Status of the Mountain Pine Beats

OK, so I haven’t been podcasting the radio episodes. I have been broadcasting! But CIDO is a home-grown affair, and arranging the recording and distribution of the show has turned out to be trickier than I had thought.

Eventually all the episodes may yet be podcast. Except today’s, which isn’t happening because of an inconveniently locked door. If I was a real rock and roll dj I would smash a window. I’ll think about it.

update: thanks to Emery (?), CIDO’s senior youth computer tech, I’ve got podcasts up now.

Status of the Mountain Pine Beats

OK, so I haven’t been posting the radio episodes. I have been broadcasting! But CIDO is a home-grown affair, and arranging the recording and distribution of the show has turned out to be trickier than I had thought.

Eventually all the episodes may yet be podcast. Except today’s, which isn’t happening because of an inconveniently locked door. If I was a real rock and roll dj I would smash a window. I’ll think about it.

update: thanks to Emory (?), CIDO’s senior youth computer tech, I’ve got podcasts up now.

The Myth of the Buckworth Kangaroo

If are in a Creston bar, talking to an old logger, and you mention the Buckworth logging road, he will tell you (I am told) about the kangaroo. The kangaroo is a painted stencil, about yay high, on the uphill side of the road. In pink, or yellow, or one of those goddamn colours. And somebody painted it there once, and nobody knows who. And it’s somewhere up that road. Or at least it was the last time somebody looked, arrr.

Well, I went up Buckworth, almost the whole length. And I looked. And I am here to tell you, there is no such kangaroo painted on the side of the Buckworth.

Rookie Move

Today Toby forgot his shovel. Luckily, nowadays he’s a crewboss, so he could just drive his truck all the way from the block back to the motel room to get it.

piratical toby eats apple

Planting Above the Clouds and On the Border

The sun has returned to Kootenay Valley, but for days we have been working above the clouds more often than below them. And often in them. Which looks just like clouds do from inside an airplane, except you’re outside walking around in them in a slash-filled clearcut instead of peering through a porthole. The blocks we work in have often been hidden from us until early afternoon, which can make flagging in pieces a bit of a mind game. The view from the clearcuts can likewise be obscure until mid afternoon, being slowly revealed in patches and pieces as the clouds rise and fall and tease apart.

urmston above clouds

Another novel planting condition: 2 shifts ago we worked on the Canada-US border. As in, right smack on it. It turns out the border is physically delineated by a cut-line running through the mountains, tracking the 49th parallel. If you’ve ever wondered what a line of latitude looks like in person, this is it. From our side of the valley, we could clearly see it running down the mountains on the other side, and across the valley, presumably through the Porthill border station. And, we eventually realized, up our side of the valley and right along the edge of the cut block.

border block pan

I’ve been joking about how they probably don’t emphasize the “longest undefended border” factoid so much in elementary schools anymore, but this really drove it home. We worked on the physical border for 2 days without even realizing it.

Rocky Blocks of Iron Creek (Music From)


Some bad musical puns inspired by the land we’ve been working, a set of tunes from the parties we’ve been holding, and some other stuff. Mostly upbeat. Go figure.

  • MountainPineBeats12June2008.mp3

Above the Snow Line

The Creston weather report makes daily mention of the snow level. Today it’s reported as “1000 metres rising to 2000 metres this afternoon”. Working the high valleys and mountain tops around the valley proper, we’ve had first-hand experiences with the snow level. And today for the second time in my career as a planter, we were shut down before planting began because of weather. Halfway up the Dodge Creek Road the snow started drifting down around our crewcab, and we arrived on the block to find it was just too high above that 1000 meter snow level mark for safe and sane planting. So after the best snowball fight I’ve ever had on June 10th, we rolled back down the hill. We’ve put some wet work clothes into the laundry, made some tea, watched the end of Yellowbeard, and may go to the matinee or looking for Bountiful. Snow day.

Toby hoodying up on snowday

Initial Results from the Crew Radio Experiment

I’ve long thought that the on-block work of treeplanting could be better organized if each planter had their own radio. I think I’ve heard this idea arise convergently from other planters as well. Before this year’s season started I speculatively shopped around and discovered that radio technology has finally reached levels of cheapness to allow an experiment. With the approval of my crewboss, I sank 80 bones into a mail-order set of frs/grms-band basic hand held 2 way radios. At about $10 per planter, this is a genuinely affordable experiment. Thank you Chinese manufacturing and cheap global shipping.

Some results:

Benefits: Plenty and strong. Being in constant contact with your crewboss saves both of you a lot of time. Being in contact with fellow planters turns out to be a big advantage as well. I guess these results shouldn’t be surprising. But any new complication added to block workflow needs to justify itself relative to additional complications. I would say (with the caveats mentioned below) that crew radios overwhelmingly do so. On our last planting day we didn’t have a functioning radio network, and it was seriously frustrating to go through the traditional exchange:

person standing on the road: TOOOOOBYYYYY
toby (crewboss, planting in land): WHHHHAAAAAT?
person standing on the road: TOOOOBYYYY
toby (crewboss, planting in land): WHHHAAAAT?
person standing on the road: (walks away to try and figure out whatever it was on their own)

The radios are useful for all the things you would assume they would be: “I’ll be out of land in 20 minutes, where should I go?”; “should I be spacing off cedar naturals, or can I ignore them?”; “I’m low on pine, can somebody bring me a few boxes?”; “um, was I supposed to work right or left from the treeline?”; “when are we quitting?”; “hey my piece is finished and there’s no open land, do you mind if I plant in on your land until quitting time?”. Etc.

Battery protocol: The single biggest issue we’ve run in to. The units we’re using run on 3 AAAs, and aren’t rechargeable unless you’re using rechargeable batteries. We first handed them out to any planters who wanted one, thinking that they would be personally owned and maintained. They were inevitably left powered up in bags over night, and were mostly dead within days. Using cheap batteries they start to drain down to poor functioning within a day. Using brand-name batteries they seem to get something like 20+ hours of use before they start to go flaky. Less for the crewboss radio which is regularly transmitting. The protocol we’re using now is that one of a few people try to remember to collect them every evening and make sure they’re turned off and check the battery status. This is an obvious inconvenience at a time when people mostly want to zone out and sometimes doesn’t happen. AAA batteries aren’t cheap either, and require a trip to the store. It’s certainly worth the cost, but some one person has to actually buy the batteries and put them in the radio, and treeplanters are notoriously lazy off the block. The best option would probably be to have a crewboss with an expense account take care of collecting and battery-ing the radios, but unless the planting company could be convinced of the production benefits of supplying batteries to planters, that won’t happen. Based on the experience so far, I figure planting companies should be buying these things and issuing them as standard to their planters, and supplying batteries for them too, but that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Critical mass: Of our 8 radios, we’ve only managed to keep 4 or 5 in operation due to battery issues and the general inconvenience of distributing and carrying them. One goes to the crewboss, one to the supervisor (who on our contract in commonly on the block, doing supplementary crewbossing), and the others split between planters. That seems to be a sufficient network, but any less than 4 and it wouldn’t really work. The more people with powered up radios, the more worthwhile the system. The better distributed the radios across the block, the better as well.

Loss: The flagging tape pouches on the front of standard planting bags seems to be a convenient and loss-proof place to store them. Don’t clip them to your straps, trust me (at least not the model we’re using, which seems specifically designed to not be firmly secured to anything). One even managed to pop out of a back bag, which it was rattling around in. Both lost radios were found within 10 minutes of searching. The built-in clip is at least useful for wrapping some flagging tape around, to make them more obvious on the ground. And hey, the one time I lost mine it occured to me that if it took more than about 15 minutes of searching, it was so damn cheap to buy that it would be financially smarter just to leave it lost. A big difference from the $700 dollar business-band company-issued handhelds.

Safety: We haven’t had any debilitating accidents, but if we did a radio could be a different kind of whistle. Less reliable, but also much higher bandwidth. When you hear 3 blasts of a whistle, does that mean drop your bags and run to help a fallen planter, or does it mean there’s an angry bear on the block, and everybody should evacuate? On the other hand, if you’ve fallen off slash onto a stick and punctured yourself, did you remember to put fresh batteries in your radio last night? I figure radios could make a good safety supplement to whistles, but whistles are still where it’s at. And for what it’s worth, my preferred whistle protocol is: if you hear a whistle blast of any kind, go there. Somebody needs help wether it’s a cougar or a fracture. Not that either often happens. Treeplanting isn’t particularly acutely dangerous, whatever some people say. (Logging roads and chronic injuries are, but neither whistles nor crew radios will help you much there.)

Range: The packaging claims about a 5 mile range under “optimal conditions”. Depending on the topography, hill-side clear cuts could constitute optimal conditions (concave blocks, blocks on opposite sides of valleys) or sub-optimal (gullys, convex blocks, blocks on opposite sides of ridges). In practice range has been fine for what we do, spanning individual clearcuts without strain and even once between clearcuts which weren’t within inter-valley sight of each other. The one time we had them on 2 clearcuts separated by about 15 minutes of bad-road driving they had no connectivity, but that isn’t surprising.

Doubling up: I had assumed it would be a significant annoyance to our crewboss to have to carry and monitor both a company-issued hand-held and a crew radio. Turns out the company we’re planting for doesn’t really issue hand-held to it’s crewbosses anyway, so that obviously hasn’t been an issue.

Chatter: There’s been less inane chatter than I had assumed. Most of what there is is at the beginning and end of the day. Which is fine. If larger crews all had them, it might be more of an issue, but turning your radio off is, as a planter anyway, always an option.

Cross-talk: Working in relatively urban area as we are, there is occasional cross-talk from people like surveyors who are also using FRS-band radios. Switching to a more random channel than “1” (say, “2”) solves that.

Conclusions: If we can get the battery and issuance protocol figured out, these babies are golden. We’ve only kept a few working every day, but I figured they’ve already payed for themselves several times over in terms of total planter productivity increase.

Photos of Me from Paul Kolinski

Like most photographers I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself. For the first time I’m on a planting crew with another camera geek. Paul Kolinski takes a different technical approach, shooting with a classic manual Olympus from the age of steel on Ilford 400asa b&w film (which I didn’t even know you could still buy). It’s a reminder that film has it’s own thing going on, and that the mechanically simpler cameras necessary for film photography have been a mature technology for many decades longer than the finicky devices that are contemporary digital slrs. Also, Paul is a great portrait shooter. Consequently, for the first time I have actual pictures of me in harness.

me in harness

(Paul has also been grabbing my camera occasionally.)

A General Update

It’s now 17 planting days into my short season, about half way. I’m still in Creston, planting for Caliburn. Our semi-shotgun crew has been paired down, both from people moving on to better things and the general attrition of treeplanting, but we should still be able to field a creditable squad of hardcores. The Kootenay valley weather remains variable, but has gotten less gentle in its extremes, which is a little worrying. Sleet and hail and snow and actually cold rain have started showing up daily on the block, although we’ve had no day that didn’t also feature some sunshine or the medium no-weather that is ideal for all-day labour. It looks like Caliburn is never going to adopt the strictly production-oriented style of organization we would prefer. The company is more about getting people home in time to have dinner with their kids or to the bank before it closes, and towards daily opening and closing up the small hillside blocks we work. We would rather see blocks left open for a few days so a single crew could carve big individual pieces worked over time, and long days to do it. But I respect that this just isn’t that kind of company. Caliburn has also picked up a secondary contract that was abandoned by another company that folded this season, planting for Wyndell Box and Lumber.

So we’re now working blocks for both Wyndell and Huscroft. I prefer working for small local mills on general principle, and around here that’s all there is. Between the two mills, Huscroft currently has the easier land. But I seem to be making enough money even on the steeper, slashier Wyndell blocks such that I can’t bring myself to really complain. For the first time I feel like I’m getting a taste of what coastal planting might be like. “There’s no such thing as bad land, just bad prices” is an old chestnut, and I guess we’re demonstrating the corollary. “The better the view, the worse the land” is another, and man do we have phenomenal views. For the first time ever I may make a lower day-average wage than my previous season, but I think I’m willing to take the hit to be living the semi-retirement Creston lifestyle. Kootenay Coastal is what I’m calling the planting here. A lot less trees, less stress, a little less money, and a real bed and kitchen waiting for me back home, and extra hours to enjoy it.

← newer posts · older posts →