Oasis

by Graham Stratford
Osaka, Japan

Most people don’t know where Lesotho is. I didn’t, when I was asked to go there as a volunteer teacher. It’s a small country completely enclosed by South Africa and almost all old, grass-covered mountains. The winters are cold and dry, so that tree seedlings don’t survive unless they are near a spring or river.

With too many people and livestock crowded into too small an area, the soil is constantly eroding, and deep gullies are everywhere. In winter, especially, the landscape is stark and bleak, a cold beauty that rapidly loses its allure.

So when I met Wilfred, who was traveling to his family’s home with a load of trees to plant, I had to go and see what he had done with them. My visiting brother and I made the two-hour hike one winter morning.

What we saw as we came around the flank of the mountain was like water to a man dying of thirst. There were trees. Lots of trees. Stretching from where we were standing almost to the top of the mountain.

We carried on and reached Wilfred’s home, deep in a shaded hollow, and all around us there were wonders: an orchard, with peach, pear and apricot trees; irrigation ditches to carry water from a stream to the seedling nursery. I was amazed at what Wilfred had accomplished, but he modestly told us that most of the work was done by his father, Mr. Pitso.

Oasis I can’t describe the feeling I had as we talked to Mr. Pitso, and the depth of his passion became apparent. He had started planting trees 20 years before, often collecting peach pits that others threw away, and growing trees from them.

At first, the people around him were suspicious, or envious. Several times, people came and uprooted the trees he had planted; they didn’t want him to have something that they didn’t. Mr. Pitso, in his wisdom, found a way to combat the vandals: he gave his trees away freely to his neighbors. Soon, everyone was growing trees, although not at the pace of Mr. Pitso.

He organized tree-planting day at the primary school where he worked. And started a tree-buying cooperative to get bulk rates from the government nursery. And showed people how they could make tree-growing profitable, by selling fruit and firewood. In times of drought, although he was in his sixties, he carried buckets of water from the small stream to his trees.

Before we left, he told us that before he died, he hoped to see the barren valley around his home covered, for the first time, with trees. When I hear stories of Africa being a basketcase, of political, economic and social problems, I remember Mr. Pitso’s dream. And a poor elementary school teacher, living in a stone hut in the mountains of Lesotho, gives me hope.

Originally published as HeroicStories #59 on September 16, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.

 

15 thoughts on “Oasis”

  1. How lovely. Did his dream come true? Did his neighbors continue to plant?

    Reforestation is of interest in other countries – maybe starting with the people is a better place than the government doing it.

    Reply
  2. The theme of planting trees to save the environment is inspiring. It is known in other cultures as well.

    In 2009 the film “The man who stopped the desert” was made about a Mr Yakouba, who singlehandedly prevented the Sahel desert advancing in his village in Burkina Faso by planting trees.

    In France I saw a children’s book about a man who all his life planted acorns, creating large oak forests. He just went everywhere, his pockets full of acorns, and people thought he was nuts, until one day they realised that the rich forests were his work. Unfortunately I can’t remember the author nor the title.

    Maybe other readers know more examples?

    Reply
    • I may have found it!

      I have a Book/Audio Cassette package, in English, Published by Chelsea Green & The Paul Winter Consort which lives on a coffee table in my living room:

      ————————————————————————

      The Man Who Planted Trees, A story by Jean Giono

      Copyright 1985 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company
      Illustrations copyright 1985 by Michael McCurdy
      Afterword copyright 1985 by Norma L. Goodrich

      Originally published in Vogue under the title “The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness”
      copyright 1954 (renewed 1982) by Conde Nast Publications, Inc.

      ISBN 0-930031-02-4
      ISBN 0-930031-35-0
      ————————————————————————

      PDF of possibly ambiguous ownership given the copyright claims elsewhere, though it seems Giono wrote the story intending it for all humanity:

      http://www.ftpf.org/The_Man_Who_Planted_Trees.pdf

      ————————————————————————

      Animated Short:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_7yEPNUXsU

      Winner of the Acadamy Award for Best Animated Short Film and Short Film Palme d’Or in 1987, this is a charming animated masterpiece about a man who devotes his life to planting trees.
      Directed by Frederick Back and edited by Norbert Pickering, this is the full English language version translated by Jean Roberts and narrated by Christopher Plummer (the orginal version is in French language narrated by Philippe Noiret).
      Jean Giono, the author of the short story upon which the movie is based, wrote the story after American editors in 1953 asked him to write a few pages about an unforgettable character. They intended him to write about a real unforgettable character, but he created the fictional Elezeard Bouffier. When the editors objected that no Bouffier had died in Banon, he donated the story to all humanity. It was soon after published by Vogue in 1954. Many people have assumed that Bouffier is a real person.

      ————————————————————————

      …and the obligatory:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Planted_Trees

      ————————————————————————

      Reply
  3. This reminds me of a favorite animated film about ‘The man Who Planted Trees’ – The Man Who Planted Trees (French title L’homme qui plantait des arbres), also known as The Story of Elzéard Bouffier, The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met, and The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness, is an allegorical tale by French author Jean Giono, published in 1953.

    Great Story!

    Reply
  4. What I find intriguing is all those neighbors who would uproot his trees — not replant them on their own land, just destroy them — because “they didn’t want him to have something that they didn’t”. A plain thief, at least, hopes to better himself by getting the valuable item for himself; these incredibly spiteful fools just didn’t want anyone to be better off than they were! That, right there, tells you why the native cultures of Africa have done such a poor job of improving themselves.

    Reply
    • I don’t think there’s anything specific to “the native cultures of Africa” in this regard; vandalism is culture-agnostic. And besides, the point of the story is not to dwell on the negative but point out the good, and the difference that one person can make.

      Reply
  5. This man, by planting trees on the dry, rocky ground and digging an irrigation canal from the stream that was there, stopped the erosion of soil. These tree roots literally held the soil together, as well as providing fruit to be eaten and sold by the inhabitants. Only a few people seem to have the wisdom to work with nature in this way to improve their condition without asking the government to do it all for them.

    Reply

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