the wisdom of (very small) trees




My mom came over for dinner today. My task for her was to help me trim and “train” my unruly bonsai. And although she does not have any practical experience, she has been studiously watching videos on YouTube.

I played her music on Spotify, made her a pot of tea, and found in the toolbox some bonsai wire that J bought years ago and never used. I joked that we are like 2 very cultured ladies of leisure.

Photo 1 shows her in action. Photo 2 shows the results of her efforts. Pretty good for a maiden effort, no? 

When I praised her, she proudly shared with me these pieces of bonsai wisdom that she had culled from YouTube bonsai masters. Advice that you may selectively apply to other aspects of life. 

(1) “Don’t be afraid to cut it all off. Be brutal. It will grow back.” At the end, she must have shorn at least 80% of the plant. She is right. I could not see the form of the plant until all that “extraneous” growth was removed. And while the plant looks quite naked now, the leaves will grow back quicker than you can imagine.

(2) “It’s not the leaves, it’s the trunk.” Of course all of the plant works eventually in harmony to achieve beauty, but the core structure of the plant is the trunk. And once you can see that structure, the skeletal foundation, you begin to understand what makes the plant beautiful - on which branches, leaves and flowers will then grow.

(3) “Ultimately it is beautiful as long as you like it.” Awwwww. Sweet but I disagreed with her on this point. It always feels like a cop-out to me to say that beauty is subjective. If it is, why do we bother to hone a craft? But of course, there is indeed also a beauty that is found and unexpected, as well as a beauty that is only in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps it is in the tension or space between both perspectives or extremes that beauty best resides - such as when an object seems perfectly formed yet its perfection doesn’t seem like artifice or feels common.

My mom at age 74 is to be admired. 

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