Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Path, A Paradox

A gardener can sink fingers into the earth and dissolve all illusion of apartness from nature. For me, this intimacy with the land runs contrary to the adage that nature is an obstacle to be tamed and conquered. Which is why I am such a hypocrite.

On quiet afternoons, when the air is still, the cat is asleep under the pineapple sage, and my neighborhood seems suspended in time, I stay awake by flitting from one enchanting vignette to the next, planting irises, plucking figs, fluffing fresh mulch around the breadfruit. When I stop and rest my chin on a shovel handle to contemplate the splendor of the native forest around me, I am so much a part of nature I feel nearly invisible.

And then I notice a hapu’u fern pushing up into the avocado tree. I grab the o’o bar, pry up the tree fern and drag it over to a grove of ohias where its fronds won’t crowd my fruit trees.

I weed. I prune. I extract protruding lava rocks to smooth out grassy areas, generally rearranging everything. I am a part of nature, yet impelled to redesign and wrestle control of it.

At no time is this paradox more apparent to me than when I am building paths.

The first path I made into our one-acre lot over three years ago was just wide enough to squeeze my body into the jungle so I could get off the unpaved street. Without the machete, I couldn’t have moved forward an inch. I was blocked by malodorous vines noosed around stringy black stalks of ten-foot-high ferns. After 20 minutes of slashing, I was drenched with sweat. All I could see were more ferns wedged among rotten logs, rusty beer cans and slippery rocks. I kept slashing until I had made a path off the road bank, and didn’t quit until I could see up ahead the peeling bark on the trunk of an old ohia tree. I later named that ohia Sarah.

Richard and I hadn’t planned to hand-clear the lot. We simply wanted to find our boundary markers and figure out where to bulldoze the driveway and house pad. We couldn’t agree on where to enter our corner lot first, so I started a path on one corner and he started his on the other. One path led to another, and another, until we were more confused than ever about what trees to save and where we should build.

Richard brought over a chainsaw after we figured out that the guava trees and tibouchina bushes had to go. Already I loathed the most invasive species, strawberry guava—wai-awi—despite its attractive appaloosa-red bark and the fragrance of its berries. I hated the way it wrapped itself around the ohia and kolea, robbing the native forest of space to survive. The tibouchina with its lavender flowers was lovely, too, but it was swallowing up the native hapu’u ferns and grew even in the trunk crotches of ohia. Richard chainsawed the guava while I dug up the tibouchina and piled brush. We bought loppers, a chipper-shredder, a weed-whacker, and the next thing I knew a year of my life had passed.

At one point during that period of slashing and conquering, I recall sitting down on a log, sticking my hand in the mud, and falling in love with the ‘aina—this speck of rainforest. I have dealt with my paradox ever since.

It is not so easy to let the forest be on this island, where everything wants to live. Eventually choices have to be made: shelter the native ecosystem that evolved and adapted to life on an active volcano, or let invasive plants take over and accept both predicted and unforeseeable consequences. The best I can deal with my hypocrisy for now is to accept that my mothering and nesting impulses are guiding me presently, rather than those blissful moments of meditation on the oneness of being.

In the fall when the forest is ablaze with the orange pinnacles of the ie’ie vine, I laugh at how unimpressive my flower beds are in comparison. When I’o , the Hawaiian hawk, swoops down to catch a rat asleep in an ohia, I’m glad I saved the trees. When strangers roll down their windows as they drive past and call out, “I love what you’ve done!” I can live with my hypocrisy.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

First Post

I'm uncertain how worthy the goal is to have a blogger in every household, but clear that a gardener in every home would make for a contented world. The intent of this blog is to capture my experience of living and gardening in one of the last remaining rainforests of Hawai'i.

I am a newcomer to Hawai'i, having lived on the Big island for a little over four years. My husband and I hand-cleared our one acre in upper Leilani Estates near Pahoa, determined to preserve the native forest while also making our home here.

To manage comfortably in this wet environment at 900 ft. on the slope of Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, our new house perches a full story off the ground, surrounded by ohia and kolea trees, hapu'u tree ferns and the fruit, flower and vegetable gardens I am slowly establishing. It is an enchanting place to live and a paradise for gardeners, which explains why all our neighbors are avid gardeners as well.

Although new to rainforest gardening, I have gardened elsewhere for over 20 years.