“The Man Who Planted Trees” is the story of a quiet Frenchman, Elzeard Bouffier, who did just that – he simply planted trees. Quietly, constantly, without seeking reward or fame, and without even regard to whether the ground was suitable or whether the landowner’s permission was granted, he walked the French countryside putting seeds into holes that he drilled with his walking staff. Luckily for us, a small boy called Jean Giono saw him and observed what he was doing.
Written originally in French by Jean Giono, it is the result of observations he made as a boy nearly a hundred years ago, of a man of the open country in France, who planted trees wherever he went. It is a beautiful story of hope in a mad world, an inspiring little story.
Nobody yet knows who first translated it into English. Published by Chelsea Green, the “pre-eminent publisher of sustainable living”, my edition has beautiful wood engravings by the brilliant American wood engraver Michael McCurdy. It has also been released as an animated film, with inspiring sketch animations of the forests that emerged from Bouffier’s kindness.
I like to think that Jean recorded his observations of the tree-planting old man over the years in a small pocket notebook, perhaps a Moleskine like ours. Writing as a boy in bed at night, having spent the day watching the old man pierce holes in the soil and drop soaked acorns and beech-nuts into them; or as a soldier with his candle hidden under a blanket for fear of an officer seeing the light; or as a middle-aged man sitting in a cafe one of the small French towns, now surrounded by the old man’s remarkable forest legacy.
A small story like this can inspire us with the knowledge that we can, all of us, make a difference if we try, just a little bit. In our busy lives, we are not certain of our footprint on the Earth, we do not know how to reduce that footprint, and our unfulfilled intentions are written in our precious journals in the hope that the act of writing them may move them some small way from dream to reality. Look around you and watch, you may see something we all need to see.”
The Man Who Planted Trees
Translation from French by Peter Doyle