My name is Wally, and I’m Walnut. That’s the wood I’m talking about, not the seed I was grown from. I was born back in 1785, or maybe 1783. It depends on when you count a tree being born, when the seed is planted in a growing pot, or when the young sapling is planted out in it’s permanent location. I was put in quite a nice place, in front of a big house along with a few of my brothers and some other relatives. I remember that when we were young we were quite well looked after by a man in baggy trousers and a big flat cap. It took a few years, but it wasn’t long before I could look down on that hat as he cleared away my leaves in the autumn and brought dung from the stables to feed my roots.
After a few more years, I got tall enough to see further, eventually being able to see right over the big house. There were more trees and a lot of flowers behind the house, but here in the front, me and my mates made a nice border around a big field that people called the Front Meadow. Life was good back then. As I got taller, my trunk thickened so I could stand up in the wind. Years passed and after I was a mature tree, the horses stopped pulling the carriages up near me. The man in the hat stopped bringing the manure feeds. I don’t know if that was because the horses stopped coming or because I was mature and didn’t need so much feed. I never saw that man in the hat again.
The carriages kept coming though, but they didn’t have horses pulling them. They had smelly gases coming out of them and made a lot more noise and clattering. Different men came, in carriages that were all painted the same colour as my leaves, and the men all dressed the same too. Some of them did a lot of shouting, but we learnt to ignore it. It only went on for a few years, and then the quiet folk came back. It was good they didn’t stay too long, because those uniformed men cut a lot of the lesser trees around the Meadow down and chopped them up. I must admit it scared me a bit, and I didn’t want them coming and doing it to me.
For a few years it was good again, but then, in a big field that I could just see (I could see it better in the winter when all our leaves were on the floor) they started having big noisy insects going up in the air and some of them came quite low over the top of us. That was scary! It still happens now, but they don’t come over so low, and the engines are quieter. (I know the noise comes from engines, because I heard some people talking about them) Once we got used to that, things got better again. People started looking after the trees and plants again, although being one of the most mature trees now, I didn’t need a lot of care, I could look after myself mostly.
The people had big parties in the Meadow, and lots of different carriages came, different ones every day. Sometimes big carriages would come, with lots of people on them. Most people left me alone though, unless there was rain and they were out in it. Then they would run up to my trunk so the rain didn’t hit them. I didn’t mind getting wet because my roots liked to drink some of the rain. So much, in fact, that in my prime I was almost 90% water!
When they had the biggest parties, ones that lasted more than three days, with thousands of people and so many carriages that they had to put them all in a field the other side of the Meadow, I was coming up to my 200th birthday. After about 20 years, the biggest parties stopped, but they still had big one day parties, sometimes two or three times a year.
Then, one year just as I’d dropped all my leaves again, a huge storm came. We had bad winds every winter, but I was strong enough for them not to worry me. This was something else though. People called it a Hurricane. Quite a few of the trees around the meadow weren’t strong enough and they fell over. After a while, people came with things called chainsaws. They cut up the fallen trees and took them away. Most of them were cut up into tiny little pieces the people called logs. It was sad to see those go. Some of them had been there all my life. Yes, I’d seen a few of the lesser trees come down in storms over the years and left to rot into the ground they grew from, but that was an eye opener, seeing so many come to an end with something that had a noisy engine.
Over the next few years we had a few nasty storms. The winds seemed to be getting stronger, or maybe it just seemed like that, as I was getting older and having difficulty making enough leaves to give a decent canopy in the summer. I was 215 years old when they had a big firework display in the Meadow for something called a Millenium. A few winters later, the winter that would have been my 220th another big wind came and I just couldn’t do anything about it. I felt myself falling and landed with a big bump (and a few cracks) right across the entrance to the meadow! That was the furthest I’d moved in 220 years!
The Gardener people came and looked at me, then came back with some hand saws and stared cutting off all my branches. I was sad to see them go, as some had been with me almost from the beginning, but I must admit, as each one came off, I felt a little more comfortable. As they got to the thicker ones though, they started scratching their heads. I’d seen people do that a lot in the past when they didn’t know what to do. Then a man came along in a big green carriage and took lots of equipment out of the back of it. I’d seen him before, cutting dead branches of some of my neighbours. He seemed kindly enough, but he always had one of those chainsaws with him, and that was what he was taking out of the back of his truck. He cut through the rest of my branches quite quickly. By this time I was feeling pretty down, in more ways than one, and I didn’t want him to cut up my trunk into those logs.
The good news, although I didn’t realise it at the time, was that he didn’t cut me up any more. He got a big tractor and some machinery and dragged me onto a big lorry. It was a bumpy ride though. Don’t forget I hadn’t moved for over two hundred years, and now I was being driven along roads that I had watched being built years ago. My heart dropped when I saw where they were taking me. The place had a big sign that said sawmill. They put me on a huge saw longways. I’d never seen anything like it. All of a sudden I was being cut lengthways into slices. This wasn’t like logs, but whatever they were doing to me, I could do nothing at all about it!
My main trunk, which was two metres long (they’d stopped using feet and inches as measurements long ago) was cut into six slices 4 inches thick. (No, I don’t understand why I was two metres long and 4 inches thick!) and put me back on the lorry. No one bit of me was very heavy now, and two men could move me, one board at a time. I came back to the Park where I had stood between the big house and the meadow, but this time they put me in an old cowshed, shut the doors and just left me there. That was a sad time. I couldn’t see the sun rise, or feel the wind and the rain. The birds didn’t sit and sing in my branches, one of the things I had really enjoyed out in the open.
After a year or so, (they were difficult to count without knowing which season it was) They came and took me out of the cowshed and moved me again. This time into a smaller shed with no windows and a steel door. Once or twice a year the man that had cut my big branches off came into the shed, where he put some other wood from different trees. I knew some of them, but not all of them. As soon as he had been, the door closed again and I was back in the dark. This went on for maybe four or five years, and all the time I missed the rain. I was getting quite dry.
One day the man came with another man, and they started examining me! They moved all of my boards and the new man looked at every one very carefully. After a while, the two men shook hands and the first one closed the door again. But, the very next day the door opened again and they took one of my boards outside. I didn’t see that board again for another year. That was when they came and got me. I was taken back to the cowshed, but the cowsheds were different to when I last saw them. They had been made nicer, and now, every day, there were people working in them. They seemed to be nice people, because lots of them would come and say “Oh, what a lovely piece of timber” and I realised they were talking about me.
The new man was strange in a way. He cut me up into pieces, but not like logs. He was very careful how he cut me, and looked very carefully before each cut. He had machines that I had never seen before, and each one made me feel a bit better. I saw a part of the first plank, and I understood that the same thing had happened to that.
I hadn’t been back in the cowshed very long before he cut me into a very thin slice and covered me in water. That was nice, just like a shower of rain. But, straight away, he put me on a metal pipe that was very hot, much hotter than even the sunniest day. Then I had this strange sensation and felt myself being bent, like when the wind used to blow, but the bending didn’t stop until I could touch the other end of myself. He did more things to me, sometimes with noisy machines, but I couldn’t see what they were because I was still bent double, looking in on myself. After a few days of this, he started to rub my back with some sort of ointment. I must admit it felt nice. He did it every day for about a week, and I felt really good. As I settled into this new environment, I noticed one of my old friends, a tree called Yew who used to grow on the other side of the house, had been stuck right next to me, and he had a hole in him that I could see out of.
One day, out of the blue, some strings appeared across the hole, and the man kept pulling them. Sometime the sound was nice, but sometimes it was really strange. The man kept fiddling with the strings until they sounded nice almost all of the time.
Now, the man checks the strings every day, and when he is happy with how they sound, he makes them sing a little, just like the birds used to do. Sometimes, when the sun is out, he takes me outside and makes the strings sing. I like the singing and once again, life is good. He tells everyone he see that I am now a Ukulele and they all admire me, even more than when I was just a tree!