Friday, February 25, 2011

Termite factor

Last month, I visited Australian Northern Territory and was keen to see examples of naturally dwarfed plants in tropical savanna. It was a wet season, the time when many plants undergo a period of rampant growth. Very familiar young eucalypt trees boasted very unusual one-foot-long leaves. However, I did observe an unexpected natural force which can suppress plant growth even at this time of the year. Termites. The tree on the picture is stunted because it is virtually growing on a termite mound. Whenever any part of this tree dies due to heat, wind, insects, fungi, virus or bacteria it is immediately consumed by termites. I have a feeling that both the tree and the termite mound are quite old. From the trunk line we can see that its apex died back a few times and one of the side branches grew to be the new tree top.

Backyard clay

I had to dig a few holes in my backyard to put up a shade cloth frame over my bonsai shelves. The top soil layer was quite thin and underneath I found a very fine and pure brown clay. This is Wianamatta Shale clay characteristic to Sydney’s Cumberland Plain. I saved a small lump and used it to make a tea bowl shown in the picture. The shrinkage was nearly 30%, so the bowl turned out to be smaller than I expected. I fired it to earthenware temperature with clear glaze to preserve the original colour of the clay. The result was beautiful and quite similar to red raku ware (aka raku yaki). It also would have been not unlike the red clay ware (shudei) of Tokoname if it was burnished and not glazed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The loveliest scenes of China

The most renowned Japanese poet Mitsuo Basho (1644-94) in his poem ‘The Unreal Dwelling’ extols a beautiful vista with pines and mountain wisteria and says: “I could not be but happy – the view would not have blushed before the loveliest scenes of China.” It suddenly struck me that by ‘the loveliest scenes of China’ Basho meant none other than the Huang Shan Mountains – the original inspiration for Chinese miniature landscapes and ultimately Japanese bonsai.