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Most of Molokai‘i's prime ‘opihi grounds are only accessible by boat. Jordan Spencer, just offshore of Wailau Valley, September 2006
Vol. 9, No. 6
December/January 2007

  >>   Hearts of Palm
  >>   On the Rocks
  >>   Top Flight

Hearts of Palm (Page 6)


Karen and Dean Piercy in the bush at
the Pana‘ewa Zoo.

“We’re all crazy,” Karen says. “It’s an aura of fanaticism.” She laughs, then adds, “You should be warned: The founder of the International Palm Society was a journalist.” I laugh, too, thinking of the HIPS membership form I’ve just filled out—and my favorite email on the International Palm Society’s website: “You know you’ve got it bad when there’s a story on the nightly news about a murder or a hurricane, and you’re just trying to figure out what kind of palms are growing behind the reporter’s head.”

On my way out of Hilo, I stop to see Alan. I find him sitting at the kitchen table. His tenure as president of the palm society is now over—these days the office is held by a lovely peach palm farmer named Jenny Johnson—but Alan has become a HIPSter through and through. Before long he’s waxing philosophic about palms in a Joseph Campbell timbre, throwing around phrases like “strong cultural imperative” and reminding me that centuries ago Indian sages wrote out sutras on palm leaves. Listening to him, I remember back to a moment at Jeff’s. He’d put a seed in my palm, tiny and black, exactly like a peppercorn. At our feet were thousands more. Towering 100 feet above us was the tree they’d all come from: a Pigafetta elata, the world’s fastest-growing palm, which can shoot up ten feet a year. I’d taken the seed between my thumb and index finger, run it in circles, amazed to think of the wisdom, the nobility, the virility encapsulated in something so miniscule. Here in this seed was the whole story: improbability, magic, life. “People think palms are just telephone poles with heads,” Jeff had said, almost rolling his eyes in disgust as he stood surrounded by the sentinels he’d assembled. The HIPSters, of course, know better—and thanks to them, now we do, too. HH