What I Learned Getting Struck by Lightning

tree planting
Tree planters walking to work

Lightning struck and I counted: “one, two, three, four…” BANG! 

I recently wrote a story for the blog Shut Up And Plant about the time in which myself and 3 other planters were struck by lightning. The story highlights one of the little known or talked about dangers within the field of Silviculture and details the important lessons learned from coming so close to death. The reality, as you will read, is that I learned very little. To read this tree planting story on being struck by lightning, jump on over to shutupandplant.ca by clicking here: What I Learned Getting Struck by Lightning.

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Can’t Wait To Be Home


It has been a strange return to planting this year. If I had any advice for planters during the off season it would be to join a gym! Though not without its discomforts, I have found the start to this season to have been a lot easier than years past. In terms of mental health, it has also been a banner year of sorts. However the aches are still there, the work is still hard and the days can be long. Today it rained all day and tomorrow will as well. We are working a contract that requires a lot of kicking(you kick the hole your tree is in to seal it) and my feet were bloody at the end of the day. Funny how the mind tends to forget things like that during the off season…

It is interesting to note some of the differences between companies. For 6 years I worked almost exclusively out of bush camps with the occasional contract out of a motel. Sometimes we camped 150-200km away from the nearest paved road. Yet this year and last with this new company has certain differences. Although we have been in tents, our camps have been beside a bar, at a lakeside fishing resort and a motel. I’ve realized that there are planters in this company who have never experienced the particularities of bush camps. These particularities include frozen water supply and pipes, gathering next to industrial heaters in the mess tent for warmth, the fear of leaving any food in your tent in case of bears, crazy locals bringing guns into your camp, shower trailers(that mostly do not work) and the yellow school bus transformed into a kitchen.

Planter’s Delight: Blocktreat

I received this email from PK at King Deluxe records and as a fan of Blocktreat, I thought I would pass along this wonderful idea.

Back in 2007 we started collecting treeplanting tunes, searching high and low for for classic depictions of silviculture, which we knew there were plenty of.  We also recorded some new ones.  What we ended up with a year later was Hi and Ho, We Plant Trees, still freely available here: Hi and Ho We Plant Trees.

All told it’s been downloaded roughly 150,000 times.  Which was a surprise, I thought it would just be a quirky little album for fellow planters, but it ended up as the most popular batch of songs Peppermill Records ever put out.
The inspiration partially came from Planter’s Punch, a cd from many years earlier.  Now it’s been another six seasons and some of us thought it was time to tap into the mind of the baller once again. But now with a hip-hop theme. Brandon Hoffman, aka blocktreat has constructed six different instrumentals for people to download, and then spend the summer rhyming over.  Grab them from here: http://kingdeluxe.ca/cream/blocktreat_beats.zip
You have till Fall to come up with your verse, which you can write down or record, and send topk@kingdeluxe.ca.
Of course it would be great to hear them recorded, even in low quality is fine, if it’s awesome enough we’ll hook you up with a studio in your neighbourhood.  But if you’d rather have a more skilled MC rap out your planting poetry, we may be able to arrange that as well.  Anything’s possible.
Including producing your own beats.  If anyone wants to make a song from scratch we’re open to that as well.  As long as it’s quality enough to sit comfortably next to the others.
And if two people submit exceptional vocals for the same instrumental, we can have a new beat made for one of them, so don’t be shy.
All tracks will be professionally mastered as well.
We’re not sure yet exactly how this collection will be released, or how long it will take to finish, but we’ll make sure people hear it.

Never Again: Tree Planting

image It is almost too cliche to mention, but I seriously think my plane hit a pothole leaving Montreal. I am in the plane right now, my first of three before taking a Greyhound for six hours tomorrow. I always forget that my method of travel borders on insane. That is to say, so many of the people I work with in British Columbia have only to worry about a 45 minute flight or a six hour Greyhound to their destination. I have nine hours of flying, an overnight stay at a friends house and an early bus from Prince George to 100 Mile House. On top of that, I have to figure out how to kill another four to five hours while I wait for my foreman to pick me up.

Leaving this year has been hard. I have someone back home I am really going to miss and although two months and a bit is not a long time, it did not make it easier to say goodbye. From a more pragmatic perspective, there are little things that I am dreading. It snowed yesterday where I am going to work. I don’t want to wake up at 6am every morning. I’m scared of the cold rain. I hope I make enough money this year to pay off my debts and go to Europe and pay for school. This job brings up anxieties about things that are out of my control. You can work hard but so much is out of your control. Maybe that is liberating in some way, to have control taken away from you?


The hardest question to answer when I was filling out my Graduate School application was “why are you studying in this field?”. My answer, though not disingenuous, was made up; I couldn’t think of how to answer a question fundamental to my future. Likewise, why do I keep going back tree planting? Is it for the lovely banter of the Westjet flight attendants? Is it to escape reality? The money? The people? It is probably a combination of all of the above. We are programmed to think in absolutes and we think that everything needs some essential answer. I keep trying to figure out what brings me back to this hell every year and no one answer will suffice.

The truth is that this is in part an escape and there is something to be said about doing something that no one thought you’d be able to do; to having near death experiences and meeting fucked up people and getting into fucked up situations and working yourself to exhaustion. That this is perhaps a needed break from reality.

Tree planting is my “limit-experience”, that experience that brings me close to some unknown part of existence which allows me to become my own person. Nothing helps you understand your true self than coming close to death or experiencing moments that are nothing short of miserable. Planting has been a wonderful thing for me, do not let the mood of this post make it seem otherwise.

But it is probably all about the money.

Tree Planting Nutrition Guide

tree planting nutrition

There are a thousand different ways you can pack your lunch on the block. It seems almost stupid to even write about it. What you eat though has a huge impact on everything you do. It’s something super simple, but can make a huge difference over your whole season.

Eating right will give you the energy to keep planting fast. It will speed your body’s recovery, keeping you feeling fresher longer into the season. And it will power your immune system, so you’ll be laughing when that inevitable camp cough comes around.

Delia Roberts at Selkirk University has put together a comprehensive set of material to help you eat right while planting.

Now, unless you’re on a motel show, most of your diet is in the hands of your cook. Hopefully they’ve already taken a look at this stuff. Where you can make a lot gains, though, is on the block, with strategic snacks to power you through the day.

On the Block

What Roberts recommends varies on the time of your bag outs, another reason why a watch is so key on the block. If you’re bagging out in under an hour, a quick snack at each bag up will serve you right. Here’s what she recommends

  •      a few small slices of fresh fruit
  •      a couple bites of sandwich, good mix of carbs and protein
  •      some sugary snacks, quick and dirty energy boost.

The trick here is to go for easily digestible. You want that energy out and into your system as soon as possible.

You obviously need to be drinking a ton of water here too. She recommends a half litre for every hour of work. More on hot days or in high elevation

If you’re bagging out longer, and god help you if you are, you’ll need more protein and fibre to keep you going. Time for a half sandwich and a whole apple, some kind of sweet treat.

Excuse me while I butcher some science:

The point of all this constant grazing is to restore your levels of CHO or glycogen. Glycogen is essentially the store of energy in your muscles. Endurance athletes, like tree planters, often experience glycogen depletion, where their stores of energy run out. Severe exhaustion sets in. The body begins scouring itself for more glycogen. When there isn’t any, it starts converting fat to energy, an extremely inefficient process. This is why planters look so gaunt by the end of the season.

After Work Recovery

There’s often little chance for recovery while tree planting. Late nights by the fire drinking or smoking, the partying. It doesn’t give your body much of a chance to put itself back together. One thing Roberts suggests to boost recovery is to eat right after finishing planting. Pack a spare sandwich and some fruit for the bus ride home.

After finishing planting you body is screaming to repair itself. Enzymes in your muscles and liver essential to recovery are more effective in the hours after exercise stops. It’s then crucial to fuel those systems to accelerate the repairing process.

If there’s any more than an hour between the end of planting and when dinner’s served, Roberts recommends this second lunch. For me though, that’s a hard call to make, even if it’s a short drive dinner could be delayed. I would err on the side of caution and load up on the bus anyway.

I have to eat at every bag up?

It’s obviously a huge, maybe even foolish, commitment to eat at every bag up. This isn’t something which will net you gains right away, but rather over the long haul of the season.  And, like, everything in planting, there are definitely ways to make this more efficient. A few minutes of prep in the morning slicing up fruit, maybe a compartmentalized lunch container, even just knowing this is going to help you will encourage a quicker cache break.

You should take a look at Roberts’ Power Planting Nutrition Guide for yourself. There’s a lot of good stuff in there which can really help your season.

main-thumb-9513342-200-7BAZ86KEMj80dw81M08z7kQuC9YTJgLRColin Rabyniuk is a writer and journalist from Hamilton, Ont. This is his fourth summer tree planting in northern Ontario, his third with A&M Reforestation. His writing has appeared on Geekword, Aesthetic Magazine, and the Oakville News. shutupandplant.ca

Tree Planting Supplies

tree planting gear

With the 2015 season coming up, here is a quick reminder of what tree planting supplies you will need! It is end of March and most veteran tree planters are solidifying their summer plans and making quick check lists of needed supplies. If this is going to be your first year, you surely must be losing your mind trying to figure out what to bring. Many of you are poor students like myself, many of you have never really camped or spent considerable time outdoors. So in order to avoid the many mistakes I made my first year tree planting, I present to you a quick list of tree planting supplies in great detail:

60/70 Litre travel pack. Even if you are to pack minimally, you will come back with more than what you left with. The Value Village in Prince George is your best friend. You will not be moving your gear around very much so a big pack is not very cumbersome. Pack considering what you will wear on a 5 day shift(chances are you won’t change your pants or shirts very often), days off, cold weather, warm weather, when you sleep, etc.
Duffle bag. This will carry your sleeping bag, tent, boots, shovel, planting bags, etc. MEC, REI or Outbound make durable and inexpensive duffle bags. Don’t buy one from a mall luggage store.

Shoes. Sneakers for time spent in the city.
Rubber boots. Those cheap boots you can buy at Canadian Tire are great. Anything light and waterproof. You’ll want to wear something other than your planting boots around camp or to and from work and if it’s raining, shoes won’t cut it.
Caulks. Pronounced “cork” these are large orange rubber boots with steel spikes lining the bottom. They are heavy and relatively expensive at 120-150$ but the freedom to run over wet logs and not slip is worth the weight and cost. Not everyone likes these boots but they are hassle free.
Hikers. If corks are not to your taste, get a solid pair of hikers. They should be waterproof(Gore-tex, eVent, etc). Don’t go cheap; stick with brands like Lowa, Mammut, Scarpa, Vasque. If you buy hikers, you must buy waterproof gaiters. They will help keep your feet dry and prevents dirt and sticks from getting into your boots.

Click here for a comprehensive list of footwear options

Tents. You are going to live in your tent for months at a time so don’t go cheap and don’t go small. A 3 person tent is ideal as you’ll be housing yourself and your gear. Some people buy “mansions” but they are hard to put together, take up a lot of room when moving and do not stand up as well to wind. DO NOT buy a tent from Walmart/Canadian Tire. You will regret it. Tent design from mid-range manufacturers are essentially the same so most brands you can find at an outdoor retailer will be great. Go to a store on a quiet day and ask the salesperson if you can set up a tent or two with their help. Make sure it is easy to set up, has a low profile and a decent vestibule. If you cannot afford a footprint, buy a blue tarp from the Dollar store to put under your tent(not forgetting to tuck any visible parts under your tent). I’d also advise buying a tarp to put over your tent as it will prevent sun damage and give you extra rain protection.
Sleeping bags. After tents, the most important gear you’ll own. Again, don’t go cheap and don’t go for anything less than -7C(19F). MEC and REI both sell really decent sleeping bags that are relatively inexpensive. Down or Synthetic? Down is a great form of insulation, is very light and very compact. The downside is that if your bag gets wet, you’ll get cold and it will take a long time to dry. Synthetics are warm, bulkier and not as light. However the differences between the two in terms of warmth and compactibility are becoming negligible. If wet, synthetics will keep you warm and dry fast. IMO, go with a nice synthetic or a hybrid. I’d recommend buying a liner. It will keep you from having to clean your sleeping bag and it will add much needed warmth. My -7C bag alone leaves me shivering most nights but with a Sea To Summit liner, I’m toasty warm(ish).
Mats. People have a hard time justifying spending money for a good mat. My first two years I slept on dollar store yoga mats and I cannot stress how terrible that is. MEC and REI sell reasonably priced mats although the price of Thermarests seem to be dropping as of late. Go with a 3 or 4 season mat with a R value of 2.5 or higher. The R Value is the measure of insulation and the higher the number, the better the insulation against the cold. You crush the insulation of your sleeping bag when you sleep so a bad mat will let heat escape and cold get in.
Pillow. Bring a pillow case, stuff it full of your clothes and bam! you’ve got a pillow.

Baselayers. I’ll layer this section the same way you should layer your clothing. Let me begin with a warning: do not ever, ever let cotton touch your skin. Cotton clothing retains moisture, gets cold when wet and offers no protection from the elements. In heat it isn’t the end of the world, but even on a summer day rainfall and cotton are a terrible duo. Baselayers are the foundation of your clothing system and when it gets warm, can be worn by themselves. If money is no issue, buy baselayers made from merino wool. Otherwise, synthetics offer a great alternative. The downside to synthetics is that once bacteria has a chance to bond to the plastic fibers(and they will eventually) the smell becomes unbearable and requires constant washing. Merino wool can be worn many, many times before needing to be washed. What I typically do is use merino for my upper body and synthetics for my bottoms.
Fleece/mid-layer. A heavy fleece is very necessary. Even if it is too hot to plant in, you’ll appreciate it on chilly mornings and for your cashbreaks and any walking you have to do. I would buy either a light fleece or a light-breathable softshell jacket to actually plant in when it is warm enough to not have to wear a shell.
Waterproof shell. You absolutely need a waterproof jacket. I lost my jacket near the beginning of my 2nd season and the cold and pain experienced is indescribable. If money is no issue, buy a jacket made with Gore-Tex Pro shell. Their Paclite line will probably not withstand the rigor of the job. Any 4 season membrane will do the trick. If money is an issue, just stick with non-membrane jackets from well known brands. There are a few that sell decent jackets for around 130$. There are days where it will rain heavily for 8+ hours. You need a good rain jacket. Rain pants can be useful but they can also be cumbersome and will easily rip. I have a pair on hand for those days of 8+ hours of rain. Membrane or not, please wash your jacket properly and often.
Gloves. This is hard. There is no happy medium with gloves. Your hands will get cold and it is always a terrible experience. I typically carry 4 pairs with me at all times; curved neoprene gloves, liners, light fleece gloves and the garden gloves most people use for planting. The neoprene gloves are great for your shovel hand as they stay warm when wet. The liners I wear under the garden gloves as they help keep my hands warm and the fleece gloves are my apres-planting gloves.

The Little Things:
Bug spray. Watkins is probably the best; spray or lotion. Get something with a high DEET count and bring two. If you are afraid of the chemicals for whatever reason, I wish you luck. Those “natural” or citronella bug sprays are beyond awful.
Utensils. Buy utensils that are unique or make them unique. People always steal utensils in camps but having unique ones can help you find them again. You can buy plates and bowls at the dollar store…or buy a frisbee! Frisbees make great plates due to their size and shape and alternatively, they make great frisbees!
Headlamp. Flashlights are for suckers. Petzl and Black Diamond make great headlamps and they are very, very practical. Buy one that allows you to adjust the brightness.
Day pack. You need a daypack for your lunch, jacket, etc. Get something large and waterproof if possible. If you don’t have a waterproof bag, buy a waterproof cover! Trust me on this one.
Music player. Bring your iPod and you’ll never feel alone. Even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t listen to music, pack it full of podcasts and books and it’ll make the day go by faster.
First aid. A little first aid kit in your day pack is always a good idea. Something that includes an emergency blanket and matches. It is very, very rare for anything to happen that would require using these things, but i’ve heard stories…
Sewing kit: It sucks to buy that 100$ merino baselayer only to have it snag on a branch.
Thermos. I love my Primus flask. Having a hot coffee at mid-day is a great luxury.
Books. Don’t anticipate having access to a library or bookstore(Books & Co. in Prince George is a must by the way). Bring something small and easy to read. Don’t expect to have the ability to understand Quantum Mechanics or thermodynamics at the end of a 10 hour day.
Knife. Everyone should own a small knife. There are many uses for it in the bush.
Duct Tape. Bring two rolls or one big one. It is incredibly useful for reasons I will not mention but you’ll find out quickly(thanks Andrew!). Protip: wrap you duct tape around a #2 pencil in order to save space.
Watch. You do not want to be the last person in the truck at the end of the day, nor the last person in the truck at the beginning.
Sunscreen. Take it from someone whose shoulder once looked like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb blast, wear sunscreen and apply it often! Even on cold days, the sun’s rays will get you.
Battery Pack. I never thought to buy this before, but a rechargeable battery pack could be a lifesaver. Depending on where you are camping, you may not have a reliable source of power for days, or you may have to fight over the one powerbar for your entire camp. A battery pack which can re-charge your ipod and cell phone a few times over would make life a lot easier(look for something over 10000mAh).

Remember that there is a fine line you must walk between owning nice things and bringing nice things out to the bush. Nice things get ruined easily tree planting so buy products that carry good warranties.

Tree planting gear