American Bonsai…

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One of my personal Ponderosa Pines in development. Ponderosa is one of my favorite American species for bonsai that fit’s in a category all it’s own. 

American Bonsai… What is it? Could it be a particular aesthetic? Or should it be defined in our diversity?

From Nick to Bjorn, to Dan, to Ryan and everyone in between, bonsai in America is a melting pot. We are influenced by the artists of China, Japan, Europe, Indonesia, and so many others, as well as by our vast landscapes ranging in the diversity found between every extreme environment trees are capable of surviving.

Bonsai, or whatever you prefer to call it, is a truly global art form. It is the celebration of trees, of nature, and of the rich cultures that have shaped the art and practice for centuries.

Bonsai display collaborates with artists from multiple disciplines and perspectives. A single tree spans lifetimes and generations of artists, continually growing and being re-shaped on it’s journey.

I sincerely hope that American bonsai is never defined by a singular aesthetic, but by our diversity.

May we appreciate bonsai in it’s varying forms as we appreciate humanity, trees and life in many varying forms. The beauty of life is found in its diversity. The richness of life is diversity.

What is a mountain without the valley? What is a song never met with silence? What is ancient without the contrast of human life and history?

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Combining my passions for bonsai and coffee! 🙂

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Just sharing a few of my thoughts from late last night. I’d love to dialogue further on this topic in the comments below; feel free to share your thoughts! 😉

Blessings,

Dan

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To Wake a Dragon

The most satisfying thing for me as a collector is to see trees I’ve brought from the mountain becoming the masterpieces I hoped they would. They aren’t just trees, they’re individuals, with stories and character all their own.

Every professional collector I know is extremely reverent of the ancient trees we walk among. We do what we do because these trees touch our souls, and I believe that they have the power to touch many souls. To me bonsai is a way to re-connect our souls with the beating heart of nature, and mountain trees provide a connection to the wild untamed side of nature that few experience first hand.

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These are just a few thoughts floating around in my head as I’m excited to share the story of one tree with you (my short part of that story). This Rocky Mountain Juniper (j. scopulorum) was one I found in the fall of 2014 and returned to collect in May of 2015. It was lying across the granite almost like a sleeping dragon, at least that’s how it appeared to me. After collection I knew I wanted to pot it standing up (like the dragon had risen from it’s long slumber) if possible, and it worked perfectly.. with a few box modifications. Cheesy I know, but hey I can’t help my overly active imagination.

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May 2015

 

That first summer the tree shed much of it’s interior foliage, but it simultaneously began growing vigorously at the tips. In 2016 it filled back in quickly with several inches of growth throughout the whole tree (not pictured).

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September 2015

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Long story short, bonsai professional Bjorn Bjorholm acquired the tree and is masterfully creating the bonsai I hoped it would become!

 

(After wintering 2016/17 in Tennessee and spending 2017 with Bjorn the tree absolutely exploded with new growth!)

(Next two photo’s courtesy of Bjorn Bjorholm)

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Be sure to follow Bjorn’s work if you don’t already! And check out his vlog for awesome footage of him designing the tree:

Look for more in the Advanced bonsai course he’s releasing with Bonsai Empire in May!

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The yellow version of our state flower. ‘Indian Paintbrush’ (Castilleja)

 

My hope is that the trees I collect will live on for decades, even centuries, calling people to a deeper connection with Nature. Nature is where my soul is revived. Nature is home. We don’t have to be at odds. It isn’t humanity vs. nature; It’s how deeply we realize and experience our undeniable relationship with nature. Bonsai can be that bridge; A bridge to deeper understanding, appreciation and connection.

 

One last thing. I’ve updated the website with a number of new trees. There will be some heavy hitters coming this spring too so stay tuned! 🙂

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Thank you all for your support of what we do! The bonsai community is full of great people, and we’re proud to be part of it! 🙂

Blessings,

Dan

 

Ethics! Do it right or don’t do it at all!

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Alright people. We are long overdue for an article on ethics and responsible collecting. An in depth blog post will follow shortly but in the meantime, we all need to chew on this:

The future of bonsai in America rests on all of our shoulders. There are truly magnificent trees to be honored and treasured as our great country matures in the artistry and appreciation of bonsai. Japan has an incredible history in bonsai while we are still living the first chapters of our story. Many Japanese bonsai are literally centuries old in their training! Here at Backcountry our greatest pride is in the hope and confidence that many of the trees we find are worthy of such a future in American bonsai history. There are still trees of this caliber to be found, BUT the availability and survivability of those trees depends greatly upon all of us, and in particular how we conduct ourselves as a community.

You may have noticed that we don’t post nearly as often as we used to. We’ve really enjoyed sharing our adventures with you all over the past five years. We love sharing the stories and trees, and in a sense, bringing you all along with us. But there is also the risk that our sharing will (or has) inspired too many, or rather, the wrong people to follow suit. We fully understand that other people will go collecting, that’s fine, but if you’re going to do it for heaven’s sake either know your limits or go with someone who does.

One of our goals from the beginning has been to promote ethical and responsible collecting to those who do or will collect; but when it comes down to it we each make our own choices based upon our individual values.

As bonsai people, there’s an assumption that we all value and respect trees, especially trees that are significantly older than we are. It’s assumed that we all have the decency to avoid needlessly wasting the lives of these trees. Unfortunately, it’s become very apparent that at least one of us may not share these values.

Frankly, we’re disgusted.

We’ve found evidence of someone collecting in an area we frequent, likely early this spring. That’s not the problem, it’s public land so they had the right to be there; the problem is the evidence its self. Blatant disregard and disrespect! Several trees were jacked around and clearly left to die. (For one, why the hell would you prune foliage off before even verifying that you can successfully collect the tree?) This person was not a complete “newbie” in bonsai. They knew good trees, because that’s what they were messing with.

 

The tree pictured here, and in the video on ‘Facebook,’ is a very nice limber pine. If left alone, it should have lived on for decades right where it was; if collected properly, it could have lived out its legacy in the hands of artisans, offering inspiration to us and generations to follow. The more we investigated the remains the more certain we are that, if properly collected, it would have been a very successful collection. (Hell, after the effort put into damaging it, it still had enough roots hanging on the base to have at least warranted an attempt at saving the tree.)

Although the tree won’t survive, we took the time to disguise (jin) the pruning cuts and tidy things up as much as possible. Why? Because we care! We care about the trees. We care about the future privilege of being able to legally collect trees like this. We care about the integrity of the bonsai community, and more specifically the community of collectors. Actions like this make us all look bad. The last thing we need is for a rancher or forester coming across this and thinking it was us or one of the professionals who depends on collecting for a significant portion of their living.

A side note to whoever this was: Another tree you left, the little fir that you pruned branches from (again, why?) and proceeded to ram your bar into… we assume to see if it would move? Apparently you didn’t care about barking the thing up. It obviously didn’t move with a ram of your bar, which we figure is why you left it with pruned branches and scars all over the trunk. Anyway, we collected the little tree with more than enough roots to ensure its survival, and it’s with us now. Please, leave the trees alone. There are far less violent ways of investigating collectability. But please, just leave the tress alone.

The bottom line is this: If you’re going to collect, do it with integrity, do it with respect, and do it right. Respect the land. Respect the trees. Respect the land owners. Buy permits or ask permission. If you do not have permission to access private land then don’t trespass. If you do not have tree permits do not collect on public or government land. If you don’t have the knowledge, or the appropriate tools to extract a tree with a viable root pad, leave it alone. If you don’t have enough self-control to leave the tree of your dreams where it’s at, don’t go collecting at all, because more than likely the tree of your wildest bonsai dreams is not collectible in the first place.

There’s more depth and meaning to the word “respect” in relation to bonsai and collecting than you might realize, and you can be sure we’ll be writing more on this in the future.

Fortunately, on a more positive note, over years of collecting and hundreds of miles hiked this is the first time we’ve encountered this kind of waste and disrespect. If we all pull together as a bonsai community maybe we can nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand. Individuals have collected in these areas for the past several decades, and from our perspective they’ve done a decent job of respecting the land and the trees. We’ve established relationships with many of the top Rocky Mountain region collectors and we are familiar enough with their ethics, dignity and collecting technique to say confidently that we don’t believe it was any of them. This is a call for all of us to support the people doing it right and condemn malpractice.

To those out there who think people who collect trees from the wild are evil tree destroyers and “high alpine destructionists”… Here are the facts: Here at Backcountry Bonsai, our purpose is not simply to dig up trees for sale. Our passion lies in the hunt for outstanding trees, and the continued development of those trees into truly unique works of living art by the hands of artisans. We intentionally work with many of the best artisans in the country to ensure a long and bright future for our trees.  For every tree we dig form a rock pocket there are at least 100 more we don’t touch. We are looking for a very specific combination of characteristics and viable collectability that only come together in a few select trees. The rest we leave alone and value for the incredible inspirational trees they are, where they are. We have a deep-rooted respect for nature, and the authorities and landowners who steward the land we collect from; many of whom are friends. We collect legally, ethically, and respectfully. We maintain a “leave no trace” standard for collecting, and we take pride in leaving every site looking untouched by man. We hold ourselves accountable to these standards, and we ask that others do the same. We truly believe that bonsai has the power to increase peoples appreciation and respect for nature, more so in fact than most other mediums of art. I believe we can find common ground in the desire to be closer and more deeply connected to nature.

And finally a moment of transparency, a disclaimer if you will: We have lost trees. We’ve even lost a few very good trees. We do NOT however, jerk trees out of the ground, or leave them with absolutely no chance of survival. Every tree we lose is a tree we own, we own responsibility for our actions. We give the trees everything we’ve got to ensure survival after collection, and we experience the pain of every loss in person, on our benches. Our success rate is consistently 90-95%, and we’re proud of it, but that 5-10% still hurts, and we use that pain as inspiration to constantly strive for better and better results.

Once again, it all boils down to RESPECT. Respect the trees. Respect the land. Respect the land owner. Respect the fact that your actions affect more than just yourself.

Sincerely,

Backcountry Bonsai

Packin’

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Spring is knocking on the door here in the Rockies, and we’re pumped to be back in the mountains! With the occasional cold spell and several wet snows, winter isn’t quite over yet. Nonetheless, with a few nice breaks in the weather, roots are thawed, and we’re back in action.

To celebrate Backcountry’s kick-off to spring 2017 we’re sharing a collection of photo’s from the past several years packing out trees! You may have seen several of these before, but we never get tired of the amazing scenery we’re blessed to work in.

Before we get to the pack photo’s how about a couple of killer trees:

We just shared this insane Pinus Flexilis ( Limber pine) on “facebook” yesterday, but here it is again in case you missed it. If you ask us, this is quite possibly one of the most exceptional limber pines in the country; certainly one of Backcountry’s Best! Steve found quite a few great limbers last year, so keep an eye out for this tree and more on the website later this spring.

Count yourselves lucky that Steve found this one… because I don’t think I could let it go if it had been me! But Steve’s generous like that. 🙂

Dubbed ‘Beastie’

Beastie pack photo’s:

I packed this large Rocky Mountain Juniper from a couple of years ago. Because I can’t let Steve have all of the glory!… lol. But in all fairness he had an epic 2016 collecting season; while I was experiencing fatherhood for the first time, which was epic in it’s own right. I still made it out enough to find a few great trees too though (and Steve brought me trees to pot while he went searching for more). 🙂

You can now find this tree in the collection of Bjorn Bjorholm, and if you want to see it in person or have a hand in working on it sign up for his classes!

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Here’s another killer RMJ we spent a bit of time investigating this spring. We did a bit of root work, and decided to leave it for now. It may be collectible in the future, but it was wiser to leave it this time than risk loosing the major root mass.

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On to the rest of the packin’ photo’s!

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As always, Thank you for following us! We’re excited to have you join us for another year of adventure and beautiful trees!!!

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Blessings,

Backcountry Bonsai

Dan

Ponderosa Page Updated with New Trees!

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Check out these large ponderosa pines that didn’t get loaded on to the site this spring! All great trees! (Keep in mind that shipping will not be cheap on the large trees.)

This link will take you directly to the Ponderosa page on our website for more pictures: https://backcountrybonsai.squarespace.com/ponderosa/

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2016 Junipers

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The juniper page is updated with 15 new Rocky Mountain Junipers! Here are some photo’s, but you’ll need to visit the website to see everything. http://www.backcountrybonsai.com/juniper/

Enjoy! All are junipers with great bonsai potential, and several are world class trees.

More trees will be added soon. The Ponderosa page will be the largest, but we’ll be adding spruce, fir and Limber pines as well.

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Make sure you visit the website to see full 360 pic’s of each tree! 🙂

2016 Teaser!

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It’s finally almost time! The trees are all out of their winter beds and we’ve been photographing them. I’m prepping all of the photo’s now and plan to have new trees on the website this weekend! But I thought I’d release a few photo’s now to hopefully appease you momentarily and to get everyone excited… 😉

Last year quite a few trees sold before ever making the website from people visiting and nurseries buying in bulk; this year will be different. Expect to see a lot more trees available! 🙂

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You all seemed to like the blue door…. so we’re using it for some of the trees this year. Hope you enjoy, and keep an eye out for trees this weekend!

Blessings,
Dan