I Want to See What Treeplanting Is

“But what takes thee a-whaling? I want to know that before I think of shipping ye.”

“Well sir, I want to see what whaling is. I want to see the world.”

–Herman Melville, Moby Dick

To review:

My first three seasons as a planter were pre-blog-era. In 2002 I finally broke away from planting, to have a serious job. Which I quit in 2003, in part to go planting. Which was a re-learning experience. I remember writing about that in the sandwich and milkshake and internet place in Burns Lake. That was a good season, which ended on a note of bathos. The 2004 season was announced here by way of some statistical calculation.

“This is probably the last hurrah for huge the planter. It should be worthy.”

Just a terse entry filed before I began many months of backpack wandering in 2005. 2006 got a detailed announcement.

“After that, I may actually be done. I’ve hinted at it in past seasons, but I say it a lot less than some planters, and when I do say it, I mean it. I think this really is it for me.”

So then I retired to become, finally, a graduate student (oxymoron). And dutifully did no planting in 2007. And felt very smug about it.

So this must be the inevitable announcement of my descent into the 2008 planting season.

“Come away, fellow sailors, your anchors be weighing,
Time and tide will admit no delaying
Take a bouzy short leave of your nymphs on the shore,
And silence their mourning with vows of returning,
but never intending to visit them more,
no never intending to visit them more.”
— First Sailor, Dido and Aenas

At least not for a couple of months.

The prospects are good. I’m getting weird-old-guy old to be a planter, but weird old guys have always been a reliable trope in planting camps. Especially around BC. And come to think of it, have often done well for themselves. Unlike last time out, it’s going to be truly short season, approximately 30 working days. The gag is: I don’t know who I’m going to be working for. Not the name of the company anyway. I’ve hired directly on with my crewboss, Tobias Meis, whose history as a treeplanter has paralled mine for many seasons. About a 100kms of which in fact ran almost exactly parallel and roughly 2.5 meters apart. This will be his first season crewbossing. I honestly know not what company he’s hired on for, but I gather he’s worked for them before with good results. I trust him, and I’m really enjoying this not-knowing gag. I do know we’ll be working out of Creston, in the pocket of the Kootenay Valley, and spending our working days in the foothills which surround that town. There are whispers of 17 cent straight plant, although I can only assume those last 7 cents have something to do with the vertical angle they pitch the clearcuts on around there. My thighs pre-ache in hysterical anticipation. We’ll be basing out of the Valley View Hotel, at least until they jack the rates for tourist season, if you’d like to come and visit our crew. I’m told it has a view of the mountains, as well as the valley. We’ll have kitchenettes. And a porch. Imagine that!

It really is a long way to come from tenting out in bush-plane isolation camps in the muskeg desolation of northern Alberta to kicking it on the foothill porches of southern BC.

I mentioned a while ago how I’ve been feeling robbed of my hard-earned memories of planting. That’s true. I’m looking to this season now like it’s something frighteningly novel. And it probably will be. It’s never like the first time, but it’s always the first time. There’s a warped piece of me that’s peremptorily disappointed to be doing only 30 days. I assume that piece of me thinks that, the treeplanting experience being accumulative, you don’t get the full character of the thing unless you stay on into the dog days of the summer. Perhaps that part of me forgets that the reason the planting experience grows in intensity is that misery is intense and additive, and treeplanting is fundamentally miserable. As more and more lines get penciled in to the planting record in the tent at night, the dread certainty grows stronger that nothing will change tomorrow but it will have to be suffered through anyway. Get over it, piece of myself. I’ll just have to milk out as much misery as I can before July.

So is this at least likely to be the last of my treeplanting starts? I’ll be graduating mid-winter with a terribly interesting but not exceptionally marketable degree. So no, no breezy claims about this being the last big push of my planter-centric identity. Who the hell knows?

I’ll be heading up to Ontario to visit hearth and kin for a few days, then flying into Victoria on the 30th. There’s a “late thaw in the mountains” (and apparently everywhere else) which is substantially delaying our original contract start date. I’ll wait for the clearcuts to de-ice in Victoria with my friends there, and maybe do a little side-tripping or side-jobs, if I can find either. Then it’s on to Creston and horrible horrible glory. Currently estimated day for putting shovel in earth: the 12th of May.

cluster on the plateau

1 comment:

Wow, this is so beautifully written, I even feel a tinge of sadness about you not being able to plant longer and about me not planting at all, although I know full well I that it would by totally agonizing to actually do it. But as I spend the beautiful spring days inside a glass box with no windows to the outside world, I will occasionally let my thoughts drift to mountains and hillsides and green and enjoy a little vicarious living.

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