January 2017 Workshop

This inspiration from John re: this Saturday’s workshop —

On high Sandias
The setting sun has left the sky
The light grows dim.
I thought I was a brave man.
My thin sleeves are wet with tears.

—– apologies to Hitomaro

Remind me not to take a month off from workshop… It brings on these melancholic funks caused by the dreaded Winter Brain Fluke, which forces me to bloat and go belly-up on I-25, blocking the Fast Lane with a quivering mountain of floating grease. But my catatonia will soon end, and I’ll be back in the bonsai bosom of Richey Fox’s chaotic workshop, ruining God’s Creation with you at top speed once again this Sat at 9:00 am.

At our regular meeting, I was again impressed by all the knowledge you Brainiacs were oozing— I didn’t hear a false note sounded all morning. So, I feel comfortable in once again trying to go back to basics— to remind myself of that which all this knowledge is supposed to serve…… Bear with me for a moment.

“The paradox of being a bonsai man—–Bonsai is a plant that has been given direction in the way it has been pruned— the way it has been wired. Bonsai is giving direction to the tree, and yet I feel an artificiality to it all although I love the result, but I think it should be more natural— feel more natural.”

I have that little statement written on a scrap of note paper by my teacher, Khan Komai— something he constantly did. I keep it in a little frame on a bookshelf to remind me of those old days and to adjust my thinking in the present, as well.

In the early 1980’s, Masahiko Kimura exploded onto the Japanese bonsai scene and produced a tidal wave which is still flooding the bonsai world of today. Early on, there was much disapproval and even derision from traditionalists over his work as being primarily ” show business, egocentric over-manipulation, and even non-bonsai woodcarving”. But he was misunderstood as to his motivations— he was being traditional with a vengeance, using the most radical means yet devised to produce astonishing works of living art, the power of which soon overwhelmed his skeptics and set the course of bonsai on a wild ride which continues to this moment. His students currently constitute the top layer of new teachers, including Ryan Neil in Portland, whom most of you know, at least by reputation. ( We’ll be getting a first-hand description of Neil’s methods byone of our members who took the full plunge into the Portland Bonsai Mafia World recently— stand by)

When John Naka died, I think everyone wondered where the new leadership would come from, and now we know. And make no mistake— these young people are well trained and know their work, and have spared us from any wave of those whose primary skill lay in self-promotion— a curse of the bonsai art in this country. We should be grateful for that, indeed.

Yet, many of us have doubts in the nature of Khan’s note. We are working these trees damn hard, to an almost frantic level in some cases, and I wonder if we aren’t losing something in the process. The ideal must ALWAYS be the suggestion of a tree in nature, with a strength and beauty held, at first, in spite of time and elements, and ultimately, in partnership with these forces. Your mind and heart should be transported to a place where you are deeply touched by the grandeur of the simple and sometimes austere. I’d encourage all of you to look up “Sabi-wabi” and “shibui” to see how these feelings are cultivated by the Japanese. So the question becomes, are we creating those deep emotions in our relationship to our trees, or are we just being astonished by amazing pieces of living sculpture. I remember vividly my first class-made tree, a little one-gallon foemina juniper in formal upright style, sitting on my TV after class. It took me away to another world, a place where sadness and joy, beauty and struggle, peace and strife all came together in one poor little bush. I want each of you to feel this when you and the tree have your communion time together each day. This is the reward that comes at the nexus of tree and human, and it’s a wonderful reward.

In practice, then, what you are really learning is taste– for lack of a better world– and I don’t men that in a shallow way. I know that when you saw your first bonsai, a chord sounded in your mind, and you came to the ABClub to hear more of this music in the presence of your own little green friends, and to be with other people who felt similarly. We have seen over and over that is often not so much technique that matters, as attitude. Our pursuit of knowledge must be in service to the deep sense of profundity we feel when we see a marvelous masterpiece or when we play with our own little specimens, and not to the acquisition of some bigger cookie cutter to press down on raw material by force.

1) When you work on your trees, go into their frame of reference rather than dragging them into yours. 2)Do not be dismayed if you do not have the means to acquire the kinds of massive, aged material that sets the Big Guns apart from the rest of us. 3)By all damn means, talk to your trees, and for God’s sake, LISTEN to them as well. 4) Keep developing your sense of taste, and keep the idea of quality, whatever that means to you, uppermost in your thoughts. 5) Keep those beautiful emotional chords ringing in your heart, and use your new knowledge to work in concert with your tree to create more beautiful music yet. 6) If a tree dies, feel the sadness but do not despair. As Naka said, it has “gone to live somewhere else, as you, too, will do soon enough.

OK, OK —- from now on I wish to be called “The Preacher”. Apparently the Succulent Sensei has been drawn into some Higher Plane— therefore, the Tithe Jar will need to be goosed, henceforth, to a higher plane as well. No more loose change or those damn Centavo coins that someone thinks are funny!!

We’ll see you Sat AM, or your punishment shall be swift and terrible!!

I have existed from the morning of the world,
and I shall exist until the last star falls from the heavens.
Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula,
I am all men, as I am no Man— and so, I am a God.
Donald Trump, 2016