Sooo…Do you say "I recently went to the Sierra"... or "I recently went to the Sierras" ? Technically it’s just one mass which is why I usually say "the Sierra". However, I'm really not sure the best way of saying this. Anyways, I recently took a couple trips up to the most spectacular mountain range in CA for the purpose of collecting, breathing some fresh air and enjoying nature. While both trips were great, the most recent was wet and cold which I’ll talk about more in a bit.
When scouting around for collectable trees, more often than not, you'll find more nice trees that are not collectable than those that are easily collectable. If you tried to collect these non-collectable trees you would end up without any roots and find that its extremely unlikely to survive. These non-collectable trees often have roots which run deep into the cracks and crevices of solid rock. Here’s one of these non-collectable trees with some really cool dead wood (above). With this tree I find myself wondering why certain sections of the tree grew very straight while others have a lot of movement?
Above is a picture of a little guy that I collected from a small pocket of soil in this granite crevice. I used a snow scraper to help get under the root ball and pry the tree up. As you can see this tree had a lot of roots compared with the size of the tree. Junipers that have enough roots to be collected like this one are more on the rare side of trees you find in the mountains.
Transitioning from a very small Sierra Juniper, here's a massive one which might be difficult to determine the size because of the scale in the picture. Most of this tree lost the battle and died long ago, but the left hand side is still kicking. Any guess how old something like this might be?
I really liked this smaller tree with interesting movement and shari. My Wife said this type of deadwood on the shari reminded her of dragon scales which I thought was a pretty cool assessment.
Unfortunately, I didn't run into the best weather on this trip. It rained the majority of the time and was very cold during this Sept. weekend. On the positive side of things, I think the best time to go collecting is right after it rains, the trees get a nice drink of water and the soil is still moist. The soil you are working with is less dusty and the pre-moistened root ball will help to reduce the stress of transplanting.
Collecting becomes challenging when its cold and raining especially if your cloths get wet, you can't build a fire and the rain leaks into your tent in the middle of the night... In general I'm going to try and avoid rainy days when collecting when possible. I also found I was moving around slower because the granite was wet and slippery. Here's my little camp set up, trying to keep as water proof as possible.
My dog Thor is a Husky who loves coming with me on our hikes. We stumbled across this Ponderosa that decided to grow sideways. Unlike me, he never gets tired while running around in the mountains. I try to feed off his motivation and energy so we can cover as much ground as possible. I'm a firm believer that the more miles you cover while collecting the greater the quality of the yamadori that will be in your collection, which is why I try and keep up with my pup.
"Baby got base!" is what I was thinking when I saw this next tree. The base keeps expanding as it grows because the tree is pinched in between two pieces of granite. I think it's an interesting bulb shaped base with really nice bark. This is another example of a tree that you couldn't successfully collect because of the circumstances in which it's growing.
While in search of trees, this (above) caught my attention. Besides being pleasing to my eyes, it reminds me of a Japanese style rock garden. It's interesting to me how flat and perfect the sand around the stones looks. Also the shape, size and placement of the stones seems to follow some type of aesthetically pleasing pattern that I like. The scene almost looks altered by man, but I know it's just mother nature. I wonder.. were the first of these garden types created because someone long ago was walking around the mountains of Japan, saw something like this and thought, "that would look great in my backyard!."
Hmm.... is this a good size for Bonsai? This Ponderosa has had a tough life which resulted in a very mangled trunk. While you can certainly tell a grade A tree from a grade B tree on a collecting trip. It's much easier to get a feel for the tree once you get it home. In the field it's difficult to understand it's future design because you can't play with the planting positions of the tree, the dead wood is not cleaned up, it's harder to see where the nebari starts and a challenge to understand the best movement and flow of the tree.
Well that's about it for now, I just wanted to share a couple of collecting trips with you guys. I've got one or two more trips planned before the season closes. Below is the little guy from the second picture in the post. Since collecting it in late June, the foliage has thrown out some runners which is a sign that the tree is getting strong and was not too shocked after transplanting. This is all because I was able to get a good root ball, which is very important when collecting. I collected some other trees during these trips which will be a subject of future posts. Thanks for reading!