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Tree Hugger

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When Felix Laughlin was a young lawyer in new york City in the early ’70s, his wife decided he needed a hobby. So she bought him a bonsai.

It is a decision his wife, Betty Gayle, has since come to regret. “She’s become a bonsai widow,” he laughs.

Becoming a bonsai widow, for the uninitiated, is what happens to the wives of men who have been bitten by the bonsai bug, as Laughlin, now of counsel at Dewey & LeBoeuf in Washington, D.C., says he was nearly 40 years ago. “It’s like an addiction,” he says. “It just draws you in.”

Laughlin’s own bonsai collection, which he keeps on his Virginia farm, has grown to more than 200 trees. Some are more than two centuries old. He also studies with a bonsai master, travels the world to see bonsai collections, and has begun serving his 15th term as president of the National Bonsai Foundation.

Bonsai training, as enthusiasts call it, is definitely not a pursuit for the casual hobbyist. It requires constant attention, a lot of work, infinite patience and a lifetime commitment.

But the rewards are enormous. There are spiritual, cultural and artistic aspects to taking something in nature that is already beautiful and making it even more beautiful over time, Laughlin says.

It’s also a great escape from the daily pressures of a law practice, though Laughlin admits it’s not for everyone, including his wife—who, while not sharing his passion for bonsai, has always been a good sport.

“We kid each other about it,” he says.

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