Monthly Archives: August 2014

# 63 Consider the Goodness of Humanity

pink-dottrees on the water

       Many years ago I chanced upon The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.  It is a brief story, written in 1954 as a piece about an unforgettable character.

The story begins around 1913 when the author is taking a long trip on foot through the valleys of the Provence.  He comes upon a valley that is barren and devoid of trees, villages, crops.  The wind blows across the barren plain.  The spring is dry.  The few remaining homes are in disrepair.  The author meets there a farmer by the name of Elzeard Bouffier who is watching over his sheep.  Bouffier lives in a neat, well ordered cottage and offers the author a bed for the night.

The next morning Bouffier is up early with a sack of acorns and an iron rod a yard and a half long, pointed at one end.  He makes a hole in the earth, puts the acorn in, and covers the hole.  He tells the author that for three years, he has been planting acorns in the wilderness.  Though Bouffier was 55 years old, he had planted one hundred thousand trees.  Of those, twenty thousand had sprouted.  Of those, he expected to lose half, but that ten thousand would grow where there had been none before.  Bouffier goes on to explain that his wife and son had died, and that he had withdrawn into this solitude.  He felt that the land was dying for want of trees.

       The author goes into the French Army for five years and survives the War of 1914.  When the war is over, he decides to return to the valley.  The oaks of 1910 were now ten years old.  The author spends the day walking through Bouffier’s forest in silence.  “When you remembered that all this sprang from the hands and the soul of this one man, without technical resources, you understood that men could be as effectual as God in other realms than that of destruction.”

But Bouffier was not finished.  Though now 60 years old, he had been planting birch seedlings which had begun to sprout in 1910.  There were now clumps of birch trees as well.  Because of the trees, the water reappeared in the springs.  The wind scattered the seeds.  Then willows, rushes, and meadows appeared here and there.  But the transformation was so gradual that no one noticed.  Hunters in the forest who now hunted game assumed the forest just reappeared of its own accord.

In 1935 a whole delegation came from the Government to proclaim the “natural forest” that had grown up around the town.  The whole forest was put under the protection of the State and the trees were forbidden to be cut down.  During these years, Elzeard Bouffier continued his plantings of seedlings and acorns, day after day.  He became so solitary he lost the use of speech altogether.  Yet he is happy in his simple life.

The author goes back in 1945 and is amazed to see now a whole town has grown where there used to be but a few hovels.  There is a fountain in the center of the town, and a linden tree, planted as a symbol of hope.  There are fields of barley and rye.  The old streams, fed by the rains and snows that the forest conserves, are flowing again.  On each farm are maples and tall grasses.  More than ten thousand people live in comfort, owing their happiness to Elzeard Bouffier.

Giono closes, “When I reflect that one man, armed only with his own physical and moral resources, was able to cause this land of Canaan to spring from the wasteland, I am convinced that in spite of everything, humanity is admirable.”


Giono, J.  1985.  The Man Who Planted Trees. Chelsea, Vt.:  Chelsea Green Pubs.


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# 62 Pay It Forward

pay it forwardpink-dot

A few years ago a film came out about a boy who sets out to do a significant act of kindness toward three people.  When the people he helps try to pay back the favor, he refuses their offers, and asks only that they “pay it forward.”   In the movie by the same name, the boy’s efforts get off to a rocky start, but then set in motion a groundswell of altruism that comes to be called “the movement.”

We like to think that it could be possible that the beneficiary of the favor did, in fact, pass it on, and that the favor rippled through the world in an unbroken chain, bringing forth good will endlessly.  It’s a beautiful thought, but unrealistic.  However, people do favors every day and ask nothing in return.  The giver is uplifted.  The recipient is encouraged to believe that there are good people in the world.  For that moment, the world is a brighter place for at least those two people.  The giver may feel the act worth repeating and so do it again some time.  The recipient, encouraged by the charity, may extend his or her generosity to another.

  1. Just for today, try one of these: circling the parking lot, competing for a good space, wave someone in to the more desirable spot, and take one that is further from the store. The walk will do you good.
  2. Don’t need those scratch sheets, coupons, giveaways at the department store? Give them to the customer next to you in line.
  3. Going through the token machine in the subway? Offer a token to someone behind you who would appreciate it–a student, an elderly person, a young mother with babies.
  4. Try this one that was reported in the media recently. When purchasing your fast food and paying for it at the drive thru, give the cashier an extra five or six bucks and tell them you’re “paying it forward” for the guy in the car behind you, and that you suggest that he/she pass it on.
  5. On December 26, 2013 at a Starbucks in Connecticut, a customer “paid it forward” for a coffee for the customer behind him and the chain went unbroken for 780 coffees.  On Aug. 22, 2014 a Starbucks in Florida had a chain of 458 coffees paid forward for 10 hours.  Start your own chain of coffees paid forward.
  6. If you haven’t found an opportunity to pay it forward, go to the website of the pay it forward foundation and do some reading.

Stay with this assignment a couple of days until you complete it.  Record what you did.


Pay It Forward (2000).  Director:  Mimi Leder.  Written by  Catherine Ryan Hyde.  Screen play by  Leslie Dixon..  Starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment.





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# 61 Observe the Mysterious in Nature with Awe and Wonder

green-dotstanding heron        

Years ago I was gardening in the back yard when I heard a distant and unfamiliar sound that caused me to pause and look skyward.  There, in perfect V formation, was a gathering of large birds of some kind winging their way south.  I was struck dumb by the sight of them so high above.  It may be a familiar sight for those who happen to live in the flight path of migratory birds, but it is rare to see such birds coursing over a major city sharing airspace with jumbo jets.

Recently I learned that they were most likely sandhill cranes.  One flock of about 450 birds winter in the Okeefenokee Swamp in south Georgia and return to the Great Lakes area of Michigan in the Spring.  Their coiled tracheas allow them to add harmonies to their calls and to project the notes louder and farther, resulting in a loud cry that can be heard from as far as two miles away.  Their unusual calls have been described as trumpeting, bugling, rattling or croaking.



Observing animals in nature often gives us an experience of transcendence, of deep joy.  It lifts us out of our everyday concerns and outside of ourselves.  It  gives us a window into some of the majesty of the diversity of life forms, of the deep mysteries of life.   Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science.”

Can you recall an experience you had of witnessing  an event in nature with deep awe and wonder?

If you can, watch a nature show on television.   Check out a documentary video on an animal you find fascinating, e.g., the life cycle of salmon or the Monarch butterfly, the communication patterns of dolphins and whales, the mating rituals of birds, the social behavior of the great apes, the migratory paths of loggerhead turtles, the playfulness of otters, the way dogs interact with humans, the intelligence of the octopus, the parenting behavior of penguins (i.e., March of the Penguins).


standing goose (1)




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# 60 Forgive Someone and Heal Your Heart


     We all know that our feelings interact with our bodies, particularly our immune systems, in ways that have a direct impact on our health.  In fact, extreme stress can result in a spasm of the coronary arteries.  Andrew Weil has written,

“… I advise you, as a spiritual exercise, to try to heal damaged relationships–for instance, by extending forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.  My experience is that the act of forgive-ness heals the forgiver, and along with many other components of the body, the coronary arteries might be beneficiaries of the healing energies released.”

Andrew Weil is a physician practicing holistic medicine and a widely known writer on health issues. He proposes that to heal the body, one must heal the spirit as well. Estrangement’ and bitterness cause fractures in the soul. Who have you been estranged from, unable to forgive? How could you begin the process of reconciliation? Perhaps you can write down your statement of forgiveness as a prelude to saying it in person. You do not have to lay blame or to accept responsibility for the estrangement. You can begin with a simple acknowledgment, such as, “I’m sorry that this feud has gone on so long.” or “I’m sorry we quarreled.” or “I feel badly that things took such a bad turn between us.”


Weil, A.  1997.  8 Weeks to Optimum Health.  (New York:  Knopf).

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