Another lesson from the bonsai

I lost another bonsai the other day. At least, I think I lost it. It was a small Colorado blue spruce.

I lost another bonsai the other day.  At least, I think I lost it. It was a small Colorado blue spruce. The loss was through my own carelessness, but it was one of my favourites and the loss hurts.

Colorado blue spruce trees don’t show they’re dead until the next growing year, when they die instead of coming out of dormancy. In the meantime, they behave as though they’re getting ready for the winter, sleeping like everything else.

The carelessness was in the watering. There are two main ways of killing trees. One is by failing to keep them moist enough to grow. The second is giving them more water than they want. Bonsai professionals say, “Bonsai don’t like wet feet.” They’re right. Spruce like it damp enough to grow, but not so damp it encourages fungus that attacks roots, turning them black and gooey. There are few acceptable cures for it.

You see, spruce trees grow in symbiotic relationship with an entirely different kind of fungus that does not attack roots. Without that fungus, bonsai find it difficult. They need the nutrients available from the soil, which the fungus “trades” for the privilege of being allowed to attach themselves to tree roots. Pine trees are even more that way.  But, when you kill one fungus, you kill them all.

People are that way, too. We live in a sort of symbiotic society, mutual, and depending on each other. We need other people with whom to “trade.” Our trade goods are things like love, acceptance, respect, and a whole lot of other things.

There are two things necessary for full bonsai growth — and they are not easy to manage. One is to provide enough water and food to encourage growth in the right way. The other is to create limits on that food and water, as well as other things that encourage growth.

In order to be successful with bonsai, I have to study and learn from any source I can find, including people, and use what I learn to make decisions on my own. If I fail to make decisions, or make the wrong ones, the tree will not live — like the little Colorado blue spruce.

Does that sound familiar?

A lot of people find themselves making difficult decisions. The complicating factor is that there is never just one voice that knows the “right” answer for the choices to be made.

There has been a lot of talk about change in everything you see or read — the world is in one of its “big change” phases. There are a lot of decisions to be made, and it’s important that we make the best decisions possible in every situation to be successful in our lives.

It’s difficult, this “being human” thing.

Fred Elford is a retired international organization development consultant, living in Invermere, where he spends his time with bonsai trees. He can be reached at fredelford@

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