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Hello Followers, Friends and Relatives,

After not writing on my blog for a while, I’m compelled to write here to express some of my thoughts and feelings right at this moment.  It was very interesting that when I logged in to my account, the first post that came up on the front page is this post I did about a year ago “Bums to Celebreties”.   A friend sent me a text of a linked for “Seattle is Dying” documentary.   I’ve heard of it but either didn’t want to take time or was afraid to watch it.   This morning for some reason, I watched the entire 1 hour video.  It was a very compelling and disturbing video.  I’m glad I watched it on a quite Sunday morning when I’m very relaxed, otherwise it would have disturbed me during the work week.   In summary, for those who are too busy to watch a 1 hour video:  This video documents the problem of homelessness in Seattle.  It’s has grown to point to where Seattle has become a less favorable place to raise your family.  It frustrated residents and business owners alike since city officials are essentially allowing it to happen to this city.  The core of the problem is drug addiction and/or mental illness.  What I admire about the documentary is that it actually offers a possible solution.   A solution that seems to work and it’s implemented in Rhode Island.  After watching that documentary,  I went back to my Facebook account and there waiting for me is a TED talk by Johann Hari, “Everything you Know about Addiction is Wrong”.

After watching the documentary,  I really felt moved to do something to help.   I’ve driven by Seattle many times in the past few months as my landscape company are doing projects north of Seattle where I don’t typically go to.  In an effort to stay busy during the winter (during our slower season in the winter) I’ve agreed to do projects further as long as we did it during those times.   Those projects gave me some opportunities to drive through Seattle more often and the issue of homelessness has become the forefront of my thoughts.  It was interesting yesterday,  while on a drive to Seattle with the family, I gave a $1 bill to a lady with a sign on the corner.   This lady was not your typical homeless person, her face looked healthy and made up and her clothes was clean.  I met her at the grocery store, I wouldn’t have thought that she would be homeless or needing help.   What I did noticed however was that she had a sad face, I’m not sure of her story but it wasn’t something she could fake.   I was observing her from my stopped car at the light and wasn’t even going to give anything but at the very last moment, I pulled a dollar and handed to her while my car started moving.  I didn’t think of it until now but it was somehow my way of saying that I see you, and you’re not ignored.   $1 will hardly by her much and probably will make any difference in terms of homelessness for people in Seattle.  But as I contemplate on how I can help, several ideas came to mind.  In the end however, I came back around to my bonsai trees.  I’m sure you’re scratching your head and questioning how?

How are my little trees be of any help to this enormous social problem?  I wondered about that too.  I will offer first a philosophical and a mindset approach and then I will offer a tangible approach that somehow connect to “my” bonsai.

Philosophical:

Remember my post “Bums to Celebreties”.   Those bonsai were once ugly and unwanted.  Metaphorically, just like our homeless population.  If they were removed from the landscape, they would have certainly died and never would have contributed to bringing beauty and joy to anyone.  How did that those trees became beautiful?  SMALL, INCREMENTAL, BUT CONSISTENT steps at a time.  Luckily, the “Seattle is Dying” documentary offers a possible solution.   Since most of the homeless have a drug issue, bring them somehow to a facility that will help them get better/rehab.  Meanwhile the city enforcing laws that prevent crimes that relates to the issue.  I kept thinking about the book “Tipping Point – How Little Things can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell.  There was a story in New York were the mayor enforced the smallest offenses and then cleaning up graffitis.  Eventualy, crime was curbed.  I believe the solution will work but it will take a tremendous effort and a lot of resources both from the community and the local government.

That $1 dollar I gave that lady in the corner.   What if, somehow,  $1 was donated from everyone in Washington state towards a program.  That would be more than 7 million right away.  I will not even try to talk about admin work, politics, etc about this.  My point is that everyone can do something SMALL that put together can do something GREAT.  This is not a new concept but we should try to apply it to our Seattle homeless problem.

Tangible Action:

Okay you say, that’s a good idea but what are YOU really going to do to show some action?  First of all, everything I go by the freeway and see all the garbage, tents, and the untidy scene, I want to take a giant landscape rake and start cleaning.  I have some powerful blowers that can do it quickly too.  I know there are people there and that would be a mean thing to do.

Here’s my steps: Follow Rhode Island system.  City must start reinforcing laws.  There must be a enough capacity or a facility to bring these people in.  There must be professionals (doctors, program managers, etc) that must evaluate and treat these people and eventually wean them to become productive citizens.  We need resources, money and people.

How is my little bonsai going to help with this giant of a problem?  I’m going for first say this because I’ve never done this before.  I’m scared but I’m hopeful it will work.  I could use some ideas.

I am going to take my best bonsai tree, sell it at an auction, take 75% of the funds and donate it towards a program that will support a path to rehabilitation for homeless people.  My hope is to inspire people to do something in a small to help with the cause.  As I write this, I admit that there is a lot of hesitation on my part.  As small as it sounds for someone looking at this from the outside,  the way I describe this is like selling your child to sacrifice for a good cause.

Please join me JUNE 1st at the Pacific Bonsai Museum as my now famous cascade mountain hemlock bonsai will be auctioned off.  There will be a reserved price tag that will include a 1 year maintenance and bonsai guidance to go with the tree.   A non bonsai person can buy this this with confidence that it will be cared for.  Interestingly enough,  I found out this last week that Puget Sound Bonsai Association used a photo of this tree on their flyer for the auction.  I was completely okay with it and actually flattered but only now I have made that connection.  Thus my title “Bonsai Connection”.

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I was going to use this as my cover photo for this post. Not sure how it will show. This is a photo of a drawing on Kodak slide. I did this in 1985 when I was still in high school.

I confess, yesterday we went to a 5:30pm Saturday evening mass and while sitting at church relaxed (maybe too relaxed) trying to be mindful of what is going on, my mind wanders and started thinking about my massive lilac tree. It was a beautiful sunny November day yesterday and had a chance to work in the yard. After doing some the chores of weeding and leaf blowing, I saved some bonsai work for last. I repotted a very old butterfly bush and I studied the branches of my massive lilac. The root base (nebari) is roughly 19 inches wide and for a lilac, it has to be very old. My estimate is around 75 years old. Although it will be very big as a bonsai, keeping this lilac as a landscape tree will not be appreciated to its maximum potential. I decided about 2.5 years ago when I collected this tree from a client that I will turn it into a large bonsai. By carving out some of the large branches and allowing new ones to grow, I can envision this tree becoming anywhere between 3 to 4 ft tall. This year it actually produced some flowers and they were white. If you’re familiar with lilac, the flowers emit the most amazingly sweet aroma. I was drawn to it yesterday as most of the leaves have fallen and now, I see the branches. My mind must have continued to think about this tree as the many task I want to do to continue developing this tree. This is where my mind started to wander off while sitting at church yesterday. I was contemplating on the possible future pot for this massive tree. With the size of the tree, the pot will have be custom made. It is currently in a large 3 x 3 box plastic pot now in just regular soil. I’m inclined to repot this tree late winter or early spring (probably in a wooded pot for now) using either pure pumice or a mix soil ( mostly pumice, some akadama, and lava. Since it’s so large it will take a lot of soil. Using akadama in the mix will be very expensive while pumice is inexpensive and more readily available. I know it works because, I have another lilac in pure pumice and it’s going gang busters. Back to the pot and thinking what my options are, I’ve narrowed it in my mind that it will be an oval pot with matted glaze or some dirty white color with light moss green or blue (see photo below for a sample pot). It will probably be at least 10 to 12 inches deep. It’s will be massive. At this point, my mind is back to paying to the church’s mass.

This tree was the same tree I was carving when I posted

Confessions of a Bonsai Addict

Thus the title of this blog Bonsai is Addicting and It’s Good For You. Now, just to be clear, I have no experience with addiction due to chemical dependency and I’m no doctor but I define addiction as something that brings you back to that thing time and time again and it occupies your thoughts frequently. From my limited perspective, Bonsai can be that thing. Once you have some success with bonsai, here’s what happens and why it can bring you back time and time again:

  1. A tree designed into a bonsai can be styled and develop to look appealing to the eyes.
  2. By developing a tree into a bonsai, it can potentially provide “instant” gratification and happiness by seeing it become beautiful.
  3. But of course a tree is alive and will need continued care. You have to water, prune, wire, fertilize, repot that tree.
  4. Given the correct care, the tree will continue to look better and mature in time.
  5. As the tree get’s better in time, the more satisfaction, fulfillment, you get, and the happier you become.
  6. The happier you become with one tree, you want to repeat the process with another tree.
  7. While you accumulate more trees the existing trees will continue to give you happiness.
  8. Unfortunately for some of us, the process gets repeated too many times until there are more trees that can be handled by one person.

I suppose the word addiction has a bad connotation and I shouldn’t apply that to the art of bonsai. Here’s the thing, if bonsai brings someone happiness repeatedly and naturally, then it doesn’t matter what we call it, we should have more of it.

Here’s my simple explanation to this based on my limited research and explanation. Studies have shown that being in nature and with trees can induce the release of dopamine or endorphins in our bodies. I’m expanding this study to include bonsai since it’s natural and it’s a tree. This is the feel good chemical that our own brain pituitary gland releases when we experience something euphoric (such as orgasm) or even when we are in so much stress, pain, or during and after exercise. They sometimes call this “runner’s high” when after a strenuous run, it’s followed by feeling good. That’s our own brain releasing a morphine-like chemical. Once you feel that “high”, you want to do it again and want more of it. Now, bonsai may not be an activity you would equate to “orgasm” or “high” but I can tell you that there could be some stressful moments. Carving a tree, repotting (could be stressful to some), bending a trunk or a branch. At higher level bonsai activities, there are those stressful moments but very rewarding as well. You may have to make a seemingly difficult cut on a tree to take that tree into a higher level of beauty. But then after all that stressful work, you come up with a beautiful tree it’s hard to explain the feeling to someone who has not done it. The bottom line is this; bonsai can be addicting when it’s done right, but the result is feeling good about a tree and it is rewarding. Feeling good about something usually replaces stressful feelings. Therefore I conclude that it must be good for you.

This is the pot color I had in mind for the lilac. This one is from Denny Hirakazu Takeda from Takedapottery.com Nebari approximately 19 inches wide. This is the lilac as it is now, untouched. Obviously needs branch wiring, more carving, and pruning. This is the old budlea (butterfly bush) I repotted yesterday. This was laying flat on the ground and roots have grown from the sides like a raft style but I cut off all those and just left enough roots for a cascade style. I was very aggressive with this as I know they grow like weeds. You don’t see this often as a bonsai but look at the natural deadwood. This will be interesting.
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