Tree Evolution I

Tree Evolution I

Lodgepole Pine #1

I collected this tree in college, up near Mammoth, CA—on the eastern side of the Sierras. I found it in a stunted forest of lodgepole pine, growing in volcanic pumice. It was totally crushed and contorted by the snow, which is what gives it its shape. I went to Japan shortly after collecting it so I left it with a friend, along with some 40 other trees. 


On one of my trips home from Japan I went to see my trees—of all those I left, only about 10 were alive and this one survived. I packed the trees up immediately and drove them up to Oregon to be left with Randy Knight.


When I was getting ready to leave, I remember looking at this lodgepole pine and telling Randy, “hey man, you can just burn that tree.”  Randy nodded. I was at that point in the development of my skills where I simply thought I needed a higher caliber of material to work on. 


"Some of the best trees at Mirai have come from material that no one else has wanted."

So I went back to Japan and immediately began thinking about this tree, regretting my choice. But I let it fall by the wayside and was consumed by my work there. So when I came back to Oregon after finishing my apprenticeship I was surprised to find out that Randy had saved it; “it was too good to burn,” he said. 


So I went to sleep at Randy’s, woke up the next day, went into the workshop and it was the first thing I styled. It transformed before my eyes. Basically I just compressed, and compressed, and compressed it in a series of big bends. I sought to capture the most beautiful line and accentuate that line with the deadwood sticking out. 


"I see what this tree has becomeand I am aghast—this was supposed to be firewood."

For me, this tree, Lodgepole Pine #1, represented a huge point of synthesis—I became aware that I should never underestimate what a tree can become, if given the appropriate amount of time and attention.  And this tree is a cornerstone piece for Mirai—it has been at the forefront of my career. I showcased it at the Pacific Bonsai Museum, my very first exhibition, and then again at Spectrum.  


And it’s not for sale. Lodgepole Pine #1 is one of three trees at Mirai that will never be for sale—there’s no price. I see what this tree has become and I am aghast—this was supposed to be firewood. This tree totally altered the way I look at material. Some professionals see the selection of material as a technique. For me it’s like, Mr. Kimura could make a tree out of anything, I can make a tree out of anything. And in fact, some of the best trees at Mirai have come from material that no one else has wanted. 


Written by: Ryan Neil 
Edited & designed by: Kendall Strautman
Photography by: Arthur Hitchcock & Ryan Neil