Spring rolls around and you find yourself back in the truck, bouncing along on your way to the cut-block. What happened to winter? Sometimes when the snow is driving and you cannot feel your fingers or toes and you are wet through and all you want in this world is to be dry and warm in some run down motel, you question whether winter’s grip has actually loosened. But, it is called Spring Plant, so it must be spring. Keep moving. Another tree, another bag-up, another piece. Another day, another block, another shift. Another contract, another company, another season. Keep chasing spring as the snow melts, from the coast to the interior to the north. Spring came this year and for the first time in many years I did not find myself in that truck.
Tree planting is quite the job. Horrible yet great. Consuming but freeing. Simple although technical. Hard, yes. Empowering very. For me, it was formative. Its impacts have been strong and lasting. My body will never forgive me for what I put it through. The repetitive strain and chronic pain that I worked through has left my body worn down like the blade of my shovel after so many strikes in the ground. The friendships last too, even though they are often poorly tended. I think that the relationships forged in remote bush camps must be similar to those formed between soldiers in war. The isolation and close quarters combined with the shared experiences of pain, discouragement and triumph breed an intimacy of lasting strength. When, as a rookie, you are huddled under a tarp with your partner, waiting for the helicopter to pick you up while your first real lightning storm rages all around, you become close. When you fall in love and work together, eat together, party together and sleep together in a tent, you become close. When you share your worst and best days and can still laugh together, that friendship never really dies. My days planting exposed an inner potential that was brought to light through the dirt, sweat, and pain. I came to realize that my physical limitations were, in large part, boundaries I had set in my mind. My first season was punctuated with revelatory days in which I broke through my physical limits, each time learning that I could work much harder than I ever imagined possible. When I reached my limit and then surpassed it, I felt profoundly empowered, and that experience has nurtured my faith in a great well of potential from which we all can draw.
After a certain number of years in the bush, the conversation in the truck turns to exit strategies. Planting often becomes a cycle that is hard to break. The seasonal work frees you in the off-season, but more often than not you find yourself penniless and without prospect by the spring. So whether you intended to or not, you go back for one more year. Unless you consciously plan and implement an exit strategy, your chances of escape are slim. Well, I got out. Friends ask me how it feels to be done. Good. They ask me if I miss it. No. I hated that job. I loved that job. I’ll never go back but I would never trade it.