It is funny how a seemingly inconsequential event or conversation can evolve into an insightful progression of thoughts. I was leading a class at the nursery and one of the students was looking for gloves to cover their hands while working on their bonsai. Although I occasionally will wear thin latex gloves I kind of cringe when thinking of wearing anything on my hands when I work on trees or in the garden. Even when I encounter the sting of thorns or the itchiness that I get from working with Juniperus species, I find that there is something visceral in my touching plants, soil and water. When I was quite young, my Italian grandfather, whom I lived with, had an incredible vegetable garden and fruit trees. His hands during the spring,summer and fall were quite callused – ‘gardeners hands’ as I later described them. I have always remembered the toil and creativity in those hands and the loving touch he had with his plants. It has always signified something heathly and healing when I encounter those kinds of hands.
It is not only a badge of honor to have those healing hands but it provides us with a more direct contact with the trees we are cultivating. If we do not love our trees, we will not be as successful with bonsai as we can be. Hitoshi once said that to at least touch a tree(s) when you pass it will help make that tree more beautiful and healthy.
In our quest to develop a ‘cleaner’ and disease resistant society, we have sacrificed some of that human, healing touch with nature. People are all to eager to wear gloves all the time in the garden. Me, after repotting hundreds of trees during the spring, I wear my callused hands with pride. Of course, my wife may not always feel the same way!
During a subsequent class I was discussing callused hands with another student and he shared with me a hand cream he found very useful in softening the skin of his hands. It is made by a local, New England company (which I also liked) and contained Olive Oil, lanolin, etc (olive oil was one of the things my grandpa would rub on his hands in the evenings after working in the garden). I ordered some and use it regularly. I think I would rather do that than wear gloves all the time.