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The Man Who Planted Trees

Posted Jun 22 2010 1:35am
In order for the character of a human being to reveal truly exceptional qualities, we must have the good fortune to observe its action over a long period of years. If this action is devoid of all selfishness, if the idea that directs it is one of unqualified generosity, if it is absolutely certain that it has not sought recompense anywhere, and if moreover it has left visible marks on the world, then we are unquestionably dealing with an unforgettable character.

-from The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giorno

Alice Waters claims that reading The Man Who Planted Trees changed her life. Since I hold Waters synonymous with organic food, farmers' markets and eating local, I had to find out more about the book by Jean Giono that was first published in 1953. It's a very short, yet powerful story (nine pages in PDF format here ) and for years, people believed that Elzeard Bouffier was a real person who single-handedly cultivated an entire forest in France.

In 1957, Jean Giono felt that an explanation was needed and wrote a letter to an official of a township in  France
Sorry to disappoint you, but Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional person. The goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable.

He went on to say that the story had been translated into several different languages and distributed freely. The book was a success, made Giono no money, yet he regarded it to be his greatest achievement. In 1987, the story was retold in a thirty minute movie that won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

What fascinates me about Giono, his character Bouffier and Alice Waters, is passion. I admire their one-pointed attention. They are seized by a desire, find a way to express it and do it consistently. Their visible marks on the world may not even be attributed to them but somewhere along the way they inspire one other person, followed by another then followed by exponential patterns of growth.

Wangari Maathai is a Kenyan woman who founded the Green Belt Movement that has been responsible for planting over 30 million trees since 1977. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.  Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse Foundation started The Edible Schoolyard , a one-acre garden along with a kitchen classroom at a school in Berkeley, California in 1995. Today there are Edible Schoolyard affiliates and sister programs all over the country. All of these people have made visible marks by planting one seed at a time.

Mother Teresa said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one." Imagine if every human being discovered and took hold of their passion and if the idea that directs it is one of unqualified generosity, what a difference that would make in the world. Imagine only a hundred, or even...just one. One person with passion and persistence, like the man who planted trees.

Photo: Hoosier National Forest
Sources: Whole Living Magazine, June 2010: The Whole Truth, Alice Waters, page 132., The Man Who Planted Trees .

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