In 1953, Jean Giono, a French writer, published the short story “The Man Who Planted Trees” which soon became successful worldwide and was translated into many languages. He submitted it to the American magazine Reader’s Digest and its editors were taken aback by its realism. So much so that they accused the author of being a fraud in a letter claiming he had deceived them over the unproven existence of his main character.
This novella, whose style is simple and authentic, introduces Elzéard Bouffier, a Provençal shepherd living in a desolate Land worn by the winds. The narrator observes this man, seemingly straight out of an ancient tale, endowed with an unfailing moral rigour.
The book discusses an unbreakable bond, the determination of a character who never ceases to believe in the regenerative power of Nature and who never tires of giving the living a chance to flourish in order to solve human ills. In it, we discover a man who remains constant and mysterious throughout the seasons, and who, driven by an intimate momentum, continues to plant trees in order to leave a better world behind.
He gains neither glory nor honour in this endeavour and in his silence, his beauty is tested and is observed over the years. Finally, as his life’s work comes to a close, the full nobility of his enterprise is revealed. Thus page after page, the reader realizes that Life is returning.
This short story broaches the importance of the involvement of a man who may exert a positive influence on many others.
In fact, in 1957, Jean Giono wrote to the officer in charge of water and forests in Digne to discuss the plantation of trees as an essential activity and concluded the letter with:
“I believe time has come to implement a ‘tree policy’ although the word policy seems ill-suited.”
This book can be approached as an avant-garde environmental manifesto touching on the topic of sustainability and, above all, of Life in a poetic manner. During a short and intense bout of reading, it invites the reader to discover Elzéard Bouffier, an intriguing shepherd and a stakeholder in a changing world.
The character of Elzéard Bouffier raises questions about the importance of transmission. Indeed, isn’t Life itself a transmission, a legacy that, progressively, as it grows, discards the notion of an immediate return to embrace the game of time instead?