Many emotions mingle in this photo —
Delight at having captured the essence of something I loved, nostalgia for a place I love and probably will never visit again, sorrow because this unique “bonsai” tree (which was actually lifesize, that is, about 5 1/2 feet high) was toppled in a typhoon two years after I saw and photographed it.
Delight is what I feel for all aspects of Japanese aesthetics, and for a while I was living here with a real Japanese garden in Shimane Prefecture, Western Japan, not a museum showpiece but a family’s actual garden. Nostalgia (natsukashii) is what I feel for Japan whenever I think of the nine weeks I was lucky enough to spend there (in two trips).
As for the sorrow, however — I can’t regret that. One central tenet of Japanese aesthetics is the characteristic of aware, being ephemeral. Cherry blossoms, for instance, are so cherished because they are delicate and vanish so swiftly, in the breath of a wind. It is precisely because things perish, vanish, disappear that they are so precious. (How much more is that true of human beings, each one unique and irreplaceable?) This pine tree still lives on my living room wall, however. And it still lives where things perhaps always have their strongest life — in memory.