Perhaps a Zen Thing

Posted: May 1, 2014 in Everyday Life
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I would describe it as gnarly. It has been split by ice, dried by drought and trimmed cruelly by storm winds. It sheds not only leaves in the summer and fall but branches and long dry sticks during the winter. Squarely sawed stubs of once strong branches protrude from its trunk. The wounds were undeserved and now are only slightly healed with a green rounded rim. The constant and predominate southern winds have trained our willow’s branches to spread reaching northward, permanently posed in a windswept profile even on the few calm days of summer. But despite its rough life, its trunk grows thicker and it gains a few feet of height each year.
The globe willow, even growing untended in the wild, is a most beautiful tree. As its name implies, its branches will naturally form a very rounded shape as if from a Grant Wood painting. That is what drew my first attention. It has rough thick bark and in its mature form casts a very thick cool shadow. But the species is known for its poor disease and insect resistance, which I found out only after choosing to plant it. My tree chose to ignore the rounded branches shape genetic characteristics, instead grows weak branches and retained its poor health reputation. It has survived many doses of insecticides and antibacterial sprays. Until now, I was unaware that a tree could unwind its own DNA helix.
Today I read of the Oriental bonsai tree. As I write this I realize that I may now better understand my 18 year old globe willow. The bonsai trees are grown in a small pot or tray. Through careful pruning and training, the tree is caused to flourish in a stunted growth state. Wire is used to bind the branches and trunks to force it to grow in whatever way the “gardener” prefers. They are an amazing and beautiful addition to a home. Imagine having a whispering pine tree growing in your home that is smaller than the average table lamp. But there is something more intangible and harder to explain about these miniature trees. Growing a bonsai requires a meditative state and the cutting and pruning should be approached with a Zen-like state of mind. It is all about harmony, peace and balance. Only with harmony between nature, man and soul will the tree flourish.
But I’ve read that most of the bonsai tree inter-meaning and Zen has been lost to the general public in the last few years. Westerners look at this tree as only decoration and added atmosphere to their homes. The trees are losing popularity because the Zen is lost. Maybe this too for my globe willow.
Oh it started off in Zen, I planted my little globe willow exactly on my birthday just 18 years ago. How much closer to harmony between nature, man and soul can you get. With the help of two steel posts, wire and rubber hose to cushion the bark, I braced my new tiny 2 inch in diameter tree so it would remain straight for its first couple of formative years until it was strong enough to stand against the wind on its own. But I didn’t think of meditating about it either before or after. Just a few years later when aphids invaded, as I sprayed the insecticidal soap, gently washing each branch and leaf, no prayers, meditation or aaahummmms were uttered. The tree grew at the mercy of the winds, being pruned violently during each storm. Not the required Zen-like state of mind to promote flourished growth, but admittedly done with a closeness to nature. The wire of the wind has formed it branches to lean and flow northward instead of the familiar globe shape of its brothers. No thought was given this, the gradual change was hardly noticed.
With all of this, the tree lives on, though gnarly, leaning, battle scarred and robbed of its intended form and handsomeness. It is still able to cast a cool shade, protect my home by breaking the wind and ice and growing steadfastly adding character to our yard. Perhaps there has been a speechless connection with man all along. The two share the same traits, the same scars, the same stubbornness for life. Perhaps a cosmic connection was made at the time of the first turn of the spade to prepare for its planting. Much like the man that shares its birthday it grows old. Perhaps there has been a harmony between nature, man and soul and both have flourished from it, although awkwardly, surviving and growing despite the forces. Bonsai, the western world’s largest bonsai may be growing in my front yard.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a Zen thing.

DSS

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Comments
  1. Oh! I found this such a joy to read!
    How wonderful to have a tree that was “born” on your birthday 18 years ago! 🙂
    If we live long enough, we are like the willow…we lean a little and have battle scars…but we are still beautiful! 🙂
    I feel such a connection to trees…they give us an amazing analogy to life…to grow, to thrive, to survive…to be an asset to the world. 🙂
    I’ve hugged a few trees, and appreciated MANY!
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful…if on every birthday we planted a plant or tree!?
    HUGS!!! 🙂

    Like

  2. Glad you enjoyed it C! Well my willow tree is getting pretty shaggy. It’s due for a pruning this year. A couple of ice storms about split it in two. I’m just hoping it will live through the summer.
    Thanks for reading this! 😀

    Like

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