Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Legacies of the Apple and Walnut Trees

The order in which I read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia was neither by publication date nor historically chronological, but more thematic because of the literary study guide I am following. The guide pairs The Magician’s Nephew (the first chronologically, published in 1955), with The Last Battle (the last chronologically, published in 1950). I enjoyed reading these two books back to back because they discuss the creation of Narnia followed by its final destruction and subsequent recreation or “celestialization.”

Narnia’s creation, as told in The Magician’s Nephew, involves five humans: a mediocre magician who discovers how to transport things and people into other dimensions, the magician’s nephew Digory Kirk (who grows up to be Professor Kirke of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Digory’s friend Polly, and a hansom cab driver (Frank) and his wife (Helen) who become the first king and queen of Narnia. As the story unfolds, Digory is sent on a quest to retrieve a very special, life-giving apple in Narnia. He encounters various challenges, including the desire to steal an apple to take home to his dying mother. In the end and because of Digory’s honesty and integrity, Aslan allows him to take an apple home with him; the apple saves his mother’s life, and Digory plants the seeds in his backyard.

I found the story of Digory's apple tree that grew in England reminiscent of a walnut tree that grew in Utah.

The Apple Tree

“The tree which sprang from the Apple that Digory planted in the back garden, lived and grew into a fine tree. Growing in the soil of our world, far out of the sound of Aslan’s voice and far from the young air of Narnia, it did not bear apples that would revive a dying woman as Digory’s Mother had been revived, though it did bear apples more beautiful than any others in England, and they were extremely good for you, though not fully magical.

“But inside itself, in the very sap of it, the tree (so to speak) never forgot that other tree in Narnia to which it belonged. Sometimes it would move mysteriously when there was no wind blowing: I think that when this happened there were high winds in Narnia and the English tree quivered because, at that moment, the Narnia tree was rocking and swaying in a strong southwestern gale. However that might be, it was proved later that there was still magic in its wood. For when Digory was quite middle-aged (and he was a famous learned man, a Professor, and a great traveler by that time) and the Ketterleys’ old house belonged to him, there was a great storm all over the south of England which blew the tree down. He couldn’t bear to have it simply chopped up for firewood, so he had part of the timber made into a wardrobe, which he put in his big house in the country. And though he himself did not discover the magic properties of that wardrobe, someone else did. That was the beginning of all the comings and goings between Narnia and our world, which you can read in other books.”

The Black Walnut Tree

President Gordon B. Hinckley, past president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spent his boyhood summers on the family's fruit farm and always loved trees. "Every year at this season (spring) we planted trees," he said. "Well, some 36 years ago, I planted a black walnut. It was in a crowded area where it grew straight and tall to get the sunlight. A year ago (1999), for some reason, it died."

During the April 2000 General Conference, the first held in the new Conference Center in Salt Lake City, President Hinckley explained how that tree was used in making the conference center’s new pulpit. "If I get a little personal and even a little sentimental, I hope you will forgive me," President Hinckley said.

Because President Hinckley knew of the wood's value, after the tree died, he invited a church general authority, Elder Ben Banks of the quorums of the Seventy, to his home. Elder Banks had been in the hardwood lumber business before being called to a full-time church assignment. Elder Banks and his son, Ben Jr., who now runs the business, inspected the tree, and Ben Jr. suggested using the wood to build the Conference Center pulpit. "The idea excited me," President Hinckley said from the pulpit. "From all they could tell it was solid, good and beautiful wood.”

The tree was cut down, carefully removed from President Hinckley’s yard, rough-cut and cured. Each board was carefully marked and cataloged so the grain could be matched when the boards were joined side-by-side. But measurements of the 1-inch-thick boards came up short of the amount needed to cover the pulpit, so the boards were cut in half. These half-inch boards were then planed down to a quarter inch, and the walnut veneer was added to plywood, creating enough material to cover the large pulpit.

Unique grain structure from the section of the tree where the main trunk split into branches was fashioned into the dashboard across the top of the pulpit. This created a beautiful feather figure in the grain of the wood. Beehive figures (an historic symbol of industry) made of cherry wood were added around the outside of the pulpit to blend the walnut with the rest of the woodwork.

Description of the pulpit from a Deseret News article: “The walnut-tree pulpit is the best link to nature in this other-wordly spatial experience. The scale of everything is so large in the Conference Center, having a human-sized object as the center point of our attention makes all the difference. Because of its placement and focus, this tree still retains the vertical axis all trees do by linking the heavens and the earth. This axis is the focal point and where all our attention is drawn. How appropriate that the material used in this vast arena is from a single tree grown in the yard of a prophet – planted and nurtured for many years by him. This personal detail is one we can relate to and connect with. It is of the earth, and it is sacred. The words of the prophets spoken from the walnut tree link us to heaven, similar to a pillar of light or a sacred grove.”


It seems to be a human trait to keep and cherish items that remind us of important people and events in our lives. The apple tree planted in England that became the famous wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the black walnut tree planted in Pres. Hinckley’s backyard that became part of the new pulpit in the LDS Conference center both elicit memories of times gone by and people who are loved. Both items are held in reverence, and elicit awe in the magic or spirit that they conjure up. And the items crafted from the wood of both trees retain their vertical image of reaching heavenward like the trees themselves did. The legacies of the apple and walnut trees continue to inspire those who experience the furniture made from those famous trees.

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