Thursday, May 18, 2006

An Ode to the Trees

A few days after coming home from University, I started the grueling task of treeplanting.

It means waking up before seven o'clock, something I hadn't done regularly since last year's tree plant, putting on a thin, long-sleeved white shirt, work pants, a hat or bandana, and rubber boots. This apparel will be my clothing for the entire time planting.

It means hoping into a van with your lunch and bug spray and squishing in beside some other treeplanters. The car ride to our treeplanting site can be anything from ten minutes to ninety minutes. So, on the ride over, we wake each other up, we slather on sunscreen (I do more than others), and we make fun of Jeff (a major he-man) and his pink truck. His truck isn't actually pink, but we like to say it is, which in turn makes him defend himself profusely, stating that his truck is not pink and is "competition red". However, he has now come to accept that we refer to his truck as pink, and now he has even started referring to it as such. We laugh.

We get to the planting site, which is often large, sometimes buggy, and has a tendency to get very hot after lunch. Getting started is always slow. Our foreman, John, (sometimes Andrea) talks to the property owner (if he/she is there). John will flag the property, if necessary, as to make sure that our trees get planted in straight lines.

We soak the roots of our trees in a swamp or a creek or the ditch or really anywhere we can find. We usually fit about 100 in our pouches, fifty in in each pouch. You grab your shovel, your funky red sunglasses (in my case only), and you are off to the field.

Treeplanting means encountering ground as hard as rock -- there was the time we planted in a gravel pit -- which makes you almost snap your shovel in two and makes you almost want to scream and chuck the shovel in a nearby pit and go and pout in the van. And there was also the time where the ground was covered in boulders, the sun was unbearable, and the bugs were in love with me, and when John told me to grab another 100 trees, I almost broke into tears right then and there. I had just finished planting one hundred cedar in the scorching sun and my shovel was bouncing off every time I tried to shove it in the ground, and he was asking me to grab another one hundred? You've got to be kidding me. With the heat and the bugs buzzing around my head non-stop, all I wanted to do was shut myself in the van, recline the seat, and sleep. But no, I dragged myself to the bag of trees, gulped down half of my bottle of water, stuffed my pouches full of trees and reluctantly trudged back to the field. I have no idea how I kept going that day, but I did, and we actually didn't finish all that late.

Treeplanting means occasionally being a sloppy planter and then having John at your tail pulling out your trees because they weren't planted deep enough, for instance. It means trying to rectify your problem, keep on planting straight, don't let any roots stick out, and catch up with Andrea as to keep up the competition.

It means going through the swampiest and most remote areas, carrying heavy bags of trees near water, being swarmed by armies of mosquitos and black flies, and having your hands caked in mud, so when you scratch your mosquito bites on your face, your face just keeps getting dirtier.

A good treeplanting day for me means getting in 800 trees. A crappy day will be 600 trees, and an awesome day will be one thousand trees. My record to date is 1250 trees in one single day.

One hot day, when we had nice trees and easy terrain to plant in, the black flies were unfortunately relentless. I did notice the bugs throughout the day, but they weren't bothering me all that much until I stopped planting. At the end of the day, when we were driving home, Martina took one look at me and shrieked, exclaiming that half of my face had puffed up because of the black fly bites. No one else was quite this maimed, and was it ever unfair. If I have to have a puffy face, so should everyone else!

We plant anything from poplar to oak to spruce to pine to even ash. We also plant trees of various ages, so they can be anything from four inches tall to three feet tall (I kid you not). Last year, Steve took a picture of a tree and a shovel side by side each other, and they were both the same length. Of course, we don't encounter such large trees every day, but it's always interesting to talk about the most extreme.

But treeplanting also means coming home at the end of the day, having the most glorious shower or bath, pulling on some warm, comfy clothes, eating a hot supper, and then sitting around the rest of the evening. I realize that all of this sounds quite tame, but let me tell you, it is simply glorious after stomping around in mud and swamps all day. After treeplanting, food tastes so much better and sleep feels all the more restful. I always like simple pleasures, but treeplanting just makes those simple things even more enjoyable.

I suppose that is part of the reason why I treeplant; I enjoy the satisfaction at the end of the day. I also enjoy the comraderie amongst treeplanters and the inside jokes we have. Probably one of the best reasons is being able to be outside all day. If anyone wants to be at one with nature or anything of the like, I'd say treeplanting is one of the best ways to really get to know mother nature. It just feels good knowing that you are doing so simple, yet so fulfilling. You're planting trees. And trees are so beautiful and precious; people often develop significant attachments to trees and places with a specific tree.

I think that everyone should plant some trees. It's therapeutic, in a way, and it really gives you an idea of how good those little trees are and what they will become. It's difficult to explain, but treeplanting feels magical and yet so natural at the same time. Like Martina said, after treeplanting, you always remember the good times. Besides, everyone needs to get a little dirty.

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