Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bikish and Bonsai

As you may have gathered from all my whining, I’m temporarily off the bike for health related considerations. I’ve found a few ‘low impact’ activities to occupy my mind (and hands) but still the legs (or what’s left of them) do get the itch.

This morning Mrs. C and I got up at a ridiculously early hour to head off to Vancouver WA so she could ride the RACC. I can’t recall when I first rode this event but in talking with friend CathFish (one of the original members of Team Fish!) it seems that it could have been 14 years ago or so.

Of all the club centuries and charity rides I’ve participated in, I think this event is one of the best. It’s got something for everyone: Pretty good roads, views of the Columbia River, some serious climbs, and joyous descents, a cruel hill at the end (two, actually, gotta love that SIR!) decent food at the stops (the original ‘road putty, …mmm!), some urban, some agricultural, and then you are up in the woods tooling alongside beautiful rivers that you would think are hours from a city the size of Vancouver. Well actually by bike they are hours from the city, … but you know what I mean. Oh, and the start is nice and easy to find, just off I-5. That’s important, cyclists have been known to get lost just trying to find the ride start, … seriously!

I went along to support Mrs C and our mutual friends, and because I just love sitting in a car for hours at a time looking at all the happy cyclists on their Treks. (Sheesh, so many Treks!) I didn’t offer support in the way that we do at brevet controls, I was there for a kiss and a wave at the start and then a hearty round of cheering and clapping at the finish.

The RACC is always held in early May, and so offers every iteration of spring weather. If April is the cruelest month, then May begins as a grainy B&W documentary of the transition from psychosis to normalcy. On May 2nd be prepared for weather nuttiness. In a brief moment when the sun came out and the wind continued to roar, the flowering cherries provided a pink blizzard. (Hint: enlarge this pic)

It also just happens that this ride starts a mere 18 minutes south from one of my favorite landscape nurseries; Tsugawa Nursery in Woodland. Lots of bonsai stock, starter plants, pots, and some fantastic finished specimens, but way out of my league (financially anyway). And now they have added a big section on ponds and water gardens including lots of different water plants and about 10 tanks of Koi and Shubunkins of different sizes and varieties. What fun!

This past winter was hard on the local bonsai collection out at Rocky Acres. Actually if the bonsai master had been on his game he would have sheltered all the tortured little trees better from the ravages of winter. As it is, I lost a few plants but more than that I lost a LOT of ceramic pots. This goes back to my lack of attention. I left them out and exposed to the elements through the winter. The soil gets saturated (it does rain here) and then along comes a freeze, the soil expands as it freezes, and the pots are shattered in the process. This series of events is also not real good for the plants. I know better, I just need to do better.

The broken pots:

and the replacements (also some new recruits, Korean Hornbeam, and Japanese Larch)

Tsugawa had just opened when I got there. I pretty much had the place to myself. Wandering the Bonsai section my mind was able to let go of the cares of the day. That is one of the big attractions of Bosai for me. Though I love the aesthetic of tiny trees manipulated to look like huge trees, the act of working with the plants itself is very absorbing. You have to look very closely before you clip off a branch, and at the same time you have to think 15 years into the future before you make that cut, or wire a limb in a certain way.

I can’t draw for spit, but I can see the way I want things to turn out. With pen and paper, well it’s just never going to happen for me, but with this ’art form’ there is a very good chance that what I envision will actually develop, given a little annual maintenance and of course a healthy dose of time. As I’m pruning and wiring little trees I think to myself; “This one is going to look just right, in about 120 years”. Take for example thus little Mugo pine.

It was not much more than a sprouted seed with a stem and two stubby little
branches when I first potted it in 2000.

Better now, but you won’t believe how beautiful this is going to be in 2075! This kind of thinking helps me get some perspective on the little things that tend to take up more mental energy than they deserve.

As I combed through their collection one of the staff, a ‘Mr Miyagi’ type struck up a conversation. We talked about my pot issues and some of the specimens I am cultivating, also some of the beautiful works in their collection. He is one of the staff who created some of the newer bonsai for sale. He offered help but very little advice (nice) and as he was about to go on his way, he slipped me a 15% discount coupon they had been giving out the previous weekend at an event held at the Portland Japanese Garden.

It’s so different from endurance cycling. With that activity you focus on the clock, the route sheet, getting through the control quickly and efficiently, and if you are focused enough, you get satisfaction. With Bonsai, if you turn the microscope around, it becomes a telescope and your perception of time, intensity, and accomplishment are all dramatically shifted, and then someone drops a piece of paper in your hand that says “Ease this man’s burden as he labors toward his goal, some 75 years from now".

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