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Outdoors: Unstately pines

DarleneMunro/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Windswept tree on Georgian Bay

Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing small trees in containers.

It is part sculpture, part horticulture and part philosophy, for these gnarled potted trees are valued by some as symbols of harmony, balance and patience.

The patience part certainly is apt, for by painstaking pruning and training of branches, often over a period of years, the artist sculpts a tree to represent the beauty of nature.

Bonsai trees often represent the misshapen evergreens that tenaciously cling to a windblown shoreline.

So the how do shoreline trees acquire the simple beauty of Japanese art?

How are natural trees sculpted?

Actually, sculpted probably is the best word to describe the process.

In winter, shoreline trees are chiseled by the cutting edge of the wind which is laden with miniscule shards of blowing ice.

Along sandy shorelines and dunes, trees are - quite literally - sandblasted.

Consequently, middle branches of the evergreens are stripped.

Lower branches usually are protected by snow drifts while the upper branches tend to be above the level of the abrasive ice - resulting in sort of a dumbbell shape.

In exposed areas where the wind almost always comes from the same direction, “flag trees,” trees with upper branches going only in one direction, are fashioned.

Like many of the of the stately pines at Interlochen, windblown trees have a classic beauty born of adversity.

Sometimes in winter, it’s good to remember that.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.