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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Asia (02/26/09)

TITLE: Tricks of the Trade
By Steve Fitschen
03/05/09


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I stood there nervously as he read my report. What had this mission been all about? Was he testing my powers of observation? My memory? I would know soon enough.

**********

TO: R

FROM: Agent 2317

RE: Deployment to Little Island Bonsai Nursery, Kinashi, Japan

DATE: March 5, 2009

Per instructions, I arrived in Kinashi, Japan, at 09:37 hours on March 3, 2009. I proceeded under assigned alias to Little Island Bonsai Nursery.

Maintaining cover, I ensconced myself in Master Toshio Takaiamori’s good graces. I spent all of March 3 with the Master, observing him and his workers. I returned on March 4.

Per instructions to observe as many bonsai styles as possible, I report the following.

Chokkan (formal upright): Tree looks normal, straight, even elegant—except it may achieve as little as 1/100th of its normal stature.

Moyogi (informal upright): Apex over centerline, but trunk bent or curved.

Shakan (slanting): Can lean to left or right.

Fukinagashi (windswept): Branches all lean in same direction.

Kengai (cascading): Branches extend lower than ground line.

Bankan (coiling): Trunk is literally coiled, as if grown around a cylinder.

Nejikan (twisted): Wood grain of trunk is “barber poled.”

Sabakan (hollow trunk): Wounds are introduced to produce this effect.

Sharikan (peeled bark): Strips of bark are deliberately removed.

Sharamiki (drift wood): More severe version of prior style.

Sabamiki (split trunk): Trauma should be obvious.

Sekijojo (roots over rock): As it sounds.

Per instructions to observe as many bonsai techniques as possible, I report the following.

Root pruning: Deep-growing taproots must be cut off to allow the tree to fit within the shallow bonsai pot. Ball roots must also be severely cut back.

Trunk chopping: Used at outset to eliminate almost all of the tree, leaving just the main stalk or stalks that will form the heart of the bonsai.

Branch pruning: Ensures that the tree will remain stunted; controls basic skeleton of the tree.

Bud pinching: Removing almost all buds to force growth to only desired areas.

Defoliation: Tree is completely stripped bare. Returning leaves are reduced in size.

Wiring: Basic technique to bend trunk and branches into desired positions by wrapping them in wires. Cooper wire is used for “poisoning” effect—helps stunt growth and restricts leaf or needle development.

Clamping: Used when basic wiring cannot produce drastic enough bending.

Guy wiring and weighting: Used to pull branches downward.

Creating wounds: These are called uro. Can be created by drilling, gouging, or scraping in trunk or branches.

Creating dead branches, stubs, and roots: Deadwood is called jin. It makes the tree look old. In the Sharamiki (drift wood) style hardly any living tissue at all remains—only a branch here and there.

I await your further instructions.

**********

“Excellent, Agent 2317! Did Master Takaiamori tell you how long his work takes?”

“Decades. Sometimes a lifetime.”

“Do you know why I sent you on this assignment?”

“No, R, I confess I haven’t a clue."

“The reason, 2317, is because I wanted you to understand—deeply understand—a metaphor.”

I’m afraid my expression must have given away my disbelief and incomprehension. R started laughing. “Yes, 2317, a metaphor. Everything you saw the humans do to the trees, we do—metaphorically—to the humans. We destroy their stability; we keep them stunted; we warp them and twist them; we poison them; we wound them; we kill off areas of their lives; we bend them to our will.”

“Yes, R, I see it! It is powerful. It gives me a whole new insight. What delightful manipulations I can think of. The slow relentless deformities! Does this mean—”

“Yes, 2317, you have completed your field training. You will now be assigned your humans. Your job is to cause misery and—most importantly—eternal damnation. Be creative, 2317. Show me some Chokkan, some Fukinagashi, some Nejikan that you keep just barely alive.

“But understand, there is one thing you could not observe with Master Takaiamori: the Jesus factor. You must keep your humans away from Jesus at all times. It is as if an enemy could touch one of Master Takaiamori’s bonsais and all his work would be undone. In your mind’s eye, can you see the tiny bonsai transformed into the tree it was meant to be, full-grown, tall, healthy, wires falling off, wounds disappearing?”

R probably knew I was a bit too elated at completing my field training. As I left his office, he repeated his warning: “Do not let Jesus destroy your bonsai masterpieces, 2317.”


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This article has been read 657 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Laury Hubrich 03/05/09
This totally went a direction I didn't see coming:) Very good writing.
Gerald Shuler 03/05/09
I read the first half with question marks flooding my mind. I read the last half with exclamation marks! Love your style!
Kellie Henningsen03/05/09
As I read the first half, I marveled at the research you had to have done for this piece. The second half came out of no where and really held my attention. Very creative way to look at this subject.
Carol Slider 03/08/09
I could feel the tension building in the first half, as you described the trees. I guessed that the bonsai trees were a nefarious training metaphor, but I thought that the "agent" worked for an evil human dictator... not THE evil dictator! Great job of putting Screwtape in another context!