Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bonsai and the Art of Not Being Tame(d)

Wild: Being in a state of nature, i.e. not tame.

I was feeling bad about uprooting the small tree that had taken root in my flower bed, but it could not be left to grow there, so close to the house. Still I was surprised when a nieghbor suggested that instead of replanting it, I try my hand at Bonsai.

Bonsai is one of those art forms I'm on the fence about. It's essentially about restricting growth. Controlling and taming the wild until what should have been towering and free can fit into a tiny pot is simply not my cup of tea.

I can appreciate the history and technique behind the art, but I can't help feeling like Bonsai are the 'Stepford Wives' of the tree world. They look the same as thier wild sisters, only they are celebrated for being smaller. Which is odd to me, because what they become, essentially, is merely what someone decides they should be.

It's hard to ignore the fact that the art form originates in the same area of the world where women were forced to wear shoes that basically cobbled thier feet until they were so ridiculously small the women could barely stand, let alone walk...or run free. And it's hard to ignore the fact that man's ability - and need - to tame the wild seems to be the purpose of both of these customs.

Trees and women share a sisterhood. Julia Butterfly Hill (http://www.juliabutterfly.com/) lived in the canopy of Luna, an ancient Redwood she was determined to save, for 738 days. She came down in 1999, after she and supporters negotiated a deal that saved Luna, who still stands today.

In Cassie Premo Steele's novel Shamrock and Lotus, (http://www.cassiepremosteele.com/books_02.php?id=350) there is a story told of several village women in India making a human chain to hug the trees in order to spare them from governmental deforestation.

And of course, there is the profound history that has linked women and trees for centuries....we've both been curtailed, trimmed back, put into tiny pots because of a misguided belief that in being less wild we were more beautiful. That a tidy, tended yard was more worthy than one with a pumpkin vine blooming wildly in the hedges. But to me, there is no beauty in a mighty oak tree living out its life in a 5" pot.

Perhaps it was ancenstral memories or being controlled, contained, curtailed...or maybe recollections of pictures of women with feet forced into a tiny shoes...or maybe it's the being told that one is too independent, too liberal, too smart, too intimidating (what the heck is THAT about?), too strong-willed, too creative, too successful, too much of this, that or the other to ever fit into the ornamental, complacent 'little woman' mold that so many men seem to find attractive that made me look at my nieghbor as if he were quite insane. And then I headed out to a small wooded area and replanted the seedling tree in the ground where it could grow freely, alongside it's wild sisters.

I can appreciate the ancient art of Bonsai...but I celebrate the need to put one's hands into the soil and work the earth without gloves. I celebrate the need to be out in nature, to feel the earth beneath one's feet, and to pick up the feathers that one finds on the ground. The need to sit out on a deck and watch the night sky. The need to wonder, to feel, to lie back on the grass, to watch a bird's flight. The need to live life on my own terms, not follow a blueprint of proper experiences, complete with timeline and ettiquette rules. The need to watch my son hoot and holler with delight as he falls in love with nature, exploring every inch of the outdoors. The need, in me, not complain on the days he has to have the mud hosed off before he can even enter the house to shower. He'll never be a kid who is seen but not heard, and who cares? I celebrate my son's need to grow freely, even though it might lead to a life lived outside the box that so many others conform to fit within.

In other words, I celebrate what is, essentially, allowed to grow free, not what is ornamental, carried, complacent, contained...but what is living in a state of nature.

What is not tame.

Art: Egg, Feather, Nest Mandala, Amy L. Alley, colored pencil on paper

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Handful of Surprises

I reached into a black widow's nest today.

It wasn't intentional, of course. I realized my hand was covered in dozens of tiny, pale gold infant spiders about the time the mother waved her many arms at me, making her presence known as she defended her brood. I shook the babies off my hand and went inside, grabbed a bottle of eco-friendly Raid (yes, they make it), and annihilated the lot of them.

Then I felt a pain in my hand and realized that it might be in my best interest to call poison control. I can proudly say now that, most likely, I am more knowledgeable about Black Widow spider bites than anyone I know.

I say it all the time, but there is a truth that is universal, always with us, always asserting and proving itself: Life is, blessedly, full of surprises.

Was I bitten by the big spider? Really, I don't even know. I'd been gardening for an hour or so when I reached into the nest, and there are bites, scrapes, and pricks all over my hand because I like the feel of working without gloves and rarely wear them. There was pain, yes. But whether my symptoms were real or psycho-sematic, I do know I'll be okay. Any severe reaction would have occured by now.

For the most part, I just know that I sat down to plant cosmos and ended up having an adventure I'd not planned for at all. Which is funny, because on my mind all day had been the concept of adventures, how they can happen suddenly, and how they can lead us in directions we never expected.

Reaching into a nest of a venomous spider was not quite what I had in mind to do this afternoon. Still, that's the thing about life, it is full of surprises. The key is to remain ready...and unafraid.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Precious Gems

A friend was showing me her collection of semi-precious stones today, and I was reminded of this short story that Paulo Coehlo shared in his recent blog (http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2011/02/12/the-stone/)

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.

She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.

Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

I share this here because it sums up, nicely and neatly, what I was hoping to write about tonight. I am not sure who I admire most in the story, the wise woman, for giving so freely, or the traveler, who was able to recognize that within this wise woman was something more valueable than precious gems.

I only know this: We are always demonstrating to others what truly lies within us. But it is important to remember that we are also always being shown, by others, what truly lies within them.

And it's also important, as the traveler learned, to recognize something precious when it is handed to us.