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The Reforester

Jean Giono tells the story of Elzeard Bouffier, a shepherd he met in 1913 in the French Alps.

At that time, because of careless deforestation, the mountains around Provence, France, were barren. Former villages were deserted because their springs and brooks had run dry. The wind blew furiously, unimpeded by foliage.

While mountain climbing, Giono came to a shepherd’s hut, where he was invited to spend the night.

After dinner Giono watched the shepherd meticulously sort through a pile of acorns, discarding those that were cracked or undersized. When the shepherd had counted out 100 perfect acorns, he stopped for the night and went to bed.

Giono learned that the 55-year-old shepherd had been planting trees on the wild hillsides for over three years. He had planted 1,100,000 trees, 20,000 of which had sprouted. Of those, he expected half to be eaten by rodents or die to the elements, and the other half to live.

After World War I, Giono returned to the mountainside and discovered incredible rehabilitation: there was a veritable forest, accompanied by a chain reaction in nature. Water flowed in the once-empty brooks. The ecology, sheltered by a leafy roof and bonded to the earth by a mat of spreading roots, become hospitable. Willows, rushes, meadows, gardens, and flowers were birthed.

Giono returned again after World War II. Twenty miles from the lines, the shepherd had continued his work, ignoring the war of 1939 just as he had ignored that of 1914. The reformation of the land continued. Whole regions glowed with health and prosperity.

Giono writes, “On the site of the ruins I had seen in 1913 now stand neat farms….The old streams, fed by the rains and snows that the forest conserves, are flowing again….Little by little, the villages have been rebuilt. People from the plains, where land is costly, have settled here, bringing youth, motion, the spirit of adventure.”

Those who pray are like spiritual reforesters, digging holes in barren land and planting the seeds of life. Through these seeds, dry spiritual wastelands are transformed into harvestable fields, and life-giving water is brought to parched and barren souls.

Hal Seed, Oceanside, California, Leadership, Spring, 1993, p. 48