2010/03/17

The courage of roots

Perhaps they were more popular in the 70's, along with macrame plant hangers, "electric" colors in clothing (I had some pink socks my college roommate used to cover with a blanket due to their distracting color), and the mini, midi, and maxi lengths of skirts. Or, perhaps they are never really popular but just always around. Whatever the truth is about their popularity, the Bonsai tree has always fascinated and bothered me.

Do you like them? I am charmed by their miniature size and intricate shapes. That is what I thought Bonsai was - curiously shaped, little bitty versions of the proper, natural, larger ones. Not so much cute as curiously small and wizened. And sometimes truly magnificent. Living works of art. But ... there is something vaguely disturbing about this ... what is it?

Today I found out. While I was looking for something else, I found a page describing the psychology of fears. The authors asserted that the fear of going crazy is really the fear of being alone. The writing was slightly convoluted, but I read it a few times and I think I figured out what they were getting at.

If your intellect is not allowed to develop, you can have no real connections with other intellects. Cutting intelligence off at the roots keeps the small people small - subservient - non-threatening. Okay... yes ... that makes sense.

But then there was this reference to "a certain tree" in Japan which is kept small by constant pruning of the roots. "Murder," the page called it. Okay. I draw the line at the idea of "murder" being applied to plant life. Call me a megalomaniacal lunatic, but I think people are supposed to manage plants, with full powers of life and death wielded over the helpless photosynthetic organisms. I rolled my eyes a bit and read on.
When you don't allow the roots to go deeper, the tree simply grows old - it never grows up. It is a strange phenomenon to see that tree. It looks ancient, but it has only grown old, old, old, but it has never grown up. It has never blossomed; it has never given any fruits.


Oooohhh.... okay. Now I am paying attention. Bonsai trees really are beautiful. Yes, they are strange. And it's okay, I believe, to do this to plants. Trees trained by means of root removal are odd, but they are not victims of cruelty.

I prefer the espaliered fruit tree, bearing both blossom and fruit against a garden wall, or standing in exact and elegant rows, artistically trained into as much artifice as any operatic diva, and made as beautiful by it. Artificial beauty, admittedly, but fruitful beauty. (click on the trees for a good blog about espaliered trees)

Apply this horticultural thinking to people, though, and I see the fear thing. I understand the point of the article, and I agree. I, myself, have largely lost my fear of insanity as I have aged and expanded my intellect. I have found myself to be more and more a part of humanity, less and less alone.

But I'm never going to be an opera singer. I like to sing. I can read music. But the professional has both the organ and the passion, and I have neither. The espaliered fruit tree takes years to develop because it is a growing thing and must pass through its seasons of growth, carefully, always, constantly tended.

Is the alternative to be a Bonsai? If I can't have the glories of the espaliered artifice, is the alternative to grow old but never up? To become wizened without being fruitful?

The difference is the root structure. The old people I know and admire are old people with very, very deep roots. Their lives have held both blossom and snow, both fruitful years and lean ones. Bonsai old people are small. They look older than they need to because their roots never went far or deep.

Just as much effort goes into the Bonsai pine tree as the espaliered apple tree, I would imagine. There is a thought forming at the back of my mind now ... and it has something to do with fear, rootedness, old age, and the courage to go outside and take a walk.

1 comment:

Eva said...

No, the alternative is to be a gnarled, knotty, vagary-filled, glorious old tree -- to have had many children climb you, many birds sing and nest in you, to have borne good fruit and bad, to have lost branches to ice storms, to have groaned with the weight of snow, sung with the wind . . . . all that stuff. Stuff that the bonzai and the espaliered tree never live through . . . .

A lovely, thought-provoking post.