I think this is a good place to begin the journey, at the White Castle. We can just kinda “slide” into it……Although, now that I think of it, most adventures end, it seems, at the Whitecastle…
My first ever visit to White Castle was actually in the middle of my last “Great Mid-West American Bonsai Tour”, in the great city of Cincinnati. But that’s okay. One reason I travel the country teaching bonsai is for (no, not for White Castle) new experiences.
Mostly I travel for the trees though, and for the opportunity of meeting new people.
My first stop of this last summers Mid-America Tour, was in Michigan and the Mid-Michigan Bonsai club. I had been contacted by Patty, and I was scheduled to do a demo and a workshop with the club.
Normally, I’ll post my travel logs soon after I get done with the trip, but I was a little busy dealing with some stuff at the end of June and into the middle of July.
When I travel, I usually prefer to stay in a club members home. One reason is because it’s less expensive for the club, but mostly because it’s more friendly than a hotel. I get to meet new people, and hear their stories.
The World is People, after all.
The first night in Michigan I spent with Tom Ross, the winner of the 2016 Joshua Ross New Talent completion. He has an amazing collection of bonsai and is also an accomplished artist (His Etsy page, His website. He is a pyrographer, meaning his medium of choice is wood burning. from his website
Most of his trees are ponderosa pines and Rocky Mountain junipers, which I would love to work on but, Florida is a little flat, and warm, and those two species kinda need the opposite environment. But that’s ok, Bjorn was scheduled for the club next.
The next morning found me at the club.
This was my finished demo tree (an unconventionally styled Chinese elm), and Jerrod, the winner of it. We had him standing there holding it for about five minutes while everyone took a pic.
And the workshop. I stole these pics from the Mid Michigan Facebook page, I think Patty took them.
I look like a proper philosopher here.
With all the ficus, it’s almost as if people think I’m a tropical guy, seeing as that’s all I get to work on…..
Which is true, I don’t compete with the other bonsai professionals or work on their kind of trees (usually, sometimes someone wants my artistic flair). It was an interesting time to be up in the Midwest area last June. Not only was I touring, but, as I mentioned earlier, Bjorn Bjorholm was there, as well as (amazingly) Jennifer Price, Todd Schlafer, Owen Reich, and a few others. I remarked at this at each club I went to, amazed at the growth of the bonsai hobby to be able to support so many professionals in the same area at the same time. Not only is bonsai growing in the community, but in the “civilian” population as well (I use the pie analogy. We all have a slice of the bonsai “pie” but the popularity and the practitioners are increasing, a bigger pie, so that my slice, or Owen’s slice, is getting bigger. Bigger slice, more business. Many people think that the pie is only so big (called a zero sum game by economists) and so they must compete with their contemporaries, sometimes even saying nasty things about them to get work. I just don’t understand that at all. My specialties as a working professional are: tropicals, deadwood carving, and beginner workshops. This blog almost specializes in marginal and beginner trees, as I want it to welcome regular people and not intimidate them into thinking bonsai is a rich man’s game. It should be accessible and easy. They are just little trees, to be honest, though I do sneak in the specimen and big tree every once in a while).
After the program, I said good bye to Patty and Tom and made my way to a private session with Steve. That night, I stayed with Steve and his husband.
Steve had hired me for a daylong session the next day. Here are some pics of Steve’s trees and from their garden.I could very easily run out of superlatives describing their garden.
They have a timeshare in Orlando and visit me when they come down, and they’ve been to most of the Florida nurseries too.
This trident was from a Florida Bonsai nursery in Deland.
And this is a tamarind Steve got down on Florida’s West coast. The pic is after a styling by me.
This Raintree may have come from me, I’m not sure…
…but I am sure this willow leaf ficus came from my nursery.
They had a very beautiful garden with water features, neat structures and stonework.
It was a little pocket of Eden in Michigan. I was hesitant to leave. But the journey called….
On the road to Indiana. Ft. Wayne, to be exact. As evidenced by my White Castle stop, I tend to sample local specialties as I travel, when I can, so……I stopped for a little liquid refreshment before arriving at my next destination. This was a local pizza joint and a local brew.
My next stop was to my good friend Darlene, who had hosted me before (and where the workshop was going to take place) to say hello, before I made it to my host this time, Jill. We hung out a bit and I unloaded trees for the workshop.
Upon arrival at my next stop, my first impression at Jill’s (beyond the beautiful home) was this amazing oak (I’m kinda into trees…). I had to photograph it. The tree is old. And beautiful.
Jill’s home is in a Spanish style, it was the owners house on a horse farm.
This is the formal dining area. Jill has some spectacular trees, some with fantastic provenance (I’ll show you those below).
First, I got got to revisit some old friends. You’ve met them here and Big foot looks great!
Here’s Little Foot. …..and the collection has grown, lovingly taken care of by Darlene, Pat and curated by American Bonsai Master, Guy Guidry. a flat top bald cypress (yes, they can survive up there)ponderosa pine
There were many new trees since I last visited and, like I said, they were well taken care of.
But, a mid day repast called (with some more liquid refreshments of course). This was a spot that was recommended by Pat and Darlene. I had a pork tenderloin sandwich that was bigger than my head (which is quite large, I must admit).
One of the toughest things about traveling is sometimes missing family milestones.
My Daughter promoted to black belt in taekwondo while I was away. But, thanks to Apple and FaceTime, I was able to watch live. I will admit,I cried (at least one tear).
One of my favorite photo cliches, when I travel up north, is taking pics of all the natural Christmas trees (sorry, winter solstice celebration trees). I have probably about a hundred saved photos. Maybe I’ll publish a book one day.
“All the Christmas Trees I See on the Road”
I also visited Bruce’s place while I was in Ft Wayne (I wrote about my visit to his place and this tree below here) This was an Indiana grown ficus, believe it or not.
Finally, back at Jill’s place, this is her ponderosa pine. Bjorn was coming in a few weeks and he got to work on it (though I did prune one branch off and make a Jin).
The trees I did get to work were her trident maples. This one is the exciting one, because it was created by Nick Lenz. It is not a root-over-rock like you might think, it’s a root-over-a-fired-clay-shape, by Nick.
I was both honored and excited to give Jill a lesson on trident maple pruning strategies . We went over the proper timing of bud removal, defoliation, cutting for taper and movement, and repotting. We had a good time, and she took lots of notes.
Then came the Ft. Wayne Club’s workshop.
I really enjoy this club, the people are all cool (especially Darlene and Pat. Those two ladies treated me like an adopted son)
From there it was off to Columbus Ohio.
I look at a lot of trees in case you didn’t know. As I said, kinda part of the job. I’m amazed by how big they get up in the Frozen North.
For my class at the Columbus Bonsai Society. I was asked to bring material for the class, and I took them a large variety, from portulacaria afra to American elm to Brazilian rain trees. I think I even had some tamarind.
I brought this ilex vomitoria “schillings” especially for John.He was shocked by my treatment…..well, not really. I asked him to pose this way. You see, not everything you see on the internet is real, after all.
An elm from the workshop.
On this trip I had used my wife’s minivan. I feel sorry for her and the abuse I put her van through. Sorry honey.
I spent the night with Jack, gave him some advice on his collection, and then from Columbus I had a few days with Deb and Bob. I originally picked this up for Bob, but at this point, I was needing a treatment from Dr Kane myself.
I wandered a little on my way to Deb’s. I got to visit a Der Dutchman restaurant. Here’s my wife’s van. In the shade, in the parking lot.
A random building in Ohio Clouds and a field.
And finally, in the boonies, Deb and Bob’s place.
Fishies. In Florida we have too many predatory birds to keep koi without putting up mesh and wires, destroying the whole tranquil beauty a koi pond is supposed to have.
Deb’s house is a craftsman’s delight, full of beautiful wood work and details. I was with them for a few days of rest. I had a stomach bug (which is not good with my ileostomy, I’ll tell you). But even with that, it was a perfect haven. I can’t wait to go back.
On the way to my next stop, I took the time to check out a 9/11 memorial The last time I visited one of them I was in Pennsylvania (I wrote about it in the middle of this Blogpost).
I don’t have the talent with words to express my feelings about my time spent there. I’ll let the photos tell the story.
From there I visited Professor Erb. He’s in the Dayton area and has some nice specimens coming along.
We carved, pruned, and had some beers (maybe not in that order, mind you…).
I didn’t spend the night there though, I had to get to Cincinnati and meet up with John.
I’m amazed at all the old houses I get to stay in when I visit the North. Florida has some old ones (my house is over a hundred years old but it’s not much more than an old shack) and technically, has the oldest continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine, in North America, but the houses tend not to last. We have termites, fungus, hurricanes, real estate developers. Old houses are rare here, so it’s a treat to visit them on my travels. I loved this little sink at John’s House.
John, my host, took me all around Cincinnati, this is Krohn Conservatory. In the tropical room was an old tree-form ficus salicaria. That’s bigger than most willow leaf ficus in Florida, believe it or not.
We also visited the Cincy art museum but they prohibit photos (so to sell prints and postcards I guess. I find that type of policy self defeating, I mean, what’s better advertisement, that’s free, than having people posting pics on social media of your exhibits? It may lose you the dollar you make on selling a book or a postcard, but you give people a preview of what’s there, and generates interest in visiting. This applies to bonsai shows too, and I’m talking to the organizers of some of the bigger shows. People love pics, and it inspires them to come next year. Think about that. You need people to come next year, and a Facebook photo, shared around the world, is free advertising).
Cincy has some of the best craft breweries in the country, and I partook copiously.
One of the highlights of my trip was seeing my good friend, Evan, receive a lifetime achievement award from the Cincy club. He works tirelessly for that club and deserved the recognition. Evans friendship is one I hold precious, he’s a great man and a throwback to how men used to act. A true gentleman.
He always has me for a private session while I’m up there. This time he invited Scott, who brought some cool trees for me.
This is a Barbados cherry that Scott had purchased from my friend, Cesar, who lives in Tampa. The bonsai world is small.
This is Evan’s Brazilian Raintree. It needed a repot.
And a Japanese black pine I gave a first styling to. He got it from Matt Smith, who has some of the best twisty trunked material in the country Matt’s eBay Store .
For the Cincy club, I gave a demo on the Thursday regular meeting night (it was after that meeting when I went to the Whitecastle).
My demo tree
And then I did a workshop on Saturday morning.
We used American elms, sourced from Dragon Tree Bonsai Nursery in Palm City FL.
Elms are some of my favorite trees to work on. Here are some of the “after” shots.
All good trips must come to an end, so it was off to Florida, via Georgia, where I was going to meet up with my sister, niece, and youngest son, Mathew.
I love mountain driving. All the (potential) rock (slides) and (vertigo inducing) vistas.
What I don’t lover is driving through Atlanta.
My sister has been vacationing in Pigeon Forge, TN, and the plan was to meet up and caravan home. It made for a pleasant ride.
There’s my sister and niece. What’s funny is my sister hates anything grape flavored but her favorite color to wear, is purple.
My son (logically, having spent the last week with my sister…..) decided to drive home with me. We made some stops, and I got to play the tourist a bit more. Good beef jerky here, try the sirloin tip flavor.
And, finally, back into the sunshine state! Of course it’s still a long haul to Orlando from the Florida Welcome Center on I 75, but it’s a big psychological boost.
Now, if you remember, in the beginning, I said I usually write these travelogs after the trip, but this time I didn’t because of some troubles.
It was right after this last pic, where I was still flying high from the tour, having fun with my sister, niece, and my youngest son.
I had had an amazing trip, meeting new people, working on trees, seeing new places, spreading the Art of Bonsai.
I won’t go into specific details of the troubles, those that caused me to not want to write about bonsai ever again, but I will say, what happened, pulled me down into the lowest depths I’ve ever been. I was accused of things that go against my nature and against core beliefs I’ve held for half my life.
The aftermath caused me to lose a tour, lose an opportunity to headline a National show, lost me respect of many people I look up to. It also has made me suspicious of friends, new acquaintances, and has left me bitter. Seriously bitter at times. I still believe in people…..but it’s hard.
You remember my son Mathew? He is a Webelos, in the Cub Scouts. Just recently, in the class for earning the “Duty to God and You” merit badge (We don’t teach a specific religion or faith in our Den or Pack, but more of a respect for the spirituality and individual beliefs any one of us might hold) one of the dads, who had the taken responsibility for guiding the boys in this requirement, presented them with a very interesting game.
The game had the boys split up into two groups, with each group competing with each other. The groups had a choice of holding up a card that either said “friend” or “foe” on it, at each turn. If each group held up the “friend” card, each group got one point. If both the “friend” and “foe” cards were held up, the group holding the “foe” card got 2 points and the “friend” card team got zero. If both teams held up “foe” both teams lost one point.
The way the game was “won”, though, was only by both groups arriving at a set score, I think ten, at the same time. The dad only mentioned this rule once, and the boys got so intent competing and trying to cause the other group to lose points, that, as anticipated by The dad, one group arrived at the high score first (and it was a lopsided victory with the other team in negative numbers) but didn’t “win” because, well, the other group didn’t get there at the same time.
The dad had even promised a specific monetary award to the boys if they both “won”, but just a generalized “you’ll get something” to the team that arrived at the ten points first. The “winning” team got 50¢. If they had both arrived at ten first, each team would have gotten $5 each
Of course, the game is a metaphor for this journey we call life. And life is not a journey we take alone, though it is often lonely, but it’s only lonely, if we let it.
I think this bears repeating: the World is People. It’s made up of people we may think of as “friends” or “foes”. We all end up at the same finish line. Some before others, but we all finish the same way.
And that’s that.
My genuine thanks to all those who put up with me while I was driving around the Midwest last June, and I apologize for anything I left out, or remembered incorrectly. There was a lot of time between the doing and the remembering and in the writing.
I have been invited, again, to take a trip back up to Cincinnati in mid-June, 2019. If you’d like a visit from me, either to your club or to your home, just send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m looking forward to meeting some new people, seeing places that I’ve never seen, trying new food (and beers), but, most importantly, sharing this odd, peculiar Art we call Bonsai. I’ll have to wait until then to revisit the Whitecastle, but tonight, since I’m kinda in the mood now, I just might visit the friendly neighborhood Krystal’s, since we don’t have a Whitecastle.
We need more smiling and less frowning, especially in this crazy time we live in.