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Articles: Moral Stories
Just keep planting
- Prof. VENKATA RAMANAMURTY MALLAJOSYULA
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Paul Rokich is a local hero. When Paul was a boy growing up in Utah, he happened to live near an old copper smelter, and the sulfur dioxide that poured out of the refinery had made a desolate wasteland out of what used to be a beautiful forest. When a young visitor one day looked at this wasteland and saw that there was nothing living there - no animals, trees, grass, bushes, birds...nothing but fourteen thousand acres of black and barren land that even smelled bad - well, he glanced at the whole stretch and said, 'This place is crummy.' Paul knocked him down. He felt insulted. But he looked around him and something happened inside him. He made a decision: Paul Rokich vowed that some day he would bring back the life to this land. Many years later, Paul was in the area and he went to the smelter office. He asked if they had any plans to bring the trees back. The answer was 'No.' He asked if they would let him try to bring the trees back. Again, the answer was 'No.' They didn't want him on their land. He realized he needed to be more knowledgeable before anyone would listen to him, so he went to college to study botany. At the college, he met a professor who was an expert in Utah's ecology. Unfortunately, this expert told Paul that the wasteland he wanted to bring back was beyond hope. He was told that his goal was foolish because even if he planted trees, and even if they grew, the wind would only blow the seeds forty feet per year, and that's all you'd get because there weren't any birds or squirrels to spread the seeds, and the seeds from those trees would need another thirty years before they started producing seeds of their own. Therefore, it would take approximately twenty thousand years to re-vegetate that six-square-mile piece of earth. His teachers told him it would be a waste of his life to try to do it. It just couldn't be done. So he tried to go on with his life. He got a job operating heavy equipment, got married, and had kids. But his dream would not die. He kept studying up on the subject, and thinking about it. And then, one night he got up and decided to do something. He did what he could with what he had. This was an important turning point. As Samuel Johnson wrote, 'It is common to overlook what is nearby keeping the eye fixed on something remote. In the same manner, present opportunities are neglected and attainable good is slighted by minds busied in extensive ranges.' Paul stopped busying his mind in extensive ranges and looked at what opportunities for attainable good were right in front of him. Under the cover of darkness, he sneaked out into the wasteland with a backpack full of seedlings and started planting. For seven hours he planted seedlings. He did it again a week later. And every week, he made his secret journey into the wasteland and planted trees, shrubs and grass. But most of it died. For fifteen years he did this. When a whole valley of his fir seedlings burned to the ground because of a careless sheep-herder, Paul broke down and wept. Then he got up and kept planting.

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