I have always liked trees, particularly in spring when you can see the branches through the leaves and in autumn when the leaves change colour and fall to the ground. There are many trees in our garden and when we moved here last December the trees were bare and I couldn’t recognise many of them, having forgotten how to identify them by their shape and structure. As they began to grow leaves and blossom I still couldn’t identify all of them (except the sycamores, silver birch and weeping willow) and so as usual turned to books and the internet for information. The best book I found is The Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of Britain. This has illustrations and photos of different ways to identify trees – by their bark, buds, flowers, leaves, twigs and shape. Some of the trees here are well established, predating the house and others are quite young – the history of the garden is probably more interesting than the history of the house.
Given my interest in trees Simon’s review of The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono intrigued me. Then I discovered that the local library actually had a copy. It’s very short book (a short story really), just over 50 pages, with illustrations – wood engravings by Michaell McCurdy, about a shepherd who transformed the land by planting trees. Not just a few trees, thousands of them over the years. Where once the earth was dry and barren the trees brought water back into the dry stream beds, seeds germinated, meadows blossomed and new villages appeared. Contrasted against a background of the destruction caused by war, the lonely shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier shows the power of nature to regenerate the land, planting oaks, birches and beech trees:
Creation seemed to come about in a sort of chain reaction. He did not worry about it; he was determinedly pursuing his task with all simplicity; but as we went back to the village I saw water in brooks that had been dry since the memory of man. This was the most impressive result of chain action that I’d seen. (page 25)
The wind too scattered seeds. As the water reappeared, so there appeared willows, rushes, meadows, gardens, flowers, and a certain purpose in being alive. (page 26)
In an Afterword by Norma L Goodrich, she recounts how she met Jean Giono in 1970 shortly before his death. His book was first published in Vogue in 1954 under the title The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness. His purpose in writing this story was to
… make people love the tree, or more precisely, to make them love planting trees. (page 45)
It’s a simple story, simply told of the harmony possible between man and nature.