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Arbor Day Ardor: One Acorn at a Time

You’re a certified, granola-crunching tree-hugger. Friday, April 29 is Arbor Day.

You know what to do: Plant a few huggables. Do your part. Make the place prettier, pump up that carbon cycle.

You’ll feel good about yourself, and you should.

But as you roll up your sleeves for your Arbor Day frenzy, consider Elzeard Bouffier, the protagonist of The Man Who Planted Trees. Jean Giono’s powerful fable, first published as a magazine article in 1954, tells of how, in the years following World War I, Bouffier — one acorn at a time, one tree at a time, one day a time –transformed thousands of acres in southern France from a war-ravaged moonscape to a lush and beautiful forest.

The results, ecologically speaking, were predictable: Where once no plant, animal or person had lived, life in all its variation was reborn, and flourished.

The Man Who Planted Trees is a parable, of course. But every writer from Plato on down has understood what a powerful short-cut to the truth fiction can be.

I will resist a tectonic digression into noting the ironic enthusiasm with which America’s current federal government of choice is handing over access to the national forests to the timber industry at your expense.

No, I guess I won’t: You already know (don’t you?) that millions of tax dollars — your money — are being spent to roll back legal protection of America’s national forests, and to subsidize the building of thousands of miles of logging roads in those forests, for the sole purpose of enriching the logging industry. That’s “industry,” as in profit and nongovernmental, private/shareholder ownership.

You will not get your percentage.

Where’s the outrage?

(If anyone in the well-appointed boardrooms of this industry has even heard of Bouffier, they presumably consider him an obsessive-compulsive fruitcake — and a fictional one, at that — even though the singlemindedness with which the industry is ravaging these publicly owned resources makes Bouffier ‘s dedication look like dabbling in a window box.)

I hear you asking the disconsolate question: In the face of new proposals forthousands of miles of tax-paid logging roads to cut down 300,000 acres of old-growth trees in Alaska alone, affecting 2.5 million acres, what can I do?

Well, you can take inspiration from others, who have been inspired by Giono’s book to take tangible action action — from a teenager in North Carolina to group of senior citizens in California — and have planted tens of thousands of trees from coast to coast.

You can educate yourself on the monstrous injustices with respect to corporate taxes and subsidies that we barely notice them anymore. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, 46 companies with combined profit of $42.6 billion paid no federal income taxes in 2003 alone, and instead received rebates totaling $5.4 billion. (The government is counting on that sense of futility. Annoy the government. Your self-esteem will soar.)

You can buy the book, of course. Or the CD by the Paul Winter Consort, narrated by Robert J. Lurtsema. Or the award-winning, 1985 animated film based on the book.

And share them with your friends.

You can take heart from the fact that environmentalism — which the government wants you to see as a secular, Godless, soulless juggernaut of sentimental folly — is being increasingly understood as a profoundly moral and even religious issue by those who at first glance might seem unlikely allies.

As the recent, 35th anniversary of Earth Day fades into memory, you can also take note of World Environmental Day — Thursday, June 5 — on which nations around the world will remind us that not all “furriners” fit handily into the stereotype of rainforest-burning, sulfur dioxide-spewing idiots.

It’s their planet, too, and they know it.

In many ways, they’re a lot smarter than we are.

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