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 Post subject: The Rest Of The Story?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 7:01 pm 
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The Rest Of The Story?
by Will Heath

Image
Bonsai and photograph by Colin Lewis


There I was, staring intently at what was most likely the best example of a rugged, windswept Black Pine that I had ever seen. The tree looked ancient, the bark had deep fissures, the trunk swept back in a jagged curve displaying jin and shari in all the right places, the branches mirrored the trunk to show that they had endured the same harsh conditions that the rest of the tree had, and the foliage was sparse where it should have been, the foliage of a survivor and not like many other examples that show the foliage of a tree that has never seen a worry. In every way this tree told the story of a mountain pine growing in harsh conditions on a crag where only a few life forms could etch out a life.

Then my eyes traveled to the soil surface that was covered with the richest green carpet of moss I have ever seen. The moss was immaculate in every detail, obviously well groomed, trimmed and watered. The moss was carefully, expertly laid down with great care taken to filter fines between each piece and all troweled into perfect position.

The image, the story, the tale so well told by the tree, was stolen from me. The logical side of my brain started asking questions. How is it that the tree shows so well the environment it survived in while the moss or the grass it represents seems to never had seen a bad day in it's life? How is it possible that the elements of wind, drought, and time had no effect on the ground and such remarkable effect on the tree?

Would not a simple top layer of jagged gravel have completed the story better? Larger jagged pieces of stone? Maybe a sparse outcropping of moss in one or two single places with a touch of withered brown would have been more in line with the tale being told?

Are we so obsessed with the tree alone that we forget that there is more than one chapter to a story? Have we forgotten that between the pot and the tree there is an space that needs attention in single specimens and not just in penjing?


Last edited by Will Heath on Tue Jan 29, 2008 1:40 am, edited 6 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2005 2:22 pm 
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Good point, Will. This is an extremely overlooked aspect of bonsai.
When it comes to how the soil should look like, the advice goes like this: plant patches of moss around the tree, do not allow moss to grow on the trunk, leave part of topsoil free of moss. Subject closed.
There is no word on the subject of consistency.
Obviously, the soil should bear the marks of the environment which has shaped the tree. In case of bonsai (vs. saikei of penjing) the surface is very small, thus the allusion to the environment has to be brief.
Colin's tree above suggests an environment where the elements often rage. Therefore, the suggestion of a jagged, rocky surface would probably add more power to the image.
Using a slab has some limitation as to how much barren soil can be used since it can dry up pretty fast. The use of moss in this case has important horticultural reasons. But a minimum amount of rock/debris would add more suggestive power in my opinion.
Well, nothing is perfect.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2005 1:44 am 
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Quote:
The use of moss in this case has important horticultural reasons. But a minimum amount of rock/debris would add more suggestive power in my opinion.

Moss could, of course, be removed prior to showing the tree, and a new layer of soil layed down with relatively little difficulty.
Quote:
When it comes to how the soil should look like, the advice goes like this: plant patches of moss around the tree, do not allow moss to grow on the trunk, leave part of topsoil free of moss. Subject closed.

Sadly, this statement is true. However, when the proper attention is payed to the soil of the composition, it can be considerably artistically succesful. For instance, take a look at pages 22-23 of Bonsai The Art of Living Sculpture by Jack Douthitt. In this photo, the white soil of the composition was intentionally placed because it is harmonious with the white flowers of the serissa.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2005 3:54 pm 
How we see bonsai is based on our personal experiences and knowledge here is my take on the tree:
I live in a mountainous area and this trees moss base looks completely correct. This tree suggests one growing near the tree line in a cache of soil. Lichens would have grown first, secreting acids, which broke down the rock base. As they grew, they would have trapped airborne particles and guano. Fine mosses would have come next, adding to the micro-environment. The moss would have been there before the tree. Without the moss there would be no tree, nothing to retain moisture. The seed would have landed on bare rock, possibly sprouted, and died in its first summer. The moss is not smooth it shows the slight lumps where there may be rocks under the surface. It has also spread up the exposed roots in a semi-symbiotic relationship with the pine.
Interestingly, here the deadwood, if any, would be seen it would be at the top of the tree where it had grown too tall for the harsh environment. Even then it would not last long. The rains would lead to rapid rot, while winds would quickly remove the jinn, returning it to the soil base, to be covered in moss.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2005 5:00 pm 
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Interesting point by James on the moss-tree symbiosis. It seems entirely plausible, and in art that's good enough. Never mind that it can also happen in nature, which is just a bonus. And as Colin said in another thread, we want to show nature as WE see it vs. as it USUALLY is.
Here on the Southern California mountains it is almost impossible. The scorching sun and winter freeze will create a lot of barren, rocky surface, with very little moss. On a mountain with a lot of rain, despite the winds, moss could thrive.
I disagree with the deadwood issue, though. After studying a lot of windswept style trees, I came to the conclusion that a truly powerful and suggestive windwept tree HAS to have dead branches. I am reluctant to pronounce such a rule, but I am compelled to do so after being preoccupied with this style for so long. I am not saying that it needs a lot of deadwood, but at least some. Time and time again, the great examples of this style demonstrated my assumption.
And thinking of what causes these dead branches to happen, they don't necessarily need to be near the top at all. They are more likely to be up high, but not always. A disease or a wood-borer can damage them at a lower level, and then the elements can finish the job. It is true that in a moist environment they don't last too long, but bonsai can represent an image frozen in time, within one season, for instance. We know that the dead branch won't be there forever, but it is there now, and at least for a while.
Regards,
Attila


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Aug 20, 2005 11:05 pm 
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Attila Soos: "They are more likely to be up high, but not always.".
This is a very good point. Since bonsai is and must be a reflection of nature as the artist sees it, it is entirely possible to to have jin, dead branches, and many of the other features that belong in designs that reflect the effects of high wind and other factors that cause natural jin, shari, and dead branches on certain subjects.
One of my goals that will have to wait for a while, and I am sorry to not have evidence of an existing similar design from published sources, is to create a subject from a JBP similar to the "slash pine" (Pinus elliottii) found here in Florida. Often the tops of the trees show a style similar to "takozukuri" but they have many dead branches along the bottom, just above the tops of pygmy palms, to upper middle of the tree where the wind has shorn off older growth. In the case of the slash pine their natural growth in regards to jin is not so different from the original subject of this post. However,while slash pine do not have to deal with long periods of drought, they do have to deal with periods of sustained high wind (hurricanes, tornados, and numerous storms), scorching heat, a multitude of insects feasting on its wood, and the occasional bolt of lightning. With these elements in mind, I have no problem seeing the moss even though this subject is styled in the normal "fukinagashi" form. To me, the moss resembles the green grass, pygmy palms, and reeds that grow naturally in this area.
Alas, the design I want is in the mind and on paper, but not put into reality...


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2005 11:54 am 
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Jeff Benton wrote:
To me, the moss resembles the green grass, pygmy palms, and reeds that grow naturally in this area.

Excellent reminder that in bonsai, nature is reduced to just a few elements simbolizing its complexity and richness. Bonsai is a metaphore, where every element is associated with a much larger part of nature. Thus, the whole universe can be broken down into just a few components, few enough that you can count them with your ten fingers.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2005 11:09 am 
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James L. Doggett wrote:
How we see bonsai is based on our personal experiences and knowledge here is my take on the tree:
I live in a mountainous area and this trees moss base looks completely correct. This tree suggests one growing near the tree line in a cache of soil. Lichens would have grown first, secreting acids, which broke down the rock base. As they grew, they would have trapped airborne particles and guano. Fine mosses would have come next, adding to the micro-environment. The moss would have been there before the tree. Without the moss there would be no tree, nothing to retain moisture. The seed would have landed on bare rock, possibly sprouted, and died in its first summer. The moss is not smooth it shows the slight lumps where there may be rocks under the surface. It has also spread up the exposed roots in a semi-symbiotic relationship with the pine.
Although the above is true, does it work as a plausable story for depicting a larger tree? Are we trying to show moss as moss? For me a good windswept bonsai brings back memories of walks along the coastal moorlands of wales. There you will find the shortest greenest thickest sheep-grazed grass, so smooth you could skateboard on it, apart from the occasional battered windbent tree thats all that will grow. So in this situation for me a velvety even moss covering would,nt spoil the image at all it would complete it. warm regards and thanks to all responsible at the art of bonsai for some great work, Andrew


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2006 8:49 am 
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I'm with Andrew. Places in New Zealand are incredibly inhospitable, yet the grasses and heathers are of an astounding intensity of green.
The story is legitimised by the addition of any one of a number of ground surface finishes. It need not necessarily be all bare rock and gravel, especially if snowfalls are not a matter of course.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2006 1:41 pm 
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Hector Johnson wrote:
It need not necessarily be all bare rock and gravel, especially if snowfalls are not a matter of course.

It's even greener if there is snowfall - if you haven't ever seen the first flush of green moss in the spring on some snow covered mountain side or cliff face, then you don't know what green is. It's simply irridescent - when i've been out collecting in the early spring i can't count the number of times i've just sat in wonder of the amazing colours of green. (and then filled a bag or pocket with it)
That being said, if the artistic image being conveyed is rugged and harsh, which works better - plush green moss or rugged talus and scree? Both occur naturally enough. One is much less inviting than the other.
mikemc


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 2:12 pm 
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Personally I like the moss, I guess mostly because I have so little trouble growing it, but that's another story. What is going on here is an exercise in the kind of thing we have been discussing in several other posts.
In the Japanese tradition it is the tree that matters, the pot is only the frame the picture goes into but the "frame" must fit he art work. Now you have pointed that the entire planting does no reflect the nature of the tree it is too manicured to fit such a rugged feeling tree and of course you are right.
Now you have crossed over into the realm of Saiki where the planting and the tree coexist.....sort of. You are thinking of it more of a landscape planting than a formal bonsai. However what you suggest is probably not enough to qualify as a Saiki you have now looked into the future of Natural style bonsai and I like the idea and think it should be exploited.
Doing this so that it works is going to be a challenge. It is going to be difficult to make it look natural and make the tree and quasi-landscape fit together. I can see it in my mind but I can't put it into words.


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