About a hundred years ago Jean Giono went on a long hike through the region where the Alps penetrate into Provence.
It was a desert region and after three days he had finished his water. So he kept on walking in the hope to find some. Suddenly, after five hours walking, he saw in the distance a small black silhouette. It was a shepherd. He gave Jean some water to drink and led him to his cottage.
It was a real stone house, with a solid and watertight roof.
The shepherd spoke little. His name was Elzéard Bouffier. He said to Jean that he could stay for the night. After dinner he took out a bag and poured out a pile of acorns. He began to separate the good ones from the bad. Then he counted them out into packets of ten. Finally he had before him one hundred perfect acorns.
On the next morning Elzéard let out his flock and before leaving he soaked the sack with the acorns in a bucket of water.
After a while he began to pound his walking stick, which was an iron rod, into the ground. In the hole he placed an acorn. He was planting oak trees. In the evening he told Jean that for three years he had been planting trees. He had planted one hundred thousand. But only ten thousand of them would grow completely.
They parted the next day.
The next year the war of 1914 came. Jean Giono was engaged there for five years. During these years he forgot about the trees. With the war behind him, he returned to that desert country.
Something had changed in the same air, the oaks that Elzéard Bouffier had planted were now taller than him. The man had only four sheep now, but he had about a hundred beehives. In 1915, he had also started to plant birches in the valley bottoms.
Since 1920 Jean Giono began to visit Elzéard Bouffier each year. The man had tried to plant also maples, but they had all died. So he planted beeches, which grew even better than the oaks.
In 1933, Elzéard Bouffier built a cabin of stone twelve kilometers away from his cottage, where he was doing his planting.
Two years later an administrative delegation went to examine Elzéard’s forest. They placed it under State protection and forbade anyone to make charcoal from the trees.
Jean had a friend, who was among the chief foresters. He explained him the mystery of the forest and thanks to his efforts, the forest was protected.
The only grave risk the forest ran, was during the Second World War. Automobiles were invented and they began to cut some of the oaks of 1910. But the trees stood too far from any useful road that is why they gave up the enterprise quickly. Elzéard Bouffier was thirty kilometers away, peacefully continuing his task, and did not notice anything.
In 1945, Jean Giono visited him for the last time. He passed through Vergons, a village that in 1913 had only three inhabitants. All had changed. Now there were twenty-eight persons living there. There was the sound of the wind in the trees and there was a fountain, with a lime-tree next to it. Little by little the village had been rebuilt, and now all the inhabitants were happy. They all owe their happiness to Elzéard Bouffier.
Elzéard Bouffier died peacefully in Banon in 1947.
This story is very interesting. It would have been fantastic, if it had been a real one. This story is a good example of altruism: by planting trees, Elzéard Bouffier increased the happiness of all the inhabitants of the area. People that actually care about trees are not many. At school we learn not to damage nature. Maybe in the future we will remember it. Maybe in the future the Earth will be greener.
© Vivian Manzardo
I asked my students in the first class to read during the summer Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees in the excellent translation by Peter Doyle. Vivian Manzardo seemed to me to be the best, I therefore invited her to send it for our school blog.
© Anny Ballardini