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The benefits and the Splendor of Life

The trees on the hillsides of the Ningxia Baijitan Forest are covered by small purplish red blossoms dancing in the spring breeze. This colorful sight on the once-barren hills delights our eyes.

Wang Youde, director of the local forest farm, calls these flower-laden shrubs damsels of the desert. He has a pet name for all the different kinds of plants they plant here. He calls yangchai servant girl and Scots pine belle pine.

Why does he think of them all as girls? We were curious.
This brawny man's face suddenly turned red when we asked him, and he became shy and laughed.

Suddenly we heard a song being sung far off.

"Grazing my herd in the heavens; grazing my herd on the mountain,
"My heart is filled with the surging passion of love.
"The prairie, the prairie, my true love."

We stopped what we were doing and listened transfixed, and then suddenly we understood the expression of Wang Youde's face. The prairie was his true love.

Flowers of the heart bloom in riotous color on this harsh and barren land.

Tree planters pour their passion for life into the land, and it fills their hearts with beauty.

Yin Yuzhen: A Robinia
Back in the days, Yin Yuzhen, a peasant woman from Uxin Banner, Inner Mongolia, gritted her teeth and sold all her belongings--a three-legged ewe and newly born lambs—to buy 200 tree seedlings.

In order to survive and for the sake of their children and grandchildren, a generation of people strove desperately to afforest China’s northern tier, performing a mighty and passionate epic poem.

Then a red shirt, a long black braid and an SUV (sports utility vehicle).  Yin Yuzhen shoots out of the depths of the desert like a fireball and comes to a stop right in front of us.

This farmer woman, who sold her sheep to buy tree seedlings, proudly shows us the 4,000-hectare forest she planted and the ecological tourism center she built.

Today she is rich and has won many awards at home and abroad, and she just won another international award as we were writing this. This is how she is praised:

"She is the epitome of courage, patience and perseverance. Her work in greening the desert commands universal respect."

Many of the farmers who struggled to survive in the desert a few decades ago are now famous far and wide. Shi Guangyin and Wang Youde have been designated National Desert Control Heroes, and Niu Yuqin has won 86 awards at home and abroad, more than any other woman.

Nearly every grove of trees has its own fascinating tales to tell.

Bai Chunlan: the old elm
Bai Chunlan took us walking in her forest at dusk.

On that forest path resplendent with wild flowers, she occasionally stopped to point out one kind of wild flower or another, all the time bouncing along with a big smile on her face.

Just then, the last golden rays of light shone through the foliage bringing a sense of peace to this corner of wilderness and shining on Bai Chunlan's hair and shoulders. As we looked at her back, we felt as if we were entering a children’s fairy tale. We felt as if a fairy had come and sprinkled this 60-year-old woman with fairy dust turning her into a beautiful young nymph.

This woman who had twice lost loved ones and whose heart was filled
with misery regained her long lost youth in the act of planting trees. It is only here that her soul is free to wander and her life can burst forth again so magically.

The splendor of life brings warmth to the lonely, consolation to the grieving, relief to those in pain and hope to those in difficulty.

Li Zhiyuan
Li Zhiyuan, a young man in Pengyang, Ningxia, broke both his legs in 1980 and was confined to bed for two years. He grew deeply dissatisfied with his situation and decided he wouldn't lie there waiting for death. He would live like a man.

Although his legs were almost totally paralyzed, he made an incredible decision -- he would plant trees.

He could only crawl, but he crawled to a mountain slope dragging a shovel and hoe. His mother brought him lunch, and when she saw him digging a hole for a tree, her eyes were filled with tears.
He was paralyzed for ten years, but everyday he struggled against the barren land and his own limitations.

One day, he began to work as usual when he suddenly had a strange feeling as if something new was waiting for him. He grabbed an apricot tree and tried to stand up. Pain pierced to the bone, his legs trembled and he was drenched in sweat.

Just then, the sun broke through the clouds and a beam of light illuminated his body. Suddenly it seemed as if a superhuman force entered his body, and amazingly he was able to stand again.
A scream of joy pierced the silence of the wilderness.
Ten years later, he didn't even use a cane.

When we were about to visit him, he unexpectedly came to us on a motorcycle. He was wearing an ill-fitting but well-pressed suit and a white shirt and was brimming with confidence. This man who once could only crawl with the greatest of difficulty stands tall unflinching in a strong wind, just like the pine trees he planted on the mountain slope.

Yi Jiefang
Yi Jiefang was a mother from Shanghai and lived a comfortable life in a foreign country. In 2000, her son died accidentally, leaving her in dark despair. Two years later, she suddenly remembered that when her son was alive he said, "Will you go with me to plant trees in Inner Mongolia?" Thereupon, she sold her house and belongings and went to the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia.

The first time she planted tree seedlings, she impatiently waited for it to rain and couldn't sleep all night. When she heard the wind blowing, she jumped from bed and ran outside barefoot.

It finally rained on the fifth day. She stood in the rain with tears of happiness mixed with rain running down her cheeks and dripping on the yellow ground. She stood there a long time looking up at the sky and finally asked, "My dear son, are you there in the other world protecting your mama?"

Yi Jiefang worked seven years as a volunteer during which time she planted 650 hectares of trees. She had fulfilled her son’s wish, but wasn't ready to quit. She wanted to leave a larger patch of green for all the children of the world.

Tree planters are like a paintbrush and their passion is like pigment, and they use their lives to paint magnificent pictures that will forever tell posterity what they accomplished through their selfless work.

Wang Youde
While we were interviewing Wang Youde, he took us climbing up the mountain to see a "scroll" he "painted"—a faux-antique Great Wall to encourage generations to come—a Green Great Wall protecting the ancient Yellow River. Just then he effusively told us with great pride, “In the past 20 years, I did two things: I have covered these hills with trees and made the people who planted them prosperous.”

At that point, we asked him three questions:
If the forest was destroyed overnight, what would you do?
If you were 30 years younger, what would you do?
If you were offered a higher position, would you take it?
He gave the same answer to all three questions, "I would continue planting trees."

The ancient Great Wall meanders far off into the distance.

Human life is short, the majestic Great Wall will eventually crumble, and all these groves of trees will eventually die. The only thing that will not fade with time is the magnificent sense of values of the heroes who planted these trees.

Continued: Heroes Fighting relentlessly Niu Yuqin: A Xinjian poplar
Grazing sheep in the shelterbelt

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