Ok, the time has come. I have to write about the "propped up trees" phenomenon. It might be my favorite thing about being here.
In every garden we visited, and in other places as well, we saw evidence that some trees are revered enough that arborists and gardeners will go to great lengths to save and protect them. Which of course I love. The trees in these gardens are not allowed to grow in a way that Americans might say is "natural." They are pruned and trained into picturesque shapes that are as much living sculpture as anything else, often twisted shapes that look as though they have survived hundreds of years of buffering by the wind on some cliff face somewhere.
The thing is, this makes them really beautiful. I always am struck by the ways that tree trunks can twist and hold that twist, or can grow horizontally and then vertically to reach the sun. They really are sculptural objects in their own right, and they are everywhere already. So lucky are we.
But in a Japanese garden or on temple or palace grounds, they are sculpted more deliberately, often to the limit of what the tree can endure. This is where propping them up comes in. Then there are the trees that obviously have some historic or religious significance (sometimes there is even a plaque describing it, but of course I can't read any of the plaques here). These trees are propped up to keep them alive, and again, great lengths are gone to to keep them going.
The props themselves are sometimes beautiful examples of woodworking. They are often round poles (occasionally a foot in diameter, see below) with perfect mortice and tenon joints. They are tied to the tree with a biodegradable twine, and often the tree is wrapped with bark or a grass mat to protect it. It really is quite lovely to see, and the reverence that is accorded the trees is so lovely and so touching. These are venerable beings, after all, much older, in many cases, than the gardeners who tend them. They should be accorded the respect and gratitude we accord our elders, don't you think? I love that there is such ubiquitous evidence that many people here feel as I do about trees.
Last thing before we move on to some photos: I started this post with a piece of kanji that a student taught me. It means (depending on how it is used) either "tree" or "wood" Two of them next to each other means "small forest" and three of them means "forest." I am digging the pictogram thing. Intensely hard to parse, but my students have been teaching me a few characters and it is fun. So three down, about 5,000 to go, and then I can start in on the pronunciation. How hard can it be?
Ok, on to the photos of propped up trees:
Sometimes support is in tension not compression. Here is a little tree that is being trained to hang out over a path in a beautiful way. Callow youth, this one.
I love it when the tree twists around like this. Looks like the muscles in an arm, don't you think? Here is an example of a tree that has been so tortuously trained that it could never stand on its own. But it lives on. The will to live is tenacious, even in (maybe especially in) trees, and they cling to life with great force of will.
sword museum. Using a tree as a lintel for entry into the house is a very common sight here, and one that I really dig. What nicer way to delineate space than with trees?