Pick a spot roughly 1000kms North-West of Vancouver. Now zoom in. Way in. It’s seven thirty in the morning, 3°c, raining, and if you look around this wild desolate place of acrid smelling rot & shredded wood, navigate the treacherous landscape of fallen trees & sharpened sticks, the rotting stumps, the swamps, the webs of alders, and if you squint hard enough to see through the haze of mosquitos horseflies deerflies blackflies no-see-ums assaulting your face, crawling over every inch of your body, well, you might just find me there laughing at the top of my lungs. Laughing so loud in fact that I barely have the strength in me to plant the little spruce in my hand. My eyes well up with tears and somehow, somehow, my life always makes the most sense to me in these tiny inexplicable moments of joyful suffering.
The day’s over we all pile up into the truck. The truck stinks like a soppy pair of socks worn for four days straight, like a gym bag of human suffering, like sweat dipped in sweat dipped in armpits. There’s a half-eaten sandwich under the seat, dirty clothes everywhere, and us, whatever we have become by the end of the day. Somehow 10-11 hours of work have come to pass. From waking up at 5:15am, eating what we can at breakfast, assembling our lunches & filling our water bottles, to showering after work, eating diner until 8:00pm; every second is brutally accounted for. The only two variables left to play with are how hard you work & what goes on in your brain.
Sarah gets in first. She takes her bug net off. Her face is a mix of grime, sunscreen and bloody mosquito bites. She takes her 90’s style headphones off and we chat about what she has learned during the day which usually amounts to a bunch of romance & love stories sprinkled in with a few science articles, still generally about love & gratitude & peace on earth. Ally drives forward to the next cache, she illuminates us on the origin of words & expressions. She stops. Zach hops in, he says: dude did you know (insert mind-blowing fact about psychology, history or some recent scientific discovery). I say: Oh man yeah, I listened to that one too!
Meanwhile Eric who doesn’t listen to Podcasts while he plants, just sits there looking ahead into the depth of his soul trying to catch his breath. His gloves are more hole than fabric by now and soon I too need to catch my breath because the weird smell emanating from them almost makes me pass-out. I crack the window. What’s for supper guys?
Over half a million trees have gone into the ground since my very first tree five years ago. By now I’ve spent a near cumulative year of my life planting trees. And while you might find that my motives for pursuing such a strange & savage line of work may vary wildly from day to day, year to year, one thing has never changed, and that is my endless love for the sport of it. For filling my bags with as many trees as possible to the point where I can hardly walk let alone navigate the gnarly terrain. For racing against the clock for 10 hours straight. For the satisfaction of seeing acres of land being filled little by little. For suffering through the cold, through the heat, through exhaustion, to the point where you can find life itself in a drink of water, in a cool breeze or in the tiniest area of soft creamy soil to sink a shovel in.
The hardship of it all resets my counter to zero for the things in life that I take for granted. You know what I mean right? All I’m saying is that if you try finding the secret wisdom to infinite happiness at the bottom of a bag of chips, you might just succeed!
The food here is exquisite, and the mess tent where we eat is a sight to behold. We sit all 60+ of us, hunched over our butter chicken & turmeric rice with a side of kale salad, a mushroom cream soup and a buttered slice of fresh made bread, exchanging a few loud laughs and stories of war, injuries and pain, and all in some weird lexicon distilled over the years to describe any & all oddities so very unique to our line of work. It’s day four. Some people are already drunk, some people went to town for drugs or whatever else is missing for tonight’s party and there’s a baby sitting on one of the table chatting indistinctly & throwing food on the ground, and there is nowhere more savage & eclectic in the world, and I absolutely love it. And also, well, I guess at times it’s also the last place I would ever want to be!
Day five is our day off. So very little time so many things to eat! We pile into the truck again at 9am and drive into town. Dressed in civilian clothes to the best of our respective abilities. Here the time flows a little more freely. Sometime before 2-3pm we need to squeeze in laundry, the pool, groceries, downloads and video calls with our loved ones. I know what you are thinking, but there is a routine to this madness. Mine is laundry chocolate milk video call pool hamburger fries groceries ice cream truck chips candy & nap. The highlight of the day being that for an hour or so I can escape to Mexico and catch-up with Ceci. Managing a long-distance relationship for three months in the woods is no easy feat, so yeah, whatever, I guess I do eat my emotions a little. So what?
A season goes by surprisingly quick when you cut it in four days of work for one day off, for a total of 55 days of work out of 68. In that time, our little crew of 6 has seen quite the turnover. We lost our first planter due to a slight lack of loyalty, our second we had to emergency evacuate by helicopter for a medical condition, and our third just hopped on a flight home one day after planting a few shifts with us in sweat pants, sweater and unusable boots. But I must say the core group of weirdos I had the pleasure to plant with this year has been one of the best in all my years as a tree planter.
Then one day, out of the blue, sitting at Happy Jacks (the only place worthy of mention in Houston, Bc), Zach & I, we figured out that you can download stand-up comedy records on Itunes. And, just then & there, the game was changed forever. We could now be planting in straight rocks, on the shnrabiest piece of land on this earth and still be bent in two crying with laughter, listening to comedy specials all day!
So, here we are, roundabout back to getting the strength zapped out of my every muscle by the sheer comedy powers of Billy Connolly, to the point where it is impossible to plant. The flow of life leads you to weird places. And this one, well it’s definitely up there with the weirdest ones! So now, zoom out. Way out. And look at this earth before you go back to your own little place in it and ask yourself:
Doesn’t it look just a little nicer with some more green on it?
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