By Karen Cernich
Dozens of men, women and children showed up bright and early to the Dutzow trailhead on the Katy Trail a few Saturdays ago to do something rather unexpected — plant trees. The popular Missouri State Park known for attracting cyclists, runners and walkers drew tree lovers on this particular morning. The event marked the launch of a three-year partnership between Magnificent Missouri and Forest ReLeaf of Missouri to plant trees in strategic locations along the Katy Trail, but the real hope is that this project sprouts more tree planting and a renewed appreciation for trees.
To get that message across, all of the volunteers who participated in the Dutzow tree planting were offered a special edition of “The Man Who Planted Trees,” a slim story (just a few dozen pages) that packs a powerful punch about the power of a single person to change a landscape. The book, which has sold more than 250,000 copies around the world and inspired countless tree planters, tells the story of a shepherd who plants 100 acorns a day for 30 years in the foothills of the French Alps. The result is a countryside that is transformed and a community that is revitalized. Dan Burkhardt, founder of Magnificent Missouri, sees the same potential for the Missouri River Valley and the Katy Trail.
“It’s a wonderful fable about what commitment over a long period of time can do to change things for the better,” he told the volunteers. “That’s what we’re doing here, starting a three-year project that will make the Katy Trail better. Magnificent Missouri is dedicated to making the Katy Trail a better, more interesting and sustainable place.”
Meridith Perkins, executive director of Forest ReLeaf, who first read “The Man Who Planted Trees” when she was in forestry school and had her own pocket-sized version of the story that she carried around, agreed. “It has inspired a lot of tree planters over the years, and now it will inspire even more,” she remarked.
Burkhardt, who first read “The Man Who Planted Trees” 20 years ago, remembers being moved by the story from the start. He had found the book on a business trip and decided to buy it because his wife, Connie, loves all things related to France, and he loves all things related to trees. “Little did I know it would turn out to be such an important book to me,” Dan said.
Over the years, he has given away copies to friends and sold copies at the Peers Store, so when the tree planting partnership with Forest ReLeaf began to take shape, the Burkhardts approached the publisher about printing a special “Magnificent Missouri” edition. They dedicated the edition to the late Ted and Pat Jones, enthusiastic tree planters who were instrumental in establishing the Katy Trail State Park more than 30 years ago. “The release of this special edition marks the beginning of a native tree-planting effort along the Katy Trail,” Dan writes in the dedication. “This planting will illustrate the transformative power of trees to future generations who will discover them, like those who appreciated the work of the tree planter in this French fable.”
Goal: Recognize This Area Needs Your Help
In addition to getting more people to feel the story’s inspiration, the goal in having this special edition printed is to help people make a connection with the Missouri River Valley and the land along the Katy Trail and to recognize that this area needs their help. “It needs not just newly planted trees, it needs volunteers to clear invasive species and help State Parks keep the Trailheads clean,” Dan said. “These places we enjoy, whether the countryside in the Alps where ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ takes place or the communities and trailside along the Katy, need help to maintain and protect them.”
Afterwords written by Bill Spradley of Trees, Forests, and Landscapes; Mike Rood of Pea Ridge Forest; Meridith Perkins of Forest ReLeaf; the Burkhardts and Jason Marschel, a board member for Magnificent Missouri, provide motivation, and the final page of the book offers a few suggestions on “What You Can Do” to help the cause: teach your children to have an appreciation for trees and get outside with them more often to enjoy trees. Spend a day together riding bikes on the Katy Trail, send the kids to Forest ReLeaf’s summer Tree Camp or plant a tree together.
“There is no better family activity, no more rewarding project, than planting a tree with a child or grandchild — whether in your yard or along the Katy Trail,” Dan said. “For years, Connie and I have given our grandchildren seedling trees from the Missouri Department of Conservation. They have a wonderful and inexpensive program to distribute all kinds of tree seedlings. The children have planted the trees themselves and taken them to school to share with classmates. This has been a way to have them experience how small things they do today can turn into something significant in the future.”
Wood Engravings Make It an Art Piece to Study
At just a few dozen pages, “The Man Who Planted Trees” can easily be read in one sitting, and the story is simple enough that it will appeal to readers of all ages, even children. “I think it would be ideal for parents to read to children,” Dan noted. But senior adults will really love it too. Artist Bryan Haynes, who is selling copies of the book at his gallery in Washington, recently read the story to his 86-year-old mother, who is recovering from an illness. “With her eyes closed, listening, she hummed ascent and affection all the way through,” Bryan said. “This story with Dan’s wonderful foreword and afterword expresses a philosophy, a movement.”
Of course, as an artist, Bryan appreciates the illustrations that accompany the story — wood engravings by Michael McCurdy — just as much as the words, and he hopes everyone who reads the story will take the time to study them because they capture its essence perfectly. “They are like children’s book illustrations that are intended to carry the same weight of the storyline as the text,” Bryan remarked.
The engravings are carved from flat blocks of beechwood. All areas that are white in the final prints are removed by the artist, leaving the raised areas that become inked and black in the print, Bryan explained.
Great Gift for Tree Lovers, Gardeners, Outdoor Enthusiasts
With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approaching, “The Man Who Planted Trees” would make a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys gardening or planting of any kind, and you could pair it with a young tree or seedling to be planted. You can purchase this special edition of “The Man Who Planted Trees” for $10 at the Bryan Haynes Studio Gallery at 10 West Second Street in Washington, Mo., or online at www.magnificentmissouri.org.