I got off the bus and immediately threw up. I had drunk 7 liters of water over the course of the day in an attempt to get rid of a crippling headache. My feet were sore, my back ached, and two of my finger nails were split down the middle. I hated life and wanted to go home. This was my first day of tree planting. Every spring, thousands of post-secondary students in Canada head north deep into the Canadian wilderness to live in a tent for 2 months. Most signed up for a variety of different reasons but we all have one thing in common; the allure of a hefty paycheck at the end of the season.
In a tree planting camp you get all kinds. Hippies, computer geeks, jocks, and Kung-Fu freaks, every classic and contemporary clique is represented. This is surprising considering the nature of the work. I had expected the camp to be packed with hard core environmentalists sporting dreadlocks, ponchos, and ganja. Sure the dreadlocks and ganja were present, but the main concern on everybody’s mind was money not mother earth.
A planting camp is divided into two groups, veteran planters and the rookies. The rookies basically spent the first month trying to make minimum wage while the veterans work dark magic and plant triple the amount of trees. We were all convinced that there was some kind of trick we hadn’t worked out yet and a lot of our discussions involved the specifics of the planting technique. When we weren’t talking about planting we were complaining, mostly about the bugs. Planting season coincides with mosquito season so if you do sign up, get ready to make a million new friends every day. Yes, these were dark times my friends. The only respite we had was making fun of those that had it worse than us.
For some reason, the bugs like some people more than others. One rookie planter, we’ll call her Lexi, would come back to camp everyday with an entirely new face. I’ve never actually seen the horrors of plague but after seeing that ravaged face and seeing her soulless eyes as she stared into the campfire asking why god hates her, I feel that I have a close understanding.
Nowhere is the term ‘work hard play hard’ taken quite so seriously as in a tree planting camp. As horrible as our days were, the feeling of pure joy that comes with not having to look at another tree was phenomenal. Sex, drugs, and booze fuelled rock n roll ran rampant every Friday night. There’s something about the job that brings out the animal in even the most conservative people. Admittedly this was sometimes taken too far. Forcing friends to drink warm Smirnoff Ice (bros icing bros); taking massive shits in someone else’s planting area, getting random objects tattooed on our asses and munching on painkillers throughout the day became something of the norm.
One of the first questions people ask about tree planting is about the dangers of wild animals. During the season I saw quite a few deer and bears but didn’t have any trouble with them. In fact none of us had any trouble until the end of the season. Another rookie planter, we’ll call him Frasier, came running back to the bus half way through the day. Frasier is a pretty relaxed guy but that day he was white as paper. For a minute we all just kind of looked at him until he said “moose”. After a while he explained how he had been planting and a moose had showed up out of nowhere and charged him. He then ran into a thicket and hid behind a tree while the moose pawed the ground outside. This terrifying experience lasted until the moose finally got bored and walked away. For those not in the know, a moose is an extremely dangerous animal. The moose is the second largest animal in North America behind the polar bear. These things have even been known to charge on-coming trains occasionally. The thought that one of these gigantic animals had charged a fellow planter was an uncomfortable one. We all looked at each other then quietly handed him a Smirnoff Ice.
At the end of the season our tree-planting company promised us a blowout. A blowout is when the company would buy all the planters beer and throw a huge party. The party was to be held at another tree planting camp known affectionately as Camp 2. Camp 2 was weird. It was like looking in a fun house mirror as you placed every one of our planters with a warped version of themselves in the other camp. Despite this there was beer to be had so everyone started drinking and meeting their doppelgangers.
Full advantage of the booze was taken and when it was gone I crawled my way onto a school bus and passed out. Come morning I was woken by a loud string of curses coming from the seat beside me. In the seat next to mine a girl was staring down at herself in disgust. Apparently some heathen had mistakenly taken a piss on her in the middle of the night. Although I managed to convince her that the piss on my pant leg and my open fly were not in any way connected to the incident, I feel she may still have her suspicions.
That was my first season of tree planting. I’d like to be able to tell you that I went again next season but I’m not stupid. One of my fellow planters said it best; like surviving war, famine, or a natural disaster, surviving a tree planting season makes a great story but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Despite this I often look back on those two months with a great deal of fondness. The people, parties, and general don’t-give-a-shit attitude around camp is something I miss a lot at times. Maybe one day I will go back and I’ll be sure to bring a warm case of Smirnoff ice with me.