Follow up to the Crataegus Post


Baby pictures of a few Backcountry trees at Michael Hagedorn’s! This post is simply a (mostly photographic) follow up to Michael’s post featuring a few of our trees that we delivered before the Artisans Cup.

We’re very excited to have Michael and his students working some of our best trees. We hope there will be at least a few show winners in there, and we think Michael is one of the most talented artists in the country. It’s an honor to be working with him. 🙂 Check out his work here:

ps.. sign up for his ‘Seasonals’ if you want to have a hand in working on these trees or many of his other amazing trees. 😉

Oh! And you’ll have a chance to buy these trees when they are ready! (Shameless plug… cough.. cough) — Just be patient… the trees have been in “feild training” for many years, and they have a few more years to go before it’s time to make thier debut at a show.

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What it looks like packing the beasts out:

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New Projects From Backcountry Bonsai-

Michael Hagedorn

A preview of some conifer yamadori trees in queue for styling in the next couple of years at Crataegus Bonsai. Trees are courtesy of Backcountry Bonsai, the collecting duo of Steve Varland and Dan Wiederrecht. These six trees are Rocky Mountain junipers and Ponderosa pines, although Steve and Dan also collect Limber pine, Lodgepole pine, spruce, and fir. They are very careful and considerate collectors.

They have some good stories about collecting…once there was a mountain lion keeping an eye on them in the mountains while they collected…these trees come with a fair amount of physical and other kinds of sweating.

You can find them, their trees, and the mountain lion story on their website:



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Nebraska Bound – A Juni’ and a ‘Porky’

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It’s rare for us to have visitors at Backcountry Bonsai; we’re a bit off the beaten path for most bonsai enthusiasts. There are however a few great people who stop in every so often. Our friends from Nebraska, Scott, Loren and Haidar have been through twice now, and we have a great time with them! They collect some killer trees of their own, but they always take time to see what we’ve been finding, and occasionaly make purchases or trades. (There are now two of what I consider to have been personal favorites residing (or about to reside) in Nebraska… maybe I shouldn’t let them look next time.. lol!!) Be sure to check out Scott’s site: Blue River Bonsai. You will often find collected trees available, as well as other great bonsai and pots by the talented Stephanie Walker.

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The purpose of this post is simply to introduce a few friends and to show a couple of trees that you likely haven’t seen yet. Both trees are headed for Nebraska in the near future, to the care of Loren Buxton. He’s the president of the Nebraska Bonsai Society, and runs a great blog called Branch Work. Loren also showed one of his amazing hornbeams at The Artisans Cup in September. It was quite an accomplishment to have a tree accepted to this event! (Congrats Loren!!) — I look forward to following the progress of the trees on his blog, and invite you to do the same! 🙂

First up is the ponderosa pine that Steve has dubbed ‘Porky’. This tree hasn’t been posted online yet, other than a photo or two from the Nebraska boys of me holding it, still in the collection bag.

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On very rare occasions we find a tree that seems like it’s just been waiting and hoping to become a bonsai tree for a very long time. It’s even more rare for that tree to be collectible. Porky is one of those trees! The tree already looks like a bonsai, and NOTHING has been done to it apart from collection, no training what-so-ever. And it’s not an “onion” base, as most all ponderosa’s like this are. It can only get better from here! 🙂

Enjoy the photo’s:

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The second tree headed for NE is a nice Rocky Mountain Juniper we collected in 2014. This is another one that is very ready for life as a bonsai. Great movement, taper, deadwood, curving and twisting live viegn, compact root system… it has it all! 🙂

The tree has so many “good sides” it was hard not taking too many photo’s…

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We hope you like the trees we find! Keep an eye on our site next spring for some amazing new trees. And if you happen to be in the neighborhood stop by; You might just find something you like just as much as one of these trees. 🙂 Winter is finally setting in here in WY, but we’ll be sure to put up a few posts to keep you entertained.

We also have some exciting new developments with a couple of professional artists, so be sure to stay with us.

Blessings, and stay warm.


Third Place Tie Announced for the Artisans Cup

Michael Hagedorn

Many of you are familiar now with the prize winners of the Artisans Cup. This week it was found that a fourth tree was a winner as well…scoring the same 50 points as the Third Place winner. Along with Amy Blanton’s Rocky Mountain Juniper, the Japanese White Pine of Konnor Jenson will also be awarded third place.

An accompanying award certificate, plaque, and $3,000 purse will be awarded to both Mr. Jenson and Ms. Blanton. Congratulations to them both!

Konnor Pine Artisans Cup Sharing Third Place at the Artisans Cup is Konnor Jenson’s Japanese White Pine

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Photographic Tour of The Artisans Cup

Michael Hagedorn

This is beyond words. This isn’t a photo essay, as I tend to do, but simply photos. I think that if you were not able to come to The Artisans Cup, seeing many photos of it will give you a sense of the magnitude and emotional impact of the design, lighting, and quality of the trees.

I thank my friend Oscar Jonker for use of these photos. He was there in the first couple hours when the Cup was finished setting up, and then he zipped right to the hotel and blogged about it. I was too tired here in Portland to even think of writing, so I begged the use his lightning fast post from Bonsai Empire. Thanks Oscar for all these great photos! (Only two are mine…the first and the last).



















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From the Brink of Death!

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Breaking News: Tree saved from the brink of death by collectors!

I hope you all don’t mind a bit of humor this morning… lol. But I figured it’s as good a time as any for a nice heart warming collecting story.

This tree was nearly dead when Steve and I stumbled upon it. We almost didn’t collect it because it was so far gone, but decided that we would give it a shot. We had no doubt that it would die soon if left there. Most of the needles it had left were yellowing, and nearly all visible growth from past years was incredibly weak.

So, here is the tree in 2013, beginning to pull out of it’s downward spiral.

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Here is the tree this spring (2015):

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And here you can see the last two years of growth in the capable hands of Steve. All credit to this trees aftercare and health goes to him. 🙂 You can see the full health of last years growth in contrast with previous growth, and the lush beautiful beginnings of this springs growth.

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Oh! And I should mention that this little success story is headed for the Artisans Cup this week! You may inspect it’s health in person there. 😉

Thanks for reading!

Wishing you happy bonsai and Blessings,

Hazardous Collecting


Collecting Yamadori is something that few truly experience, and even fewer really get. It’s something that sinks into your core, the desire to be in the mountains as much as possible, to hike just one more ridge, and check one more rock-face; the endless search, and undying belief that the coolest, craziest, ugliest, most gnarly and beautiful tree you’ve ever seen must be just over that next rise.

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It’s this passion and drive that takes us out there every chance we get. Any serious mountain collector has had those moments when their life was literally hanging in the balance, between thin air and sheer rock. There are dangers a plenty, but that only adds to the thrill. However, on rare occasion there is a moment that truly takes your breath away; a moment when you know you are in mortal danger, and you’re more alive than ever.

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Below is my story of one such encounter. You may remember last September when I posted pictures of a mountain lion who decided to spend part of the day with me. I promised then that I would fill you all in on the details… eventually. I waited in hopes of getting the story published, and was extremely excited to have that hope answered. The American Bonsai Society published a wonderful 6 page article featuring this story and several photo’s in their publication: BONSAI, Journal of the American Bonsai Society. Thank you ABS!!! …. (There is also a non-bonsai related publication that is looking at publishing a “general audience” version of this story. I will be sure to let you all know if/when that happens.)

I’m sure many of you have already read the story in the Journal, but for those of you who are not members of ABS I’m posting the story here. I highly encourage you to join if you’re not already a member.

Here is the full story as first printed in the ABS Journal, with a few additional pictures thrown in.

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Bonsai from the Wild: The Dangers of Collecting

I spend many hours scouring the mountains for native trees suitable for bonsai. Occasionally I have very interesting experiences, and I thought you might enjoy reading about one recent experience in particular.

Some of you may not realize that collecting Yamadori can be quite dangerous in several ways. There are the obvious risks of falling from a rock face, down a crevasse, and being pinned or crushed under shifting boulders. It’s also easy to get caught in severe weather when you’re exposed on the side of a mountain – the same type of weather that creates such awesome character in the trees we seek. Granite with lichen gets insanely slick when wet! Several Japanese collectors met their demise falling from steep cliff sides where they collected the coveted Shimpaku Juniper Yamadori. We are lucky to have far better climbing gear these days, but fortunately it’s not needed in most cases.

Other dangers come from wild animals. We run into numerous rattlesnakes when collecting from rocky hillsides, and there are several large predators that call these areas home, including bears, wolves and cougars.

At the 2012 ABS/BCI convention in Denver (Visions of American West), I took a workshop with Marc Noelanders. The workshop trees were collected Douglas Fir’s, so naturally the topic of collecting came up. In the discussions, I made the off-hand remark that I carry a gun. When Marc asked why, I explained that I often see rattlesnakes, and there are bears, cougars and wolves in the mountains where we collect. He promptly said he would leave the collecting to me. At that point I had yet to see a mountain lion (cougar) in the wild.

I’ve lived in the beautiful state of Wyoming for over 25 years. I’ve enjoyed many hours in the mountains hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, skiing and backpacking. I have encountered all kinds of wildlife, including bears and wolves. I’ve guided American and International hunters part time for the last 8 years. Until this past September I had never seen a mountain lion in the wild. I have no doubt that they’ve seen me – we have a high population of them in the mountain range near my home. But lions always – well almost always – avoid humans.

In September of 2014 I was collecting in a remote and relatively new area. I had just collected a tree and was ready to backtrack to pick up another tree I’d left to grab on my way out. I noticed an eerie shift in the air; one of those moments when everything seems to go unnaturally quiet. The birds quit singing, the squirrels quit chattering, and even the wind seems to calm. I’ve experienced this before without incident, so I didn’t let it rattle me too much. I settled my pack frame back on my shoulders with the tree strapped to it, and headed toward the truck, a bit more vigilant than before.

I reached the first tree, picked it up, and turned to leave…15 yards away was a mountain lion running towards me! It stopped when I turned around and retreated a few yards, giving me time to draw my sidearm. He crouched low in the sagebrush, lying flat to the ground. I held my gun on him, slipped my phone out of my pocket with the other hand and quickly snapped a couple of shots one-handed (as any modern American would do!)

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I knew that running would only encourage an attack. The gun in my hand helped me to keep my nerve and remain calm. I figured intimidation was my best defense, so I moved slightly toward the cat and up the hill for a better vantage point (shooting a few more pictures of course). The cat must have realized that I could see him because he stood up and began to circle uphill to my left. After gaining some higher ground, he started toward me again. I fired a warning shot, but it only made him flick his ears. It wasn’t until I charged him a few steps and yelled that he retreated over the rise. I stepped slightly up the ridge to watch his retreat, but lost sight of the animal.

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I knew he might try to circle back, so I continued down the ridge, only turning my back for a step or two at a time. After a hundred yards or so I saw him again, this time creeping through the aspens about 60 yards behind me. Now my heart skipped a few beats. I felt a measure of fear because I knew that he was hunting me, and one of us may very well have to die. I was also a bit saddened because I didn’t want such a majestic animal to die needlessly. I was prepared to kill if he threatened my life, but not until then.

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I turned to face him again, but this time I pulled out my better camera. Why not? I mean, if he was this persistent I may as well document the encounter to the best of my ability. (Please note: if the cat had been any more aggressive or if it were close to being dark I would not have wasted any time working my way back to safety). I felt assured that intimidation and boldness would hold the cat off better than any other tactic. I moved cautiously toward him to about 40 yards, and I stopped to watch. He crept off the trail behind the aspens and waited. I think he knew I could see him so he gave up on hiding. This time he moved out and leaped onto a large rock where he crouched, watching me in return. I moved a few steps closer and began speaking to him. I let him know that I had no desire to kill him if I didn’t have to; I was happy to leave him here in peace, but he would die if he tried anything. (Obviously he couldn’t understand my words, but who knows – maybe he got my intent. Plus speaking with him helped me to keep my nerves calm). He laid down on the rock and acted bored…I wasn’t fooled.

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Twix, my Siamese cat at home does this. He’ll be playing or doing something he’s not supposed to, and when I catch him he acts like he wasn’t doing anything at all. He’ll stretch or sprawl out, yawn, and lick his paws…all of which this big cat did! It was fascinating. I’m not an expert on wild cat behavior and I have no idea what the cat was thinking, but he must have been a bit perplexed by my behavior, just as I was by his. From all of my experience with wild animals and everything I’ve ever heard or read, mountain lions should avoid humans. Even if they attempt to attack a human, they run when chased or shot at. This cat did neither, which is concerning when considering the safety of unarmed hikers or campers, especially children.

During this whole process I was praying: praying that this lion and I could part company safe and sound, and thanking God for the opportunity to witness such a magnificent creature in its natural habitat.

I kept talking to the cat. I told him to stay on the rock while I left. He did.. for a bit. I worked my way slowly across the flat a couple hundred yards to the draw where I could descend across the creek. As I dropped into the draw, I paused for a second and then stepped back up to check on the lion. He had come off the rock and was circling upstream from me.

Stepping up the pace, I crossed the creek watchfully to the timber on the other side. Rather than head straight for the truck, I stuck to more open timber. I made it about half way through before I saw him coming again. I turned, speaking loudly to him so that he knew I could see him. I slowly worked my way through the timber, pausing and turning to face him every few steps and kept an eye on him as much as possible. Every moment that he thought I wasn’t watching, he was advancing, trying to cut the distance between us. I managed to keep about 50 yards between us all the way through the timber by facing him and tossing rocks through the trees. I couldn’t reach him, but the rocks hitting trees slowed the cat up.

When I reached the edge of the timber I stepped about 20 yards into the open and turned back. He darted to the edge of the trees and crouched behind the grass, blending into it and looking more ready to pounce than he had at any other point. I shouted to him that he was dangerously close to being shot, and he had one last chance to leave. I picked up another rock and sent it his way while simultaneously charging him, whooping and hollering. He spun and dashed back into the trees, seeming more alarmed this time.

I finally made the last stretch to my truck without seeing any sign of the cat. I have no doubt that the lion watched me the rest of the way, but he kept far enough away to avoid being seen. Relieved, I piled into my truck and breathed for what seemed like the first time in a while.

I was quite lucky that I turned around when I did. If I hadn’t, I likely wouldn’t be here to tell the story!
So here are a few things to consider if you ever find yourself in the wilds searching for Yamadori, or just out for a hike.
1) It’s best to have a dog or hiking partner along to watch your back or help in a tight situation.
2) Be sure someone knows where you’re going and will check up to make sure you made it back safe.
3) Carry some type of defense – a gun or bear spray (or both) is best.
4) Keep a level head and don’t let fear control your actions in the midst of a dangerous situation.
5) Be prepared for the elements, especially out west. The weather can change very quickly and snow is a possibility any time of the year.

I feel incredibly blessed to have had such an awesome experience, and that the lion and I were both able to leave uninjured to hunt another day. Hopefully the cat will stick to hunting deer and I can hunt trees without being stalked.
There is a fascinating article featuring Japanese Yamadori collectors at Brian Van Fleet’s blog site: Nebari Bonsai –

Steve Varland and I have been operating a small business called Backcountry Bonsai for the past few years. This is just one of the many adventures we have in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. We love roaming the mountains for inspiring trees and sharing our adventures with others who are passionate about bonsai. We welcome you to follow us on ‘facebook’ or

Thanks for reading!
Dan Wiederrecht
© Dan Wiederrecht 2014″