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Tree Planting Heat Attack

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There is a normal course of events for the start of tree planting season. You leave your home where spring is in the air, fly into central/northern British Columbia(or Ontario or wherever) and the weather is cold, wet and miserable. I have distinct memories or camping near the Nazko Reserve in Quesnel and waking up to frozen water bottles, a frozen lake and a frozen body. My -7C sleeping bag left me shivering at night and at least 2 days a season would be cancelled due to snow.

This year has been much the same, minus the cold, rain and misery(well that part is still the same). It is hot, really hot. Since the day we started the thermometer has stayed steady between 24-32C. We have literally had 3 days of rain and only one of those days saw heavy rain. The heat is unbearable most of the time and we’ve taken to freezing Gatorade bottles the night before to get some relief during the day. Our supervisor Dani has surprised us with watermelon and cans of ice cold iced tea on a few occasions. There is nothing quite like working in an open field of rocks in 30C heat and no wind to knock some sense out of you.

 

I came to a realization this season about life as a tree planter. It is interesting how social conventions just run out the door in a bush camp. One day in particular I remember 4 of us in a circle talking to each other, everyone picking their noses before heading off to eat dinner. We all share food and snacks with each other knowing that our hands are full of snot and pesticides. Can you imagine taking food from someone you just witnessed picking their nose for 5 minutes straight? We eat and talk with our mouths full, we sleep in our dirty clothes, we do not shower for days at a time and we’ll have long conversations with people while peeing in front of them. Living the good life!

Season Nine: Tree Planting Again

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A warning that this post may sound like an old man harping about how different things are nowadays and how the kids don’t know how easy they have it.
This is my ninth season tree planting, a place I never would have imagined myself being, but a place I am comfortable in nonetheless. Gone are the days where I felt the need to rationalize my being here as I truthfully do enjoy this job. There is a lot to hate, but the people, the experiences and the getting in shape make it worth it. Simply put, I experience things most people will never and make a lot of money in two months doing it.

After several years working for a large company, I spent two seasons working for a mid-size company and now am working for an 11 person company. Our company is camped out in Clearwater, BC behind a motel and diner, we are close to the Thompson river, there is full cellphone reception at both our campsite and within our blocks, laundry is on site and we get our meals and coffee from the diner. Let me tell you, this is a surreal experience. Surreal for severals reasons that any veteran tree planter would recognize. While a lot of tree planting companies have contracts at motels or in towns, most tree planting work is done in bush camps. These camps are secluded, far from cell service, you have to dig your own toilets, shower in terrible trailers and the food is provided by cooks inside dirty yellow school buses.

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This is where I get to the old man harping part. Though I’m used to a number of variables tree planting I have spent the majority of my time in bush camps. To give you an idea of how secluded these camps are, I once had to do an emergency evacuation of an injured person 200km from the nearest town. Today there are rookie planters who know only our currently comfortable situation with our warm showers, comfortable diner and cellphone reception. However I don’t know if you can fully appreciate tree planting if you haven’t lived in a bush camp. More than this, it is incredible to think about how much has changed in the 9 years I have been planting. What had been the complete norm for us 5 years ago, would be looked upon as crazy today. While bush camps are still a reality for most planters, some quick thoughts on the new normal for many rookies in British Columbia:

Laundry:

Ah the joys of the day off. You’ve just worked 4 or 5 days in a row, you’ve just woken up hungover and now you have to sit around and wait for all your bum co-workers to wake up. Now you’re in town, you’ve grabbed breakfast and all you want to do is sit in the pool or hang by the river. But no, instead you’ve got to spend 2 hours of your day and 10$ sitting in a dirty laundromat with a bunch of dirty tree planters. Good job! This is a staple of tree planter life.

The Rain:

There is little to prepare you for the rain and even less to prepare for days and days of rain. The feeling of waking up in a tent with rain hitting your tarp, getting breakfast in the rain, working all day in the rain and then coming home to a damp tent…in the rain, is terrible. Sometimes it rains so much you run out of dry clothing and go to bed in cold damp clothes. This year with the laundry room and the diner, we are in no danger of that. We’ll get home soaked, jump in a warm shower and run into the diner.

Internet Access:

This speaks less to our current situation and more to the way technology has changed over 9 years. The library used to be the staple of tree planting day off. You would drive to town, eat breakfast, throw your laundry in and head straight to library to use the internet. Now everyone has a smart phone or a computer and the cafe has replaced the library. Our camp has perfect cell reception and our blocks have cell reception. A fellow planter even conducted business on his break the other day. Weird.

Setting up/Taking down:

Setting up a bush camp was such a pain that our old supervisor used to pay the camp 500$ to do it. And you’d have to move camps a few times a season. You would get to your campsite, sometimes a gravel pit in the middle of nowhere, and begin constructing the mess tent and dry tent. The mess tent alone was so big it would take 15-20 people to set up. Then you would dig 5 holes for toilets, dig a giant pit for the dishwater and shower water and lay all the hoses from the river or lake to the camp site.