The Sun Pines trees near Nordegg went in quickly, partly due to greed and the knowledge that this would be the last chance to make money for quite a while, and also because all of the weaker planters in camp had long since been replaced by veteran pounders from other companies. At the end, the competition bared its teeth unashamedly. Planters 'creamed' each other out, argued over land, and complained about having no trees while foreman bickered over who got the good blocks, who got the shaft and who was to blame. Everybody moaned when they had it tough and then ran as fast as they could when they had it good. And now they are all done, and gone.
On the last day we finished late, coming back to camp to find an open fire pit with a grill above, and people huddled around. There were large slabs of meat we were to prepare for ourselves, as celebration, and boxes of sweet wine. We drank, ate, showered and made another fire in the middle of a field. Wax tree boxes were being added frequently and their heat pushed us away into a wide semi-circle, single file, mostly, with the more popular surrounded by clusters of smiles, occasionally bursting into unified laughter. People were talking about their plans; some swore never to come back, and threw their equipment into the fire: boots, bags, shovel; tents, even.
The Owner came over with a beer in his hand. He approached Jen and asked her what she would be doing next year, listening intently. Meanwhile, the Cook and another Planter were preparing a whipped cream pie, like the kind used by clowns, for a prank of sorts. They asked me if I thought it would be appropriate to pie the Owner, and I said I thought so, not completely sure, because I do not know him that well, but you would have to be kind of an asshole to get angry at something like that, on the last day of the contract. I then compared the pie to the cooler of Gatorade that rains on football coaches whenever they win something important, and the analogy strengthened the Planter's resolve.
The Owner was talking up his company to Jen, hoping that he could convince her to leave Celtic to run a crew on Rhino next year, and she was nodding, flattered, when the pie hit him, square. Everybody around the fire said "ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!" loudly as the Planter shirked into the background with a fearful smile. There was a pause before a few people started chanting "Speech!Speech!Speech!" All eyes beheld the Owner, in silent anticipation, as he used his hand to smear the bright, white whipped cream off of his sunburned face, out of his eye sockets and nose, sweeping it towards his mouth, and then licking at it through a half grin. He had not intended on speaking, or had not brought his notes, and he stumbled through a few lines of thanks. Some of the Rhino lifers were cheering for him, for the words "awesome season," the foremen and those with a stake in the Owner's regards, and that made me feel like I had to cheer, too. So I clapped a little bit and it ended quickly.
Everyone went back to talking. Two girls kissed against a truck and then disappeared. The French drank against the English in a beer chugging boat race. Chairs were thrown into the flames, and cans were discarded about the grass.
The next morning, anyone who had a car left camp early to avoid tear-down; those who needed rides didn't get out until 3pm. People hugged each other goodbye, some making plans to meet up down the road. They are done, and it is a good thing, because they are exhausted, but it is also sad, because things will be different now.
I am not done. Rhino has one more contract: one hundred-thousand trees for seven people at a gold-mine somewhere north of Mackenzie, BC. Five Foremen will be going, including Cam, and two planters: Jen and I. For eleven days we will live in a mining camp and plant the soil on the backside of the dam.