(An ongoing compilation of memories, notes and ideas)

© 2005-2017, Robert J. Baran

This Page Last Updated: February 17, 2018

Early Years
Going Public
No Longer
Wish List

"How difficult to take the affairs of a lifetime, and arrange them at the river's edge."
Chen Hongshou (1599-1652)

       See also RJB bio page, Magical Miniature Landscapes intro, and SiteKudos page for additional background.  This project has been and continues to be a group effort.

       I first learned about bonsai through Ann Pipe's book in late October 1969.  I had stopped off at the local branch library (the Parma-Snow Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library) after school and wanted to get something to read.  I wandered looking up and down the stacks for a few minutes and then stopped in front of a very small group of bonsai books.  Ann's book caught my attention and I checked it out.  As this was in the days before seemingly every house had a copier/printer -- yes, pre-PC -- I used tracing paper to record several of the line drawings therein.  (The volume was returned on time -- though I may have renewed it once -- and those delicate sketches have since become long gone.  That particular book's value these days is only one of historical interest, at best...)

       Over the next 16 years, other than the 1967 Readers' Digest article about Murata, the first Sunset Bonsai book, and occasional newspaper articles, I really didn't read anything about bonsai or its background.  A few months after we moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona in 1971, my uncle happened to take me sightseeing at the end of October.  We ended up at the Desert Botanical Garden -- which just happened to be having the final day of a show by the Phoenix Bonsai Society.  When he saw my astonished viewing of the dwarfed trees there, my uncle signed me up for a nominal membership.  However, as I didn't have my driver's license yet and my family lived on the other side of the Valley, I never made it to any club meetings.  But, I did receive a copy of the next yearbook from the club, and I added that to my slim bonsai library.  (I found out later that John Naka had conducted a workshop the first day of that weekend show.  It would be years before I met that sensei, but I do still have that yearbook.)

       I received one of those small juniper bonsai and round tan pot kits for Christmas of 1971.  I don't remember how long that little plant stayed around.  A plant or two a year -- mostly junipers -- were kept by me during the next decade or so as minimal experience, usually in an orange clay flowerpot after receiving a little pruning to shape roughly.  A medium-sized nursery juniper I purchased in November 1974 while in college in Tucson and cared for there was taken from outside my second-floor Phoenix apartment front door two years later.  (The supreme irony, if truth be told, is that I actually had dropped my college botany class during the last month I was taking it because the "D" I was getting would have brought down my GPA too much.  College for me was a time more of social growth than academic...  I had been an "A" student in Honors English in high school.  Along the lines of other subjects, I did happen to have been familiarizing myself a little, however, with Chinese history since the late 1970s due to some ongoing research on the Chinese pyramids, specifically those near Xian.)

       Freshman year of high school had included a typing class.  After that, my folks got me a big old Royal manual typewriter which some school was selling when they upgraded what they used.  The machine was used by me throughout high school and into college, where I made a little extra money typing class assignments for my fraternity brothers.  A second similar machine replaced that one eventually.  Any number of projects I was working on over the years were composed and recomposed with that device.  In the mid-1970s during my two year stint as a security guard, mostly at a power plant in south Phoenix, I developed small-hand-printed note-taking which continues to this day.  Over the past several decades my handwriting seems to have gotten objectively worse from increasing speed...

Royal typewriter, c. early 1940s, like I had in the 1970s+ (stock photo)

       A small Christmas-type pine tree which I had for a few months during the winter of 1982-83 was carried away by a neighborhood dog; a Crassula jade tree from August 1984 and a 1-gallon juniper from that September were individually stolen from my doorstep in the spring of 1985.

       I initially got serious about bonsai in February 1986 when I planted some seeds gotten through a Spencer Gifts mail order bonsai kit containing eight varieties.  Twenty-three plants did grow, representing all eight species, but only through the middle of summer.  A lone and delicate beautiful little Japanese Red Pine (Pinus densiflora) lasted the longest -- through late July 1987 when I accidentally left it on the south-facing apartment porch rail till late morning [in Phoenix, AZ].  Other and larger nursery, dug, or established trees would come and go through my collection.  (And reviewing my notes, I see that I also had a 3-gallon-size Italian Stone Pine (P. pinea) Christmas tree from December 1985 to June 86; a Michigan Bulb Company mail-order Red maple which lasted from from March 86 until the following winter; and many other plants -- including azaleas, Ming aralia (Polyscias fruticosa), Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens), elms and junipers and pines -- which each only lasted a few months at most.  Some passed on from overexposure to the sun.)

       The first books about bonsai which I read starting in early 1986 included: the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Handbook of Bonsai: Special Techniques, Bonsai by Paul Lesniewicz, The Masters' Book of Bonsai by Koide Nobukichi et al, Miniatures and Bonsai by Philip Perl, The Beginner's Guide to American Bonsai by Jerald P. Stowell, A Dwarfed Tree Manual for Westerners by Samuel Newsom, Bonsai -- Miniature Trees by Claude Chidamian, The Creative Art of Bonsai by Isabelle and Rémy Samson, and Shufunotomo's The Essentials of Bonsai.  Their few lines about the history were written down and constituted the beginning of my journey.

       In the spring of 1986 I joined the American Bonsai Society and started receiving their quarterly Bonsai Journal and the ABStracts newsletter.

       At the old Main Phoenix Public Library (across the street from where I worked), I scoured the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature to track down early articles and references.  I basically chose articles from what was suggested by the title, and then looked them up.  As the Library had a good selection of bound and microfilmed periodicals, I'd make a certain length list and then hit the shelves or the cabinets.  I easily perused at least 5x as many articles as finally made the first versions of the pre-WWII and post-WWII lists (a handy though arbitrary division point) over the next few years.  (I'm sure not all the articles published have yet been found.)

Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (stock photo)

       In September I joined the Phoenix Bonsai Society.  (The club had relocated its meetings from the east-side Desert Botanical Garden to the near downtown Valley Garden Center in the Fall of 1973.)  And this is when I finally was introduced to both use of a proper coarse soil mix with chicken grit/roofing pebbles instead of just garden or potting soil, and protection via shade cloth and well-timed shadow.  More successfully, in a short time I would discover the club library's holdings of back issues of BCI's Bonsai Magazine and IBA's International Bonsai.  Then I studied various members' private holdings of Bonsai Today and some early copies of the ABS Bonsai Journal (Vol. 1-5 hard bound in one volume) and current GSBF Golden Statements.  Wu Yee-Sun's Man Lung Artistic Pot Plants, editions 1 and 2, were seen in the holdings of the PBS, as well as John Naka's Bonsai Techniques I, II, and Satsuki (this latter being an out-of-print volume which, unfortunately, later disappeared).  I photocopied much -- four file cabinet drawers' worth to date.

       A copy of Deborah Koreshoff's 1984 Bonsai; Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy was found at Arizona State University's library in December 1986.  Its nineteen page history would have sufficed this researcher if it had been read six months earlier -- but when I did view it I discovered that I had already uncovered a few bits of early American bonsai history not dealt with by Australian Koreshoff.  Probably the first big "A-ha!" moment.  So, I continued...   (That same library visited yielded the first of the old Garden and Forest articles I would find.)  At this time I was finishing up a semester of Conversational Japanese at a local community college.  I aced that class -- taught by a female instructor who was a Japanese native -- but did not otherwise formally follow-up my studies along those lines.  (I had previously taken three years of French in high school and two of German in college.  In the early eighties my private studies included linguistics and about 60 grammars, phrase books, and dictionaries remain from used book store purchases during those days.)

       The bibliography early on was expanded to include other titles known-of but not seen.  There was the Phoenix Public Library's copy of the National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints (© 1970 Mansell Information/Publishing Limited.  ©1970 The American Library Association, Chicago.  With 685 main volumes and another sixty-nine (plus?) as supplements, this was very roughly the closest American equivalent you could readily find to the numerous massive encyclopedias of old China).  It was searched for titles, principally by known and intuited -- Japanese mostly -- authors' last names.  This was done, fortunately, at the library's old site on McDowell Rd.   (After the move a few blocks south on Central Ave., these volumes were stored out of ready access.)  The Phoenix Art Museum, right next door to the old location, was visited on my lunch hour during a few Japanese woodblock print exhibitions.

National Union Catalog (stock photo)

       From February 1987 through 2002, I participated in the Phoenix Bonsai Society's largest show of the year, which was a part of the City of Phoenix Japanese Week Matsuri.  Here I could discuss with club members and general public on a one-on-one basis some of the things I was learning about the history of bonsai in general, picking up a few things I didn't know, and making an occasional correction to common bonsai mythology.  At some point I did the voice-over for a few of the demonstrations presented during the shows, adding a few more historical details as the years went by.

       In early 1987 and 1988 I tried growing several types of pine and maples from seed.  Some of the former came from cones gathered right before Encanto Park, a little bit to the north of the Valley Garden Center, was renovated.  The seedlings were all gone by August of 1988.  Maple and Chinese elm cuttings were attempted, but our cats insisted on "salad-barring" these no matter where we put the plastic-covered containers.  By this time any apartment I would live in would be a second-floor one with a balcony for my trees to remain safe on.  Ground floor living would only be O.K. in a house with a secure backyard.

Part of RJB Bonsai Collection June 1987

       Research-wise, background info via Japan the Official Guide (copy of 1941 edition gotten at the Visiting Nurses Auxilary Annual Booksale in February 1988) and E. Papinot's Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan continued to connect a few more dots.

       August 1989 my researches moved the earliest known use of "bonsai" in English [at the time] back a generation.

       I have fond memories of getting up a little earlier before going to work in order to wake up my mental engines by having breakfast while reading a chapter from Siebold, Dr. Philipp Franz von  Manners and Customs of the Japanese or Yule, Col. Sir Henry (trans. & ed.)  The Book of Ser Marco Polo The Venetian Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East or Bretschneider, Emil, M.D.  History of European Botanical Discoveries in China and also his Botanicon Sinicum.

       CPT 8" Floppy disks were the first storage media for the history which I was starting to compile, afterhours where I worked (1986-1990).

       The earliest lecture I gave on the history of bonsai took place in September of 1989 at a meeting of the Phoenix club.  For most of the members present, this was the first time they were aware that such a thing existed.  (One more formal lecture in front of the club would follow, as well as a lecture for a local civic group and then a 45 minute run-through to a captive audience of 3 other club members during part of the 100 mile return trip from a Tucson nursery in June of 2000.)  Also accompanying me to many of the Phoenix club meetings was my son, Andrew (b. 1990).  On occasions he helped pick winning members' names for club raffles, as well as sometimes sitting in the corner of the meeting room making Lego® bonsai.  His mother, my first wife, would refer to my bonsai historical research (half-humorously?) as "the other woman."



       One of the members of the Phoenix Bonsai Society (whose name is long forgotten) suggested to me during the February 1990 Matsuri show that the way to prelude a book was by having articles on the subject published first.  So I wrote "Hachi No Ki" (my first hand-written draft is undated; my typed submission was responded to by ABS editor Jack Wikle on May 29, 1990).  Several contemporary references had made passing mention of this Noh play -- including variations on the lead character's name -- and I thought the story deserved further telling of background and plot.

       This was followed by "Some Bonsai Futures" (first hand-written draft is dated July 1, 1990; typed submission responded to on October 25, 1990).  But Jack Wikle wisely suggested "Futures" would be a stronger/better introduction of me to the bonsai community.  The many history notes I'd compiled had gotten me thinking about what we probably would see and experience regarding this art/hobby.  The article did require substantial rewriting on my part based on many perceptive observations by Jack.  After two last-minute publication drops due to space considerations, "Some Bonsai Futures" was finally published in the Fall 1991 issue of ABS Journal.  "Hachi No Ki" was then published in the Summer 1992 issue, having been passed on to the new editor, Arch Hawkins.

       [The first corporate history I ever worked on was for the private family-owned company I worked at from January 1984 to August 1992.  The history was, perhaps, semi-official but I am not aware my researches were ever published or used in any official format.  I had been given access to some private documents.  This is where I first began incorporating the stories of vendors and a few social events into the tale of the main subject.]

       I retyped my book notes into a Commodore 64 word processing program (Home-Office Writer) and expanded the draft (1990-93).  (I still have some printed pages of notes liberally covered with hand-printed additions from the latest books I was reading at the time.)

Commodore 64 (stock photo)

       "America Peeks" was published in the Winter 1992 Journal, having initially been received by Arch Hawkins by mid-October 1992.  (My hand-written first draft for the article "18th & 19th Century America's Peaks [sic] at Bonsai" is dated August 28, 1992; the second draft with the final title is from September 3).  The Colonial involvement with the China trade pushed back our first exposures to dwarf potted trees and I wanted to share this knowledge.

       Then, as at work I learned my way around WordPerfect software, I retyped all the growing book notes again (1993-98), but later was able to have them switched fairly automatically over to MS Word (c.1998) when that was my work-related software program.  (By that time my home computer would have been switched over to a series of IBM-compatible machines.)  My understanding of this project I was now doing was to compile the kind of history I wished had existed when I'd gotten serious about bonsai.

       Annual late-summer workshops with visiting teachers were started for the Phoenix club in 1993.  Our first guest sensei was Mel Ikeda, followed by Jim Barrett (who I specifically interviewed for historical info), Sze-Ern "Ernie" Kuo, Roy Nagatoshi, and Ben Oki.  Ben was our annual teacher from 1998 up to 2012, with his workshops early on moved to a slightly cooler October and then November setting.  David Nguy took over the workshops beginning in 2013, but I have not actually met him, having not gotten back to Phoenix in many years.

       One particular tree I had resulted in an early monograph.  Because of the long, hot summers in Phoenix where everything seemed to stop growing mid-year, I turned some of my attention to a large Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra) I had been gifted.  Able to grow happily in the heat, with cuttings very, very easily rooting, this and its progeny provided me with a lot of research material beginning with my first extensive notes in 1993.  I worked with a number of P. afra varieties over the years.

       Many set decorations involving bonsai or reasonable facsimiles were discovered while just relaxing and watching TV or movies/videos.  They were chronologically-listed in my book notes.  My very first hand-written draft of an article was dated November 18, 1992 and titled "On the Big and Small Screen."  It did have a subsection with just the "Star Trek" episodes labeled with the word-play "To Boldly Grow."  But nothing much was done with this for nearly three years.  The first dated typed version is marked August 1, 1995 with the title "Some Screen Portrayals of Bonsai."  My hand-written editing of this changed the title to "To Boldly Grow: Some Cinematic Bonsai."  Per an e-mail to RJB from editor Jill Hurd on November 8, 1995, the article was split into two parts and put into a two-column format (which I also used when the info was reproduced on this website).  The article saw print in ABS Bonsai Journal issues Winter 1995 and Spring 1996.  I hadn't seen anything like this in the magazines previously, so I thought maybe it would be fun to do.  Some of the references I had gathered were not used in that particular article.  Many of the other references were found in posts on the Internet Bonsai Club's newsgroup (either with or without some passing mention to this site's listings), and a few notes were just e-mailed directly to me.  These became "To Boldly Grow: Some Celluloid Bonsai (Part III)."  (At least one acquaintance has reprimanded me about using the split infinitive...)  Hud Nordin's opening haiku originated in an e-mail to me about the year 2000.  In 2001 I split the references after the year 1999 into a Part IV.  As additional sightings were made or brought to my attention they were put into the appropriate part (III or IV) of the chronology.  A summary and analysis of the years and media was first compiled in November 2004.  I finally got around to begin including computer and video games portrayals near the end of April 2005.  (My kids occasionally mention that they have found other bonsai in the games, but if I don't get details from them, no additions to the website's listing.)

Old Phoenix Main Library,
built in 1953, image from 1950s postcard,
but the exterior of the two-story building looked very much the same decades later
Burton Barr Central Library,
built in 1995 a few blocks south of old Main, with its natural sun-lit Great Reading Room on the 5th floor

       Some of the trees attempted for bonsai during this period included mostly nursery-sourced Sweet acacias (Acacia farnesiana), Japanese and Trident maples (Acer palmatum and A. buergerianum), Bougainvilleas, Japanese boxwoods (Buxus microphylla), Western hackberry (Celtis reticulata), Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), Texas olive (Cordia boisseri), Sago palm (Cycas revoluta), Weeping figs (Ficus benjamina), Arizona ash (Fraxinus velutina), Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria), assorted Junipers, Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), American sweetgums (Liquidamber styraciflua), Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), Desert fern (Lysiloma thornberi), Pink melaleuca (Melaleuca nesophila), Common mulberry (Morus alba), Dwarf myrtles (Myrtus communis), Heavenly bamboos (Nandina domestica), assorted Pines, Texas ebony (Pithecellobium flexicaule), Pomegranates (Punica granatum), African sumac (Rhus lancea), assorted Chinese elms (Ulmus parviflora), and Monk's pepper (Vitex agnus-castus).  These lasted a few months to several years, in pots and a few spent time in a growing bed.  I was able to display a few in our club meeting displays or large public shows.  Mostly hand-written notes recorded these plants, although there were the beginnings of computer notes as well.

Part of RJB Bonsai Collection October 1996 Part of RJB Bonsai Collection 1999

       One particular dig by invitation was at a residence on the side of Mummy Mountain where a water line under a raised garden running the length of a private driveway needed to be replaced in the summer of 1993.  This resulted in the club collecting a few dozen 35-year-old bougainvilleas.  I remember that a few weeks later at a club meeting, I was able to use a Dremel® tool to carve the trunk of my specimen -- and I was surprised at how wet the live wood was that was being chipped off to create deadwood shari.  (Specimen at the right edge of the October 1996 photo above in the reddish-brown pot with tan inset.)
       On the one hand, an early saying I learned at the club was that "many teachers consider Phoenix to be the most challenging place on earth to grow bonsai because of the long, hot, dry summers."  This might explain, in part, why 40% of club members have only been in the club for a single year, and 23% more for but two or three years: the horticultural challenge of the area causes a high burn-out rate (Designing Dwarfs in the Desert, pg. 77).  On the other hand, my subsequent attempts at bonsai in other climates were not very much more successful, so I cannot blame only the location.  My horticultural skills and success continued to be much less than my research talents and early sparks of fame -- something which has somewhat been frustrating for me.  My hands-on creativity with bonsai has continually been meagre compared to the intellectual learnings and original insights I can share on the topic.

       I initially joined the Internet Bonsai Club in April 1995, only a few weeks after I first started exploring this new thing called the Internet.  Regularly viewing and sometimes participating in the IBC occurred thru August 1996, then spottily for a while, very briefly stopping in the spring of 1998 before rejoining in May 1999.  A very decent bunch of about 500 people (now around 5500+) from all over the globe, they do hold surprisingly strong opinions when it comes to subjects as wide-ranging as digging wild trees to preserving original bonsai styles in collection trees to handling pests and feeding formulae to the ethics of collecting yamadori wild stock.  And a whole lot more.  During the first year or so I shared a little history and picked up new info and confirmation of some things.  I still have a variety of original print-outs from those days of some of what I considered interesting or key threads and individual posts.

       An initial hand-written draft of "Club Tree Experience Survey" was composed on September 18, 1995.  The typed article was faxed to Jean C. Smith, the managing Editor of BCI Bonsai Magazine, on October 24.  It was published in the January/February 1996 issue, coincidentally as the last article in the last issue edited by Jean.  This came about when I realized I'd never seen mention of such a project in any of the books or magazines.  I figured that others might do similar surveys for their locales.  Re-reading this article, I very clearly see the basic framework for Designing Dwarfs in the Desert, Up Through the First 35 Years of the Phoenix Bonsai Society (November 1997).  That book's basic decade-chapter format can be traced back to the format I used for an in-house history compiled for a company I worked at between 1984 and 1992.  (I've used that format in subsequent histories.)

       Queries to a dozen and a half Japanese/Asian subject publishers in the mid-1990s resulted in the awareness that this project -- some 600 single-spaced pages on all aspects of the history from neolithic China up through the near future -- was simply too detailed for most in-print markets.  Several rejection letters suggested that if I cut it down to around 200 pages they might consider it.  (This was also the time of a recession in Japan.)  "I'll get back to you" was my unspoken reply.

RJB examining an information display at a Phoenix Bonsai Society Matsuri show in February, c.mid-1990s.
The images and captions on the green cardboard pages are from my earlier history notes.
The club logo tree is not the John Naka-drawn one we have.  (See Designing Dwarfs below.)
(I believe I was assisted in setting up this particular display.  None of these trees were mine.)

       I was chosen to be the on-air narrator of the "Bonsai" segment of the "Pacific Rim" episode of the ABC-affiliated TV-15 Phoenix kid's program "What's Up?"  This was filmed during a small display the club had at the Buddhist Church to which a few members belonged.  Air date was May 18, 1996.  (I have a videotaped copy which I plan to digitize one of these days and add elsewhere to this website...)

       The American Bonsai Society Bonsai Journal editor Jill Hurd reached out to me to help her proofread articles for the Winter 1996 and Spring 1997 issues.

       In 1996, a series of talks with Wendy Zaritsky, a self-published author and editor living in Phoenix at the time, led me to see the possibility of self-publishing the "Big History."  It was she who suggested that I come up with a catchier name than my ultra-pragmatic working title: An Introduction to the History of Bonsai and Penjing.  So, I went through my typed notes and came upon the phrase "Magical Miniature Landscapes" (which dates at least from 1992).  That became the new title -- and was first used in print for 1997's Designing Dwarfs in the Desert (page 2 top, page 71 bottom, page 79 top as the title of what was planned to be my forthcoming book, and with an accidentally flipped version of the phraseology in the middle of the back cover).  (BTW, our club history's very first working title was Designed Dwarfs in the Desert.  Soon I realized that it made more sense to do this as an ongoing story.)  This club history focused my research for the next two years.  (I had been editing the club yearbooks since 1993, and had restarted the quarterly newsletter in the Fall of 1995.)  In March 1997 I finally attended my first non-Phoenix show: the California Bonsai Society's 40th anniversary presentation plus the opening of the GSBF South collection at the Huntington Museum.  During these four days, by way of a chartered bus with a dozen other club members, I experienced my first true all-bonsai nurseries.  (These chartered bus trips by the club had almost occurred every year since the mid-60s.  And they continue to this day.  So what if I was the president of the club?  My enthusiasm spilled forth like the proverbial kid in the candy shop!)  I finally met longtime Phoenix club honorary sensei John Naka, along with a few other national and international teachers such as E. Felton Jones and Pius Notter (from Switzerland).  Our history was published right before Thanksgiving of 1997.  Founding member Edward "Bud" Jacobson had recommended to me the use of a classic Chinese pottery celadon green color on the cover.

       "Bonsai Bonanza, Artisan uses care to tame nature's trees into magical creations" was an article by Jeri Livesay, plus info for two sidebars, in the Mesa Tribune February 28, 1998, pp. 1, 4.  I was interviewed in addition to the aforementioned artist, Max Miller.  (Within a couple of years Jeri briefly joined the Phoenix club, and when she, Max and I were members there, I got their autographs on my archived copy of the article.)

       In July 1998 I was able to visit the National Bonsai Museum at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. for the first time.  (It was part of a very taxing whirlwind one-week tour of the capitol by my second wife and I.)  At the Museum I then met curator Warren Hill.

With Curator Warren Hill at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum,
July 1998, Washington, D.C.
With John Naka's Goshin at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum,
July 1998, Washington, D.C.

       I also had/have the knack on more than a few occasions of opening a non-bonsai, non-Asian history book -- fact or fiction -- and randomly finding the only and unexpected use of the word "bonsai" in the entire volume.



       Getting e-mail access to the Internet in April 1999 also gave me 5MB of space for a personal website.  I didn't have that much to talk about for myself, but, hey, I did know of this one gardening club, and maybe I could also squeeze in a few things from my "big history" project...  And so it began.  (I tweaked the template background color a couple of times to lighten it up.)  The amount of space available over time rose to 10MB, then 20MB, and now has jumped to an almost unimaginable 1GB+.  From the very start I searched for additional info on ideal website construction and incorporated the standard Top 10 Tips -- the main reasonthere were no appreciable graphics on our home page until the summer of 2010.  (Oh, other than the "dancing pyramid" .gif     {click} which was an option in the Netscape template and which I, of course, had to use.  When the front page was revised, the pyramids went to the Pyramid Dancer page, naturally.)  Also, from the beginning was the intent to assemble a website with all the credible and documented info and links that I would have liked to have found had it been available when I first started my research on the history of bonsai and related arts.

       Versions of Netscape Composer had been used for the now first third of the html incarnation of the history (1999 to mid-January 2006).  Arachnophilia 5.2 was then adopted when I had a computer switch, to be replaced by CoffeeCup in June 2012 with another computer switch -- Arachnophilia just wouldn't work on the new machine for some reason, although I did try.

       At the beginning of May 1999 I attended the ABS Symposium down the road in Tucson.  This is where I started discussing our new website and, with a few of the ABS folks, what turned out to be the first but unpublished version of The Bonsai Coloring Book.

       A sifting of info from Designing Dwarfs for a planned eventual John Naka obituary -- something many newspapers and magazines have pre-written -- was thankfully and quickly reworked by early May 1999 as an ongoing biography (early archive copy linked here).  What was meant to be a series of other master bios resulted in the life stories of Yoshimura (by August 1999, early archive copy linked here), Katō (by October, early archive copy linked here), and Murata (by December, early archive copy linked here).  A few other masters' stories were early drafted but never followed through with.

       A visitor counter was added by late May.  My ABS articles were reproduced on the site upon receipt of permission from then ABS editor Jill Hurd.

       By September 1999 we had English Language Bonsai Bibliographies, Pre-1945, Post-1945, and my thesis of the history as The Big Picture (early archive copies linked here).  October saw the first listings of the Books and Magazines (early archive copies linked here).  During the next couple of months the entries for the books were color-coded by a (somewhat arbitrary) category system.  In response to a Chris Cochrane e-mail about the number of books I had listed, I overestimated severely -- I think I unconsciously added the number of clubs I had once tallied.  When I did an actual count soon after and realized my mistake, I began the analysis which since about November 2002 has been on that page.  I keep the complete detailed breakdown on a private Excel spreadsheet.  As new additions to the list require a complete retotaling which is then transferred to the web page and double-checked by hand-held calculator, I wait until I have several titles before doing an update.

       In January 2000 we saw lectures before the Phoenix Club by both Cindy Read and pre-apprentice Michael Hagedorn.  Michael's was particularly memorable: all about the making of pots, starting with a great description of what clay is at the microscopic level.  One year later, Mary and Peter Bloomer of Flagstaff gave us an excellent slide presentation on suiseki, viewing stones.

       A Site Map (early archive copy linked here) was in place by this time and pages were duly annotated/documented with either "NEW xx/xx/xxxx" or "ADDED TO xx/xx/xxxx."  (Over the next few years I would fill in the missing dates for existing pages.)  By March 2000 came the first version of what may possibly have been seen as a very audacious project, the Bonsai Book of Days (early archive copy linked here).   In late November came Origins of Some of the Terms (early archive copy linked here).  (About a year later I came upon a site elsewhere on the Internet that had an older but less ambitious listing of Chinese and English words.)  By January 2001 came Japanese Portrayals in Paintings and Woodblock Prints -- apparently the first time anywhere side-by-side representations were shown (early archive copy linked here).  Chinese Portrayals would come in March (early archive copy linked here), as well as a Site Search engine.  November 2001 saw the first listing of online club newsletters (early archive copy linked here).  Also the listing of Chinese Schools and Styles (early archive copy linked here) -- which Scottish teacher Craig Coussins quickly stumbled upon and which text was slightly modified for use in his book The Bonsai School a little more than a year later.  I still remember the awe I felt when I saw my material in Craig's book.  He had included pictures of representative trees of the various Chinese styles which I had there verbally.  It was both a familiar and yet a surprisingly new article that I saw. . And the new year then saw the centennial publication of the first European-language work entirely about bonsai.

Part of RJB Bonsai Collection June 2001
Craig Coussins' book, in which I have 14 pages of history

       March 2002 saw the splitting of John Naka's bio into two (more easily readable) parts -- it was later split further -- plus the first of Some of What We Don't Know About the History of Magical Miniature Landscapes (early archive copies linked here).  (A number of "Don't Knows" actually were scribbled down initially while I was in line at the bank prior to my late March household move from the Phoenix area up to Kingman with my third wife.  You just never know when and where insights will pour out...  Several times since then I would have to get out of bed at night before falling asleep in order to jot down a headful of thoughts about what we Don't Know, so that I could then forget about them and go to sleep.  While reading other subjects, I often have been able to take away non-horticultural concepts and turn them into questions eligible for "Don't Know."  The "pre-sleep download" has taken place for several sections, including the Assumptions Used on this Website portion of the MML start page.)  Momentary paradigm-shift: has a small part of this been "channeling" of anonymous bonsai teachers who are on the "other side of the veil"?!?)

       By this time I also had started compiling a Site Kudos page (early archive copy linked here) to document others' references to the material on our website.  Over the years as the page has grown, I've referred to it as a reminder that the scribblings from this obscure interest of mine are seen and made use of by a wide variety of persons and, thus, this several-decade-project does have objective worth.

       In May 2002, I was fortunate enough to attend the International Scholarly Symposium on Bonsai and Viewing Stones at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.  (The initial date was to be October 2001, but the events of 9-11 resulted in the Symposium being postponed seven months).  There I was able to interview Jerry Stowell (whom I had corresponded with by postage mail twice in 2000), Ted Tsukiyama, and Doris Froning.  While having lunch with such persons as Marty Klein, John Romano, Chris Cochrane, and Marco Favero (of Italy) -- some of the people I knew from the Internet Bonsai Club -- I was able to meet John Naka, again, and Saburō Katō for the first time.  And I had a chance to briefly act as a doyen at the Bonsai and Penjing Museum when I spontaneously took twenty minutes to explain a few of the fine points of bonsai to three or four people who were wandering by Goshin at the moment I was passing by that famous forest of John Naka's and who were engaging in a range of speculation on their own about that work.  (This was my second visit to Goshin, see photo above for first visit.)

       I was interviewed for a local interest article: "Meet Your Neighbors: Baran cultivates interest in bonsai plants" by Terry Organ, Kingman Daily Miner, Kingman, AZ, February 17, 2003, pg. 3.

Part of RJB Bonsai Collection March 2003
In the sunlit backyard was an initial attempt at digging a koi pond,
but the climate and a deteriorating marriage prevented its completion.

       During the Mohave County Home and Garden Shows in Kingman during mid-March 2003 and 2004 and a few meetings the following summers, I talked about and demonstrated on bonsai basics, including history.  The demonstrations were something I came up with that I had never heard of previously: at least half a dozen people each time were actually doing hands-on potting for themselves of little Ficus benjamina while I was giving the talk.  The modest cost of the tree and pot was of no concern to those so interested.  A few people who were interested enough to stick with it continue the art/hobby in northwestern Arizona, but there apparently wasn't enough steam to get a club continuing there.

Conducting a hands-on lecture/workshop at the March
2004 Home & Garden Expo in Kingman, Arizona.

       My earlier collecting of postage stamps had several from China, including a few with bonsai/penjing.  Some of the postage stamps' image scans used on this website (from October 1999 on) were also e-mailed to me because of the others seen on the site (early archive copy linked here).  A listing of specifically fraudulent stamps was started in May 2005 (early archive copy linked here).  (I am aware of the arguments about not depicting such issues.  However, the graphics I have for these are definitely not mint-quality for further illegal replication, and the authority source text is not detailed enough for complete identification.  This is an educational website.)

       By the end of 2003 we had the first Magazine Covers, and the first historical Anomalies (early archive copies linked here).

       In late October 2004 I started searching the Library of Congress online links to the Memory of America project for optically scanned issues of periodicals from the 19th century.  Several early article references to dwarf trees were discovered there and typed/proofed on to this site.

       A number of times a year or so I'll spend a few hours looking on the Internet for useful additional background for any of the material already here on this site.  That's basically where updates come from.  BTW, I have mixed feelings when I enter a search phrase/person's name and our site comes up as the only result.  Yes, I am glad that this website is so authoritative on the subject; but, no, when I am searching I want some new information!

       Growing up I did read a few history and archaeology texts -- most memorable was C.W. Ceram's Gods, Graves and Scholars.  Archaeology was considered one of my career paths in grade school.  (Life happened and I chose marine biology in high school, which became Radio-TV-Film due to college choice based on family budget during the recession, which was then interrupted by the real world after three years.)  My childhood home, of course, received National Geographic and Life magazines, as well as Look, Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science.  I later became a fan of Smithsonian magazine and Science News.  Early on I had become the family historian, both as genealogist and keeper of some old headline newspapers and magazines.
       My note-taking and article-clipping days go back to grade school, memorably including David Dietz's syndicated newspaper science column.  Numerous newspaper and magazine articles became dust in an un-cooled closed-down office in Phoenix during a summer c.1976.  I started clipping again with a passion and a decade later I had a private classification system for a couple hundred folders' worth of material.
       My interest in Japan dates back to grade school when my uncle -- the same one as mentioned above -- sent back a few [non-bonsai] items from Japan during his short military posting there.  (The Reader's Digest Murata article followed a couple years later.)  My interest in things Chinese probably dates from a decade further on.  Over the years various projects I've worked on have made me aware of some of the promise and perils of research and translation, including some extensive genealogical historical studies.  In the past nineteen years or so I've read occasional in-print or electronic articles regarding writing and researching history to specifically help me stay focused.  I had no formal history training after the standard classes in college.  Also, I devour works on legitimate historical revision, history trivia, debunking of pseudohistory, and archaeological discoveries around the world -- officially recognized or not.  There has also been exposure over time to various broadcast or recorded programs from the Public Broadcasting System, the History Channel, A&E, the Discovery Channel, and so forth.  Plus, it is not so much academic knowledge as just understanding what it is that I have been doing for thirty-two years in compiling this history.  The hundreds of articles and hundreds of books I've looked at do have their own patterns and flows, sometimes immediately evident, sometimes made aware of during meditation upon a different book.  I take a variety of notes and make some photocopies in addition to my high memory-retrieval rate.

       My horticultural interest started also during grade school when I helped my dad with his vegetable garden at our house in the Cleveland suburb of Seven Hills.  (My mom's father also had a vegetable garden, but he passed away when I was six years old so my memories of him were brief.)  Dad's garden of a few hundred square feet (as best as I can remember) extended slightly off the property into an undeveloped section of woods, and when I discovered bonsai at the end of the decade, my first field-collected specimens were a couple of about foot-tall red maple saplings from those woods.  A young beech growing alongside a much larger and mature "Gray root" specimen never got to be collected by me -- probably for the better.
       The woods were a few hundred acres, I guess, just south of Rockside Rd., with oak and maple trees, in particular.  One section was actually an overgrown portion of pioneer property with the remnants of a split-rail fence.  Large dark weather-varnished sandstone slabs dotted the ground in a few places, amid the ferns, vines, goldenrod, Queen's Anne lace, a few wild strawberries and dwarf roses, and many other types of plants I remember.  Robins, cardinals, blue jays, wrens, and crows flew above, along with bumblebees, honey bees, lightning bugs, swallowtail butterflies, and mosquitos; salamanders, frogs, garter snakes, chipmonks and squirrels scampered below, along with isopods, earthworms, big black crickets, and daddy longlegs.  A continuously running storm sewer emptied out into stones, sand and old concrete segments to be filtered and end up a quarter mile away in a small pond with cattails, raspberries, frogs eggs, and a small field of clay.  Many hours and week-ends were spent in the woods during those "innocent" days of the suburban 1960s, either by myself or accompanied by the family dog.  (I understand that some of the woods were torn down when the previously incomplete street -- cleared earlier but unpaved and thus known by us as "the Path" -- to the north of our old house was eventually developed.  Of course, it has been some forty-seven years since we moved from the Cleveland area.)

       My gardening with dad continued with our family's move to Phoenix, and years later I had my son Andrew and niece Patricia (b. 1984) help me with some spring planting in dad's garden.  Andrew grew up with my mostly apartment balcony bonsai collections, and he helped a few times here after we were settled in Colorado with my own vegetable garden (now up to over 1,500 square feet/140 sq meters -- larger than the floorplan of our small house).  In 2016 my son grew some veggies on his own apartment balcony, and he did a slightly larger -- but less successful -- spread last year.

       The written sources I do check out are basically approached two ways: either a book or article is known or suspected to have some of this history in it or else the material is believed at least to have useful general background info.  Either of these two sources might contain illustrations of bonsai portrayals.  I have looked at scores of art and landscape books while searching for previously unseen pictures -- again, primarily about Chinese or Japanese collections or subjects.  Titles or persons mentioned in any of the above are then looked up on the Internet for additional details.  If additional details are to be found or seem to be found in new books or articles, these are then researched similarly.  And the hunt can begin again.  Many times I had one or two more titles to be ordered through the InterLibrary Loan system...)  Plus, the Internet can be a wonderful source of material on innumerable subjects -- judiciously considered, especially in light of my past researches and readings.

       Regarding A Suggested Timeline for the Development of Magical Miniature Landscapes (early archive copy linked here),
       "Last November [2004] I started building this particular web page based on key notes from my unpublished manuscript/researches.  I decided I needed to then have the footnotes available in order to continue the unwritten theme I've used in creating this website: a well-documented and detailed exploration.  (In the 60s and 70s issues of the bonsai magazines, there were so many short articles/space fillers rehashing just a few points of the history.  Shortly after I started my researches I learned that I had come upon info not previously published in these articles or books, so I continued...)  I initially realized that many of the chronology notes were from sections whose citations had been grouped by chapter, essentially blending the origin of the specific points.  So, I started to comb through all my old notes, earlier drafts and assorted photocopies of source material gathered since early 1986.  Only the other day I decided that the motivation to complete this was by putting what I had right now on the web.  So I did a 'final push' yesterday and published what I had.
       "I know additional points will further flesh out this chronology which is, I suppose to be technical, my working hypothesis on how magical miniature landscapes developed out of the various suggested cultural sources to be what it is today."
       from RJB's e-mail to Marty Haber, May 23, 2005, after Marty complimented the page.  The three column format mirrored a tri-fold heavy cardboard poster (each section 28"W x 44"H or 71.1cm W x 111.8cm H), similarly headed, which I used for my second talk before the Phoenix club.  (That poster is sitting less than 2 feet/61 cm away from me as I type this...)

       [The second significant and major corporate history I worked on was for a county-owned regional medical center where I worked from June 2002 through June 2005.  I'm sure I used some of the skills developed for this bonsai website in the detailed researching of that Kingman tale.]

       In mid-August 2005 I finished the first version of the ongoing background story to this research, On the Creative Process of Compiling This History (this present page you are now reading, which I first started to work on in late May 2003 -- early archive copy linked here).  This page and the Timeline are examples of how this website is like my virtual bonsai: a little bit of work over a long period of time adds up.  And I followed it with a new page: many books, articles and sites mention the early international expositions (Paris and London, usually) that had bonsai on display, but my studies show it wasn't that short and simple -- or accurately repeated.  This was another "A-ha!  Why don't I set the record straight?" moment.  And so it was created, hyperlinked and published: Expositions Known to Have Had Bonsai Present (early archive copy linked here).

       In late August we switched to double alpha designations for the various languages in the books listing.  And the following month I joined the local Pikes Peak Bonsai Society, having moved with my fourth/final/best wife and family to the Colorado Springs area at the very end of June.  (Way back when, life was very naïvely "supposed" to be simple: graduate college, meet a nice woman, settle down, work just a few jobs during my life, retire in relative comfort.  Life does/did not turn out anything like that.  And I am thinking it is/was so much better the way it actually happens/happened...  Just like in parallel universes where I am variously an award-winning paleontologist or marine biologist or special effects make-up artist or science fiction author...)

       What is hoped to be the [slow] start of a database log of Dreams we've had involving our past, present and future bonsai was published.  Take a look and let me know if you would like to contribute something.

       The Kokufu-ten page was not originally meant to be the definitive source of info for that prestigious bonsai exhibition (early archive copy linked here).  In late September 2005 I started to put together a quickie table-chart to list in which year which number show took place.  I soon discovered that, as I went backwards from the 80th show scheduled in 2006, the numbering was confounded in the 1950s and earlier.  An e-mail to Dr. Tom Elias of the National Arboretum received a partial answer.  I started to add in the bits and pieces of Kokufu history of which I knew.  A copy of the numbering list sent to Dr. Tom I then sent to William N. Valavanis in late October.  Much to my pleasant surprise, this started a veritable flood of information from Bill in his e-mails back-and-forth to me, along with album cover images.  Sometime in November the first official version of this page was published on the web site.  Bill was able to find a few more dated shows and I did also from my ongoing researches.  He then asked that I re-send him on February 7, 2006 a list of questions about the show which he would have with him in Tokyo for which he would then get the answers.  This was dutifully accomplished, and I am very grateful that he was able to work into his busy schedule (leading a tour of some 43 persons) the sending of some answers to me.  The Kokufu-ten page was being updated during the show in near real-time.  Upon his return Bill e-mailed me some photos he had taken and several of these I added to the pages.  And so these pages now provide much more info about this grand show than had been previously gathered in any other medium or language.  That is the essence of what I've been working to achieve here.

       (It was during this time that The Bonsai Coloring Book came to fruition.  A multi-page index to the Book of Days also dates from the end of 2005.  This device helped to remind me of what entries I had already compiled and to discover a few shared patterns.)

       My writing and research on this current website has redirected most of my interest in writing articles on this subject for outside sources.  I never was a quickie, filler or fluff article writer: I admit that my articles are usually concentrated and require more than one reading to digest.  With web publishing, typo corrections and updates can be made literally at any time of day and as often as I want.  A topic can be expanded upon and/or hyperlinked without concern of page size or printing schedules, and thus this version of the "Big History" is much more fluid and comprehensive than even a looseleaf print version could have been twenty years ago if the history had been chosen for publication then. 

       It is conceivable that at some point I could gather all the immutable pages together, such as the historical articles, and get them published in hard copy form for ready-reference by anyone so interested.  I agree that for much of that type of material a book-in-hand format with proper indexing would be easier and quicker to check, compared with going online.  There have been a few times that I've briefly discussed an in-print version -- specifically with Jim Lewis and Chris Cochrane, among others.  A local college press was suggested as perhaps the best option.  We will see...

       If I come upon news of a recent event I can include it, along with a whole range of relevant details.  One of many times that I demonstrated this to myself, for example, was with the May 11, 2001 Boldly Grow entry for "Wall$treet Week with Louis Rukeyser" (early archive copy linked here).  Within a half hour of my seeing this with bonsai set décor, this was listed on the website and worldwide on the Internet.  And, a few times, minor corrections received by e-mail were applied within an hour of my checking my mail.  This site, in its own very small and modest way, is exploring the modern compiling of [ancient] history.

       In an e-mail Bill Valavanis sent me on June 19, 2006, he included the lines: "Please keep up your good work.  Now that [Hideo] Marushima is gone [died on April 14], you are the only [major] bonsai historian..."  A humbling moment for me.

       One project I was working on (beginning July 2006) was something for the American Bonsai Society's new booklet series.  The version of the history of dwarfed potted trees I was doing for them takes a little different approach to the subject than what is mostly found on this present website.  The print date was supposed to have been February 2007, but when I submitted the material at the end of December I coincidentally received an e-mail stating that ABS had put future booklets on hold due to financial constraints.  The process of assembling the material in a different fashion, anyway, caused me to see new connections and to look more closely at less obvious data in the older articles.  (I happened to meet with the ABS president at the June 2012 Denver convention and related the history of my booklet.  He asked me to send him my manuscript for it.  Making just a few updates, I did, and he responded that the format was different but a little jarring.  I started to put the material into standard chronological order, but then realized that with the various projects I had going and several renderings of the history of bonsai and related arts that I had put on-line, my heart was not into doing another rendering right now.  So I responded cordially and he left the door open for me if and when I changed my mind later.)

       Another project is a massive addition to Japanese Portrayals, courtesy of researcher Horst Graebner.  Over 4 dozen images have been added, all from the hand of the woodblock artist Kunisada.  Several trees snow-covered in winter; several new varieties not previously seen in prints.  An important broadening of our idea of dwarfed potted trees from c.1820-1868.  This is now "completed."

       Then in November 2006 I finally started to venture into Google Books, a vast resource of digitalized public domain works.  Several additional early mentions of either Chinese or Japanese dwarf potted trees have been found, and these are being added to this site over time.  Very basically, after I locate a reference, I go to the Plain Text version and cut and paste what I need to a special long document I keep.  Illustrations are saved to the appropriate file on my computer and I use either the programs Picasa or Paint to do slight touch-up if necessary.  (In the interest of full-disclosure, there is only one illustration -- now on phoenixbonsai.com -- which I altered.  A picture from one of the Matsuri's was usable -- except for a vertical line lining up, uh, inappropriately with one of the people.  I painted the line out and no one apparently knows the better.  I have "corrected" the color and saturation of many pictures, and I have done a little cropping of some, but I have never altered any other graphic.  I do not even know how to use Photoshop or any similar software.  "And that is all I'm going to say about that.")  Anyway, the URL is then saved.  When I am ready to add the page to the web-site, I find a suitable existing page for use as a model, save it to a different title, and proceed to make general changes.  Copying the text to the web page, I split long page lines and replace certain punctuation that won't copy correctly.  (This page is a valuable asset for correct characters.)  Line break code is added as well as paragraph breaks and indents.  Next, I add in the illustrations with any captions.  At this point I will start to proof the web page against the original text.  Hyperlinks, notes with cross-references to existing articles, and biographies get added.  Add to pre-1945 Bibliography, and/or Travellers pages and I am ready to publish it all.  Small articles could be done in one long sitting, while larger articles may take several different days.

       Google Books also led me to check Fa-ti Fan's  2004 British Naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire, and Cultural Encounter.  A spin-off from studying this book via InterLibrary Loan is a page here listing dwarf trees actually seen in England.  A similar page for France was also compiled.  And sometime I may do the same for other countries.  My cornucopia of early references to dwarf potted trees in China or Japan continues to pour out with additional insight into what really was announced about these.  I've had to become more critical of what I include, although I may make a catch-all page for very brief references which are otherwise not stand-alone worthy.

       An Internet Bonsai Club mention in February 2007 of an upcoming celebration of 100 years of bonsai in Germany led me to the site about that.  With some Babel Fish machine translation help, I focused my search on Georg Meister who has now predated Kaempfer in briefly writing about Japanese dwarf potted trees to a European audience (1692--1727).  That page then ended up being referenced in IBC when the event took place in June.  And a commemorative book in German has now raised the bar for further research.  (Details on a second person, J.H. Seidel from 1803, are now being tracked down along with his specific mention of Chinese dwarf potted trees.)  Research in Google Books would lead me in late 2008 to Peter Mundy's earlier 1637 reference in English (although the actual historical journal entry was not [widely?] published until 1919.)

       A series of e-mails in May 2007 led me to being gifted by former BCI president Alan Walker a whole collection of digital photos of bonsai people which he had taken or otherwise come into possession of during the past several years.  These he is graciously allowing me to add throughout this site to greatly enhance the tales herein, especially in the Book of Days project.

       In May and June I added the break-downs of several of the kanji used in the Origins of Some of the Terms.

       While doing an educational poster in late January 2008 based on text I had originally written as the pp. 1 & 2 introduction in Designing Dwarfs in the Desert, I thought about the line "Our interest in this is now shared by others acting either alone or associated with some eight hundred clubs in over seventy countries and territories."  How many locations was bonsai in?  I made a quick list and temporarily left it at about eighty.  Two months later, thinking about this further, I started doing research in my collection of specialty-magazine back issues (some of ABS Journal, BCI Bonsai Magazine, International Bonsai, Bonsai Today, and a few others with just an issue or two).

BCI Magazine Binders, 1978-1981 shown here.
RJB's from Phoenix Bonsai Society (due to Valley Garden Center on-site space limitations) are actually 1968-1989.

       A preliminary new web page began to be fleshed out.  In May while writing the bottom of the page apology for certain arbitrary definitions, I realized that I needed to be more detailed with the individual states and provinces listed for at least some of the countries.  I returned to the back issues and additional pages were made.  By early September the first draft of this section was ready for publication and announced on a few key web sites (early archive copy linked here).  It was soon after this time that links to that section and the Book of Days were added to our home page (early archive copy linked here).  Additional forums for bonsai enthusiasts around the world have also been added here.

       In March 2008, a former work-colleague of mine interested me in Facebook.  Over these years I've accumulated quite a number of "friends" from around the world, who nowadays occasionally get to see images of what I consider to be noticeable and extraordinary examples of bonsai (and members of the related arts) as shared from the numerous posts I see.  Facebook is also a constant source of various research data.

Part of RJB Bonsai Collection Spring 2008
The most prominent potted trees in the left half of this photo are 3 yamadori Ponderosa pines
which I had been very recently gifted by my friend Bill Fox.

       At the February 2009 meeting, the Pikes Peak Bonsai Society had a class which was the hands-on making of custom pots with clay that the club had purchased.  The pieces were slow-drying, would be fired in a few weeks, and be ready for taking home in April.  This workshop would be repeated the next two years.  Making decent-sized and attractive pots definitely requires a bit of practice, we learned.

       At the end of June 2009 I joined the Ausbonsai Forum, a group of [now] about 8,500 members.  The area of most interest to me is "Bonsai in the Media & History of Australian Bonsai."  There I've shared info with my colleague Lindsay Farr and a number of his associates.

       During one weekend in July 2009 I put together the initial version of Earliest Western Reports of Various Kinds of Trees by reviewing the pre-1800 Books listings and all the historical articles (early archive copy linked here).  Additional articles are now checked for possible updates to the Western Reports.

With son, Kenny Asher, in September 23, 2009 article "The Ancient Art of Bonsai Grows in Fountain"
by Janet Huntington, Fountain Valley News and El Paso County Advertiser and News, Fountain, CO, pp. 1, 66.
Tree is a collected Ponderosa pine owned by my friend Cliff Broyles.

       The above article was done to get interest in our Pikes Peak Bonsai Society fall show being held the following weekend.  At the show, I was one of the people interviewed for "Bending the Bonsai Rules" by Maria St. Louis-Sanchez, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, CO, September 28, 2009, pp. A3, A5.  One of our members, Steve Alford, had added a model car tire on a string to one of his bonsai -- and had more of these for sale.  This, of course, represented a tire swing on a full-sized tree.  I added my affirmation to this novel magical miniature landscape addendum.

       In mid-November 2009 I came upon an extremely brief Wikipedia article for Masahiko Kimura.  Realizing that I had a Book of Days listing for him on the 31st, I discovered that my info was barely more fleshed out.  After hunting down a number of additional references, I simultaneously published a longer bio on this outstanding master in both Wikipedia and Book of Days.  I've also added substantial history (since November 20, 2005) to these bonsai-referenced Wikipedia articles, among others: "Bonsai" (History, now the spun-off article "History of Bonsai"); "Anson Burlingame" (External link); "Fort Lupton, Colorado" (Notable people); "Robert Fortune" (External link); "Gong Zizhen"; "Hòn Non Bô"; "Marco Invernizzi"; "List of bonsai on stamps"; "List of species used in bonsai" (External link); "John Naka"; "National Bonsai Foundation"; "Noh" (External link); "Penjing" (History); "Wu Yee-sun" (References); and "Alejandro Zambra".  (Over the years, some of this material has also been used in non-English versions of the articles...)  And created two articles, bios on Yuji Yoshimura and Bill Valavanis.  Plus substantial additions to our Book of Days project.

       On November 12 I gave a slightly more than one hour talk as part of a three-hour class on video shitakusa or accent plants.  The art instructor at Colorado College here had seen a display the previous year at the New York Botanical Garden which featured traditional accent plants.  After the Pikes Peak Bonsai Society's fall show this past September, the topic came up and he was eventually referred to me.  I was intrigued by the theoretical concept of video accent plants but had no idea how this would be pulled off.  What -- have a little 5" TV screen off to one side?  The results were intriguing: please see the details here as I described them to the Internet Bonsai Club forum, Part I and Part II, which was the talk and display for a second class the following February.  (This is what I consider the best part of my historical research: seeing others' interpretations of the usual material and meanings.)

       Setting up the various obituaries causes me to feel another thread of the big tapestry that most others don't/can't experience -- a further sense of connection with this art/hobby and playing the self-chosen role of both bearer of sad tidings and glad memorializer.  Of course, I read each obit that I publish.  But basically I first have to craft each from one to a dozen different sources -- some postings known to other enthusiasts and some not -- eliminating duplicated info, following-up by searching for additional details along certain uncovered lines especially with conflicting data, finding what these individuals did as bonsai enthusiasts and, hopefully, a few other aspects of their lives and families, and also, less commonly, getting more details from family members through e-mails I initiate or which come to me by the family's own seach inquiries.  I am pleased that I did my job properly when I get positive feedback from friends or families of the departed -- or from living enthusiasts who are similarly listed in the Book of Days.

       March 2010 saw the introduction of Pots and Potters, a grand listing on that often-untold portion of this.  And I significantly added to the number of Conventions, Symposia and Exhibitions we have listed.  A curriculum vitae (CV) of sorts was first published.  Please look at it.

       At the Rocky Mountain Bonsai Society show in Denver, CO on June 19, 2010, I was able to have a conversation with guest artist Kathy Shaner.  I specifically asked her for updates about the Burlingame or Abraham Lincoln Oak that she and her teacher Yasuo Mitsuya had earlier worked on, which I had recently been researching.

       In late July 2010 the Phoenix club added an assistant to the webmaster in the person of Eric Zimmet.  His extensive experience in computers and web design allowed us to modernize some elements of the web site, especially the home page and Phoenix club section.  The on-line home page was made to reflect ongoing changes to the proposed one so that the roll-out of the revision would not be quite so jarring to the public.  A more organized presentation of links was put together on the home page and on the Magical Miniature Landscapes page.  I was able to split some more of the very long pages, which I had already started to do earlier that year.

Part of RJB Bonsai Collection October 2010

       Since at least December 2010 I've also been a member of the Bonsai Nut forum, [now] with over 10,000 members.

       The year 2010 ended with the introduction of the How Many Enthusiasts Are There page (early archive copy linked here).  Through its posting on the Internet Bonsai Club forum, I was then contacted by Oscar Jonker of Belgium of bonsaiempire.com.  From this series of communications (e-mail, IBC, Facebook) I got some updates to the Enthusiasts page and also the opportunity to create a detailed history for the English portion of Oscar's site.  That history is a custom five-page version of the 18-page talk I've distilled from the 60+ page Timeline.  The following April I let Oscar publish The Synergy of Magical Miniature Landscapes.  It had originally been presented by me as a lecture before the Pikes Peak Bonsai Society in May 2009.  The article version was slightly expanded and with more quotations.

       The first version of the Lineage of Some of Our Teachers was presented as a schematic in late January 2011.  Some additional info and questions by my extremely helpful colleague, William N. Valavanis, led me to also make a more detailed spreadsheet version which continues through the present.
       In mid-May I started to gather together what few notes I had regarding the Imperial Bonsai Collection, something which had enticed me for some time (early archive copy linked here).  As there was very little "out there," I figured this would be another little thing I could summarize.  Starting with Warren Hill's "Reflections on Japan" (NBF Bulletin, Winter 2000), I added a few other notes and some Wikipedia links.  At the end of May I published my initial work with notice of it to a few people, including Chris Cochrane.  Chris referred me to Yoshihiro Nakamizu in Japan, who he said had, at one point, an acquaintance who was curator of the Collection.  Mr. Nakamizu introduced me to his assistant, Ms. Harumi Fujino, instead, and Harumi was gracious enough to review my material and send me corrections and comments on it as she could find time to do so.  Meanwhile, Alan Walker was another person to whom I showed my draft and he volunteered to send me scans of the history pages from the 1976 book The Imperial Bonsai of Japan.  I mentioned that it was a resource I would like to see someday, he happened to have a copy, and he very graciously scanned the oversize pages and e-mailed them to me on June 8.  That weekend I worked in much of the material and then published a longer page.  A copy of this I sent to Harumi about the time I received her first review.  A series of e-mails with her and Mr. Nakamizu let me thank them for their extraordinary efforts and time -- and satisfied them as to my non-commercial, educational intents.  This was an open-ended project -- yes, larger than initially described -- but I was in no hurry.  Over the course of the next four weeks, Harumi sent me sections reviewed.  As we discovered, not all of my researches she could readily confirm, and some of her statistics differed from the ones I had found for historical events.  I combined our notes for what I felt would be the best portrayal of the story.  And about the time I received the scans from Alan, Chris sent me the Googlemap coordinates for the Ōmichi Bonsai Shitate-ba.  I zeroed in on the site and copied the image for the web page.  Re-reading the material, adding a few more hyperlinks and Harumi's comments, massaging the text to get it to flow better, the page slowly developed.  (It grew "thick and rich," as I described it at one point -- I never do "fluff.")  On July 12, I announced the now 2-section page to several bonsai forums and on Facebook.  Through the end of the year Harumi sent me additional comments and critiques until she finished the entire article.
       This is an example of my being amazed at how the initial article and early versions of it grow organically (Kokufuten is just another example, as well as Portulacaria, among many others I could list here).  When I added the cropped Google images on the top of the second page of the Imperial Collection article, I was seeing what I had written about grow in the past.  When I added the three bottom pictures on page two, I saw another dimension: not just a static past thing, but still going on.  [These words don't really yet express my feeling about this/these.  I'll revise and improve this description as time goes by.  As I have noted to a few people over the years, this website is the equivalent of my "masterpiece" bonsai, were I a better horticulturalist.]

       In March 2012 I began another project: a comprehensive list of all plants used in bonsai and the related arts (early archive copy linked here).  I started with the previously devised Taxonomic List for Bonsai in Phoenix (first compiled in July 2005), and then seriously expanded it.  (The Phoenix List itself originated from two surveys I did for the club by the early 1990s concerning which trees were used in Phoenix and how well they did as bonsai.  A third survey by the club was conducted in 2009.  The great-grandfather of the list was actually this first jotting I made from a brief chat with club member Sam Lew:)

       Now going back to the late 1960s, I had tried several times to create a grand taxonomic listing for all named lifeforms.  This was partly due to my owning several of the Golden Nature Guides.  In pre-word-processing days, I gathered many hand-written notes, eventually segueing to several Access databases with between 7,000 and 8,000 entries.  With the appearance of detailed lists by Phylum, Class, Order, Family, and so forth on the Internet, some of the steam was taken out of my many-year quest.  But the elusive dream remained.  So I specialized in a wide-ranging fashion.  In September 2012 I debuted my bonsai taxonomic listing on the Facebook Group of Lindsay Farr's World of Bonsai.  The listing has grown to over 1,600 species, and it was split up into the current format after the count surpassed 1,000.  Ideally, I would like to have here over 95% of all the plants used as the primary focus for bonsai, penjing, hòn non bô, etc. around the world.  Examples of the less common specimens as dwarf potted trees, in theory, could be linked to a picture, but where do you draw the line at a single truly representative style? -- or what exactly is "less common"?  Copyright issues would probably be the biggest challenge for this universal library of bonsai types -- something I am not yet ready to commit to.  Almost every month I need to add a species or two to the listing, mostly because of trees posted by my myriad Facebook "friends."

       June 2012 saw an ABS convention in Denver, perhaps an hour north of me.  Naturally, I went -- with my older son Kenny Asher (b. 1989), who accompanied me for a number of years to events of the Pikes Peak Bonsai Society.  At the convention I finally got to meet my collaborator William N. Valavanis, who introduced me to Ryan Neil.  I also met Dr. Tom Elias, Dan Robinson, Marc Noelanders, Lindsay and Glenis Bebb, Frank Mihalic, and Iris Cohen.  Harold Sasaki -- who I had previously met through the Pikes Peak Bonsai Society -- was there and we chatted some more about his family.  Someone who contacted me a few months before the convention was Thor Beowulf, an Australian who was working on his bonsai-based PhD thesis.  We made a point to get together in Denver, where Thor interviewed me.  Unfortunately, he wasn't able to finish his thesis before he passed away in early August 2015.  His wife and sons plan to eventually have his material in a memorial research library.

RJB and Bill Valavanis at the ABS/BCI Convention in Denver RJB and Dan Robinson at the ABS/BCI Convention in Denver
With Bill Valavanis (all photos by Kenny Asher) With Dan Robinson With Thor Beowulf

With Marc Noelanders With Ryan Neil With Glenis and Lindsay Bebb

       Oscar Jonker from bonsaiempire.com approached me via e-mail in December 2012 to collaborate with him on answering the question "How Big is Bonsai" in the world.  We discussed some of the parameters of the project, compiled data -- mostly from the phoenixbonsai.com site, and he devised the map.  The first edition was published April 4, 2013 and included some 104 countries and territories.  I compiled data for the United States, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and submitted that to Oscar.  He then compiled similar info for the European nations.  The second edition was published August 7.

       Some of the plants I've tried as bonsai so far in Colorado have been nursery-grown: Amur maple (Acer ginnala), Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum), Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), Ginseng Ficus (Ficus retusa), Ginkgo (Gingko biloba), Junipers (Juniperus communis), Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca albertiana), Mugo pine (Pinus muga var. pumillo), Austrian pine (Pinus nigra), Variegated Elephant food (Portulacaria afra variegata), Purple-leafed sand cherry (Prunus besseyi x cerasifera), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Yew (Taxus sp.), and Chinese elm (Ulmus parvilfolia); yamadori and gifted to me: Engelman spruces (Picea englemannii), Ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa), and Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii); yamadori and/or "volunteer" seedlings that I collected: Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum trisectum), Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), Junipers (Juniperus sp.), Aspens (Populus tremuloides), Canadian choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), Wild Gooseberry (Ribes inerme), Lilacs (Syringa sp.), and Siberian elms (Ulmus pumila); from seed: Red maples (Acer rubrum).  All of these were recorded on a single, long .doc page.

       In late February 2016, my thirty years of history research were finally moved to www.magiminiland.org.  This had actually been planned for some time.  (The term "Magiminiland" had been purposely put without fanfare onto the site since before mid-May 2011.)  During especially the first two months of the new site, I searched for and contacted webmasters whose sites had links to the history information with a phoenixbonsai.com address to tell them about the new site version.  Additionally, I happened upon a handful of sites that could potentially have new links to this material.  I also announced on Facebook, Internet Bonsai Forum, BonsaiNut, Ausbonsai, and LinkedIn about the changeover.  Bonsai Mary Miller was kind enough to mention it in her blog.  Surprisingly, the Wayback Machine, a tremendously useful archive, had two early archivings.  In a short time only the magiminiland versions were showing up on Google under bonsai history links -- besides a few random and very mysterious old www.users.qwest.net/~rjbphx/ versions.  (I have no idea why those are still considered active by Google.  Because I don't remember the administrator information to this website of mine that has not been actively used since late 2000, I can't get the folks at the current version of qwest => U.S. West => CenturyLink to tell Google to kill those pages.)
       Still, I see that many overseas visitors were going to phoenixbonsai for this info -- but because of an early link on the Magical Miniature Landscapes listing on the club's home page, several visitors have found their way quickly over.  Many of the links also were on archival type sites -- issues of magazines or newspaper articles, for instance, which could not be changed over.  So, I was/am, in effect, competing with my 17-year-old web-self for visitors who were looking for my information.  Plus, we haven't gotten very many e-mails from people asking about the broken links to these actually moved pages.
       My association with the Pikes Peak Bonsai Society faded on good terms: when I mentioned to their president that I was changing websites and I could still offer him space on the new one for the Pikes Peak club, he said that he preferred their Facebook page.  So, to maintain an archive of their newsletters and some other info, including the club history I had compiled, I put up a page for them.  As that club's meeting date was changed to a [for me] less convenient time and location, and I hadn't been able to attend for a while, we've parted on open-ended terms.  I still am on their mailing list and I regularly archive their current newsletters.
       Throughout the month of May 2016 I went through my pages to emphasize something which had always been hiding in plain sight there: multilingual links.  So national/language flags were soon popping up on Big Picture, Forums and Blogs, Magazines, among others, emphasizing additional useful features.  Early on when the pages were transferred from phoenixbonsai its site map was shortened.  In June a newer version of the club homepage was introduced and reference to most of the old history pages vanished.  A few key links have been retained.  I remain on good terms with those desert-dwelling Phoenix Bonsai folks and I am still the historian and a co-webmaster of that site -- therefore, on the executive board.
       A dedicated site for my material was primarily set up (with a different web host) for the sake of my family years down the road...  Earlier inquiries about dividing up the phoenixbonsai site in the event of my death or incapacitation were never really addressed outside the family and so the question about what would happen to my material was not adequately settled.  Attempts at a Last Will and Testament putting forth the division were clumsy, at best.  So, I feel that magiminiland.org is the best of all possible worlds -- ".org" being truer to its nature than ".com."  The color design harkens back to the "classic" [aka "old school," according to one forum commenter, which description I proudly carry] home page, and the slightly increasing number of links on the home page -- essentially, a site map -- portrays a better make-up of the entire web site.  (Because of the fact that this new site was less than a year old, certain robotic authorities labeled the site as "Dangerous" since it just might all be a ploy by nefarious individuals to get innocents to click on any number of malicious embedded links.  Time is slowly healing that designation...)

       Since 2012 a lot more of my horticultural attention has been put into my fenced vegetable garden at our modest ranch-style house just south of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Alas, even as I have been organically feeding the soil, productivity of the rotated crop families has been varied from year-to-year.  Again, my ability to explain the theory has surpassed my horticultural applications...  But despite less than optimal quantities and qualities of produce, I can share with my wonderful wife, her cooking and our family several garden-fresh and tasty vegetables at least during the summer and fall.  (And, yes, I've kept detailed notes.)  We've been able to dry mint, chives, and parsley for use into January.  My three attempts so far at producing home-made sauerkraut resulted in only a single edible (but slightly over-salted) batch, the first one I actually had attempted.  I may or may not try that again.  The allium family with chives, garlic, and bulb onions are definitely my most successful crops.  Each year I'm having more and more "volunteers" arise in my vegetable garden from various seeds released one or even two years ago.  (I can tell from the locations since I rotate.)  Maybe at some point I will have a self-renewing perennial garden...

       I currently care for only about fifteen bonsai, mostly outdoors, several being Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) multi-trunks and forests that were originally "volunteers" in the yard and which I'd been trimming back for a few years before transplanting.

       At the beginning of August 2016 I started to compile a modest list of permanent collections of bonsai and penjing around the world.  As usual, it was only because no one else had apparently put together such a detailed global compilation.  Within two weeks I had established the current format and proceeded to grow the listing to its present 180+ locations.  Of course, the challenge here is deciding which nurseries can also double for reasonable displays of these miniature landscapes within the guidelines established.

       The Google Translate code was added to the top of a number of key pages around the middle of November after I discovered this fascinating little tool on my Monday through Friday work's home page.

       In January 2017, I finally started adding graphics to this page you are reading to better tell the tale.  And sometime early this year I added colored birthdates and/or deathdates to the Book of Days index.  (I would start adding those into the actual body of the project by year end.)

       A very favorable mention for the site on Reddit in mid-September resulted in a several day spike in visitors to our home page.  I opened up a Reddit account and have occasionally suggested more detailed information about a topic being discussed could be found on one of our site pages.  (And I see we were already added to the bonsai section's Additional Resources.)  In the first week of October I happened upon a post which sought to compile a global map of various bonsai museums and nurseries.  I, naturally, weighed in, and within a day the locations of our Permanent Collections page were being incorporated into this ongoing project.  I do plan on occasionally researching this map for new entries into our listing.

       On October 8 I published the first edition of a listing which had gone through various although smaller permutations over the years in my writings, When Various Clubs and Associations Were Founded.  Towards the end of the following month, I published the first edition of the listing for approximate dates that various other clubs had started.

       An art dealer in January 2018 emailed me about a John Naka oil painting he had come across.  He was happy that my Naka bio was available so he could give additional background to his clients.  He offered me images from the painting for use on the website, but I was hesitant: I'd never seen John's simple lettered signature before, I had always seen the cursive signing of his workshop sketches.  Reaching out to the Phoenix club, I was referred to one of John's students in California, Cheryl Manning, who vouched for the painting's signature.  The additional information can now be found here.

       And the story continues -- along with all the other nonbonsai events and relationships in my life.  (Please check out this new project: Good News Today.)

       [The third significant corporate history I've been working on is for my current employer.  Compiling it since September 2011, six weeks after I started there, it is set to be part of the company's 50th anniversary celebration in 2021.  Stay tuned...]

       There still may be a few other bonsai, research or web-related events in my past which haven't yet been included here.  Other bonsai connection seeds, which I've been involved with during the past few years but haven't yet risen to a certain level of visibility, will be mentioned here if and when they do eventually germinate...  The strands of creativity are like wide-ranging underground fungal hyphae which haven't put up spore-forming bodies yet.  (Or as one reviewer put it years ago, this website continues to metastasize -- but, of course, he meant that in the nicest sense!)

Early Years
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