Once upon a time there was a tiny little seed that fell from a giant tree. The tiny seed whirled and twirled and swirled on the Kansas breeze, then, kerplop, it fell on the ground.

     The tiny seed sent out a root that went down, down, down into the dark, rich dirt. Soon, the tiny seed turned into a tiny tree.

     The rains came in the spring. The sun shone hot in the summer. The leaves turned gold and fell off in autumn. The winter wind covered the tiny tree with snow. Then the rains came again, the sun shone and the tiny tree grew and grew and grew.

     The more the tree grew, the more it could see other trees. There were trees that grew bright, red apples. There were trees that grew soft, yellow pears. There were trees that grew hard, round walnuts.

     Sometimes, hungry people traveling along the highway would see the trees and stop to eat their food.

     The little tree wanted to grow red apples or yellow pears or round walnuts so it could feed people. But it couldn’t do anything but grow taller.

     The tree liked living in a big pasture full of cows and near a pond. At night, coyotes, raccoons and bobcats snuck to the pond for a drink.

     But the tree’s favorite part was the children that came running from the big house to play in the pond. The tree once heard the children call it Hobson’s Pond. That sounded like a good name.

     The children caught catfish in the pond in the spring with wriggly worms dangled below a red and white bobber. They swam and frolicked during the summer when the hot sun blazed in the sky. They bundled up and skated on the pond when it froze in the winter. Oh, how the tree loved the little children and wished he could feed them like the apple and pear and walnut trees. But he could not.

     The tree laughed when the children played. The funniest part was when the big, fat cows chased the children just for fun. The trees had talked to the cows and knew it was all a game. But the children didn’t know that and screamed like, well, little children being chased by cows.

     When the tree was quite young, a tornado raced across the Kansas sky and hurled sharp things it picked up off the ground. One of those pieces hurt the tree. The tree grimaced in pain, but, like all healthy trees, covered it up with a scar that grew into a bump.

     As the tree grew, something very unusual happened to it that didn’t happen to the other trees. The tree started growing more bumps that looked like warts.

     Sometimes, a sharp object the wind blew caused the bump; sometimes, an insect bite caused the bump. Whatever the reason, the tree grew all sorts of big bumps and, well, the other trees thought something was wrong with him. They didn’t have any bumps.

     Often, when the sun shone hot and the children were done swimming, they laid under the shade of the tree for his limbs were long and strong and covered with leaves. The children would touch his big bumps and wonder among themselves why this tree had them and others didn’t. But they didn’t seem to care and told him he was their favorite tree and nicknamed him, “Burly.”

     He liked the name, Burly. The other trees called him “Bumpy” or “Wartsy”, but he liked the name, Burly. The children always came back to him after they picked their apples and pears and walnuts and laid in the soft shadows he cast.

     One young boy often stayed behind and gave Burly a hug. Sometimes the little boy would come all by himself. He would smooth out a place under the shadiest limb and take a sandwich out of his lunch box. His dark, black hair tussled in the summer breeze.

     Sometimes he was quiet and never said a word; sometimes he would talk to Burly and tell him all his problems. Burly wished he could answer, but he was the best listener he could be.

     Once in a while, the little boy brought his Daddy along and they both sat on the ground with their lunch. Burly liked to listen to the older man tell the young boy about what life was like when he was growing up. Burly loved a good story.

     Burly continued to grow taller and stronger.

     But he was sad. The children were growing, too, and visited Hobson’s Pond less and less.

     People still stopped along the busy highway and ate the apples and pears and walnuts.  But they didn’t come and lay under his shade.  He wished he could feed hungry people.

     Then one summer the children stopped going to Hobson’s Pond altogether. No more fishing with a wriggly worm, no more splashing in the water, no more laying in his shade, no more cows chasing screaming children, no more skating on the ice, no more little boy telling him his problems.

     The tree was very sad. If he could have just been a tree that fed people like the other trees, then he would have been happy even though the children were gone.

     He wondered about the children. Where did they go? Did they have children? Would they ever bring them back to see him and play in Hobson’s Pond?

     Burly grew to be an old tree and became sick. There was no tree doctor to help him feel better and soon the old tree died and stood alone by Hobson’s Pond.

     The leaves fell off first; the branches became brittle snapped in the storm; the bark slowly started peeling.

     One day, a few years after Burly died, one of the children who was now a grown man, decided to visit Hobson’s Pond. He was a father now with children of his own and wanted them to see where he learned to fish and swim and ice skate.

     The man showed his children the apple and pear and walnut trees where they, and hungry travelers on the road, stopped to eat the tasty fruits and nuts.

     He took them over to Burly and said that of all the trees he had ever known and loved, Burly was his favorite. He pointed to the bumps on the tree and told his children those were called burls and, that for people like him who loved wood, burls were particularly beautiful.

     After the little boy had grown into a man, he had learned how to make all sorts of things from trees like houses and furniture and toys and art.

     Across the field, a kind and gentle farmer saw the young family by Burly and made his way over. He, too, loved Burly but never knew his name. He overheard them talking about making things of wood.

     The farmer introduced himself and said, “I like the name Burly! Would you like to have him?”

     “Oh, yes,” the man, cried. “I will make beautiful pieces of wood like bowls and tables and pens and art.”

     “Will you sell them and make money?” the farmer asked, concerned.

     The man thought about it and turned to his children and asked them what he should do with it.

     “Daddy,” said the youngest child. “If I was that tree and grew up around apple, pear and walnut trees, I would want to feed people.”

     “That’s a marvelous idea,” the man said. “We could make all sorts of beautiful pieces of art we could sell and use that money to buy food for hungry people!”

     The farmer smiled. He liked that idea. He and the man shook hands and soon, Burly was cut down and hauled back to the farmer’s barn.

     Many years went by but Burly was safe and warm in the barn. Then one day, something magical happened. He felt a gentle touch and his spirit awakened. His spirit floated out of the log, and he could see the farmer other people standing there beside his trunk, gazing affectionately, speaking lovingly about his burls.

     He wondered who they were. As he gazed, he suddenly recognized one who looked like the little boy’s daddy. But wait, that couldn’t be. The daddy would be much, much older now.

     “It’s the little boy all grown up!” Burly shouted silently. His spirit whirled and twirled and swirled around the room in celebration that his little friend had found him again. “And that must be his family!”

     Burly could tell these people loved wood. As he listened, they told stories about building houses and making furniture and turning bowls and carving animals and how much they loved wood.

    But who was this older man and lady? Burly didn’t recognize the older gentleman with white hair and the hands of a craftsman, and she with long flowing hair and the majesty of a queen? Yet, they all seemed to love each other very much.

     Burly listened to them as they told stories. They talked of trees in Africa, of trees in South America, of trees in Europe, of trees in Central America, yet they all agreed no one had ever seen a tree as lovely as Burly.

     They talked of children in Nicaragua and Africa with names like Pendo, Ysini, Zulpha, and many others Burly did not know. They talked with great affection in their voice as if these children were their very own.

     As Burly listened, he discovered their plan. The little boy was going to create pieces of art and furniture. People would donate money for these pieces of art and furniture and help feed hungry children and help them get an education to break the cycle of poverty and hunger.

     Burly celebrated as the farmer loaded him into a trailer. He whirled and twirled and swirled all the way to the little boy’s woodworking shop on Whispering Meadows Road.

     There, the little boy, now a man, and his son, began making things from Burly to raise money to help feed the hungry.

     So, to this day, Burly lives on in the hearts and minds of the little boy’s family and many people who enjoy him in their homes and offices, talk about his noble purpose of feeding the hungry and consider him a delight of the most exquisite beauty.

     Burly’s dream finally came true; he is able to feed hungry people.



Author’s Notes:

  • Art from the Burly Tree:
    • August 24 – September 17
    • Artist’s Reception Sept. 16
    • Robert W. Regier Art Gallery
    • Bethel College, Newton, KS
  • Pieces of art from The Burly Tree will be available for donation
  • The money donated will go to create an agri-business training program in Nkungi Village, Tanzania, East Africa.
  • The reference to “the older gentleman with white hair and the hands of a craftsman, and she with long flowing hair and the majesty of a queen,” is referring to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton Hammer, Founders of The Outreach Program who began their work in Nkungi village. In one way or another, I’ve been connected with them since 2007 and our relationship together has provided millions of meals for the hungry and opportunities for children, especially in Tanzania, to get an education.
  • Images below are of pieces of art from The Burly Tree.