Thursday, March 15, 2012

Can One Make a Difference?

Can one person really make a difference? Can one person change the course of events or the environment?  Do these changes occur due to timing, fate, coincidence or the honorable action of one person who is the catalyst for an altered world?  I remember reading the book The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono and becoming hopeful. Any student of the world who would like to understand reforestation, ecosystems, and climate alterations would relish reading this simple short story.  This book is a mere 39 pages, which include 20 masterful woodcut illustrations by Michael McCurdy.  It is a quick yet deep study about a character who made a difference by planting trees in his local earth. If one lingers over the message (maybe for as long  as it takes an acorn to become a seedling), it becomes apparent that this is a story where time is an important character itself; there is no short term satisfaction to be found here but rather a slow and satisfying evolution. A chain reaction occurring because of one man’s work.

The main character, a shepherd named Elzeard Bouffier, decides to plant one hundred acorns a day in a desolate land - long deforested and gone to waste. He admits in the story that he had planted 100,000 acorns so far, in which 20,000 sprouted, and 10,000 of those would probably not make it.  Indeed, the other 10,000 would live on - along with thousands of others he would eventually plant. The man planted because he felt the earth was “dying for want of trees.”

The narrator, who befriends the man while hiking the dry barren region, witnesses his commitment to this job, which is done alone and without pay; he is duly impressed.  After spending a day with the shepherd, he leaves to continue in his journey and eventually serves in WWI; the shepherd and his tree planting fades from his memory.  After a decade, the narrator finally returns to the area to hike and is amazed at the 10 year old oaks - tall and thriving. He also finds other species of trees (beeches) growing in the valleys that were planted by the old man.  Water is running in the once-dry cracked creek beds now lined with willows. The harsh winds that once ravaged the hills are softened into breezes by the lush vegetation.  Since the water is flowing again and the trees are sheltering the winds, humans are making a life for themselves in this region.  It is a magnificent tale and timely with today’s global environmental issues.

Spring has come to Colorado – it is time to think about planting. Maybe an organic vegetable and butterfly garden and a few trees that will share their fruit or shade. A bit of work spent preparing the ground now for vegetable starts that will be planted in May and give back tenfold when they are harvested. The trees will grow and give back in later years. I am off to the back yard to be part of slow but satisfying process of working the earth. I am hopeful I can make a difference.

Work Cited
Giono, Jean. The Man Who Planted Trees. Chelsea, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1985. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Again, the choice of artwork is excellent and pops the message.