Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Example of a Postcard Written by a Geriatric Rookie Tree Planter

Hey mom!
How are you?
Things here are good and getting steadily better.
Being a rookie tree planter is like buying an instrument and joining an orchestra without knowing how to play. You learn as you go. And I’m getting faster, more efficient.  
We see bears almost every day, usually from the truck. A few weeks ago I learned how to smoke pot out of an apple. It made the shale and brambles bearable. The bugs are obscene. Even my bug bites have bug bites. 
In a few days there will be a gigantic party here marking the end of the spring trees and the start of the summer trees. With copious amounts of drugs (I am told). I haven’t decided whether to experiment or remain sober for observational purposes. Such bashes are said to be truly epic. 
Tree planting is really tough, but the other night I had a dream that the season ended early and I was sincerely disappointed. So maybe it’s not so bad after all, eh?
Love you! Talk soon,

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Mosquitoes are Smart. Black flies are Dumb. Both are Terrible.

I grew up in a swamp. I know black flies. I know mosquitoes. But tree planting has allowed for an involved, on-site research opportunity to confirm what I have always suspected to be true: mosquitoes are methodological and clever whereas black flies are simple-minded insects with little to no thought process.
Mosquitoes are cunning and careful. They insert their stinger with the precision and the professionalism of a physician. They take their time. They go for the veins.

Mosquitoes work in organized structures and use tactics to maximize blood yield. For example, if they happen upon a dude doing some gardening, it would not be advantageous to swarm the poor bastard as he is more likely to get frustrated and either retire inside or apply a poisonous concoction. In such a case, the mosquito swarm team would use a different technique. They might hang out in the tree line, sending out only a carefully calculated amount of frontrunners to assess the scene. If the gardener appears tolerant enough, they’ll send more, but gradually so as not to push his threshold too much too quickly. If, however, the victim is swatting and cussing, they’ll hold off until their compatriots have been executed, at which time they will be replaced.
Indoors, mosquitoes take their time. They hang out on the ceilings and walls, waiting. Then, one by one, they descend, hover above their victim until they have selected an optimum target spot. They are tidy and leave their victim with almost no trace (until the itchy welt a few hours later).
Black flies, on the other hand, don’t possess a scrap of intelligence. Their sole technique seems to be a sort of cluster-fuck blood feast. Each one for themselves, driving their victims either indoors or insane.
Black flies are sloppy. You reach behind your neck in a black fly infested area and your hand comes back bloody. They are impulsive, like starved vampires, mowing on their victims with wild urgency. And indoors, while the mosquito simply adapts to the new environment and changes tactics, black flies forget their ultimate purpose and can be found clinging to windows, confused and desperate.
Now imagine a group of tree planters working out in the middle of nowhere with a job to do and no chance of escape. The bugs get excited. This is their chance to flourish! The mosquitoes engage in a frenzied blitz, sending out all team members at once, and when they discover the optimum spot of penetration, the information is quickly shared, resulting in repeat injection sites.
Black flies use their usual (only) technique of flying at full speed and dive-bombing their victim with very little precision. They fly up noses, down throats, into eyes. Inevitably many of them succeed in extracting the blood nectar they so desire. The tree planter, who is busy tending to the trees and is no match for the swarms, ends up looking like they lost a fight at the end of the day.

In conclusion, mosquitoes are of superior intelligence, with their tactics, patience and precise injection practice. Black flies are stupid, lack reasoning skills and attention to detail, but with their sheer number and exuberance they can really fuck you up.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Shut Up and Plant: Day 25 in the Life of a Rookie Geriatric Tree Planter

When I purchased my planting bags, they came with a sticker that read, "Shut up and plant."

I didn't know it then, but this slogan would become among the most pertinent advice. 

The "shut up" doesn't refer to talking. How could it? We plant alone. There's no one besides the bugs and the brambles to talk to. No, the "shut up" is directed at the mind, which, when left unbridled, can quickly become a problem.

Lately, my mind has been taking me for a ride, and curbing its wild and often sabotaging tendencies has been among the greatest challenges of this whole o̶r̶d̶e̶a̶l̶ experience.

It'll decide to play the same song, over and over and over. And not an appropriate song either. Something energizing would be helpful, something fast with a good beat, but my mind will select a Raffi song from the 80s and play it relentlessly. I'll gently suggest a Caravan Palace song or a sweet Led Zeppelin tune, but to no avail. I get Baby Beluga or worse, a mere snippet of it repeated throughout the day, never to be completed.

Then there are the negative thoughts that begin to spew as early as mid-morning and can last until the very end of the day if I'm unable to curb them.

"You sure are planting slowly!" it'll begin.

"Yep. The slowest planter on the crew, how do you like that?" it'll continue.

"You know, you're ruining your body for barely more than minimum wage. Haha!"

SHUT UP! I'll beg. Please SHUT UP!

"Actually, you might never get better," it sneers.

I WILL, I whimper.

"How can you? Look at you. You're exhausted. You have more hours of planting remaining than the amount of sleep you got last night. How can you keep this up for seven more hours?"

I don't know, I squeak. I don't know.

"What were you thinking? A 32-year-old rookie. What an idea!" 

STOP! I plead, the tears only one more insult away. SHUT UUUUUUUUUP!

On the physical front, I'm doing OK-ish. Even when I think my body can't take another step, can't drive the shovel into the ground again, can't bend over to place the tree one more time, it somehow does. 

But the mind! With its relentless need to taunt and provoke is where the battle truly takes place.

The rare times when I have managed fast, fluid motions where the trees start to go in with less effort and strain have occurred when my mind was on a brief hiatus. Planting, I have quickly discovered, requires a state of no-mind. Of meditation. Of ultimate mind suspension. And this takes practice. As my muscles and tissues and joints adapt to the outrageous physical demands, my mind is learning to back off, to float on the waves of my subconscious, albeit for the smallest of stretches.

And when that doesn't work, after a rough day like yesterday, battling everything from the daily mind-fuck to tough land to the obscene amount of black flies, there is sometimes a Caribou waiting in the truck to gently lift the spirits--or at least prevent them from plummeting deeper.

The less my mind interferes, the better I get at planting. Of course, it still checks-in countless times a day, offering a slew of creative insults and unhelpful suggestions, but I am learning (trying!) to keep it in check. To keep the momentum of the movements. To just shut the fuck up and plant.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

It ain't so Bad: Words from the Woods

Since my most recent post, I have received many thoughtful but genuinely concerned messages. So I’m here to tell you that there are some great things about tree planting too! Such as…

You can eat anything you want!  

Tree planters burn on average 6000 calories a day, so this opens the door wide open for possibilities. I’ve been eating like a 17-year-old male on a growth spurt (yes my tree planting appetite finally kicked in). I've indulged in a banana split and an apple fritter the size of my head on the SAME DAY! I never pause to consider the calorie content. And I haven’t gained a pound. Tree planting is the ticket for an all-and-anything-you-can-eat lifestyle.  

Save on gym memberships!

Tree planting will tone every muscle you have, for free! And it’s efficient, like working out on three machines at once. Imagine, if you can, lifting weights while you hustle on the Stairmaster and simultaneously work your abs. Your arms will become hyper defined, your thighs solid, your stomach as firm as a punching bag. All that in exchange for a little muscle pain. OK, a lot of muscle pain. But the results are undeniable.  

Save $ on alcohol!

With extreme exhaustion, a little alcohol can go a long way. After a rough day, just one beer can be enough to hinder speech, two can affect fine motor skills and three can be enough to knock you unconscious. Drinking just got a lot more affordable. Planters’ beer includes Pilsner, Caribou and Lucky. We went for the latter.   


There is truly never a dull day. Something is always happening. Like yesterday, when the snowmelt and the heavy rain combined to wash away the logging road and we had to build a bridge with fallen logs. Surprise!   

 See, now? It's not so bad when you put things into perspective.


Monday, 12 May 2014

Day Three in the Life of a Rookie Geriatric Tree Planter

Become aware of the 5:45 alarm sounding. Turn over in your sleeping bag once, twice. Listen to your crewmembers slither, sigh, hit snooze and snore for five more minutes.  Five precious minutes. Ignore the heart palpitations. After a few minutes, in tandem with the others, rise and head to the bathroom or kitchen, whichever is less occupied. Be quick. Wherever you are, someone else needs to be there. Marvel at your crewmembers as they gorge on multi-egg omelettes, toast, and cereal. Ignore the early-morning nausea. Choke down your porridge. You’re told your tree planting appetite will kick-in soon. You’re told you won’t be able to replenish the calories you will burn during the day, that your body will feed on your own muscle tissue. You’re told many things. Ignore these things for now. Concentrate on finishing your breakfast.

At 6:45 load your stuff into the truck. Make sure you have your shovel, your planting bags and your water. Forgetting any of these items would be a disaster. Unforgiveable. Heave yourself into the truck with the other five crewmembers. Ignore motion sickness as you wind through dirt roads for 45 minutes. Hold on to the door as the truck enters a logging road and slides and skids and veers over mud and bumps. Ignore the pressure in your bladder.

When the truck reaches your land, exit and take your things out of the back. Ignore the bear tracks.

Put on your gloves and fill your bags with trees. Groan under the weight as you heave the bags onto your shoulders. Clip them to your hips. Ignore the back pain. Take your shovel into your hand and step onto the clear cut. Ignore the mounds of bear shit.

Drive your shovel into the ground. Use the Lord’s name in vain as your struggle to open the earth. Wider. You have to fit your hand in there. The roots have to be straight. Use your spiked work boot to drive the shovel deeper. Push the shovel backward. Forward. Harder. Faster. Drop the F bomb. Use the Lord’s name in vain in combination with the F bomb. Slide the tree into the earth. Use the back of the shovel to close the hole. Give it a final kick. Pull off some blue ribbon and say the S-word as your flag the tree. Now do it again. A few hundred more times. But faster. Much, much, much faster. You need to be planting in the thousands.

Ignore the pain in your wrist. Ignore the pain in your shoulders. Ignore the pain in your fingers. Ignore the pain in your lower back. Ignore the dirt in your left eye. Ignore the dirt in your mouth. Ignore the swarms of mosquitoes. Ignore your chapped lips. Ignore the rain. Try to hyperventilate less--all that heaving is making you light-headed. Ignore the negativity that floods your brain. Ignore your sense of inadequacy. Ignore the dizziness. Ignore the nausea. Ignore the fear of failure. Keep planting. When your shovel strikes a rock, scream as sparks shoot up your arm. When your shovel knocks against your kneecap, howl savagely. Drive your shovel into the earth again. And again. Ignore the urge to cry. No, actually, surrender to the urge to cry. Weep shameless onto your land. But continue to plant as you do so.

After nine hours of this, stagger back into the truck when it returns to fetch you. Take an ibuprofen immediately. No, take two. Keep eyes open during the drive back. Ignore your seizing leg muscles. Ignore the others’ accomplishments for the day. Poor little rookie. You can’t be expected to perform as well. Ignore the fact that you are earning minimum wage. Ignore the aching. Ignore the fatigue until it can no longer be ignored. Then get your pyjamas on and climb into your sleeping bag. Set the alarm for 5:45.

Dream of planting.  

Thursday, 24 April 2014

That is so BC!

There is a certain satisfaction that occurs when stereotypes and reality align. This happened when I first arrived in Paris and witnessed the armies of Parisians returning from work with baguettes tucked under their arms. Ever since I arrived in Vancouver a week and a half ago, I've been witness to scenes that I can only describe as so BC!

First, there are these mysterious "pain management" places. They have tinted windows and marijuana leaf icons and bright neon OPEN signs. B.C. is pushing hard for the legalization of pot and if you've ever smoked a home-grown harvest you understand immediately that B.C. is serious about their shit. In the meantime, one can't go far in the city without encountering that sweet/skunky smell, a ubiquitous odour that perfumes the streets along with the cherry blossoms and daffodils. At night, the pain clinic pictured below has an LED screen in the window that features its products, including a range of hash, buds and fancy baked goods.

Also, what better place to be on 4/20 than Vancouver? To mark the 20th anniversary of the pro-pot rally during which the plaza becomes an open farmers' market of marijuana while the police, possibly sedated by the thick cloud of smoke, calmly look on.

Next, something truly outrageous. Something I have never seen in any city. The transit system functions on the honour system:

The gates are wide open and travellers breeze through hassle-free, no card tapping or swiping or inserting. I've been told that they are in the process of implementing a proper turnstile, but in the meantime, it continues to rely on the honour system. And, remarkably, it seems to work.

Another key term is healthy. The folks here embody the essence. I have never seen so many spandexed bottoms, never witnessed so many bikers, joggers, walkers, and players of many various sports. And being vegetarian has never felt so normal. It often seems that one is presumed vegetarian unless they state otherwise.

B.C. is home to the most health conscious products I've even seen. Powders. Seeds. Spreads. Sprays. Concoctions of all sorts. Organic and fair trade are mere baseline standards. Smoothies and fresh-squeezed juice far outnumber cokes and slushies. I feel healthy just strolling the streets. 

And then there's the nature. The monstrous tree stumps that give life to smaller trees.

The gorgeous falls and rivers and brooks and mountain streams.

The heart-stopping snow-peaked mountain vistas.

And finally, the rain. Vancouver gets an average of 1189 mm of precipitation per year. The sky is often grey and there doesn't seem to be a day when raindrops, at least some, aren't in the works:

The city has to take special rain measures such as offering umbrella bags to its citizens: 

I'm told the winter gloom is rough, but this spring rain, even the all-day, super-duper heavy kind is bearable because the plant life is so flourishing. The flowers and grass and trees provide enough colour to counteract the clouds. 

I can see why Vancouver is consistently named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life. The vibe here is chill and uncomplicated. Relax! the city seems to say. What's the hurry? Have a kale smoothie and a toke and everything will be fine. Really. It will. It already is.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

So it's Happening

When I tell people that I'm going to B.C. to plant trees I generally get one of two reactions.

The first is from those who have planted before. They shudder and wince as a passing memory flits through their mind. As if, for a fleeting moment, they're reliving the experience.

"Have you done it before?" they ask.

"No," I say.

"You know it's really hard, right?"

"Yeah, I know."

Well, I've heard it's hard. I've been warned about the bugs, the extreme weather, the bears and cougars, the dirt, the pesticides, the isolation, the fatigue, the sore muscles, the tendonitis, the early mornings, the long days, the madness that starts to set in mid-season when all of these elements become too much for one simple human to bear.

Then there is the other reaction, from those who have never done it:

"Why?" they ask.

Why indeed! I decided to go tree planting for several reasons. Because I have a good contract from a trusted company. Because two great friends will be on my crew. Because there is potential to earn money. Because it will be a change from my Montreal routine. Because it's in B.C. Because it's an experience. Because I want to.

There is no doubt that it will be hard.

Mostly I'm worried about meeting one of these:

Or not being able to adhere to the physical demands.

Or losing my mind.

For those of you who don't know anything about tree planting, allow me to explain. Basically, when a logging company has its way with a forest, it is responsible for replenishing the trees. The land might look something like this:

Here's where tree planters come in. Traditionally, these young and robust specimens sleep in tents and are trucked each morning to a plot of land where they have a few thousand trees to plant each day. There are many specificities as to how to plant--distance, depth, etc. The trees are worn on the hips for easy access. Here is my friend Brendan helping me choose my planting bags:

The days are long and require a constant dedication to planting as many trees as possible as well as possible. Luckily, instead of tents we will be lodged in a motel in Kamloops, so my experience will be somewhat civilized. Real showers. A kitchen. A bed. And perhaps most imperative: Internet!  

How hard is it? I have yet to find out. I am currently in Vancouver, exploring the city and its surrounding beauty such as this scene, which can be found an hour's drive (and an arduous climb) from the city:

The people here are sweet. The streets pristine and filled with daffodils and cherry blossoms.

The upcoming hardship seems like a distant reality, though I know before long it'll be routine. For now, though, I'm enjoying being with my friend Kate, hiking and chatting and taking advantage of the vegan-friendliest city I've ever known.

In a week's time, when I hop into a Kamloops-bound car, my tune is sure to change. For now, though, as Vancouver resident Eckhart Tolle would say, it's the Now that matters. N'est ce pas?