The Man Who Planted Trees – Jean Giono.
This is a wonderful little book – perfect for a sit down on any given Sunday. Originally written in French, Jean Giono said that it is one of those texts of which he was most proud of. It was distributed freely and became a success. There are modern editions which have very handsome woodcuts, depicting various parts of the story, like this one of a man, funnily enough, planting trees (or rather, the seeds of trees).
The story itself follows a young man who decides to go on a walking trip on his own, through Provence in France and through the Alps, in 1910. On his trip, he finds himself in a desolate valley, where nothing grows but wild lavender, where there is no water and where the only sign of local inhabitants are abandoned and crumbling buildings. Luckily he meets another man, a shepherd, who directs him to fresh water. Our narrator becomes curious about this man and decides to stay with him, to learn why he has chosen such a lonely life in such a lonely place.
As the title of this story says, we find out that this shepherd plants trees. His name is Elzéard Bouffier and through his efforts over many decades he transforms the valley. The narrator himself finds transformation but of a different sort – through the terribleness of the First World War. Emotionally beaten and depressed, he returns to the valley to discover it fresh with life. Every year thereafter, he makes his way back to Bouffier and visits him. He is able to chart the incredible change that takes place and see people return to the valley, unknowing of the miraculous hard work and dedication Bouffier put in to bringing life and soul back to the landscape.
It is a beautiful little book and one everyone should read. Nature is intrinsically important. The more we destroy it, the worse the world is for it. This book may be fictional but throughout history inspirational people have attempted (often successfully) the same feats as Bouffier. Giono believed in the cause and now you can too. Plant trees. It’s worth it.