There was a point in my innocent yet not too distant past when I had dreams of tending bonsai trees in my home.
I saw myself as a kind of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, carefully pruning and bending, shaping and creating the tiny tree over time into a work of art.
I was a hopeless failure.
For those who have never attempted to take on the task of caring and feeding a bonsai tree, let me tell you it is the closest thing you’ll ever have to keeping a pet.
It requires attention but not too much attention, light but not too much light, water but not too much water, and the temperature must be mild… not too warm, not too cold. A breeze perhaps… but not too much of a breeze.
Piece of cake, I thought to myself as I bought my first bonsai trees (twigs, really)… tiny miniature things I picked up at the florist section of my local grocery store.
I displayed them proudly in my apartment.
They were all dead in three months.
Clearly, you get what you pay for, I reasoned, and headed off to a proper greenhouse and chose a proper bonsai tree… a juniper (Juniper Procumbens Nana)… the one recommended for beginners because they are easy to care for and quite hardy.
(Like the one I bought… minus the golf ball)
I studied. I read. I did everything I was supposed to do. Things went well for about three or four months.
By the sixth month, it was dead.
I tried again. It, too, was dead within six months.
Over the course of about two years (I am nothing if not stubborn… or stupid), I managed to murder more than a few bonsai trees.
I finally came to the grim realization that, no matter how well-intentioned I was, no matter how much I loved the idea of bonsai trees and their connection to Japan and Japanese culture, no matter how much of a samurai spirit I had sparking within me, whatever it took to grow bonsai trees successfully, I didn’t have it.
What I did have was a kind of bonsai graveyard… a bleak necropolis of brown and withered miniature trees.
At first, I kept them as an almost perverse testament to my failure as a gardener. But then, over time, they took on another personality.
The dead trees had a funereal loveliness all their own. In death, they created their own form of art… a sepulchral style far beyond anything I could have created on my own.
And so they stand to this day.
It might be that one day I will head on down to my local greenhouse to pick up a bonsai tree and give it another try… but if I do, there will be no sense of failure or loss if and when the tree dies.
It will simply be transforming itself from one form of beauty into another.