Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The tree doctor

Landscape with trees

This is about a Frenchman living in Provence, at the foot of the Alps. He had lost his son and his wife, and lived alone, in solitude, as a shepherd, in a desolate area where there were no trees, nothing green, no grass, no bushes, only lavender. But he had many acorns and with a stick he would make a hole in the ground and plant them in the earth. Over the year he planted one hundred thousand acorns of which twenty thousand had sprouted into oak trees.

A visitor who had seen that desolate area in the year before World War I came back a few years later. To his astonishment the whole area was now covered with trees, hundreds of them, forming what from a distance looked like a grayish carpet covering the mountains. The landscape was miraculously changed. Now there were houses there, and children playing in gardens, even factories. The farmer continued his work, planting more trees, untroubled by two World Wars. In 1945 he was 87 years old. He died in 1947.

But he did not truly exist, this farmer! He was the invented hero in a story by Jean Giono, a distinguished French author, who hoped by his stories to stimulate young people to love trees, plant them, and make the world more beautiful and a better place to live in.

In an afterword to Giono’s, Norma L. Goodrich summarized his philosophy as follows:

Hopefulness must spring, he decided, from literature and the profession of poetry. Authors only write. So, to be fair, they have an obligation to provide hopefulness, in return for their right to live and write. The poet must know the magical effect of certain words: hey, grass, meadows,, rivers, firs, mountains, hills. People have suffered so long inside walls that have forgotten to be free, Giono thought. Human beings were not created to live for ever in subways and tenements, for their feet long to stride through tall grass slide, or slide through running water. The poet’s mission is to remind us of beauty, of trees swaying in the trees, of pines growing under snow in the mountain passes, of wild white horses galloping across the search.


  1. The man who planted trees. A story by Jean Giono. Chelsea Green Publishing Co, Chelsea Vermont, 05038.

GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief

Summer 2014



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.