Southern hackberry. To me? Just plain hackberry.
Whatever you call it, I love the tree. The way it grows, how fast it grows, the twigginess you can achieve. I like to call it the ficus of the deciduous trees.
I even love the warts on the bark (that’s where the name “hackberry” comes from. Named after a witch, or a hag, with warts, and now imagine a Scots-Irish immigrant to the USA, that guttural hard g sound, morphing into the “-ack” sound. Hag-berry to hack-berry.) they call it sugarberry in the South USA because things are always sweeter in the South. Even bittersweet melancholy is more sweet than bitter, you ever seen the movie Fried Green Tomatoes? Case in point, it’s sad and bitter, but it’s sweet, like pecan pie and vanilla ice cream on a summers afternoon, in the shade under an oak, the grass is green and glowing, the cicadas are singing their song, rising in crescendo then fading out, butterflies fluttering by, and child’s laughter on the breeze.
Maybe there’s even a tire swing….
Your loved one twists you around as far as they can, as much as the rope can handle, and does the old heave ho and push, and you spin, while swinging back and forth, your path describing infinity, as the greens and yellows and the blues of the shade, swirl together, like some impressionistic fever dream painting, or like a Van Gogh painting, bright colors manically thrown onto the canvas, trying to catch the light before a cloud changes the scene, crows cawing as they circle the fields of bright yellow wheat swaying in the wind.
This tree was my fifth tree to be exhibited at Disney’s Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival in the Japanese Pavilion as a part of the Bonsai Societies of Florida’s contribution.
Edit: here’s a pic from that show in 2017
It’s a pretty impressive tree, collected in Brevard county somewhere. I acquired it from a man whom I shall not name as he is not worthy of a mention. But I’m sure he was helped by a fine gentleman by the name of Dr. Reggie Perdue, chiropractor and bonsai artist, extraordinaire. A good friend.
Above was the original front. I turned it around. What’s always bugged me about the tree is the chop in the V cut…
Since I’ve had it, I’ve always wanted to carve it all the way down to the root. but I’ve missed my window for doing that for various reasons: it was going on display, or it needed rest, or it was the wrong time of the year and the sap was flowing to heavily. You need to find the right window to do certain things on deciduous trees, like repotting, pruning, and carving.
Well, guess what? Today is that day! let’s start at the branches.
Hackberry is known for shedding some of its fine ramification over the winter dormancy. That’s an ok problem to have because, and this is irony, when one gets a deciduous tree ready for its first push of growth, one should be pruning back that twigginess. Prune for taper and movement and to simplify the branch line, removing superfluous and crossing branches. The irony is that you need to cut out ramification to get better ramification. The seasonal twig dieback makes that trimming easier on the soul.
Here’s a branch that looks like it got broken last year. Trim it back to a bud.
Some new buds emerging, cut the dead part back to the new bud.
Some non-tapering branches, by the tip of my index finger, tit has good movement but they’re too thick too far out on the branch.
Here’s me pointing at something with my scissors. The camera is focused on Pablo, in the back right corner, looking concerned, maybe judging me for my scissor technique.
Here’s some of that twig dieback.
In fact, this whole branch died.
Probably from this wound that never healed. But that’s ok.
That’s why Mr Masakuni invented bonsai tools.
Yup….not just “kinda dead” but “dead dead”.
Like I said earlier, the deadness makes the pruning easier.
Look at it not as a loss, but an opportunity to grow a better branch. We practice bonsai as an art because the work is never done. We can finish a painting, with that one last brushstroke, and if we add just one more bit of color, the painting is ruined. The sculpture can only be chipped and carved away so much before the form is complete; a nose is just a nose, and your eye knows when the nose looks like a nose (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).
But a bonsai, ahhh, it grows, and changes, and we can perform our art every time it does.
It’s like a song. Every time we perform a song we’ve written, depending on the stage or the audience, or our mood , we play it differently. We accent that one high note and hold it just long enough to make the song ours.
You see how far the rot has infiltrated into the branch? Cut it back more.
Don’t worry, it’ll grow back.
Anyway, here’s some more random pointing.
I hope I’m making my point. The branch is pointing right at the viewer.
Yeah, I cut it out.
That branch has always bugged me. Not anymore.
Aha! Now we’re ready to do some carving.
My box. You’ll notice all the stickers. I collect them so if you have any, send them my way.
The all important speed controlling foot pedal. Makes one feel like a race at driver, down shifting around the curves, speeding up on the straight aways.
I find it’s the most important safety device in my box. If I drop a tool, and I have, I simply take my foot off the pedal and the power is cut. That’s a lesson I learned with blood. A machine that’s rotating at 20,000 revolutions per minute is an exciting yet terrifying thing to watch as it bounces around The Nook.
Die grinder, long shaft to get my tool deep…
The big Samurai bit. Indispensable and it cuts like a hot knife through butter (or, as we said it in the town of my youth, “like buttah!”).
I would like to stress this, tighten your bits. At the beginning and after a few minutes carving. We don’t want the bit to fly off into the audience and cause my liability insurance premium to go up. Or take an eye out. It’s only funny until someone loses an eye.
Speaking of eyes, there’s no more important tool in shop safety than these, safety glasses (stole that from Norm, in the New Yankee Worksop).
Now I’m ready to carve. I need to open up from here to here…
But not in a straight line…that’s not “artistic”.
Like when you are watching Ru Paul’s Dragrace, and Ru says, “It’s too straight, baby.”
We need to make it crooked. Crooked like a DC politician.
One last “bit” of advice: be aware of the rotation of the bit. Always move the tool against the rotation, so the teeth are cutting into the wood, or the tool will run.
In this case, as we are looking at the bit, it will rotate counter clockwise, so we move the tool up the tree.
First cut is not always the deepest.
Not a straight line.
Let’s make it wider…
And that’s that. For the die grinder, that is. I know, $1500 worth of carving equipment to make just one line.
And only to finish it with a $20 pocket knife.
Since I want it to heal and begin to roll over the cut, it’s important to make a sharp cut at the edge of the line.
And just to help it along, a liberal application of snot paste, err, cut paste.
That’s what my wife calls it, snot paste. Maybe because I wipe my finger on my pants, much like how my kids wipe their snot on their clothes (that an image you won’t forget. At least they don’t eat it after picking their noses).
In my excitement, I forgot to cover the soil to keep the sawdust from getting everywhere. I’ll have to clean it out and put a fresh top dressing.
And, of course, I forgot to close my tool box.
Since I have it open, let’s get some unabashed branding into this post.
Lacquer, because liquor is for drinking (liquor? I don’t even know her, and it’s supposed to be “Joe’s Bar, liquor in the front, poker in the back”
That’s cool looking, right?
And since I have some new stickers….
Let’s take a look at my box.
Yeah, mostly beer and bonsai stickers.
Some radio stations (I’d love a WWOZ one from New Orleans, hint hint..)
Now, you’re wondering why I didn’t totally hollow out the trunk?
I have the tool to do it.
But I’ll let it start healing first, and see what happens with the cut edge. I’ve had the tree for many years and I’ve waited that long to do the carving. I can wait a little longer.
The glamour shots…
Now I just wait for it to grow (I need to write a filk song based on “Let it go” from the film Frozen).
“Let it grow, let it grow
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it grow, let it grow
Let the tree do what it was made for
It needs to absorb the light of the day
Reaching up into the stratosphere
The waiting never bothered me anyway. “