Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Man Who Planted Trees

The Man Who Planted Trees is a Canadian short film, based on the short story by Jean Giono. When the narrator, walking through the Alps, stumbles upon Elezeard Bouffier, the quiet shepherd has already planted 100,000 acorns. He's trying to turn the desolate land into a beautiful place again. 10,000 of his acorns have become small trees, but he doesn't stop with the oaks - he also has a nursery full of birches.

The narrator, in wandering the surrounding area, shows how desolate the land really is - water is hard to find, winds are intense, the few people are crabby at best and murderous at worst. The two world wars wreak havoc on nature and people. But a single man living by himself in the mountains manages to bring joy to others and himself, just in the planting of trees.

This film is one of the most beautiful I've seen in a long time. You can watch it here if you don't mind Japanese subtitles, or it's available on Netflix - it's only 30 minutes long. It's illustrated in what looks like chalk or pastels - I couldn't find exactly which it was. Each scene blends perfectly into the next - I was especially amazed at the river, later in the movie, and how abstract and how real it looked at the same time. It won an Oscar for best short film in 1988, the year it came out.

I love it for many different aspects. One is the pacifist theme: how much more noble and respectable it is to create rather than destroy. Destruction is an easy thing, wrought in a heartbeat, but creation takes patience, love, and a selfless thought for others, whether they be human, animal, or other.

When I learned that Giono wrote this story in 1953 (you can read it here), I was amazed - little thought was given then to the importance of trees, at least on the grand scale of the ecosystem. It's beautiful to see how much trees can change in a single lifetime.

The part about the wind driving people to madness especially reached me - New Mexico is terribly windy up in the mountains, especially now, when the state and neighboring Arizona are burning like mad. Such high winds for a prolonged time are more grating than people in the Midwest might realize. When it's windy all night, you wake up feeling exhausted. Wind all day grates on your nerves, making it difficult to walk, to drive, to merely hold a conversation with someone. Trees act as a buffer, slowing its madness.

I've said many times before - usually when working through piles of the crap I own - that I would love to just give it all up and live simply, with fewer things, relying on the land and myself for food, shelter, and clothing. I usually get over it when I think about music or how hard it is to turn leather into shoes, but The Man Who Planted Trees made me long for hermitage a little bit more. Yes, this is a fictional story, but it's so real it's almost tangible.

As one of my sisters recently said, more stuff does not make you happier. Things do not provide a sense of lasting accomplishment - the shine wears off and we go in search of something with more luster. Happiness is found in relationships with people, with the earth around us, with the spirit of ourselves. The American Dream teaches otherwise, but I choose to create my own dream.

What are you going to create?


  1. Love ya sis!
    Will have to check this out.
    : )

  2. This is a beautiful piece of writing. I love your descriptions of the wind and beauty and creation vs. destruction. Absolutely wonderful. Thanks for making my morning. <3


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