One tough sensei

Roberta Walters

Photo By nick dobis

In a tranquil back yard in Gridley, 73-year-old Roberta Walters walks as a giant amongst her beloved trees. Walters is one of the founding members of the Chico Bonsai Society, whose roots can be traced back to 1974. Walters has been growing bonsai trees since she was about 13 years old, and at one point was the president of the Golden State Bonsai Federation. And don’t let her soft voice and smile fool you, because this woman is made of pure grit. When Walters is not tending to her 60 bonsai trees, she is on the road hauling loads as a long-line truck driver. Walters has been making deliveries for 46 years (about 15 of those locally) and continues to this day to haul loads to Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and throughout California. Her son tends to her trees while she is on the road. Walters is currently the sensei (Japanese for “teacher”) for the Chico Bonsai Society, where you can learn the five basic styles of growing a bonsai tree. The Chico Bonsai Society holds meetings the fourth Sunday of every month at the North Valley Recreation Center. For more information call 235-0963.

What is the secret to growing a great bonsai tree?

Time, like 300 years. The process can be learned in three to four years. They require a lot of patience, but they really are a stress release. It’s so stress releasing to sit down with these plants.

Tell me about the Chico Bonsai Society.

Basically we exchange information on growing bonsai trees. Almost every species of tree, except for the madrone and manzanita, can be dwarfed into a bonsai tree. Once upon a time, we were the ideal for other clubs to follow. Now other clubs have gotten huge, and we’re a small club of about 45 to 65 members.

What is unique about bonsai trees besides their size?

They are totally dependent upon your care. It’s like having a disadvantaged child that behaves itself. I’m usually on the road on average two to 10 days at a time, but when I’m home they get my full attention.

Is the stress from truck driving the reason you grow these trees?

No, I’m just a tough old broad.

Do you have any interesting stories from being on the road?

Not really, they are all interesting in their own way while you’re on the road, but they are gone as soon as I get home.

Do you get any flak from male truck drivers?

I never have, but I always smile when I’m passing a truck with a young man driving. I say to myself, “I wonder if he knows that a 73-year-old woman just passed him?”