Leaving Baby Behind…


Yesterday I was talking about how we are giving ourselves the opportunity to see what living in South Texas does to us instead of what we are going to make of living in South Texas.windswept-bonsai  Overnight (it’s now Friday) I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite visual arts:  bonsai.  The fact that I can find so much appreciation of that art form, and yet not own a bonsai or two myself fits in nicely to what we’re doing right now and I want to explore it with you.

You must be familiar with what a bonsai is.  It’s the ancient art of training live trees to look as if they are much older, in miniature. The art goes back hundreds if not thousands of years and it’s a commentary upon a life style that doesn’t really exist for the common man in 2016.

Why do I say that?  Because of the nature of society today.

To create a bonsai one first finds the subject, and wandering around in the wilderness looking for an old looking tree to harvest is frowned on in most places.  You can’t bring home specimens from National Parks — if you did, soon there would be no National Parks left!  They’d be denuded. But, I’ve seen bonsai that were over 100 years old when first collected as “starter plants.”  upright-bonsai

You can start your own brand new bonsai — and doing so is a commitment to the next generation(s) because your new starter bonsai will take years before it really deserves notice. But that is what a great many of us must do.

Having the plant one then repots it and here is where I (personally) get in trouble.  The nature of a bonsai is that the tree is continually under stress — for it is stress that causes the miniaturization, and gives character to the artistic form.  Part of that stress is caused by radically trimming back the root structure. Another part is the result of using loose, granular soil which channels water away from the plant rather rapidly.  And a third part is the selection of pot which limits growth and water.

When you are done you have a plant which literally needs to be tended to every day.  Therein lies the problem. Never in my life have I been one placegnarly-bonsai every day. Eventually I move on, or I go away, and my poor bonsai is left to shrivel up and die.  This, by the way, is also why we’ve only had 1 dog and zero cats in our 48 year marriage.  Our style of living doesn’t accommodate pets very well, not even pets planted in soil and called bonsai.

I don’t know anyone who would be thrilled with a full time job that only offered 2 weeks vacation (after a suitable tenure).  We like our time off.  But you can’t take time off from your bonsai, or your pets.  Even the typical 2 week starter vacation is long enough to kill a bonsai.

Of course purveyors of bonsai sell hundreds and thousands (I suspect) starter bonsai every year.  And hundreds and thousands of bonsai end up on the trash heap because the purchaser didn’t realize what it would take to keep, nourish, and develop this artsy tree.

This new place of ours, this mobile home (I still have a hard time saying I live in a mobile home — even though saying I lived in an RV was natural), is a different life than we lived heretofore.  Just as a bonsai has it’s own needs apart from the needs of it’s owner/creator/gardener, so moving from a house, to an RV, to a mobile home means that our way of living has changed and we have unique needs that we never faced before. And the last thing I want to do is to tell the universe how it needs to behave to make me happy.  I’ll do much better if I listen to the universe first, and figure out what it requires of me and then determine how I’m best going to get along in a new universe of things, and people, and events.flipping calendar

The RV park has a monthly calendar of activities.  As temporary residents I had no problem at all ignoring that calendar.  I was here for a short time to do what we wanted to do. Now, however, we are becoming parts of a community and I feel some sense of involvement.  Just how involved we’ll want to be, or we’ll be able to tolerate, or we’ll be forced to be involved is something we need to feel out.  There is a difference here between permanent residents and seasonals.  Where we’ll fit in we’ll figure out eventually.

Leaving baby behind… that’s what it feels like when we travel away from home.  In our case we don’t have dependents — not pets, not plants — though in the old pre-retirement-days our plants often took a beating while we traveled.  And even if they weren’t bonsai we lost a good many of them while we were out having fun somewhere else.  This past 6 weeks we’ve been extremely stationary. The furthest we’ve wandered from the park has been about 50 miles. I’m sure that won’t continue.  We have been talking about whether we can afford a quick trip to Milwaukee.  I don’t usually think in those terms, “can we afford it,” because we try to live below our income level so that we can just up and do things without a lot of concern about money.  But coming on the heels of this home purchase, cashflow is a little tight and I’m actually having to think about whether it’s a good idea.

I hope you think about what you leave behind in your travels.  In the past when we returned home to dead plants I was always upset with myself.  The “investment” in the plant really wasn’t the point.  What upset me was that something alive that depended on my was dead.  It didn’t matter that it was a plant (fortunately we never lost a parakeet, or a hamster, or fish during our wanderings so plants are the only things I can mention as examples); it mattered that I had not been faithful to an obligation I willingly too upon myself. It’s an old code I guess.  In today’s throwaway society I’m not sure how much attention people pay to obligations they have taken upon themselves.

Here the sound of road grinders and graders and large trucks is temporarily filling the air with human activity.  It’s probably not the idea time to be settling into a new home.  What we are experiencing is not what life is going to be like over the next few years; the road construction will be finished soon and life will settle back into a steady hum and clanking of machinery.  I don’t know of any other major projects planned for the park so this major repaving is a one-off experience.  Yet… We’re still wondering… what life will be like in S. Texas.  Will I go out looking for a starter bonsai?  Will I commit to nurturing a new life that looks old?  Or will I say, enjoy them when you see them.

Thanks for stopping.  I’ll be here again tomorrow. Why not check in and see what we’re up to.

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4 Comments

  1. Pondering your bonsai analogy, most interesting and certainly unique stream of consciousness. 🙂 One thing I’ve been meaning to express since life unscripted followed a new path is use of the term “mobile home” Somehow that bothers me – your home is manufactured and certainly not “mobile”, you live in a community not a park. That off my chest – my life is governed by cactus and succulents. My oldest cactus turns 32 in February, no measure of neglect could bring it down. A cactus so unruly it doesn’t have a permanent location. A cactus to challenge the wildest imagination of Dr. Seuss with gangling arms festooned in disproportionate caps of unremarkable tufts. A cactus whose lumpy tufts dutifully produce a single threadlike strand every summer, with a tiny white flower that blooms for less than a week. A cactus impervious to countless windstorm plummets off the back deck, a cactus forgiving of days on end smashed pot, roots exposed indifference before rescue shoves it in a fresh pot. An inexplicable cactus not only sympathetic to rhythms of my life, but willing to stand by me through thick or thin. That cactus is my bonsai. 🙂

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    1. I hear you about the use of the term ‘mobile home.’ It bothers me too, as you can tell by the comment in the blog; but it is the vernacular and there is this thing about writing: “If you want to be understood you have to make yourself understandable.” That said, I cringe every time I write it and I’m about at the point of just saying our HOME. Whether it’s manufactured or mobile is really irrelevant — aside from the fact that we are transitioning from a mobile downsized life to something not mobile and not quite as downsized — in fact, with 1050 sq ft some would say it’s larger than other people’s brick homes.

      Oh, cacti….

      Peg’s dad had a cactus given to him. I’m not for certain he didn’t receive it in the mid 70’s after her mom/his wife passed from spinal cancer. Anyway, he cared for that “Christmas Cactus” (what exact species it IS I’ll never know) through thick and thin. It needed repotting, and he repotted it. It grew enough that it needed a stand so the descending ‘branches’ could weep. When he passed in 2008 we took it to Milwaukee. It survived our neglect and when we downsized one of Peg’s co-workers took it and to date we get annual updates when it comes into bloom. Had we any idea that we’d be back in a house again we might have drug it along with us for 5 years!

      We have talked — as we walked through the local Home Depot or Lowes — about getting plants again. The house is a bit dark inside. Not sure if the photos posted make a point of showing that there are hurricane shutters on most of the exposed windows, and beneath them the windows are coated with that cling-film used to reduce the amount of light transmission — so we get light inside but it’s subdued.

      We were actually quite successful growing Ficus Benjaminus — we had one that went to another co-worker (I think) that lived with us a good 10 years. We have always had plants in the house, some of which we have killed, but a few of which seemed to forgive us for our vacations. And we keep talking about what to do here. The lesser interior light could work for the ficus — they don’t like too much light — but I don’t see them for sale at local stores. Then again, in S. Texas I don’t see nearly as many nurseries/plants for sale as one might further north. Curious that. And how they would handle the heat during the summer would be curious. Almost all the outside plantings here at the park are cacti of some ilk.

      Our lot is all concrete and gravel, except for a narrow swath along the South (long) wall. Maybe 2 feet? Maybe not quite 2 feet. Over time I think we’ll do something there but we aren’t as quick to change the outside. We lived at the last place about 4+ years before we figured out what to do outside. Even though we are getting older and “time is short” we still think about longer term issues and allow ourselves time to settle on something.

      Cacti will probably feature strongly in whatever we decide.

      >

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  2. “In today’s throwaway society I’m not sure how much attention people pay to obligations they have taken upon themselves.” What a succinct and profound statement! You couldn’t have summed up the way of things now any better. Now the question is: how do we change back to a society that isn’t a throwaway? Even something as small as seeing recyclable items in a garbage can right next to a recycling bin can drive me crazy if I let it. I have been known to dig out what I can see and put it in the recycling where it belongs.
    I so appreciate your plant analogy – angst is created for me when I have to throw away a beautiful potted outdoor fern because I have no indoor place for it. The worst loss was a Norfolk pine that had gotten too large for the only space it did well in. I tried to find a church or other public large space for it, to no avail.
    If you can do magic with bonsai, I say go for it!

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