Back in 1999, I decided to forgo my routine summer job in Collingwood to work as a treeplanter in northern Alberta. Since then, I have spent every summer but one planting trees in clearcuts in Alberta and BC. Missing that one summer (because I thought I was done as a planter and was needed at my for-real job) was emotionally difficult. By the next year I was back, and then again and again and again.
Since I’m a graduate student now, and rely on the tuition waivers that come with in-semester work more than the real money that can be made in summer, I’m presumably officially retired. Which means that this is my first summer actually off in nearly a decade, that one non-planting summer having been a wickedly busy field research season. I was expecting it to be a bittersweet transition, and I’ve subtly dreaded the emails I would get from active planters on “the inside”.
Here’s what I wrote in response to one such email:
I enjoyed your first email, and postcard, and I regret that the emails haven’t kept coming. It was very satisfying to read about cold fingers being shoved into icey holes (or perhaps I extrapolated that part) while sitting at my desk with a coffee at my elbow and the warm summer breeze blowing in the window. Let me tell you how I feel about leaving treeplanting. Before I left, I knew I would have a hard time when the start of the season rolled around, and that there would be some sense that I was abandoning and being abandoned by something that has given my life shape and fullness. I was wrong. Being an ex-planter is so much better than being a active planter. Each morning, when I roll out of bed around 9 and think about which of my various tasks I will choose to do, is a gift. There is no rain to be listened to on the tarp. There is no lunch table to be waited for, nor devil’s club nor roots nor wasps nor rocks nor air pockets nor duff nor high plots nor low slash nor grass mat nor open holes nor hail nor unrelenting rain nor cold fronts nor airless boiling hot afternoons in the fill nor torn gloves nor timed bagups. Every planting-season fantasy of what a summer off would be like turns out to be largely true. I take my leisure. I sit late at night in diners. I wander the town in an unhurried way. I visit my friends who live in fun cities, and walk up and down. I have work to do, and I do it, but at my own pace and choosing. Sometimes I ride my motorcycle to places I don’t know. Sometimes I drink beers and such. It’s lovely. Presumably much of this feeling will fade as it becomes the norm, but it hasn’t yet. Presumably much of this feeling had to be earned with my many stupid years of planting, but I have to tell you, cashing in these checks is a lot more fun than writing them.
What I really want is a webcam that I can look at whenever I want that shows you guys working. That would further sharpen the sensation of relief.
Today I wandered around Toronto, in the summer, which is a novelty. I haven’t spent a lot of time in cities in the summer since I was a highschool teenager. I had beers on patios and lounged in parks reading novels. This is great.