Skateboarding and Bonsai Trees

A Personal Statement Essay written for College Applications


Heading to Maine: Eileen Dockery will be attending Bates College next year.

Eileen Dockery, Student Contributor

The stone cold concrete depths scream with the force of a thousand so-called “scooter kids”. A thousand 12-year-olds with neon green helmets, zooming down that six foot drop like it was nothing. Do they not fear death? One foot on the skateboard, I stand at the rim of the bowl and stare down the graffitied abyss. What if I crack my head open? I hope my organs are donated to science, but I better be buried with my skateboard. I custom built it goddamnit. 

Before I got any further with my postmortem plans, the shrill cry of condescending middle schoolers cut through the air. “Dude! Move! Are you going or not?!”. Mind startled, pride threatened, I threw myself onto the skateboard and slammed down the rim, entirely convinced it would be my final resting place.

Riding a bowl is a delicate balance of adjusting your weight just enough to stay on, but not so much that you fight the speed and fly off. The trick to achieving this starts in the mind. You need to fully believe you’re staying on that board, not fighting what happens, but flowing with the momentum. However, it’s easier said than done to walk this mental tightrope between letting go and maintaining control. Paranoia and self-doubt creep in. I tell myself it’s okay to be scared, but that I can’t let it get the better of me. I have to negotiate with my subconscious – because it seems to want to sabotage my balance. Even as it clutters my mind with worst case scenarios, I have to believe I have what it takes to survive a crash. These are the lessons that have carried over into my other fascinations, such as bonsai.

Bonsai, like skateboarding, is about discipline as much as it is about letting go of and accepting what happens. When I received  my first Juniper bonsai for Christmas, I was intimidated. I’d never been given the responsibility of caring for something so delicate before. Every aspect, from the soil composition to the needle cluster density, was tightly regulated, and it needed to be watered in a very specific manner on a very specific schedule or it would shrivel up and die. As someone who had killed half a dozen cacti before this, I was scared for the wellbeing of this poor tree. I’ve never been one for tight rules and exact measurements, but I’m not one to back down from a challenge. Before long, my YouTube watch history was filled with hour long bonsai tree info videos, and I was repurposing crane scissors and an empty squeezy water bottle into bonsai shears and a watering can. Miraculously, this tree is still alive. Well, not “miraculously”. It’s all the attention and care I’ve been putting in. The secret isn’t to constantly be on top of everything, rather, it’s observing how the foliage naturally grows, and shaping it in a way that plays into its natural growth pattern. Not fighting the flow of things, just redirecting them. Add a healthy sprinkle of self confidence, and you have the recipe for a healthy bonsai tree, and a successful run through the plunging landscape of a skate park.

I think it’s important to seek connections in everything in my life; to foster commonality, and not division. I try to do this everywhere I go, whether that be through my eclectic friend group or wardrobe. I think there’s beauty in bringing together contrasting things, and in turn, learning unexpected lessons. So, to those scooter kids, thanks for pushing me to be better. My bonsai tree is thriving.