As we were being ushered out of the Huntington, we stumbled into the Bonsai Court, where my heart nearly stopped in awe. I find bonsai profoundly moving. There is something weirdly arrogant about deciding to contain a massive tree in a dish, and shape and kink and twist and nip its growth as if the tree were clinging to the edge of a wind-whipped cliff.
At the Imperial Bonsai Collection in Japan I watched as bonsai gardeners tumped their trees out of their bowls, brushed off the roots, pruned them with tiny scissors, and refreshed the soil.
With bonsai, man takes a god-like hand in growing something, and stands with a god-like perspective, towering over a tree that in nature would of course dwarf any human ego. These wizened trees look ancient--and some are hundreds of years old--but they also look as though they had stopped time. Though not greatly varied, the specimens at the Huntington were stunning. I could have lingered among them for hours, taking in the intention of the designer, and wondering at the beauty that comes of such exquisite torture.
I happen to love pruning, it is one of my favorite garden activities. It is much like editing; you have to find the shape of a sentence, or a paragraph; one that is natural, flows smoothly, but remains interesting, and prune away whatever interferes with the line. Some of the pruning of the trees in the Japanese gardens is admirable, particularly when you can appreciate the gardener's craft from underneath the tree's canopy. This is a great way to train your eye in preparation for an assault on your own trees.
My ex-garden in Pelham, New York, was full of hundred-year-old white azaleas. They had been planted by the original owners, whose name was White. (Of course.) The azaleas had been pruned, just before we bought the house twenty two years ago, in inauspicious lumps. I let them outgrow that hackwork, for a couple of years, and then began to coax them into graceful shapes, selecting strong branches, cutting away suckers and weak stems. Eventually, the shrubs were large enough that I could hide underneath them and see my work from inside out, much like a seamstress might view her dressmaking. The pruning was effective. We were rewarded, every spring, by the dazzling sight of azaleas clothed in glowing white raiments.
So there you have it, travel that returns me to thoughts of home, lost home...And to new thoughts of home-making, future tense.
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