31 Things, Day 4: Bonsai

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

I can’t remember exactly why I started researching bonsai, but it was probably 7 or 8 years ago when I bought a couple of books, did my homework, got a couple of plants, and gave it a try. The hobby didn’t last long, maybe a year or two.

I think the first time I saw and heard of bonsai was in the move The Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi was tending bonsai trees when he and Daniel first met. It seemed beautiful, but strange at the same time. Why was it in that shape? How were the leaves so small? It didn’t look like a real tree I had ever seen. Those scissors looked strange too.


It was decades later that I learned that bonsai was not a kind of tree, but the art of making a tree very small. That is fascinating to me, because it means you can “bonsai anything.” Take a maple tree, and make it into a bonsai: it will lose its leaves in the fall, be leafless in the winter, and bud in the spring. You can take a crab apple tree and make it into a bonsai and it will grow tiny little crab apples. How amazing is that?

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But the hard part is the waiting. They take years to grow into a shape. They take even more years to prune, prune and prune some more, before the leaves start coming in smaller and smaller and start looking proportionally correct, like little trees. And all you can do in between is water them (not too little, not too much), and take good care of their delicateness. They are beautiful to look at, but they don’t do much else.

I think it comes down to the fact that I like the idea of bonsai, but the reality is somewhat boring and not very forgiving. That makes me sad, because it’s a part of myself I don’t like: wanting things now instead of waiting. (This is a trend in why my hobbies stop that we’ll see in the coming days. I don’t really know what to do about it, but there it is.)

Someday I’m sure I’ll do it again, probably with my kids. They’re too small now to appreciate it, and they have me running around so much I have a hard time remembering to shower, let alone water a plant. But I think it will be good to instill in them an appreciation for real live beauty.


So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, tending bonsai.


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