Sunday, March 8, 2009

Plant Hope: Reap Happiness

"It takes a noble man to plant a seed for a tree that will some day give shade to people he may never meet."
David Trueblood

What is the value of one human life?

In terms of purpose and potential, it is immeasurable. We are told in Genesis 2 how the nature of man is unfolded and given direction, how we must learn through life to find balance between our two opposing sides, how we are connected on one hand to the material world as we are made of the dust of the earth and on the other hand made in the likeness of God, who breathes into us the breath of life. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gn 2:15), thus in the sense of purpose we are given a position of unique responsibility in the Universe and the choice to be either a dedicated gardener in the fields of Creation or to remain unchanged by the eternal recitation of life that daily unfolds itself at our feet. This story of Man in the Garden illustrates the strangely mingled obligation of high appointment and the consequent shame of failed intentions. “Thou art the man,” said the Prophet of God. “the story is told of thee.”, so Man rebels against his appointed place in Nature, and Paradise slips away.

We are the inescapable custodians of Nature.
As Spring approaches I tend to think that Paradise is not something we have lost but is rather something that oftentimes goes unnoticed. Bliss after all can be found in the first unveiling of the infant leaves, ecstasy in the overlayering of vivid color on a winter landscape and rapture reawakened by the emergence of the morning of the year. As an Artist I must continually remind myself to remain observant of Nature and always appreciative of even its most overlooked intricacies.

The coming of Spring also brings to my mind an exquisite short story entitled The Man Who Planted Trees also known as The Story of Elzéard Bouffier, The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met, and The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness.

It is an allegorical tale by French author Jean Giano, published in 1953 and tells the story of one shepherd’s long and successful singlehanded effort to re-forest a desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps near Provence throughout the first half of the 20th century. Over a period of forty years, Bouffier continues to plant trees and the landscape through the dedicated efforts of one person is turned into a kind of Garden of Eden. By the end of the story, a vibrant ecosystem is established where life is able to flourish. The simple message presented is so touching that many readers have believed over the years since the story was first published that Elzeard Bouffier was a genuine historical figure and that the narrator was the young Jean Giano himself. While he was alive the author did little to dissuade false impressions but in 1957, in a letter to an official of the city of Diagne, he explained himself:

“Dear sir,
Sorry to disappoint you, but Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional person. The goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable (this has always been one of my most fondest ideas). And if I judge based on the results, it seems to have been attained through this imaginary person. The text which you read in Trees and Life has been translated in Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, English, German, Russian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish and Polish.
I freely give away my rights, for all to publish. An American has come to me recently, to ask my permission to make 100,000 copies which he would distribute freely in American (which of course, I granted).”

An animated adaptation of the story was created by Frederic Back in 1987 and the short film was distributed in two versions, French and English and each were narrated respectively by noted actors Philippe Noiret and Christopher Plummer. The film won the Academy Award as well as several other awards that year.

Plant Hope: Reap Happiness. I am continually awed by life around me, and persist in my belief that in spite of our many flaws, humanity is still admirable. One human life; one untapped wellspring of divine potential. “For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities,” begins the story, “one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.”
What then is the role of Man in Nature? It takes God to make a tree but human hands to plant one.

“There is no better time than right now to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. So... work like you don't need money, Love like you've never been hurt, and dance like no one’s watching.” The Daffodil Principle

Festina Lente
Make Haste..Slowly