Toad in the Hole

August 19, 2006

The Arrogant Arborist Gets Humble

If this were a young bonsai subject, I'd be making, oh, one of several shaping cuts I can see as possible, to train it into the story it was to tell. Bonsai are actors, onstage to embody the scripts their trainers are writing in them. The stories, if they're believable, are based on the bonsai artists' close observation and understanding of what wild trees' lives are, what wild trees' bodies inscribe on themselves as their autobiographies.


But this is a wild tree, growing on the edge of a pond on Mount Tamalpais. It's one of the models, the examplars, of what a bonsai artist is working to tell.

A wild tree can't make mistakes. If what we see in a wild tree isn't in accordance with the rules of good bonsai, it's because those rules are for us to follow, not for the trees; the rules reflect our limitations in time and narrative. A wild tree can't make mistakes because its life is absolutely in accordance with the actual, not the fictional, laws of Nature, a record of its own possibilities and of what it has survived and what it has made of its situation, of the weather and the place in which it lives. It is absolutely honest. It is what we try to read, to deduce the history of the place and the world, to figure out the real rules, the natural laws.

Posted at August 19, 2006 05:58 PM


I love love love this post. I have nothing to add to it, but I wanted you to know that I've come here just to read it every day since you put it up, and I've been thinking about it while far from my computer, too.

Posted by: Sara at August 23, 2006 04:27 PM

Thanks, Sara. When I post stuff like this, I usually feel afterwards as if I've been just blathering. I mean it at the time, though. In fact, I still do.

Posted by: Ron at August 23, 2006 05:26 PM