from Nāpili to Hāna and everywhere between. If it wasn’t for MISC, there would be frogs everywhere,” she says, before offering a warning: “We’re at a critical point right now where we really need to take control of the situation, but I’m hopeful. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we were making a difference.”
Jeepers peepers: At only about the size of a quarter, coqui frogs are extremely hard to spot, but all too easy to hear. Catch a video at MauiMagazine.net/coqui-frogs.
INSET: FOREST & KIM STARR
ENDANGERING SPECIES: Several nights a week, Aja Akuna goes hunting. Donning a headlamp and equipped with a sprayer and 1,000 gallons of citric acid mixture, she combs through the darkness in search of public enemy number one: the illusive and invasive coqui frog. This teeny amphibian has overwhelmed large swathes of the Big Island, threatening fragile ecosystems by gorging on insects that are food for many native birds. The frogs are also a potential food source if (some say when) brown tree snakes are accidentally introduced to Hawai‘i. Plus, they’re downright annoying. A single male frog can emit an eighty- to ninety-decibel shriek, roughly as loud as a blender or garbage disposal. Akuna’s five-person team is tasked with controlling Maui’s coqui frog population, mostly in Māliko Gulch on Maui’s north shore. “It’s so loud down there that you’ll get a headache—you can’t escape it,” Akuna says.
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TALK STORY in season
Springtime on the mainland is marked by the resurgence of flowers. One by one the crocus, daffodil, and narcissus push forth from the frostbitten ground and open bright faces to the warming sun. The bare branches of the hydrangea, that popular deciduous shrub, suddenly grow flush with serrated leaves and pom-pom flowers. While many of these harbingers of spring are absent from the Hawaiian Islands, the archipelago does have its very own endemic hydrangea: Broussaisia arguta, the lovely kanawao. Beautiful and distinctive kanawao shrubs decorate rain forests across Hawai‘i. The understory plant’s leaves are recognizably those of a hydrangea, though a little larger and more leathery than the foliage found on their domesticated cousins. Like common hydrangea cultivars, their blossoms range from creamy yellow to magenta, lavender, and blue, with many shades in between—but the resemblance stops there. Rather than the flat, papery petals found in flower shops worldwide, Hawaiian hydrangeas have clusters of star-shaped blooms spouting profusions of long stamens. Nestled
within a rosette of leaves, the showy native blossom looks much like a firework frozen in time. Also unlike its mainland counterparts, kanawao is both evergreen and dioecious: it blooms year-round, and it manifests as either male or female. Many rare Hawaiian fauna can be found crawling about this common forest plant. Happy faced spiders often cling to its stems, and endemic tree snails crawl along its leaves, grazing on fungus. Kiwikiu, the endangered Maui parrotbill, loves to dig its hooked bill into ripe kanawao fruits in search of juicy grubs. Birds aren’t the only ones known to snack on the berries, either. According to Hawaiian oral tradition, kanawao symbolizes fertility. Revered ethnologist Mary Kawena Pukui reported that Hawaiians ate the fruits to increase their chances of conception; they referred to increase in chiefs as a fruiting kanawao. To see this beauty in the wild, take a hike up the Waihe‘e Ridge Trail or visit The Nature Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve. —Shannon Wianecki
FOREST & KIM STARR
Kanawao: Hawai‘i’s Hydrangea
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Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Mar–Apr 2017
The Palm Whisperer Story by SHANNON WIANECKI | Photography by ZACH PEZZILLO
Palm reader: William S. Merwin has merged his love of poetry and plants, creating The Merwin Conservancy, a palm forest and future retreat for botanists and writers. Here, potting shelves teem with new life: keiki palms from around the world, including a species that was only recently discovered.
Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Mar–Apr 2017
Witness I want to tell what the forests were like I will have to speak in a forgotten language
surface that had been abused by human ‘improvement.’” Merwin set to work in the dry streambed, crawling through the Christmas berry with a handsaw. “He wanted to free the stream,” says Erickson. Originally Merwin intended to restore the landscape with native species, but nearly every one of his first plantings perished. Only the loulu, or Hawaiian fan palms, survived. So he revised his plan. During rainy spells he planted at least one palm a day. From the start, the garden was a self-contained system, as was the poet’s house, which he designed and built into the hillside. Three cisterns collect rainwater, and solar panels provide power. The poet devoted his mornings to meditating and writing, and his afternoons to planting and weeding. He eschewed fertilizers and big machinery, preferring hand tools and a watering can. The green waste he composted in heaping bio-piles. Over the years, Merwin and his wife, Paula, planted thousands of trees, many of them endangered species. They successfully cultivated fourteen of the nineteen endemic Pritchardias, or Hawaiian fan palms. Their nearlynineteen-acre botanical garden is now world-class, “one of the planet’s great palm collections,” according to Chipper Wichman of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Wichman worked with world palm authority Dr. John
“There’s a language of trees and William speaks it. He’s a palm whisperer.” Olin Erickson leads a handful of visitors down a steep, muddy trail, stopping to share anecdotes about his boss, William S. Merwin, the former U.S. poet laureate who planted this palm forest on Maui’s north shore. Erickson pushes back an ambitious frond to allow the group to pass beneath. “Whenever we walked through the garden,” he says, “William would look at a palm and get this smile on his face. He’d go up and touch it, like shaking its hand, and checking its pulse. He’d tell me a little story about where he got it, just like introducing me to a friend.” Indeed, Merwin’s forest is composed of friends: seeds collected from around the world, traded among fellow growers, nurtured, hand-watered, and now grown twenty, thirty, or even forty feet tall. It’s a cathedral of greens. Angular fronds filter gem-toned light into the grove. Seeds as bright and round as Bedouin beads dangle from slender trunks, while other trees brandish nine-inch thorns— evolutionary throwbacks to the dinosaur age. When Merwin purchased this property in 1977, it was barren, except for a few scraggly mangoes and a rash of invasive Christmas berry. A succession of failed agricultural ventures had utterly depleted the soil. Wasted and remote, the land was exactly what he wanted. It offered, in the poet’s own words, “a chance to try to restore a bit of the earth’s
Above: The spectacular fan palm Johannesteijsmannia altifrons is threatened in its native habitat—the rainforests of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Opposite, clockwise from top left: Palms come in all shapes, sizes, and heights, and can grow to 200 feet tall. William Merwin is at home in the palm forest, both literally and figuratively. Each plant is tagged and logged onto a database at MerwinConservancy.org. Excerpts from William Merwin’s poems “Witness” and “Place” appear in the collection The Rain in the Trees, which is published by Knopf, as is the book-length narrative The Folding Cliffs. “Questions to Tourists Stopped by a Pineapple Field” appears in the National Book Award-winning collection Migration, published by Copper Canyon Press and used by permission of the Wylie Agency.
TOP RIGHT: LARRY CAMERON
Dramsfield and staff from London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to catalog the rare specimens in Merwin’s forest. The collection now exists online as a searchable database. Erickson gathers his group beneath one of the rarest trees: Hyophorbe indica from Madagascar. “Three amateurs saved this species from extinction,” he says. After the palm disappeared from its native environment, Merwin consulted with two fellow palm growers. They searched their greenhouses and found H. indica seedlings they’d stashed long before. Merwin’s tree eventually produced a cluster of bright orange seeds; he was able to share them and help reintroduce the species. Thirteen years ago, when Erickson interviewed for a gardening job here, he had no clue who Merwin was. “He was waiting for me in boots, work belt, machete and a smirk,” remembers Erikson. “He sized me up and showed me a corner of the garden. My responsibilities grew from there.” Erickson adopted Merwin’s gardening techniques and much of his philosophy. “He’s such an internationally respected person, like a rock star hidden away in this little gem of a property,” says Erickson. “A lot of his neighbors don’t know who he is, and that’s how he likes it.” While perhaps little known in his own neighborhood, Merwin is recognized beyond Hawai‘i as one of the greatest living poets. Now in his ninetieth year, he no longer makes public appearances, though his poems—and now his palms—speak for him. Born in New York in 1927, Merwin spent his childhood in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His career as gadfly began at age three, when he protested the cutting of an apple tree in his parents’ backyard. He Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Mar–Apr 2017
Above: Daniel Sullivan shares a laugh with William and Paula Merwin at the first Green Room event in August 2013. (Merwin penned the introduction to Sullivan’s book The Maui Coast—Legacy of the King’s Highway, featured in this issue on page 26.) Held on Maui throughout the year, the literary salon attracts esteemed speakers, including the award-winning poet and author Michael Ondaatje (top right), perhaps best known for his novel The English Patient; and award-winning poet, essayist and translator Jane Hirshfield (bottom right), chancellor at the Academy of American Poets.
the Hawaiian stilt, and tells them right away what they have come to, and what the place is turning into.” Ouch. He was gentler in his published writings, though no less provocative. In his poem “Questions to Tourists Stopped by a Pineapple Field,” he asks: What do you think was here before the pineapple fields would you suppose that the fields represent an improvement do you feel hurried on your vacation are you getting your money’s worth The poem’s genius lies in its tender probing of the intersection between tourism and colonialism. Yes, islanders are obliged to be hospitable, but that doesn’t erase centuries of muted resentment, regret, and rage. In his gorgeous epic The Folding Cliffs, Merwin tackled an acutely painful episode in Hawai‘i’s history: the exile of leprosy patients to Kalaupapa. He spent a decade polishing the story of Ko‘olau, the famous Hawaiian outlaw who hid from Territorial sheriffs rather than be banished. In chapter three, Merwin wove in couplets clearly inspired by the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant. Born in a dark wave the fragrance of red seaweed born on the land the shore grass hissing while the night slips through a narrow place a man is born for the narrows a woman is born for where the waters open The haunting, intimate tale reflects Merwin’s deep understanding and love of the Hawaiian psyche. The New York Times called the narrative “ravishing,” while Dr. Pualani Kanahele, a revered kupuna (elder)
LEFT: MERWIN CONSERVANCY; RIGHT (2): BRYAN BERKOWITZ
has never stopped interrogating people’s relationship to their natural environment. During his undergraduate studies at Princeton, Merwin visited Ezra Pound in a sanatorium. The elder poet advised the student to “read the seeds, not the twigs of poetry,” write seventy-five lines a day, and master English by translating foreign literature. Merwin did so, translating works from a dozen languages, including French, Spanish, Sanskrit, Japanese, Middle English and Quechua. Merwin lived for periods in New York City and Chiapas, and owned a farmhouse in Southern France. He tutored English poet Robert Graves’s son in Majorca and befriended Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in London. All the while, he wrote book after book of poems praised as visionary, spare, and enigmatic. He collected nearly every important prize for poetry. He won his first of two Pulitzers in 1971, and caught flak for donating the prize money to Viet Nam draft resisters. Merwin came to Hawai‘i to study Zen Buddhism under the tutelage of Robert Aitken. The poet was so taken by the meditative practice that he moved into a leaky shack above Aitken’s house in Hā‘iku. He arrived in 1976—the same year the Hawaiian cultural renaissance began in earnest. That January, activists protested the military’s bombardment of Kaho‘olawe by illegally occupying the island. Later that summer, the Polynesian Voyaging Society sailed from Honolua Bay to Tahiti aboard a double-hulled canoe, proving that Polynesians ranked among history’s greatest navigators. Kanaka maoli (native Hawaiians) were reclaiming their ancestral strengths and finding new political voices. Merwin not only witnessed this revolution, he participated. When restoration efforts began on Kaho‘olawe, he volunteered several times. In 1990, he helped found Environment Hawai‘i, a monthly newsletter that serves as a clarion voice for native ecosystems. He and newsletter editor Patricia Tummons sponsored water-rights conferences in three of Hawai‘i’s most contested valleys: Waipi‘o on Hawai‘i Island, Ke‘anae on Maui, and Waiāhole on O‘ahu. At Waiāhole, Merwin joined two hundred Hawaiian farmers in rebuilding an ancient lo‘i kalo (taro patch). In 1991, the poet testified against a proposal to expand Kahului Airport, addressing Maui County councilmembers with savage eloquence. He praised Maui as “a place of rare beauty, with a character and silence,” yet tainted by the smell of the sewage treatment plant “that greets visitors to Kahului as they pass one of the last pathetic nesting grounds of
and kumu hula (hula teacher), applauded the author’s grasp of Hawaiian character. In 2010, Merwin became the seventeenth U.S. poet laureate. He accepted the honor and its obligatory public appearances in order to spread his favorite gospel: that humans belong to nature, not the other way around. To that end, he permanently protected the palm forest with a conservation easement and founded the Merwin Conservancy. In addition to regular tours of the forest, the Conservancy hosts the Green Room, a literary salon at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center featuring the poet’s internationally renowned friends and colleagues. Luminaries such as Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez, and Michael Ondaatje have appeared on the intimate stage—a marvelous boon for the Maui community. Two years ago, Merwin’s eyesight began to fail. He quit giving interviews. He visits the furthest reaches of the palm forest less frequently. He hasn’t stopped writing, however. He dictates poems in near-finished form to his wife and friends. Last year he published two more books, Garden Time and What Is a Garden? Prolific throughout his life, he plans to be equally generous in his passing. He and Paula determined that, when they are gone, their home will become a retreat for writers. Erickson glances up towards his boss’s shaded sanctuary and smiles. “He’s accomplished his mission,” he says. “It’s nice to be a part of it.” On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree —excerpted from the poem “Place”
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Follow the Conservancy’s blog for a weekly poem, facts about palms, and opportunities to tour the palm forest. MerwinConservancy.org; 808-579-8876
ATTEND A GREEN ROOM EVENT
On April 7, the salon hosts Hope Jahren, professor of geobiology and author of the book Lab Girl, described by The New York Times as a “road map to the secret life of plants.” For a schedule of Green Room events, visit MerwinConservancy.org/ the-green-room.
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Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Mar–Apr 2017
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Island Living Issue | Maui's King's Trail, W. S. Merwin's Palm Conservancy, Homegrown Fashion