PAUL ROKICH IS MY 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
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 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 didnt 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 Utahs 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 thats all youd
get because there werent 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 revegetate 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 couldnt 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 overlook 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. 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.
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 plants he
had painstakingly planted in that area were gone. But he just
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
Slowly, very slowly, 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 and
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 Id 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.
What was it you wanted to do that
you thought was impossible? Pauls story sure gives a perspective
on things, doesnt it?
The way you get something accomplished
in this world is to just keep planting. Just keep working. Just
keep plugging away at it one day at a time for a long time, no
matter who criticizes you, no matter how long it takes, no matter
how many times you fall. Get back up again. And just keep planting.
Just keep planting.