To those who could never understand the appeal of tree planting I would guess that you don’t know the smells, the scenery(rich valleys, mountains and old growth forests), the people, the money, the camaraderie, the food, the personal growth, the visceral experience of slowly killing yourself through work but loving every second of it.
To those who understand through experience, you will know the heat, the cold, the scenery(empty fields, disappearing mountaintops and short stumps), the frustrations, the money, the lows, the working conditions and the arrested development caused by months in the wilderness.
There is a running joke amongst those who know me that starts and ends with “never again”. Since my 2nd year I’ve ended every season and repeated those words, always knowing it wasn’t really true. It takes standing beneath a fallen tree in a cotton shirt during a thunderstorm, hands shoved in pants to find warmth, to really understand the never again mentality. Yet 9 years on I am still drawn to this work. Can anyone imagine a job which would require this sort of blog and this loud philosophizing of purpose and meaning? It takes a special kind of work and lifestyle to produce these words and books and photographs and as much as I hate it, I’d be lost without it.
This year will most likely have been my last. With grad school and summer research, tree planting would be a hinderance. So from “never again” I have already begun to think “what next”? Where will I get money, how will I stay in shape, what experiences will I miss? As much as it has been a means of escaping reality, it has also grounded me. It took a 20 year, overweight and unmotivated kid and turned him into a 29 year old, less overweight and slightly more motivated self. Along the way I realized how important school was, how debilitating unchecked mental health disorders could be and possible hard work really was. It took a long time for those lessons to sink in however. My first 3 years tree planting were embarrassing. Low numbers and low motivation kept me from making any money. But the lessons were taught and by the time I started my 4th year I had been accepted at Concordia University, had started running and found new confidence. That season was my best yet and would only get better with each passing year. This season was a good sign to give up the ghost. It felt like a TV show that went one season past its prime; OK but far from great.
Nothing is forever and people must move on. I’d be lying if I said Forestry work was not in my future in some way. Who knows, maybe I will jump onto a tree planting crew in Quebec for a few weeks next August(I usually work across the country in British Columbia). I can only hope that the path I am on maintains and I can finally discover a summer without the bags on. This part of my life will continue on through this blog, my photography, future photo-documentary projects and the lifelong scars that come with the territory.