Planting Trees

This week I took my children to see “The Man Who Planted Trees”.

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This is a puppet-based adaptation, by the Puppet State Theate Company (http://www.puppetstate.com/) of this short story (http://www.perso.ch/arboretum/man_tree.htm) by Jean Giono.

If you get a chance to see it, do.

The story is a tale of the selfless commitment of one man to a grand vision – the greening of a barren valley – without thought of personal reward. The shepherd in the story, who later becomes a bee-keeper, plants a whole forest during his solitary walks in the mountain-valley where he lives, eventually converting it into an earthly paradise that attracts 10,000 new inhabitants, none of whom knows how much they owe to a single man with a pocket full of acorns and a willingness to ‘invest’ for the long term without expecting a personal return on his investment.

Peter Doyle’s translation, which I have linked to in this post, sums up the meaning of the allegory like this: “In order for the character of a human being to reveal truly exceptional qualities, we must have the good fortune to observe its action over a long period of years. If this action is devoid of all selfishness, if the idea that directs it is one of unqualified generosity, if it is absolutely certain that it has not sought recompense anywhere, and if moreover it has left visible marks on the world, then we are unquestionably dealing with an unforgettable character.”

I dont have the exceptional qualities of Elzéard Bouffier, the shepherd of the story, but I do want to plant something for the future. Something that will have meaning and be a force for good long after I’m gone. Something that will have a bigger footprint than I could hope to have on my own.

After the show, I walked all the children from the South Bank to the occupation at St Paul’s. There we could see people taking time out of their lives to create a space in which to generate and discuss alternatives to the current undemocratic, unjust and unsustainable system. I told them about the occupations in hundreds of other cities across the world, about the unfairness of a situation in which rich banksters make a mess and ordinary people are made to pay to clear it up. They could see the connection between the politician in “The Man who Planted Trees” who was so quick to claim the shepherd’s natural forest, to want to exploit it for the war effort, and our own politicians as they grab the outputs of ordinary people’s hard work and use it for their own enrichment and that of their friends. My children already understand the importance and value of caring for people and our planet and it’s my job to make sure that as they grow up they don’t get cynically persuaded that caring about the military, corporate profits or the rich are more important values.

The children asked intelligent questions. They got honest answers – including some “I don’t knows”. They were once my seedlings and now they are saplings “tender as young girls and very determined”. They studied the messages on the railings and fencing at the occupation, checking the meaning of the images. They posed for a photograph in front of the banner announcing “This is what democracy looks like”, or at least, some of them did. In true democratic style, there was a dissenter. And her wish to stay out of the photo was accepted by the others. After a long day, as they squished together peaceably on the train to make space for other passengers, I admired their sweetness to one another. Late in the evening, when the others were in bed, the oldest came back down to ask me some more questions. I hope I always remember to give him that time and those answers.

It seems I may have planted some trees.

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