Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bonsai at the National Arboretum

Guests in from out of town last weekend spurred us to make our first visit to the National Arboretum. The "Arb" as I must call it after having spent a few years in Ann Arbor is a phenomenal place. First, it is huge and also very accessible because you can drive around to the different places that you want to see. It is worth a day and a picnic lunch. We went to the grove of state trees, say the former east portico of the Capitol, and walked through the Bonsai Museum.

I'm fascinated by the Bonsai Museum and took a number of photos, first to capture the beauty of the trees, second to make cards with, and third to have and reflect on them.

Here's the first photo. I believe that this is the oldest bonsai tree at the museum. (I regret to report that my notetaking was remiss during the trip - I mainly had the camera so I can't report the details of the trees including the type of tree and the age, which are all recorded in the display at the museum). It is large, filling a table top, but not the size of such a huge and old tree.

This one reminds me of a tree in a forest, but of course it is in a pot on another tabletop.

Finally, this azalea is slightly past it's prime, but is still amazing. (As an aside, there is an azalea garden at the National Arboretum that had hundreds of azaleas and would be worth the trip when azaleas are in bloom - usually the last week of April and the first two weeks of May).

What interests me most about the Bonsai, I think, is the discipline and commitment. I understand that they must be trimmed initially daily to train them to grow and to be small. It makes me wonder, what am I making a daily commitment to like that? And then to realize that the purpose of the tree is to grow something beautiful in a small and cultivated way. What drives people to make that commitment? What if someone growing one of these trees for say twenty or thirty years then dies? Do people carry it on? What is the purpose of all of this? (I've been feeling very existential lately.) I think that I'm attracted to these trees because they obliquely answer that question: what is the purpose of all of this?


Elizabeth said...

another take on the art of bonsai...

A Work of Artifice
by Marge Piercy

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch. [1973]

Julie R. Enszer said...

Yes! Yes! I have to say prior to seeing the bonsai at the National Arboretum that is exactly how I felt. I know that I could not ever engage in the daily discipline required of bonsai, nor would I want to. I eschew altering nature like this with my own hand, but when I see the work of others, I can appreciate it. The daily devotion to creating something deemed beautiful. Not unlike writing poetry.