“We have all the problems of a major theme park and a major zoo, and the computer's not even on its feet yet."
- Samuel L. Jackson, Jurassic Park
Every time I hear that line, I relate to it. I have the hobby of Bonsai - a wonderfully peaceful form of art showing the most beautiful characteristics of each tree that mimics the long brutal years a tree would display in its natural setting. All in a pot that you display and meditate over. At the same time, you need to not just keep it alive, you need to give it what it needs to thrive. You become a botanist at the same time.
I have a strange love for Bonsai - I guess it may be strange altogether. To care for a plant that takes up a 2-foot space in your yard, work on it hours upon hours, feeding, transplanting, reducing growth, guiding formation - all this has to happen at the right time. The right time of year, the right time for the formation of leaf, branch, and tree, and even the right time of day. All too often, you try all the things you know while seeking help, yet you can see that the tree is slipping away. It will die, leaving an empty pot and break your heart.
But don't feel bad for me. There are collections around the world on display—trees well over a hundred years old. Treasures to a club or a collection cared for by a well-trained botanist and lifelong bonsai artists. That is pressure. Trees that are not even appraisable. Gifts from other countries to the US and US presidents are on display in DC. When you have lots of time check out some of the collection here: www.bonsai-nbf.org/collection
So why Bonsai?
There's something about the challenge. The structure you learn during the journey gives satisfaction as you work to provide a tree that which it needs to be happy. Doing so brings me happiness. I have a long history of enjoying Bonsai. I learn new things every year. I win some, and I lose some. When I lose, there is usually something big that I have learned in that loss. Here are just some of the things I take away from practicing Bonsai:
The discipline you develop while building a close relationship with a tree: The cycle of caring is constant from watering and moving and feeding. It's like having a clock inside my mind. I am like a child asking to hear a story before bed, signaling the brain for a peaceful sleep. I visit the trees and calm myself from work and the world.
The inspiration in nature: Most people involved in Bonsai find inspiration in nature. Walking a path out in nature, seeing a tree that has found purchase in a small crack between rocks and has weathered the winters, the deer nipping at it, and the wind. It may have used root power to open the crack wider over the years. In that, the inspiration is glorious. It found a way to live and be happy and to show it’s beauty. I want that - I want to have that perseverance.
The inspiration in your Bonsai: I have a vision when I think about the birthplace of Bonsai in China and Japan. I think of a densely populated city in a tiny yard or patio, you may find a well-trained bonsai, the owner pondering and falling into the tree. In his mind, he is an inch tall standing under his inspiration. He is not just looking at his tree, he is with his tree in nature. Standing or sitting on a root coming from the trunk, a soft green patch of moss under his feet. This is a lesson for me. We live in a world of pressures. This example tells me I do not need a massive yard or to be inspired or miss the experience of being deep in nature. It tells me to turn off the world and practice getting lost. To slow and meditate. To care, to look into the balance of the tree. To find what it needs and give back to it. To find answers from those wiser than me. Well, I guess we should do these things with all things we love and want to be better at. I am grateful to my father, who years ago showed me why I would want a little tree in a pot and asked me to help with his art and inspiration.
I hope you enjoy looking at the website in this article. At the time of writing, the collection was closed for Covid-19 safety. Thanks to technology, we can visit, ponder, and read about this fantastic collection's history.