The Blaze of Autumn Sweetly Burns

…with a title like that you’d think I was lost in a poem by Tennyson. But I was only looking at a tree in my yard.

I tend to photograph this Red Maple, Acer rubrum, at this time of year. It was created by Anne Spencer, one of our talented Portland, Oregon artists who passed several years ago. Some months before she passed I was honored with a phone call from her asking if I’d want to be the next caretaker of it. Being impulsively impish, I replied ‘Is this a trick question?’ In any event, I’ve had the tree for several years now. Especially in fall, when it’s looking so beautiful, I am reminded of our dear friend Anne.

Bonsai is, in so many ways, the art of change: That constant, lovely, haunting dance of loss and addition.

Your tree is looking well, Anne. It’s been the treasure of my yard, a chest of memories, and a quiet education. It’s sweet to be able to share your tree with others so far away, and so far beyond. It still sits in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 2014, quietly living on.

Anne's Red Maple

Anne Spencer’s Red Maple

Anne's Red Maple, 1991

Anne kept meticulous notes of her trees, which those of us lucky enough to be stewards of call the ‘adoption papers’. They include detailed yearly notes of what she did and did not do, and photographs of almost every year in the life of the tree. This photo was taken in 1991, one year after she bought the small Red Maple seedling.


  1. Neil Brown says:

    I was so… so very sad to hear about Ann Spencer-I did not know her that well but always looked forward to seeing her at events and sales-we chatted and I always bought one of her trees because they were so sweet. Her voice always had a very calming effect…much like the tree in the picture. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. Vern Maddx says:

    Beautifully said, Michael. Touching thoughts about friends and fond memories.

  3. freddie says:

    Its beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Its heart warming to see that you are looking after the tree so well and still appreciating it for what it is. It makes it even more special. Good on you !!!

  4. tangobunny says:

    Lovely tree—lovely commentary. I have a new book recommendation for you:-)

  5. Graham says:

    A touching story of caring, passion and commitment not only through bonsai but through her friendships.
    A fine looking specimen with elegant grace, the pot also works well.

  6. Richard says:

    Never have had the pleasure of meeting you or Ann, but your commentary brought a joyful tear to my eyes.

  7. backcountrydan says:

    Here’s a plug for Michael’s Seasonal Workshops: In my very first class I was privileged to repot this tree. It’s truly a beautiful maple, with awesome nebari. Thanks for the opportunity to work with your incredible trees Michael!

  8. dick benbow says:

    Usually I’ll enjoy reading Michael and leave the comments to others. But Anne was very special to me. I have a chinese elm from her, and Michael was kind enough to share a coupla starts from one of her chojubai.

    I have several trees in my collection that were started by folks now passed in this life. The trees place and memories that goes with them is very much a part of this hobby that I appreciate.

    Like a verse borrowed from a song from Simon and Garfunkle…..Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

    Thank-you Michael

  9. Laura says:

    My name is Laura Rosburg and I am Anne’s older daughter. Every once in a while, I Google Anne Spencer Bonsai just to see if anything new pops up… I have seen this post a few times and adore how lovingly you have taken care of one of my mother’s babies.
    Today, it just feel right to comment… We are getting close to the 6 year mark of all of those carefully chosen adoptions and I’m missing her a little more than usual. It is a pleasure to be able to read the kind words and see the progress.
    Thank you!

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