the man who book

Last month I began my journey to find inspiration and texts for my thesis project. Even though the understanding of a scientific exploration is clear, I have started my research in the poetic or magical part of understanding nature. This mind of thought was an exercise started in Alejandro Tamayo’s workshop “Nature and Technology”, which I found very interesting as a point of birth.

Alfonso Borragan handed me this piece of text  called “The Man who planted Trees” by Jean Giono. After reading it I understood it was perfect to start my reflections towards the intervention of human hand in nature. The text is very famous and has been translated into 15 languages. It’s certain that the story is product of the author’s mind, but, the context and time in which it was written determines effectively that what happens in the story could be true. Not that it was true but that, again, it could be true in a “magical” or mysterious way.

The narrator walks through the french alps at 1500 meters of altitude, in where he finds himself in a cold deserted and empty place, apparently abandoned by a previous village. After observing a bit he finds a shepherd, with some sheeps. The narrator stays a night with this shepherd in which he learns a lot from him. He thought the shepherd was a nice person, in contrast from people of closeby villages, who always were angry and had suicidal epidemics. These angry people’s work is to cut trees to make coal from the wood. By this time the narrator can tell that the shepherd did the opposite. He was collecting seeds to plant trees. The shepherd took a route every day to plant them in his loneliness. In total he had planted 100,000. His name was Eleazar Bouffier. The next day the narrator and the shepherd go apart for their lives. The narrator tells how the next year he was an infantry soldier who went to war, and when it ended he decided to go back and find Eleazar Bouffier. And there he was, undisturbed by war at all. Still panting trees. He even got rid of some of his sheep.  He planted by himself an “awesome spectacle array of trees” measuring 11 km by 3 km. All this with no technological advancement in his tools. His efficiency was based solely on his connection, conviction, and understanding of his context in nature, where his hand where the tools but the spectacle was the trees. Nothing in between. In the narrator’s words: “… men can be as effective as God in other things, not only destruction”. This lonely man had made a chain of reaction in nature where rivers started to flow again, where everything seemed natural even if it was started by himself. The effect of the work of his hands started to be seamless to the eyes of hunters who visited the area.

At the end the narrator goes to visit this “desert” again. He finds it totally unrecognizable  And even people of the mean communities had changed a lot. Perhaps this connection with nature of Eleazar Bouffier was contagious by his own work. I share the narrator’s reflection on thinking that it is possible to materialize God’s Oeuvre, this being a metaphor of nature’s greatness of possessing “magical qualities”. Eleazar Bouffier represents the admirable human condition of someone who was capable of extracting nature from it’s context and applying a subtle manipulation of it. These caused a chain of reaction not only in the natural context but also in the human context.

 I find the idea of subtle manipulation very interesting, and also the effect of the natural context of this manipulation. But at the end the most important idea is the interaction and narrative between them. Something as simple as planting trees can tell a story. Bouffier’s experimentation was in a “low tech” laboratory of growing trees. But he was amazed by them and by their power to change human context. My experimentation will be with some more microscopical eukaryotes which “magical” condition is known as bio-luminescence.