This month, Alex and I took a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Some might be thinking that there’s nothing to see at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden during this time of year. And mostly they’d be right, but at the end of Winter, there was one 60 degree day. This made the buds peek out of the magnolia tree branches. Visiting in the winter means no crowds. We felt like we had the garden to ourselves—which makes it particularly romantic for two people in love. This time around, while Alex searched for the iridescent orchid blossoms, I was particularly in awe with the hundred year old trees at the bonsai exhibit.
The truth is, every time I go to the bonsai exhibit, I get a little bored. The room is so quiet. My phone is put away in my pocket so I’m not receiving messages from the outside nor am I looking at a screen. There are no flashing signs selling me anything. There is no one posting a photo with a sarcastic comment. Sometimes the boredom leads to hunger and then I think about lunch! Either way, the stillness of the bonsai exhibit is shocking. The stillness also makes people talk a little more quietly. There is an observed formality, like being in a museum looking at Monet’s.
What is the feeling of boredom? I once heard that it is rooted in anger. That boredom is a form of anger. So am I feeling boredom because I am angry that the world is not entertaining to me at the moment?! Damn you instant gratification conditioning.
And then I calm down because inevitably after the boredom hits I am willed to learn something new. Depending on the season, I witness the surprising vibrant blossoms of certain specimens, and their impossible shapes, hugging rocks on the “cliff,” bringing me to wonder how these trees came to be. This time around, what I experienced in the bonsai exhibit was the shocking realization that these trees have been around for centuries, indoors.
Bonsai trees are trees grown in a container in a way that prevents them from reaching their natural full size potential. The word “bon” in Japanese means bowl and “sai” means to plant. According to BonsaiEmpire.com, during the Kamakura Period, the Japanese actually copied the 2,000 year old Chinese art form of creating miniature landscapes. Today, the art of bonsai has continued to spread worldwide and continues to bring the wonder of various types of mini trees, all year long. If these trees had eyes, they would have witnessed a lot of human interaction inside the home of multiple cultures through multiple lifetimes. If you find a bonsai tree that is over 1000 years old, that tree has seen civilization develop from year 1000s in China.
Imagine a horticulturist in China, taking a specimen from his (or her?) outdoor hike, and taking it back to his lab, planting it into a pot and adding it to his collection of miniature landscapes. Then this person, upon his (or her?) death, bequeathes the collection to his son or daughter and then several generation cycles later, the collection has grown, only to be disbanded because of war or inevitable property issues, and the little tree somehow ends up on a boat to Japan, as a gift to someone very important, like the emperor. The emperor of Japan then tends to this little tree and his growing collection of little trees. Then, around the 1850s, during the Treaty of Kanagawa, gifts were exchanged between the Japanese and the Americans, and the bonsai tree ends up on a boat to America. This little tree miraculously survives this long journey and ends up in someone’s house. Two centuries later, it ends up at a botanical garden near you.
These trees have stood the test of time, cultivated by humans. The stillness of the bonsai eludes me. Humans have moved it, literally from its original spot on the ground and carried it throughout the globe. Yet after much protection, the bonsai, has stayed the same. The bonsai, after years of growth, has remained true to its essence. For me, being in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in the bonsai exhibit is like being in a room full of authenticity. I know people who roll their eyes at this word so if you are rolling your eyes, then imagine being in a room full of sassy sarcastic bonsais!
The most important takeaway is that boredom led me to wonder. Which makes me wonder, how many boring situations have I avoided and how many wonderful things I have missed out on by not allowing myself to experience boredom?
I hope to come back sooner than later because the magnolia trees, and then the cherry blossoms will be blooming soon. Maybe I’ll bring a book next time and sit underneath a tree, in welcome, boring fashion.