Burly Boles

29 January 2021Boles??? Until yesterday, I would have been unable to spring this title on you, because I didn’t know the word bole. I knew bowl, and I knew burl, and I had admired (in classy shops) beautiful bowls made from burls, and it’s only because of linguistic/dictionary ricochets I discovered the word bole.

In very broad terms, and I do stress “broad,” the bole is the trunk (stem + main wooden axis) of a tree.

So when I walk down East 7th, the stretch bordering the northern edge of Dude Chilling Park, I am not just fixated on a huge great burl protruding from that tree in front of me, I have the whole B-on-B phenomenon right there before my eyes.

You’ll notice a whole line-up of trees behind that one, Bs-on-Bs one after another, all along the sidewalk edge of the park. Look, here’s the very next tree.

Lumpy burls all over this sturdy bole. Though … check out the sudden indent about 2 metres up. A number of these trees have that same shape, I wonder if they were all chopped off at that height and defiantly grew on up anyway. (Take that, you think-you’re-so-smart human being!)

So maybe a bit of tree pruning history is being revealed. Along with lots of winter moss.

Back to the burls. Again in very broad terms, they occur when (perhaps through injury) the grain grows in a deformed manner, typically turning into a rounded outgrowth filled with small knots.

Small knots.

A few of the burls in this line-up of trees are purists, wearing no ornamentation beyond that offered by the tree itself …

but most of them, this being Vancouver in winter, reach for available accessories and luxuriate in moss.

Sometimes just a delicate spray or two …

sometimes a whole puffy cloak, a pile-on of shapes, textures & shades.

Not that the moss limits itself to burls. It flings itself everywhere. Bole, burl, branch, twig …

I walk from the park’s N/E edge to its S/E edge. In so doing, I pass abruptly from the eternal verities of nature to the street art of here & now. (Up high. Corner of the apartment building.)

This signature is appearing all around town these days …

Never mind.

Back to the eternal verities of nature.

I also see clusters of bright new snowdrops, rising up healthy & strong through last year’s dead, fallen leaves.

And you can read into that as much symbolism as you choose.

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  1. Christopher Corbin

     /  29 January 2021

    Kwanzen Cherries are made by cutting the trunk off another tree about 2 metres up, and grafting a flowering cherry on top. The resulting tree looks very much like the one you photographed, so I assume it’s the result of a grafting operation.

  2. My mother once told me when I was a kid that a burl is a tree-wart. The process is definitely not the same but the visual is. 😉

  3. I was already familiar with both burls and boles, but I still enjoyed your story. You have a lovely assortment of trees along your parkway. Thank you for sharing. 🌲🌳👍

    • for me it was the wonder of a discovery, right there on an ordinary block next to a neighbourhood park – I’m happy that what was new for me was still a pleasure for you to share with me – thanks for telling me!

  4. Is there really a place called Dude Chilling Park? Sounds unbelievable. I just had to smile as I read your blog, here in Wales as snow is forecast for later today ( everyone panics) and the pandemic is raging and arguments about lockdown restrictions and vaccines and the EU, I am reading about boles near Dude Chilling Park! That’s verging on the Surreal and you’ve really cheered me up unexpectedly! Many thanks, and now I’m off to find some boles on my permitted daily walk! I shall report back if any are found, but I fear there place will not be as uplifting as Dude Chilling Park. ❤️

    • Oh just find whatever you find, doesn’t have to be burls — that’s just the rabbit-hole I feel ito walking along that block. The park’s really official name is Guelph Park since Guelph St, is one of its bordering streets but as a prank area residents got up an online petition to change the name to “Dude Chlling Park” in honour of the wonderful wooden sculpture in the park, which looks like a stick-figure reclining person. Eventually (long story google for more) the alternate name was granted co-recognition, and a sign exactly mimicking the official sign was allowed to be erected, but called an art installation rather than an official sign, and locally that’s what we call the park. The old wooden sculpture was fast deteriorating, and was recently replaced by the same artist with a bronze version (paid for by civic, private mix of funds): here’s a link: https://globalnews.ca/news/5779970/dude-chilling-park-statue-returns/ — what I love best about this story is how our officialdom has found a way to let this neighbourhood sense of whimsy co-exist with its official regulations…

  5. Jeffrey Miller

     /  30 January 2021


  6. After your post about bikes I had a walk along the canal close to the River Wye and I started looking for boles- are these boles?
    Now I can’t find how to post a photo. Drat.

    • A shared photo would be fun, but enjoying all by yourself is just fine too. Isn’t it magic, if we walk along with open, curious eyes, wonderful things unfold for us. We don’t have to go anywhere special…

  7. Nancy Loviska

     /  31 January 2021

    I just love the image of trees (or burls) reaching for accessories!

  8. I love the phrase “tree wart”. Perfect.

  9. Love your close up photos of the boles.
    How lovely to see the snowdrops. I have some in my garden but can’t seem to get a good photo. x

    • My phone-camera doesn’t do whites very well, so my snowdrop photos aren’t very good, but they do at least signify spring!

  10. Love the snowdrops! Doing a post about burls on boles is a fun idea! I knew the word bole but I didn’t really know it because I didn’t know or remember the definition. So thanks for that!

  11. Mary C

     /  7 February 2021

    Snowdrops already! Envy may be showing….
    Boles, burls and the seeing of shapes. In one of the photos it looked like there was a face smiling up at you!


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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