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Let me tell you about The Man Who Planted Trees

I feel a bit bad that recently I’ve been focussing a lot on my website and getting it to look all nice and attractive and inspiring for visitors but also sacrificing time on the blog and actually going out brown signing. Brown signs, you are still in my heart as I sit most days into the night tapping away at the computer learning how to build a website for you and unearthing research to populate it with *punches chest*.

In lieu of any brown signing activity then I’ll draw your attention (there’s a pun there) to something I have been thinking about a lot. Its a 1987 animated film called “The Man Who Planted Trees” and its 30 minutes of pure joy for me. More on that in a minute, but let me tell you how I got to here.

I’ve recently decided to have my website illustrated, I think it will add another fun and engaging element to the site and I’ve been talking to artists about ideas. Looking through so many portfolios has been inspiring for me, and I’ve loved it not just because the work is varied and unique but because it’s about people expressing what is important to them and getting their passions across through exciting mediums. I have also spent some time doing presentations, group work and filming with my friend Rob Archer at Goldsmiths, talking about his projects working with people who feel they are “stuck” in an unwanted present but uncertain future, and what I am doing with The Brown Sign Way.

Interestingly both of us, although doing very different things, ended up talking about exactly the same point: the pressures, stresses, choices and uncertainty of the modern world. More than any generation before us we now have the money, infrastructure and opportunity to do seemingly whatever we want, we can get almost anywhere we like in a short time (London to Tibuktu – 14 hours) and have constant bombardment from the TV, internet and advertising offering us all manner of exciting life changing things that didn’t exist before. But there are a growing number of psychologists who say that this world, although seemingly the utopian dream of free choice in a rich world, is actually not so good for our poor brains. Living in this chaotic information overloaded world is much more likely to stress us out and leave us feeling distressed, disengaged and distracted. Other theories, such as the Nature Deficit Disorder theory also point to the negative effects that this disassociation can have, it describes the widening gap between us and our natural surroundings, with rapid urbanisation and the boom in “inside” pursuits like video games, people (children especially) are less and less likely to enjoy this earth we live on and to notice and engage in the things that are right in front of us. Research shows (e.g. Gilbert and Killingsworth) that natural stress absorbers are a result of what happens in the brain when we are absorbed in tasks or activities, but when we are offered a lot of information and stimulation from numerous sources we are more distracted and unfocussed on the task, thus making us more disengaged and vulnerable to stress. Without natural stress absorbers “stress” becomes “distress”. OK, that’s the psychology lecture over!

“This is exactly what I’ve been saying all along!” I bellowed at Rob after he told me what he is working on, he just nodded and smiled, that man knows. My quest is to sing the praises of the things that are here all around us, to encourage engagement in the often overlooked but important things that are so easily ignored but are exuding all the life and history and passion that gives life it’s very meaning, if only we would take a minute to discover them. The Brown Sign Way is an antidote to this scary and chaotic world.

Right, my point ladies and gentlemen, was The Man Who Planted Trees. The illustrated film is about a lone traveller (I love them) walking in France across the barren plains of the Lower Alps. When we meet him he has run out of water and is relieved when comes across a village in the hills, on approach though he realises it is deserted and the fountain he finds there is dry. He walks on and in the distance he sees something that “could easily be mistaken for a tree trunk” but decides to investigate just in case. Our protagonist comes across an old shepherd tending his small flock who gives him water and a bed for the night. Our traveller stays on with the shepherd and soon we see that this solitary old man has taken on the task of single-handedly planting hundreds of thousands of acorns (100 a day) across this deserted and arid landscape. The story is of one man’s determination to breath life and meaning back into this desolate landscape through nature and love. He goes about his life’s work unnoticed and even when forests start growing up as the result of his endeavours, put down by everyone else to natural  causes, he simply carries on planting more trees, transforming the bleak barren plains into a lush and welcoming paradise.

If you have a half an hour spare then my advice is watch this, the first part is here to get you started 🙂 it’s an amazingly poignant and moving lesson in noticing the unnoticed.