Sufi Stories

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The Best Time to Plant a Tree Was Twenty Years Back…

plant tree

A guest post from Aman.

I remember reading “Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town,” in which Paul Theroux shares fascinating meditations on the beauty of Africa and its people. I especially remember Paul recounting his visit to an African village. He mentions that during the noon hot summer day, all the villagers would cluster under the one tree in the village. Paul wonders why no one took ever took the initiative to plant another shady tree in the village.

Recently I had the opportunity to ask the same question, this time when I was visiting a farmer who owns 250 acres of prime agricultural land in Ontario. I met Joanne during a trip to the countryside at a farmer’s marker where she was buying blueberries. I asked what she uses the farm for, and she mentioned she grows hay and corn. I asked her why she never thought of planting trees in her own farm – I was puzzled that a farmer with 250 acres of land needs to burn gas to travel to a farmer’s market and line up to buy fruits at a grocery store.

Joanne laughed sheepishly at my question and said, “When I was a kid, my parents thought the trees take so long to grow, what’s the point of planting and waiting twenty years. When I inherited the farm after twenty years, I thought of planting trees. But then, the same thought came to my mind… the trees will take twenty years to grow, and would I be around to enjoy their fruit? Then another twenty years passed away…and now I wish I had planted them.”

Why not plant them today?” I wondered. Recently I read an article by Mary Barra, CEO, GM, in which she mentioned an ancient chinese proverb:”Twenty years ago was the best time to plant a tree. What’s the second-best time? Now..”

When my grandmother purchased a house she was sixty-one years old. She barely had enough to live on and she got drinking water from a well which was twenty minutes walk from the house. Yet, she went to exhibitions and other places to bring back saplings she could plan in her small garden. Thanks to her passion, growing up I was surrounded by a mini orchard in the middle of the city. I still remember our courtyard littered with delicious Guavas from the four tall and leafy trees which also provided shade in the hot Indian summer season. I would climb the trees and I felt so happy. My grandmother planted Litchi, Neem, Mangoes, Almond, Papaya, Henna, berries and many other fruits. Yes, it was a tropical climate in India where my grandmother lived, so plants grew easily. We were fortunate in the hearty harvest we enjoyed.

With some effort we can turn almost all places in the world into a little bit of paradise.

If Matt Damon can plant potatoes on Mars, I am sure we can grow something anywhere!


I was much inspired by Mary Barra’s quote which encourages us to do something today even if we didn’t get a chance to do it yesterday and I thought to share this with you. I hope you enjoy this post.