Let´s change the world, an acorn at a time
“When I consider that a single man, relying only on his own simple physical and moral resources, was able to transform a desert into this land of Canaan, I am convinced that despite everything, the human condition is truly admirable. But when I take into account the constancy, the greatness of soul, and the selfless dedication that was needed to bring about this transformation, I am filled with an immense respect for this old, uncultured peasant who knew how to bring about a work worthy of God. ” (Jean Giono)
A few years ago, my father shared with us, his children, the story of someone who wanted to change his environment, acorn by acorn.
This is a story that teaches us that we all can considerably improve our world, step to step, without expecting material assistance or applause.
The story is part of an article by Bill Bonner, who was commenting on a book written by Jean Giono about a person known as Elzeard Bouffier, who decided to reforest his environment.
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I did and that it inspires you to undertake those small things that make a difference, an acorn at a time.
The Justes and the Good: More Real Heroes by Bill Bonner
It is a small and thankless matter to plant a tree. Oaks, for example, usually grow so slowly that the planter rarely lives to see them in graceful maturity. Still, people plant trees.
Jean Giono tells the story of a man who - for no reasons but his own - began planting oak trees in the South of France.
"About forty years ago I was taking a long trip on foot over mountain heights quite unknown to tourists in that ancient region where the Alps thrust down into Provence. All this, at the time I embarked upon my long walk through these deserted regions, was barren and colorless land. Nothing grew there but wild lavender."
There were few trees and fewer men in that desolate area. But a solitary shepherd had an idea. He began carrying with him a bag of acorns and a heavy iron rod. As he tended his sheep, he poked the iron bar into the ground and dropped an acorn into the hole. This he did for decades. There was no re-forestry program. There were no government grants. There were no parks commissions, no botanists, no taxes, no fees. There was just a lone shepherd, aged 55.
Mr. Giono met him before World War I. His name was Elzeard Bouffier. He had only the company of his sheep and his dog. He had never studied environmental science, nor perhaps ever even gone to school. But he could see that the land had changed since his youth. The area had been rich in grass and trees…animals…and human beings. You could tell because whoever had once lived there had left behind their stone houses on the hillsides. They had apparently overgrazed the grass and overworked the land. Worst of all, they had over-cut the forests that once grew there. Of the twisted oaks that used to provide shade and hold the moisture close to the ground…only a few remained.
Bouffier asked no ones permission. He put no issues or referendums on the ballot. He rallied no citizens and spoke to no town meetings. As far as we know his name never appeared in the paper - until after he was dead. But he went about the work that he had taken up himself…with no pay, no thanks, and not even any notice.
He planted thousands of oak trees, many of which died at first. And for the rest too, progress was as slow as an oak. But gradually, more and more took root. And each one provided more shade…more moisture…and a more hospitable place for other life to take root. Animals returned…and then hunters…and then game wardens.
"In 1933 [Bouffier] received a visit from a forest ranger who notified him of an order against lighting fires out of doors for fear of endangering the growth of this natural forest," Giono reported. "It was the first time, the man told him naively, that he had ever heard of a forest growing of its own accord. At that time Bouffier was about to plant beeches at a spot some twelve kilometers from his cottage. In order to avoid traveling back and forth - for he was then seventy-five - he planned to build a stone cabin right at the plantation. The next year he did so."
The re-growth of the natural forest, was a wonder to everyone. In 1935 a government delegation came to examine it. They didnt know what to make of it. They merely placed it under government protection.
By now the oaks were 20 to 25 feet tall. The slopes were covered with them. And the old man was still at work, planting his stealth forest.
"I remembered how the land had looked in 1913," Giono wrote. "A desert…[but] Peaceful, regular toil, the vigorous mountain air, frugality and, above all, serenity in the spirit had endowed this old man with awe-inspiring health. He was one of Gods athletes. I wondered how many more acres he was going to cover with trees."
By 1945, another war had passed. Bouffier was 87 years old and still at it. He had spent the second war as he had spent the first one. While millions of armed men tried to improve the world by killing each other, the good shepherd continued to improve his world. And in the process he improved ours.