The Blakely Burl Tree Project: The
The Blakely Burl Tree Project:
From The Ground Up
by Terry Martin
THE 30,000 FOOT VIEW
From the plane I am looking down over south
Georgia. It is a jewel-like landscape, a carpet of deep green with countless
lakes, rivers and creeks glittering in the slanting evening sunshine. I am on
the way home to Australia, a twenty-two-hour journey that will take me to the
other side of the world and across the equator to summer in the Southern
After farewelling Greg and Ken who had to drive to Atlanta, for most of the
morning Gary, John, Mark, and I sat around talking. The conversation was of the
“how about when...” and “did you see…” variety. Certain people cropped up in the
conversation all the time: Charles and Catherine Rice who made it all possible
and enjoyed the adventure as much as any of us; Stanley Houston, the kindest of
men; Jim Carver and his crew of workers who helped remove the tree. One name
mentioned more than most was Steve Cross. In many ways Steve represents the best
of the BBTP. He was always happy, always enjoyed the company of others, and took
the greatest delight in everything that we did. He and his saw, that Mark
described as “a giant robotic dinosaur,” were prime players in the adventure.
(left to right) Ken Browne, Terry Martin, Mark Lindquist, Greg Andracke with
Terry's bowl made from Persimmon wood.
Photo: John McFadden
Gary summed up very well how we all felt at the start: “At first it all seemed a
bit surreal, but we hit the ground running. That bridge set the tone for the
whole project. When we got there we only talked for about 15 minutes and then
everybody got to work.”
Mark agreed: “I knew that a quick project like that would bring the team
together. That bridge was kind of symbolic for the whole project, all working
together to cross obstacles. Even the rain was a challenge at the start, but it
was as if all the doubts disappeared when the bridge was laid, the sun came out
and the skies cleared. It was absolutely phenomenal.”
It occurred to me to ask what will happen to the bridge.
“Everybody in Blakely wanted us to leave it there,” said Mark, “but it doesn’t
really meet the required standards. Since everyone seemed to be so enthralled
with it, we decided to keep it, just in case it can be incorporated into the
Project in the future.”
I can’t help hoping that we all get to stand on the bridge again somewhere.
Terry Martin on the bridge, Blakely, Georgia.
Photo: John McFadden
“I really enjoyed working with all those guys in Blakely,” said Gary. “They took
their job seriously and they were extremely good at what they did. Being in a
place like that kind of restores your faith in American people. So many times it
seems like all we get is bad news, but when you get there into the heartland of
America, these are real people.”
The feeling appeared to be mutual. I remember how, on the first day we were at
Steve’s mill, a woman approached us while we were eating at a restaurant in
Colquitt, some miles from Blakely.
“Excuse me,” she said, “but are y’all the folks makin’ the movie over at
“That’s right,” said Mark.
“Well,’ she said, “I just want to tell y’all how much we appreciate what you’re
doin’. It’s a fine thing and it will mean so much to us around here.”
The Rice Family at the site, Blakely Burl Tree Project. Photo:
As I look down on the unfolding landscape my thoughts return to the unlikely
series of coincidences that led to the Blakely Burl Tree Project—the amazing
tree, its location on the site of J.B. Rice's shop, Charles' and Catherine's
plans for the land and their role in the community, the realization of the rare
and special nature of the tree, the seemingly chance meetings that brought
Stanley, Steve, and Mark together, and on and on. But I also think that these
things would have amounted to nothing if people had not been open to the idea of
doing something special. Shakespeare famously wrote, "All things are ready if
our minds be so."
Looking down on the Blakely Burl Tree Project site, pre-harvest.
The Blakely Burl Tree can be a unique focus for the creative energies of so many
people, both in Blakely and around the world. I like to think of the bright
young students I met at the Blakely High School. If the simple process of
cutting down the tree has been so stimulating, how exciting will the rest of the
project be! When I was in Blakely, few of the people I met had ever been out of
Georgia, so the BBTP is going to open up a wonderful new view of the world for
them. I was delighted by the way people responded to having an Australian there.
I can’t begin to imagine how much they will enjoy the inevitable visits from
other foreign lands when the Blakely Burl Tree Museum opens.
My eyes close and I dream of the big lumpy tree and people smiling when they
“Y’all come back now y’hear?”
Steve Cross (left), Linda Houston, Stanley Houston at the beginnings of the
Blakely Burl Tree Project. Photo: