March 9, 2009

Don't Wait for Someone Else To Do It: Paul Rokich's Story

I came across the following story recently and have been totally taken by the audacity and tenacity of this man. (Paul is the gentleman in the green cap who is pointing out some of his handiwork.) For those of you who wonder if one person can make a difference here's a story for you. I will allow Adam Khan to tell it in his words.

"Paul Rokich is my hero. When Paul was a young 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, no trees, no grass, no bushes, no birds...nothing but fourteen thousand acres of black and barren land that even smelled bad - well this kid looked at the land 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's 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 sees of their own. Therefore, it would take approximately twenty thousand years to re-vegetate that six-square mile piece of earth. He 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 some kids. But his dream would not die. He kept studying up on the subject, and he kept thinking about it. And then one night he got up and took some action. He did what he could with what he had. This was an important turning point. As Samuel Johnson wrote, 'It is common to over look what is near by 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 and shrubs and grass.

Bust most of it died.

For fifteen years he did this. When a whole valley of his fir seedling burned to the ground because of a careless sheep-herder, Paul broke down and wept. Then he got up and kept planting.

Freezing winds and blistering heat, landslides and floods and fires destroyed his work time and time again. But he kept planting.

One night he found a highway crew had come and taken tons of dirt for a road grade, and all the plats he had painstakingly planted in that area were gone.

But he just kept planting.

Week after week, year after year he kept at it, against the opinion of the authorities, against the trespassing laws, against the devastation of road crews, against the wind and rain and heat...even against plain common sense. He just kept planting.

Slowly, very lowly, things began to take root. Then gophers appeared. Then rabbits. Then porcupines.

The old copper smelter eventually gave him permission, and later, as times were changing and there was political pressure to clean up the environment, the company actually hired Paul to do what he was already doing, and they provided him with machinery and crews to work with. Progress accelerated.

Now the place is fourteen thousand acres of trees and grass an bushes, rich with elk and eagles, and Paul Rokich has received almost every environmental award Utah has.

He says, "I thought that if I got this started, when I was dead and gone people would come and see it. I never thought I'd live to see it myself!'

It took him until his hair turned white, but he managed to keep that impossible vow he made to himself as a child."

Are you feeling like throwing in the towel? Don't quit! Does it seem that the harder you strive the worse it gets? Don't give in! Have you lost sight of the purpose for your life? Gather it up again and pursue it with your whole heart!

"And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9


sojourner said...

I loved this story! "Beyond hope" enters into God's territory - yet we need to be the hands the toss the seeds and the feet willing to make the long journey. Thank you for sharing!

Grace & Peace to you and yours!

Teena in Toronto said...

Great story!

Happy blogoversary!

sojourner said...

hey! where are you! I hope your beloved didn't get the bug and now you're nursing her back to help?! <----I meant "health" but my fingers made an appropriate mistake -- sooo i'm gonna leave it - just wanted to let you know you were missed

John said...

Sorry about my absence and grateful for your thoughtfulness! Everyone is slowly returning to "normal" around here.

Teena! Thanks for the blogoversary wishes.

Two years at this and still enjoying it. So much more I wish I had time to blog about. Ah, well, I suppose that just means I have more blog posts to come!