Well, let me just start off by saying that I was really thrilled to be present for the restyling of our club’s logo tree. Beyond learning some of the history of the tree, which I had heard only pieces of, myself and all of the other approximately thirty people who attended were treated to a demonstration by one of the premier bonsai masters anywhere. I think that we should all be very grateful to Mr. Mitsuya for his time and to Kathy Shaner and Andrea for helping to arrange this event.
I realized as I was watching the work progress on the logo tree that during our normal monthly demonstrations we rarely get to see work being done on trees that are half a century into their life as a bonsai. Many of our monthly demonstrations concentrate on taking a tree from its field-grown condition through its initial paring down into a rough bonsai shape. For me, this was what made this such a special event.
Kathy, who spoke at length while we all watched Mr. Mitsuya work, said one thing that sticks in my mind in particular. She described the way in which a tree in nature is attacked in waves by the elements. It may lose a branch, only to spend ten years re-growing it before it loses it again along with three other branches. Each time this cycle occurs, it adds character to the tree, shaping the overall tree and the individual branches alike. The same thing is true for bonsai. Many people including myself expect that they can take a tree that is in rough form, work on it for a few hours, and end with a result that is the finished tree. What Kathy emphasized was that it is the process of repeatedly growing the tree out and then cutting it back that adds so much character to a bonsai, just as nature adds character to full sized trees. These waves of work have to be repeated many times to gradually make the tree better and better.
The logo tree, as we saw in some of the photos, was in a much more rough form many years ago. It had a informal-upright shape near the top and a branch flowing over the side that had only four or five distinct pads of foliage. Even this stage had taken many years of care and effort to create. After a major restyling those few pads were split and spread apart to form the many smaller pads that we were all familiar with in the tree. The change took the tree from a younger look to one of greater age, where each pad represented many years of effort from the tree to create.
The styling work that we saw in this demonstration took the tree through another of these transformations. I had always thought that the tree was very beautiful, but it’s lushness almost contradicted it’s incredibly complicated shape. Mr. Mitsuya took many of the lush branches and trimmed them so that the tree was less fluffy feeling, but more importantly, he made a few of the branches into jin. The jin, after he was finished, seemed to add so much character to the tree that it was almost like I had known they should be there all along. Kathy described that this was the next stage in the development of this tree. It “moved the tree higher up the mountain.” That actually made me giggle as I envisioned the tree standing up and hiking up a steep hill to a place that wasn’t quite as hospitable as its previous home all the while grumbling that it didn’t really want to move. But jokes aside, the jin made the tree look much more weathered and old. She elaborated that in the future the jin could be enlarged or more jin could be added to compound the effect. Mr. Mitsuya said that in five to ten years the tree would be ready for another stage of development… then he said it could be as long as fifty years before it was ready.
So I sit here thinking about my own trees and wonder what I should do to them now and what I should wait fifty years to do. I guess that I can take satisfaction in the simultaneous feelings of calm and excitement that I enjoy while I move around my yard trimming, watering and simply enjoying the presence of my trees. It doesn’t matter if it takes three days or three hundred years to do something; if you enjoy doing it then just enjoy it and be happy that you have the fortune to be able to. That’s my 2 cents for now. (I’ll probably throw in another dime’s worth in time.)