The Human Side: More lessons from the Bonsai

Patience, as taught by bonsai trees, requires an ever-expanding view of time and the world.

I have a son in this town. I came here, at least in part, because it would put me nearer to him and to my grandkids. I have learned a lot from him. That’s part of it.

In addition, the move brought my bonsai trees into a gentler climate than the one they had previously faced.

However (no surprise when I think about it), things have not been quite as I expected. For instance, as do most people, I brought old mistakes with me, especially the ones I hadn’t resolved, like putting things off.

I have also learned a few things about myself since I arrived; that includes a bit about patience — and bonsai.

Bonsai trees require patience. Since bonsai are my second active interest (after family), I need to learn a lot about patience, and other traits I’d like to acquire.

I have learned there are many aspects of patience (none of which require just putting things off). It’s more than that.

Patience, as taught by bonsai trees, requires an ever-expanding view of time and the world.

Trees, no matter how well they are cultivated to look like old and experienced examples of survival, still only grow at their own pace. Fertilize and do everything else possible, and a tree will accept and use what you give — but at its own pace. If it takes years to grow, it will take years to grow.

Someone, years ago, complained that my bonsai trees were “spiky and tortured.”

“Not so,” I replied, quite incensed.

Different from her potted houseplants, which were often ignored for long periods, bonsai trees demand a lot more attention. And they aren’t either “spiky” or “tortured.” In fact, they’re pampered.

In order to live in those little pots, they need constant attention.

The more I learn, the easier it becomes to provide that attention.

That keeps me learning. Caring for them will also mean development of greater wisdom — a constant challenge.

The world’s oldest bonsai has been in the pot since at least 1620, cared for by the same family. That’s 594 years, at least!

It was just recently taken off display because its roots needed to be trimmed and it was to receive new soil at the same time. Since it’s a large pine, that meant lifting equipment and a lot of materials ready for the task. Very hard work!

All of my bonsai are smaller than that, and younger. Still, the same care and attention apply.

I don’t know what it’s like to have the world’s oldest “tree-in-a-pot” (the meaning of the word bonsai) in my care. But I am learning every day that trees will meet me at least halfway. More often, they will go beyond that to attempt to work with me.

Information I can always get from books and the web. Wisdom is a different thing. But, like the trees, it will grow, with time.

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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