Story by Michael Shapiro
Photos by Monte Costa
If adulthood means the growing awareness of one’s own doom, my coming of age began with a wild onion. In spring, wild onions—just about the only edible thing growing in suburban New York—were the first plants to poke through the thawing soil. Being curious and totally ignorant of poison, I discovered that they tasted like the scallions my mother put in salad, so I dug up a bunch and brought them to her.
“Throw those away!” she chided, chopping the industrial-size carrots she’d bought at the A&P. “Are you crazy?”
Confused, I offered the anemic cluster of bulbs and wilting stalks in my dirty hand. “But … they’re scallions!”
“You don’t know where they’ve been! A dog might have peed on them,” she said. “Or a raccoon.”
Unable to prove that a dog or raccoon had not peed on them, I tossed them in the trash—this was in the mid-’70s, long before the words “compost heap” became fashionable, on Long Island anyway.
The takeaway? Nature couldn’t be trusted but the A&P could. Still—if food came out of the ground, then the A&P must be picking it from somewhere. Why couldn’t we just, you know, cut out the middleman and eat what was growing in the yard?
So to paraphrase my hero, Henry David Thoreau, I moved to Hawai‘i because I wished to live deliberately. To be somewhere, I figured, that if global civilization implodes, as it’s quite clearly preparing to do, I’d survive. While everyone was stripping bark off the trees and eating beetle grubs back home, I’d be lolling in a hammock, stuffed on pineapple and papaya. I didn’t know anything about farming, didn’t know anything about Hawai‘i. But I came to my Walden-in-the- Pacific to follow Thoreau’s example: to live simply and be self-reliant. With Hawai‘i’s abundant rainforests, rich soil and year-round growing season, how hard could that possibly be?