Old Men Should Plant Trees...
And They Should Be Planted Now.

In 1980, Carl Sagan during one of his Cosmos programs told a story about an old French aristocrat planning his landscaping around his new chateau. The aristocrat tells his landscaper about a certain type of tree that he wanted on his estate. The landscaper differs with the old aristocrat, because that type of tree grows very slowly. It was the landscaper's polite way of saying to the old man that he will not be alive when that type of tree matures decades from then. The aristocrat's response was to start planting immediately.

At first glance, the old aristocrat's order of planting now seems like a logical disconnect. If the old man was going to be dead and gone long before all the trees mature, why pick that type of tree and start planting them right away? Sagan's use of that illustration intrigued me back in 1980 when I was not even 40. However, looking back upon Sagan's comment, I am connecting the dots, as Steve Jobs would say. I am 71, and I am seeing life more clearly, because the dots are connecting.

I came across an old Greek proverb that parallels Sagan's story about the old French aristocrat. "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

An old man planting a tree

An old man planting a tree

As old men, we need to plant trees. I get that at a deeper level than most of you who are reading this essay. Trust me. The only caveat to that would be if you are around my age and have danced with death a couple times. In that case, you will know what I see and feel at the same level. However, for the most of you, you will not fully understand the Greek proverb for some time. Nevertheless, live long enough and you will.

The people that planted these trees never saw and enjoyed what we see.

The people that planted these trees never saw and enjoyed what we see.

Several weeks ago, Jack and Owen, my two young grandchildren, were planting Black-eyed Susans while I told them about Johnny Appleseed who planted trees all his life. Some of them would not have matured in his lifetime either and most of the trees he would never see again. Nevertheless, he planted thousands of trees. The haunting question is...why? Why did the old French aristocrat and Johnny Appleseed plant trees for which neither would benefit?

We all would agree regardless of our ages that trees should be planted for future generations. After all, we are the beneficiaries of previous generations. We benefit from our parents' and their parents' work of planting all sorts of things. In addition, we benefit from many others over the vastness of time. In fact, some of these efforts have been forgotten over time.

What the entire Western world became was based on what the Spartan king, Leonidas, did at Thermopylae in 480 BC. The Persian king, Xerxes I, told him to surrender. Leonidas replied in Greek, "Moλωυ λαβε (molon labe)." It translates into English as "Come and get them." Leonidas stood with his 300 Spartans and a 1,000 other Greeks against several hundred thousand Persians.


Leonidas and his army of 1,300 soldiers died in the battle, but he slowed the Persians long enough so that the other Greeks could organize and finally route the Persian invasion. Therefore, we all benefit from the efforts of many who have come before...some of which we know and many more that we do not know.

In addition, when you get to the place in your life when the number a years has dwindled down to a very precious few, you will see things better or more clearly than you did as with Sagan's story about the old French aristocrat. At my point in life, things that I understood at one level years ago, I understand at a far deeper level today.

Jack and Owen are nearly four- and two-years of age. They have a lifetime ahead of them. I want them to benefit from anything that I can share with them. We plant flowers, bake, read stories, go to the zoo, and the list goes on and on. In addition, I am teaching the art history. Children at that young age want to learn and are excited about understanding new things.

However, we live on a pale blue dot according to Carl Sagan. This pale blue dot is the only home that we have, and we need to care for this pale blue dot. However, with global warming and climate change, we are recklessly ignoring all the telltale signs like melting polar caps, raise of sea level, and global rise of temperatures. Go to NASA's Climate Time Machine. Use your mouse to move the curse over dates or the meters on the four charts.

Before it is too late, we all need to plant trees...regardless of our age. Professor T. M. Das, who teaches at the University of Calcutta, estimated that a tree is worth $193,250. These are his calculations.

A tree living for 50 years will generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control, control soil erosion and increase soil fertility to the tune of $31,250, recycle $37,500 worth of water and provide a home for animals worth $31,250. This figure does not include the value of fruits, lumber or beauty derived from trees.

The Value of a Tree

Darrell Putman wrote this about planting trees, "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now." We need to do more than merely plant trees as old men. All people including some of the illiterates in Congress need to do more than merely plant trees. We all need to address the entire issue of global warming.

Why? Why should many of us care what will happen in a couple dozen years from now? In 25-years from now, many of us will be dead and gone, but our children and their children's children will not be. We should be protecting them. We are in the late stages of ruining what Sagan refers to as our pale blue dot. He tells us that the earth is the only home that we have. We need to protect our home for future generations or else....

Take the time while planting trees to read Sagan's book.

Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot

This is a longer video of Carl Sagan's video of the Pale Blue Dot.

On Seeing the Light

On Seeing the Light

Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.

Connecting The Dots

Connecting the Dots

Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.