Hipsters Take Note

I went and visited Muir Woods with my cousin and his fiancee the other weekend. For those of you who do not have an intimate knowledge of trees and parks in the Bay Area, Muir Woods is home to an old growth Coast Redwood forest. Going there kind of made me think that if someone were to run a tree-climbing school, this would be the site of the students’ final examination. The trees were gigantic, and it was actually very nice weather there–typically the forest is shrouded in fog that has crept in from the nearby ocean. There were a lot of lazy tourists there, but we evaded them by taking a route that went slightly uphill.

We walked through the forest along the trail, when all of a sudden we heard Mariachi music. It was very surreal. We kept on walking, trying to triangluate the source of the eerily jovial tunes–but to no avail.

We found a tree that had a hollow trunk, in which I posed for a picture:

Ben and a Redwood

This picture reminds me of something I learned while in New Zealand. My great-great[-great?] grandparents had a family and lived in Tasmania. The awesomeness springs from the fact that the entire family apparently lived in a hollowed out tree trunk. Now I know where my liking for trees came from. I tried to do some research on this, as I figured such an awesome story must be online SOMEWHERE. However, it is absolutely impossible to search through google for “Tasmania Family Tree”, as one just returns boatloads of crappy genealogy pages. On a similar note, I’ve decided I want to learn how to make things out of wood. I thought a good first project would be to make a kitchen spoon, so I looked into it. One of the tools that one needs for this is called a “spoon knife”, which–aside from being a ridiculous sounding name for a tool–is also quite difficult to find being sold through google, mainly returning silverware and tablesets. But I digress.

It was in amongst these majestic trees that I came upon a glorious idea: Hipster Bonsai. For, what could possibly be more ironic than growing one of the tallest tree species on Earth as a Bonsai?! The mere thought of confining such a mighty tree to a tiny pot made me laugh (out loud, even). As the regular reader of my blog must know,  I am quite taken by the concept of Bonsai. I was sorrely tempted by the young trees being sold in the gift shop, but decided against making the purchase as I could see no easy way for me to transport a tree back to Portland in addition to all my bags. We left.

Then we went to a silent film being shown at the Castro theatre. It was the finale of the San Francisco Silent Movie Festival, and it was a pretty sweet-looking theatre.

Castro Theatre

Castro Theatre

The movie was called L’Hereuse Mort, and was a French film. Leonard Maltin popped in to introduce the film, which was neat. It was really quite well made, and there was a live group playing the music. And it has nothing to do with trees.

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In Berkeley

So. I’m in the bay area for the summer as I take a class at UC Berkeley. A friend just happened to be in town and we met up and wandered around in San Francisco for a while. At one point he had to talk to his mother, and I climbed a tree. Since that glorious moment, I regret to announce that I have not climbed a single tree.

Today I’m going to write about an application of trees: Bonsai. These small trees have been grown for hundreds of years, in both China and Japan. Accordingly, there’s a lot of incredibly specific terminology (most of which is in Japanese) making Bonsai even more curious. I have yet to try my hand at this mystical art, but I have spent a fair amount of time trying to decide what type of tree I would like. Anyone reading this should not take anything I say as fact, as often I’m just straight-up full of BS. I think growing bonsai could very well be a male analogue of becoming an old crazy cat-woman. I bet if I had a roommate I could drive them crazy by constantly talking about my trees.

Generally with bonsai trees, smaller leaves are preferable, as it is easier to craft the illusion of a shrunken replica of an old, withered tree if the leaves aren’t humongous. One must also consider whether the tree will be an indoors tree or an outdoors tree–bonsai can be very particular about their climate! These seem to be the main practical considerations when choosing a bonsai, as before one can style a tree, one must grow it.

Ficus Benjamina, by flickr user OpenEye

It seems that the best starter tree for inside, beginner purposes is a Ficus, or Fig tree. In fact, one of the most popular subspecies of fig tree to be made into bonsai is Ficus Benjamina. Coincidence? I think not.

Another thing to consider when growing a bonsai tree is the style of bonsai you intend to grow. There are generally 5 different main bonsai styles:

Formal Upright Bonsai

Formal Upright has a very straight trunk, with symmetrically placed limbs.

Informal Upright Bonsai

Informal upright maintains the general trend of growing upwards, while adding a few twists and turns to the trunk. Limbs are not necessarily symmetrical, yet the plant looks balanced.

Slanting (Windswept) Bonsai

Slanting bonsai is where things start to get interesting. The tree seems noticeably off-balance. The roots help to stabilize the tree.

Semi-Cascade Bonsai

Semi-Cascade Bonsai grow outwards and down, stopping before the bottom of the pot. Bonsai growers will wrap wire around their tree’s trunk in order to “train” the branches and trunk to the desired shape over time. These look really cool (that’s a fact).

Cascade Bonsai

Okay, Cascade Bonsai are ridiculous. They look pretty awesome, but at the same time they just make me feel uncomfortable. This is a rather extreme specimen, by the way.

I would most likely grow either an informal upright or a slanted bonsai as my first, because they look cool but at the same time probably don’t need as much fine-tuning (conjecturing wildly here).

To be continued…

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Number T(h)ree

Ooh, clever title, huh?

I would like to ask my reader(s) to pardon the tardiness of my posts here, as I have been engaged in all sorts of exciting activities, all of which I am proud to say are either directly or indirectly related to trees. However, my time is valuable, so I will only recount one such thrilling adventure.

I had to get a new set of tires for my bike, as my summertime-steed had languished in the dank, dismal basement for far longer than I care to admit. While you may believe that this is the point at which I tenuously link bicycles to trees by making a morally convincing (yet unsourced) silvicultural argument describing just how the usage of bicycles as an alternate form of transportation has an immense and incredibly profound effect on the number of trees saved per year, you would be wrong. For, the clear link between trees and the changing of my tires (aside from some rearranging of letters and swapping an ‘e’ for an ‘i’) is the Hevea Brasiliensis, or Rubber Tree.

While the Olmec people of Mesoamerica may have used these trees to obtain rubber as early as 3600 years ago, it was not until the discovery of the vulcanization process in 1839 that the true value of the Rubber Tree was realized. The vulcanization process takes the milky latex that is collected from trees (through a process called rubber-tapping), and converts it into a usable, resilient rubber–usually through appropriate application of adequately high temperature/pressure and perhaps the addition of some sulfur. This improved rubber is much sturdier, and is used in many common items, including (but not limited to): hoses, galoshes, hockey-pucks, and, yes, bicycle tires.

So, as you can clearly see, bike tires are in fact deeply connected with trees.

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Tree #2-Purely Formal

I went to a park with some friends because they were going to practice doing some basic Parkour moves. We wandered around for a while, until we found a nice patch of grass. I learned how to roll properly, which is pretty cool (although I did feel a little silly).

After rolling in the grass a bit, we went to a bench that we practiced vaulting. It seemed like a very unnatural movement (almost as if humans weren’t specifically designed for vaulting benches), but it was a fun thing to try. I now appraise the vaultability of every bench I walk past.

After these warm-up activities, we wandered around some trees looking for good climbing material. We happened to walk past a tree with all of it’s lower limbs removed (up to about 9′-10′ above ground-level), and I decided I was going to attempt to climb it. One of the more useful tree-climbing “moves” one can learn is how to run up the trunk for one or two steps, which often gives one the expanded range needed to grab branches that would otherwise be out of reach.

I took off my flip-flops and had a go. I tried several times and brushed the branch with my fingers, but just couldn’t get a good grip. Then my friend managed to grab ahold of a branch, so I returned with renewed focus. Perhaps it was the copious globs of pine-sap on my feet, or perhaps it was simply the fuel of competition, but at last I grabbed onto that branch.

At that point, though, I didn’t particularly feel like climbing any further in that tree. You see, it was a pine tree, and pines always have these small branches angled at about 30º – 45º down from the perfectly level climbing branches, which always manage to poke one in the eye or ear. In general, I’m knot really a fan of climbing certain conifers. They’re just too messy. Which is a pity, because they generally have very nice limb-structure and are a fairly easy climb otherwise.

So, after such a hard-fought battle to reach this low branch, I just dropped to the grass and went on my way. I guess a Math analogy would be to call the climbing of the rest of the tree “purely formal”.

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Tree #1–Dad’s Back Yard

Today I climbed my first official tree of this blog. I chose the tree in the back yard of my Dad’s apartment, mainly due to its sheer proximity. It is a fairly plain, midwestern tree, and did not pose too much difficulty in climbing.

Tree #1

However, upon reaching the main branch, I came to realize that with climbing trees there is the inherent problem of getting back down. While this tree was not particularly treacherous or tricky, it was a good reminder for trees to come. After taking some pictures to prove my conquest legitimate, I descended by clinging to the branch and rolling my body off, swinging down to a height from which I could softly lower myself onto the grass.

-Ben

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