Going Broke in Paradise

This morning, as our little convoy of grumbling fists rolled north up the east side of Kootenay lake, I pointed through the windshield at a flash of clearcut that stood out brown right at the top of a local peak. “That’s my piece”. A standard planting joke. An hour later, there we all were, looking across Kootenay Lake at the snowy peaks on the other side of the valley. I don’t know if it was exactly the same patch of clearcut, but it was mighty close. This is planting in the Creston region: scenic.

Despite leaving Michigan a month ago, the “late thaw in the mountains” and a litany of more minor hitches have kept us out of the clearcuts for more than a double handful of days, and few of those long. That’s the bad news, and that’s bad news for any ragged treeplanter, including me. I shouldn’t be going broke to go treeplanting. The good news can’t really replace the money, but it’s a longer and more interesting litany. the Creston valley is beautiful even at town-level, the company I work for (“Caliburn”, it turns out) is as laid back a bunch of locals as you could ever want, and planting a tree in the ground (when you get around to it) gets you 20 honest to god cents. We stage out of a ghost yard of half-abandoned vehicles next to a cavernous and dodgy looking mechanic’s shop called “Wayne’s”. All of which is just a 5 minute stroll up from our Motel, the Valley View, which is a collection of little cabin-esque units and comes with genuinley friendly proprietors, BBQ facilities, a little unhealthy dog and porches pointed at the view across the valley I am looking at now.

Some days, when Caliburn can’t materialize trees, land, or the will to put one in the other, we stroll a full 10 minutes in the opposite direction, where we join the other local treeplanting company, also called Caliburn. Which stages out of a back yard of a friendly gentleman called Kent, whose pre-work process includes him announcing that he hates supervising and is going to spend his day treeplanting, and he assumes everybody knows how to do it too. Everybody knows everybody around town, and no one is inclined to work past 4, except us, which is another problem. But only a problem if you value money over gazing down into the valley from your porch to watch the low-angle mountain sun do interesting things on the flocks of little toy cows and horses which wander the ultra-green agricultural fields. (We do, however, value money above these things.) We’ve had multiple visitors from Victoria, and our many days off have been full of lassitude and sun glazed domestic tranquility and mixed drinks. And good cooking. The weather has only a few tricks, and they mostly involve gentle rain squalls, bright but gentle high-altitude sun, and gentle breezes. Somebody saw a mosquito, and I’m afraid I had a sun burn for a while. It did rain once, and I was cold for a while. Creston has regaled us with community festivals, vintage car shows, parades, music festivals (which members of our crew have performed in) museums, asparagus, pow wows, and possibly the best used book store/coffee shop I’ve known.

So what about the, you know, treeplanting? Well, 20 cent trees cures all ills, and sometimes there aren’t any ills. As expected, there is a lot more incline then I’ve experienced and that can be a factor, but as long as the stock isn’t too heavy or the pieces too deep or too narrow, it’s not overwhelming. We’ve been working all kinds of land, including semi-slashy fresh cut, residual-heavy fill, burn blocks, shelterwood (another first for me) and types in between. I’ve heard rumour from other crews of genuinely bad land, but even the worst we’ve seen has workable. The problem remains actually getting time to plant in all this. When we’re rolling and the trees are showing up at the caches I’ve peaked out at the $60/hour mark. How can you not make money at these prices? If you don’t get to plant the trees. Too many evenings we’ve found out there aren’t trees ready for tomorrow, or the blocks are frozen, or the access is snowed out, or the road is washed out, or or. Too many afternoons we’ve opened up the fist to find the cupboard bare and contemplated with stormy brows another forced march back to our cabins for pre-dinner relaxing and maybe some music. The early-contract wrinkles don’t seem to be ironing themselves out, and it doesn’t help that we started 2 weeks late because of the thaw. So here we are, in the vital heart of the spring planting season, waiting for our show to get some momentum. But it might yet. And as long as we can keep scraping together motel money, we’ll survive the wait.

3/4s of our demoralized crew struggles to endure the long wait for logistical normalacy

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