Caught by the River

Nature Book Reader

22nd July 2012

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono (1953)
Chosen for the Caught by the River Nature Book Reader by Rebecca Harvey.

Some writings on nature seem to get lost in a wilderness of words, losing sight of the reality, brutality and downright humanity that links most people’s experience of nature with our perceived idea of what wilderness should be. The three books that I have chosen refuse to shy away from the relationship between people and places. In Findings, Kathleen Jamie collects experiences and interactions with the natural world. In Dart, on the other hand, Alice Oswald gives the river a voice, the water’s perspective on poachers, boatbuilders, ferrymen, dreamers.

But it is The Man Who Planted Trees which, for me, epitomises the bond between people and place. It’s a short book, a fable, an allegorical tale of a shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, and his single-handed, long-term endeavour to replant a desolate, deserted valley in Provence with trees. Thousands of them. A hundred thousand acorns in the three years before the narrator meets him, ten thousand of which were expected to flourish in an area that before was “bare, monotonous moorland”, where only wild lavender grew. A simple act of deciding to put things right. But it’s not just oak trees he plants. As the narrator returns over the next 40 years there are beeches and birches, long-dry springs start flowing, hope returns to previously-skeletal abandoned villages. It’s a beautiful parable of creation and hope, a hymn to possibility that gently reminds you of the give and take between the wild world and our place within it.

Further Reading:
Findings by Kathleen Jamie
Dart by Alice Oswald

PS – Jeff – Not sure if you’ve come across the JG piece before? It’s a fictional tale written by the author in response to an invitation by the American Reader’s digest to contribute to its “The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met” feature – only they refused to include it on the grounds that Bouffier didn’t really exist…! There’s also a really lovely animation of the story at