Old Diary

Patience With Bark

They say that genetic traits often skip a generation.  I believe it.

When we heard that our granddaughter liked Bonsai it was like Deja Vu all over again.  (Sorry for that – there’s a movie line just like that and even though I know deja vu means all over again I couldn’t resist it).

 Seattle 2004 DSC01137

We love taking in Bonsai gardens whenever we are nearby and have the opportunity.  I hope we’ll be able to see a lot more.  And I also hope that our grand daughter will have her little starter bonsai for many many years.  But Bonsai are not for the likes of me — I’ve killed several of them over the years. Mostly because I’m not around often enough.

Let me explain.


There really are no limits to the lifespan of a bonsai.  This specimen on the right is one we saw at Elandan Gardens in Bremerton WA.  If you could read the legend plate it says, A.D. 1320.  Now that’s an OLD bonsai.  Of course the truth of the story is that it hasn’t been a cultivated bonsai that long.  It was found on a desolate outcropping high on a mountain and brought from there to civilization where it has flourished under care for a great many years.  But my point is that these old living things are fully able to survive a great long time.  IF they have someone to care for them.

Bremerton BackwatersAnd of course that has always been my problem.  I travel.  I have always travelled.  And when I’m gone there’s no one home to tend to the plants.  Sigh.

The result has been several dead bonsai.  I’m a tree killer I’m afraid.  And now that we are trying desperately to get, and go, mobile we aren’t planning on carrying along bonsai in Journey. I’ll continue enjoying them when we see them, but I’m getting old enough that starting a bonsai isn’t in the cards — I might find one that has been in training for a half century or more and enjoy that — but my “expected” lifespan doesn’t suggest that I’ll really get very far starting the process from scratch.

When a living plant is first converted into a bonsai there is a process of trimming back the branches and trimming back the roots so as to put the tree into a state of struggle.  By forcing the plant to reach into Mother Nature’s bag of tricks to survive a portion of the unique bonsai trait is begun.  Then by keeping the plant in fast draining soil and with only limited soil in which to gain nourishment the plant achieves more rapidly the look of advanced age.

2004261WASH04018There is something innately human about rushing to make something look older, isn’t there?  We love our shabby chic, and our faux finishes.  We build new buildings and apply venetian plaster techniques to make our new structure look a century old — instead of tearing down that century old building that once stood there and actually USING an old building.  To be truthful I sometimes think that this urge to antiquification is something particularly a U.S. trait.  Our culture is so young, and I often think that we envy cultures with greater age and so we imitate what we do not have.

Bonsai is more of an oriental pastime than caucasian.  Bonsai has been a way of life for a certain portion of Japan for centuries.  It’s not all the common here in the states, though there are local bonsai clubs and numerous gardens around the country.  However, I have never visited a bonsai garden that is as crowded as Disneyland. It’s a different state of mind.

Culturally it’s a strange dichotomy that we’ve created.  We like to have old things around us as long as we can have new old things.  Real old things we get rid of.  We raze our old buildings to make room for new ones.  We hide our old people away in “retirement homes” when they get too troubling to look at.  We go to extraordinary measures to cut our bodies open and insert foreign objects in pursuit of a younger visage.  We endure exercise regimens but we don’t want to work hard.  In fact, we have to exercise because we don’t have enough day in and day out exertion to prevent our getting fat.  It’s a strange world we have created.

Grandma and Grandpa / 1947My grandmother lived to 102 yrs of age (I keep wanting to think it was 104, but I have to look it up from time to time to keep it straight).  She ate so much salt that the family thought she had lost her tastebuds.  She ate so much animal fat  that they were sure she was headed for an early grave. (“that’s where the flavor is,” she would say to her girls in Polish)   Of course she outlived all her daughters by at least 20 yrs.  What she did do, however, was to work until her dying day.

I don’t know.  I find the growing contradictions of american society perplexing. The good thing about Bonsai is they don’t take any interpretation.  They are what they are:  Beautiful patience enrobed in bark.