After that marathon day and night (and day…) in New Orleans, I was on my way to Lake Charles to see Alan Walker, past president of BCI and current head of the Lake Charles Bonsai Society.
This is my approach to the Mississippi River Bridge on I-10.
Here’s the bridge (for those so inclined).
And the river.
And a swamp and a bayou even.
It was a three hour drive easy.
I arrived, changed shirts, had a sandwich and got to work.
This is Mark and a big, collected juniper.

Kendra was skeptical of my abilities. I had to prove myself.
She brought an easy tree for me, the Florida dude, a ficus microcarpa. I rearranged the aerial roots to make the trunk appear larger, removed some branches and wired some others. Is she impressed yet?
Probably not.
The next tree was a small, nursery grown neea I had brought along for sale.
With some trees it’s just a matter of moving the branches a little.
I think the jin is probably way too big.
In between all this I had Mark preparing his tree.
Mark drove more than two hours to see me, and, get this, it was his wife’s birthday.
He brought a very tall, very nice, one-seed juniper (juniperus monosperma) for me to work on.
The tree had been collected by the late Mike Blanton. Needless to say, I was very honored that Mark wanted me to work on it.

A little about the one-seed juniper: it’s called this because the fruit tends to have just one seed (not surprisingly).
It’s native to a lot more drier area than Louisiana, namely northeast Texas and New Mexico and can withstand extended periods of drought (the tree just shuts down, literally).
It also has the ability to grow roots very deep to find water, in fact, it is considered to have the second longest roots in the world.
And while the roots grow fast, the top doesn’t (that whole shutting down thing)
What does this mean for bonsai?
It means that they are very difficult to collect, which makes this tree very special. But it also means that, considering the root growth rate, you may need to repot this yearly.
And, taking into account the slow top growth, this tree could be hundreds of years old.
When I researched the tree and I learned about the slow growth it gave me pause; I’m glad I respected the tree when I worked on it.
Often times, we bonsai artists try to impose a style or a preconceived look to a tree, what I call the Japanese Christmas tree approach; putting a nice, neat and lush scalene triangle on the most twisted and tortured deadwood. A commercial look.
I was leaning towards this. I do, after all, need to impress the elite, even just a little.
While I was working with the other students I kept looking at the tree from the corner of my eye.
I set Mark to the task of cleaning the trunk; brushing the live wood to bring out the red under-bark (which will contrast with the deadwood also stimulates the tree to grow more) and defining, brushing the deadwood.
I also had him clean out those unwanted and weak pieces of foliage that sap the trees strength.
My initial thought was an egotistical one: I should kill the whole top and just leave the one, lower branch. How cool and dramatic would that be, right?
The more I thought about it though, the less I liked the idea.
This pic was by Alan Walker.
Here’s what we did.
Or rather, didn’t do.
I didn’t carve the deadwood at all.
Mark brushed it to bring out the grain but no tools were used to enhance it. It was great as is.
We let the tree tell us the style.
More natural, less contrived.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes contrived is what the tree is asking for, and there are some very artistic trees that have been made that way.
I just don’t think that this wild, American native yamadori wants to be a japanese pretty tree.
It’s practically screaming to me now.

Here’s the “front”.
Here’s Mark and myself, hamming it up for Alan.
I posted a brief YouTube clip of the tree because photos tend to flatten out an image: click here
After the workshop, Alan and his wife took me to have some more seafood, fried of course (I actually had fried bread, if you believe it) and then a relaxing night looking at Alan’s collection of, well, everything.
He let me play some guitar too, always a plus in my book.
Thank you Alan and Mark and everyone else who let me work on their trees, I really enjoyed the time I spent with you all, I can’t wait until next year for the return trip.

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