The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

Casey Brennan
Art & Entertainment

I was first introduced to this story by my friend Kevin McIsaac. He described it as his favourite book and he also spoke about the wonderful 1987 Academy Award winning animated short movie narrated by Christopher Plummer.

The book and movie are appropriate for pre-teen to adult readers and at 35 pages including illustrations it is a quick thought provoking read that I would recommend to everyone. The story is a classic existential fable of a rugged individual making a difference in a world distracted by war and violence. A solitary shepherd cum apiarist spends his days, during the first half of the twentieth century, planting one hundred acorns a day along with seedlings of some other tree species. The unheralded hero singlehandedly restores a barren, windswept, highland landscape in France into a thriving forest ecosystem that in turn supports the socio-economic rebirth of communities in the region.

This tale of the positive impact one focused and determined individual can have on the wellbeing of the land and its people also highlights the dependence we human animals have on the health of our environment. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai says in her forward to the twentieth anniversary edition of the book, which Kevin generously gave a few of his friends, “Human beings cannot thrive in a place where the natural environment has been degraded.” Ms. Maathai also offers another valuable insight, “you don’t need a diploma to make a difference; everyone is qualified to save the planet.”

The anonymous narrator starts the story as a young man in 1913 who encounters a shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, while hiking in the barren foothills of the Alps. At that time the shepherd had been planting his 100 acorns a day for three years as was starting to develop other seedlings for planting. After fighting in World War I the narrator returns to the area to find Bouffier has shifted to tending over 100 bee hives rather than sheep as they are less damaging to the trees. He also finds a young forest starting to take hold and an inkling the effect a restored landscape could have on the human spirit. The narrator continues to return every year for the next forty years to visit Bouffier and watch not only a transformation of the landscape but of the once desolate and decaying communities in the region. Running surface water and springs return to the formerly windswept and arid region. By the time World War II has ended and Bouffier has recently died, young people are building new families and successful farms. Social harmony and peace has replaced acrimony and strife. The Ministry of Forests moves to protect this ‘natural’ forest in order to ensure that the area remains vibrant and healthy. Our hero’s efforts go unrewarded but not unnoticed.

Books are wonderful things to give as gifts and to share with friends. Books are also a great way to help people gain new perspectives on and understanding of the world we all share. We can physically share books in print as a community and digitally as a global society to not only foster knowledge and spread insights but also to reduce our environmental impact.

The Fernie Heritage Library is a great place to access many wonderful books in its excellent print collection. The Man Who Planted Trees is available in both French and English at our library. A library membership also allows members to borrow from a vast provincial print collection through an inter-library loan system. Many different digital subscription services available through library membership provide access to e-books, magazines, movies and audiobooks. Titles can be searched on line and either downloaded or streamed through mobile devices, tablets or computers. You can go into the library to see the always helpful staff or check out their website – for more information and connections.

While the movie of The Man Who Planted Trees is available online at unfortunately the book doesn’t appear to be available through the very excellent Overdrive app that I use regularly to read books on my iPad. Overdrive has been a great way to read some classic literature and new releases and to listen to some amazing audiobooks while travelling. There are many environmentally focused titles available digitally and in print from the Fernie Heritage Library. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to expand you mind while you shrink your eco-footprint.