One Tree, Three Trees

I am learning the art and craft of bonsai.  I have one tree in training, a dwarf cultivar of the Chinese elm (ulmus parvifloria yatsubusu).

This makes me a novice, gaining fundamental competence.

Although I have little practical experience in my new-found hobby, I have already learned this fundamental lesson: In any bonsai there are three trees: (1) the tree in front of you, (2) the tree in training, and (3) the future tree.  (Not all plants used in bonsai are actually trees, but most are trained into tree-like forms regardless of horticultural genus.  I use the word in this broad, artistic sense.)

Every bonsaist starts with the plant as it is.  The plant itself arouses curiosity, inviting  inquiry, research, careful examination, and even quiet contemplation.  Information gained at this stage informs all subsequent actions and guides important decisions.

I turned my specimen, still in its nursery pot, viewing it from every direction to see and understand its structure, and to discover what might be a suitable, welcoming front.  With time, and without making one pinch, snip, or cut, I began to see the tree differently.

Only by really seeing what was right in front of me–the first tree–could I begin to imagine the second, the tree that would emerge by pruning, wiring, or application of any of the bonsaist’s many other techniques.

Having trimmed the root mass by one-third and securing the tree in the selected bonsai pot, I began reducing the top of the tree.  Guided by a nascent vision of the future tree (and, in this case, the far more skillful eye and wise hand of my teacher), I cut and cut and cut, strategically, pausing often to reflect, until I had removed all of the plant material that was not tree #2.

Tree #1 was gone forever.

During this reduction process, the insubstantial invisible hand of tree #3, the future tree, influenced decisions and actions with remarkable force, presence, and reality.

“This will be the new top of the tree,” said my instructor, pointing to a single bud on what was now the upper-most remaining branch.  In his eye, confidently seeing perhaps years out, he saw the bud producing a twig to be nurtured into a branch to be trained in an upward habit.

Wrapping the trunk and branches with pliable copper wire, we continued to fashion tree #2.  As my teacher gently bent the wire, the tree yielded compliantly, adopting, bit by bit and but for a time, the shape of a bonsai in training.

Our work done, tree #2 points to tree #3.

But, in reality, it is already our new tree #1.

Three Trees in One

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2 Responses to One Tree, Three Trees

  1. calmflier says:

    Trees are like people, in a way!

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