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Collecting California Junipers with a Legend

The buzzer went off at 0400 hours…I jumped in the shower, shaved, threw my clothes on and left for the 2013 GSBF convention site. I was a day early, but there was a reason for it. I had lucked out, a few people had canceled out for this event. Each time someone canceled I moved up the line and finally I received the call “you are number 15”. That is all they could take on the dig.

Back to arriving early…I pulled into the parking lot and there were the (givers) that’s what I call Bob Hilvers and Ted Matson, always giving their time, money and expertise to help with the conventions. They were pulling seats out of vans making room for collecting tools and backpacks.

They pulled the vans in front of the hotel and 15 lucky participants appeared out of nowhere. Within a few minutes someone wheeled a cart out with hot coffee and a few Danishes to start the day, this was a nice touch by the coordinator of the GSBF event. Everyone loaded up their collecting gear into two large vans. There was just enough room for all of our gear and the 15 passengers. Right after finishing loading David Nguy showed up with driver who was to pick Harry Hirao up in small pickup truck. David Nguy drove one of the other vans and right around 6 am we headed for one of Harry's secret collecting spots near the Mohave far so good. Please stop by and say hello on my Facebook group

The driver of our vans name was Peter Macasieb, while talking I found out he had been collecting with Mr. Harry Hirao many times and for many years and had a lot of California junipers. It was a spirited ride as a bunch of happy convention goers discussed bonsai and different collecting trips they had been on. Three fourths of the way there we stopped and picked up Mr. Harry Hirao. You would think we just met Elvis, there were some very overly excited people just happy to meet Mr. Harry Hirao.


What a great Picture...Mr. California Juniper

We took off after a small break and drove maybe another hour. We then turned on a dirt back road, went through a ghost town, past a few deserted mines. We then drove through two locked gates that only Mr. Hirao had access to the combinations. The terrain then got steep. We stopped and we we're asked to put on blind folds. I thought ...are you kidding...OK I made that up but that's how it felt. Very secretive and desolate, just what we were looking for.


We finally reached our destination and jumped out and began retrieving our digging gear. We then received a safety briefing and agreed upon how long we would dig. Part of the briefing included “Do not collect a tree bigger than you can carry”. Suddenly we all noticed something. There was just enough room for all of us and our gear getting here…but there was not an additional vehicle to bring back the tree we collected?? I heard a few people say I did not come all this way to be limited so we will just make it work. 

After an hour I took a break and noticed Mr. Hirao a quarter of the way up the side of the mountain helping a guy half his age dig up a tree. I was amazed and honored at the same time to be so lucky to be on a dig with a Legend in bonsai. A while later I looked up and saw Harry now beginning to dig his own tree with another gentleman who had driven him there.


You can not see Mr. Hirao but he is there digging a tree with a helper

With that we scattered like mice in the light.


I found my first tree within a 100 yards of the vehicle and began digging.

Almost out!!

Fast forward 4 hours and almost all the people had collected what they could in the time allowed. Everyone was happy, dirty, sweaty and about ready to leave. We took a head count and noticed one man missing. I volunteered to go looking for him. I am sorry, I cannot remember his name but he is with one of the Sacramento clubs. About 15 minutes into my search I found the very zealous digger digging a huge California juniper stump under a tree. He had been digging a good two hours and almost had this tree out. I helped him for about 20 minutes and we were finally able to get the monster out of the ground. We wrapped it up and attempted twice to put the tree on his back. Remember the rule…Don’t collect a tree bigger than you can carry!!

We were running out of time and the rest of the group was hollering it’s time to go. I said ok Dude from Sacramento I will carry this down the mountain but you will owe me big time. It was so heavy it took another person, my student and fellow collector Ben Willis and the dude from Sacramento put this tree on my back…really!! It was too heavy for me to carry also…but with the collector guy pushing up on the tree and I carrying it we began our journey down the mountain. I was thinking, “Yes this is one of the smartest things you have done”…especially with your 4 herniated disks?? Ok long story short we made it back and then began stuffing the vehicles with our treasures. The gentleman who drove for Mr. Hirao volunteered his pickup bed so some of us could put our trees in there, after loading up we of course took time to take pictures with Mr. Hirao and then headed back to the hotel.


Chance of a lifetime...Right!

Once we got back to the hotel, my student and I had brought our box building stuff with us. We built our boxes and put our California Junipers into these boxes and then tied them in. Now we had to figure a way to get these tree to our rooms.

What a way to end a great day… you will some of the pictures you may see some libations to help us get through the end of the day. Good times had by all!! Oh, remember the Dude from Sacramento….for carrying his tree down the mountain, he bought me a very tasty salmon plate and a beer the next day for lunch…Fair trade I would say.

Thanks to the GSBF for putting together such a great event!!

Written by Ron Anderson — December 03, 2013