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"The Man Who Planted Trees": The Perfect Earth-Day Read

Updated on April 19, 2018
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill volunteers at community gardens & learns about gardening through the MD Master Gardening Program & MD Master Naturalist Program.

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

— from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Source

This year on Earth Day, I'll be camping in Jamestown, Virginia, rather than volunteering at our local Earth Day festival, but I'll still have time to honor the occasion by reading one of my favorite books about custodianship and caring, "The Man Who Planted Trees" by Jean Giono.

Like Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series, "The Man Who Planted Trees" has as one of its themes the power of even the smallest individual to effect positive change. Giono's tale, however, is less than 20 illustrated pages, short enough to read in under an hour on April 22 or any other day you need to be reminded that your life matters.

Source

The Story

Giono's story is told from the perspective of a hiker who treks across an "ancient region" of "unparalleled desolation" in Provence both before and after World War I.

During his first visit, the land is a "bare and monotonous moorland" where water is scarce, winds are harsh, and villages are either deserted or inhabited by petty, unhappy people.

While searching for water, he encounters a quiet shepherd named Elzeard Bouffier and discovers that in addition to tending his flock, Bouffier sorts 100 acorns each night and plants them the next day using his staff, a steel rod.

In this way, Bouffier tells the narrator, he has planted 100,000 acorns in three years, 10,000 of which have survived. He has plans to plant beech and birch trees, too.

Source

As the narrator leaves the area, he isn't particularly impressed with Bouffier's work. But when he returns after five years, having seen much death and destruction as a soldier in World War I, he is amazed at how the old man's "hobby" has transformed the region.

It is no longer desolate.

Water flows, flowers grow, animals abound in the forests Bouffier planted, and the region's inhabitants are happy and prosperous. They do not, however, realize they are the beneficiaries of Bouffier's work, rather believing the transformation has been part of a natural process.

If [the villagers] had suspected what he was up to, they'd have tried to stop him. But no one did suspect it. How could anyone . . . have imagined such perseverance, such magnificent generosity?

— "The Man Who Planted Trees" by Jean Giono
A young oak tree
A young oak tree | Source

Thereafter, the narrator visits Bouffier annually and witnesses how the old man's quiet, steadfast work over the years continually alters the region for the better.

As he observes this transformation, the narrator is also transformed. His spirit, which had been laid low by his experiences in World War I, lightens with hope for the future and faith in humankind.

Eventually, as all people do, Bouffier dies. But his work, the narrator notes, lives on, surviving even another World War.

Earth Day, April 22

What will/did you do on Earth Day?

See results

"The Man Who Planted Trees" is for anyone who strives to make the world a happier, healthier place and sometimes wonders, "Does what I do matter?"

Yes. Yes, it does.

A Gift

I can't keep copies of "The Man Who Planted Trees." I always end up giving them away— to new teachers, to gardening friends, to new parents.

It's a wonderful book that shows the power of commitment and the impact of hard work.

It's particularly inspiring for those of us involved in environmental work. But it's also for anyone who strives to make the world a happier, healthier place and sometimes wonders, "Does what I do matter?"

"The Man Who Planted Trees" answers that question— unequivocally: Yes. Yes, it does.

Source

Twentieth Anniversary Edition

The Man Who Planted Trees by Giono, Jean (October 17, 2007) Paperback 20th Anniversary Edition
The Man Who Planted Trees by Giono, Jean (October 17, 2007) Paperback 20th Anniversary Edition

This edition is a little pricey, although still under $20. The story, complete with beautiful woodcuts by Harry Brockway, is also available for $10 or less in paperback. The e-Book contains the woodcuts, too.

 

"The Man Who Planted Trees," Animated

© 2018 Jill Spencer

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    • Black Butterfly2 profile image

      Black Butterfly2 

      2 months ago

      wonderful story!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 months ago from United States

      Hi Peggy, The author's daughter writes that many believed Bouffier was a real person, which delighted and amused her father. It would have wonderful if he had been real, but . . . you're right: he's inspiring nonetheless. Hope you get a chance to read the book. And thanks again for introducing me to Cherry Ames. I found her on Amazon-- lovely hardbacks with illustrations. (: All the best, Jill

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      4 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for introducing me to this marvelous sounding book. It just proves that doing the simplest of things can sometimes have lasting impact. Elzeard Bouffier's legacy is a wonderful one!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      4 months ago from Oklahoma

      Sounds like a beautiful read. Wonderful overview.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 months ago from United States

      Thanks for all your comments! I hope you had a great Earth Day. Best, Jill

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for introducing the story of the man who planted trees. I didn't plant a tree today, but I planted some Portulacas (just learned the name) which we locally call jump-up-and-kiss-me. They're right under my window where I can see them on rising in the morning, and also in full view of passersby. Your article was a a perfect earth-day read.

    • UnknownBird7 profile image

      Suhana 

      5 months ago from India

      This is something that people should try to read. I am certainly going to search for it, and hopefully I'll get it. Thank You so much for sharing this here. We really need to give stories like this a read so that it'll be of some help.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I haven't heard of this book, but I love your description and the book's message. Thank you for sharing the information. I'm looking forward to reading "The Man Who Planted Trees".

    • Larry Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 

      5 months ago from Raleigh

      So interesting, Jill. We need to plant trees and keep our forests. We are starting to live in a paved jungle. Where I live construction is taking over at an alarming rate. Every time I hear about planting trees, I think of the story of Johnny Appleseed.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      5 months ago from Brazil

      I wasn't aware of this book but love the message. I can see why you like to share it with others.

      A great reminder, how a small shift can have big results.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      5 months ago from USA

      Wow, what a wonderful story! I love this simple yet meaningful way to celebrate Earth Day. I'll definitely find a copy of Jean Giono's "The Man Who Planted Trees". Thanks for sharing this inspirational story.

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