An attempt at collecting a tree from the wild has cost a handsome pine its life and sent a wave of outrage across the Bonsai world. One example among many of a practice that is unworthy of the art of bonsai.
Yamadori is the origin of Bonsai. It is its very essence. Yamadori is the future of Bonsai. Nature’s creativity knows no bounds and it presents us with extraordinary trees to admire. Trees that tell us the story of their eventful lives. They explain to us how, in the face of adversity, they have managed to create a rare and serene beauty.
These trees also tell us about ourselves: about our place in nature and our relationship with time; about our responsibilities concerning the future of the planet. Our imagination pales into insignificance by comparison. We possess neither the same time frame as them, nor such inventiveness.
Yamadori, sometimes impossible to collect
Yamadori Bonsai trees are priceless treasures. When collecting them, we must not take any risks. Our technique and our moral approach must be faultless. For the most demanding specimens, four or five years of on-site preparation may be necessary.
Choosing a yamadori and then adapting it into a Bonsai means humbly putting ourselves at the service of the tree and magnifying nature’s creativity. We can never own a yamadori; it is they that own us. There are yamadori that are impossible to collect. There is no way around this. They are too large to make into Bonsai. We would be signing a death warrant for them if we were to cut off the over-long branches and the thick feeder roots. These fantastical trees are beautiful where they are. They are where they belong. So, from time to time, when passing nearby, we might make a detour to say a quick hello and lay a hand on their trunk. And just admire them.
Gradually, as the years go by, they become faithful companions. And we wish we could have them classified as part of the world heritage of humanity, on the same level as famous monuments.
Vandalized and murdered
But some such encounters go wrong. Some such encounters leave us in a turmoil of anger, disgust and shame. This Scots pine has been known and admired by many Bonsai enthusiasts for many years, with its sturdy trunk nearly 40 centimeters in diameter, wonderful swirling forms and curves, and tapered branches fashioned over centuries, enthroned on the edge of a cliff, majestic, bursting with energy.
This Scots pine is dead. Murdered. Vandalized. Butchered. The victim of a savage, stupid, rushed and thoughtless attempt at collecting. 95% of its branches have been cut off and are lying on the ground, and thigh-thick feeder roots have been severed. The hole left by the botched attempt at digging it out hasn’t even been filled in, which might have given the tree a chance of survival – albeit only a minuscule one.
What can be said of these vandals? They have clearly understood nothing about Bonsai. Their action is the polar opposite of the spirit of this art. They have prioritized their ego and their greed over any respect for the tree. They have brought shame upon themselves.
But they have also stigmatized the Bonsai world. They have given us all a bad name. Logically, this could ultimately lead to a ban on collecting. What can be done to avoid a repeat scenario? There is no miracle solution. First of all, we need to display our anger and firmly condemn this type of behavior, which is unworthy of our noble art. Next, we need to teach others, make our disgust be heard loud and clear, raise awareness. Lastly, each of us needs to stick rigorously to our personal ethics, and to set a good example in our Bonsai practice.
This article has been published with the consent of Esprit Bonsai and was written by François Jeker.