Let the magic take root
The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono is part myth, part parable, and wholly wonderful. It is the story of Elzéard Bouffier, a quiet shepherd who transforms a dry and unforgiving corner of France into a lush, deciduous paradise. Far removed from the horror of the Great War and World War II, he patiently plants hundreds of thousands of acorns in the bare and barren soil of ‘that ancient region where the Alps thrust down into Provence.’
The young narrator of this magical tale happens upon Elzéard’s peaceful world just as the wise elder is beginning his project. Having survived the treeless horrors of the Western Front hundreds of miles to the north, he returns after demobilisation to find a sea of saplings where once there was only wild lavender. ‘For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities,’ he writes, ‘one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years.’ In an era of endless environmental destruction, Giono’s story and title character, though fictional, are vivid enough to inspire hope of a real-life imitator.
Originally written in French, The Man Who Planted Trees comes with beautiful wood engravings by Michael McGurdy. Just as the joyless inhabitants of the region are revitalised by the growth of Elzéard’s planted seeds, so this short and stirring story will revive and renew all who read it.