Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kemess 2

Most people become tree planters because they don’t want to work in restaurants while putting themselves through college. Those who last in the bush, whether they had a good time or not, tend to see planting as an ‘amazing life experience,’ on par with, say, a trip through Kenya. These people will move on, eventually forced by higher expectations of career and purpose, by their desire to live in a city, by their acknowledgement that they don’t actually like planting, by other opportunities and a need to feel like they are growing up and becoming something or somebody that they were not before.

Some people do not move on. Some of these people, when asked, will tell you how much they like planting: the people, the culture, the camaraderie – the kind of relationships birthed in physical toil, hardship, and mutual dependence. Some love the actual physical act of slashing open soil, and kicking holes closed. Some experience the first modicum of success or triumph in their lives and never want to let it go. Some are just so perfectly suited to it, so good at what they do, that there is never a question of doing anything else. Some do it because they don’t know what else to do.

It is true that I spent Kemmess with members of the latter categories. I was the youngest member of the crew, and had committed far less of my life to the work than the other six members. I was not, however, the youngest member of the camp. There were miners, and contractors, sitting in the lounge room watching Ultimate Fighters on television, chewing tobacco, who must have been culled from the surrounding small towns. I sat with them while they talked to one another, never saying more than a few words between spits. They must have been in their late teens or early twenties.

We worked hard for two days, and then found ourselves in a bit of a dilemma. It would eventually provoke the events that finished me off. On the morning of the third day we were told that there were only two possible dates that we could fly out on. We had to either finish all of our trees by the Thursday, four days away, or space them out until the Monday. We were also told that it is not proper to take a day off in camp. We had a decision to make: would we work long hours for six straight days and then, maybe, maybe, finish? Or would we go easy.

On day sixty-eight of my season we decided to go hard. The land was getting flatter and more sandy (sand being the best thing to plant in, the crème de la crème of cream), we said to ourselves, meaning the numbers would increase dramatically. We decided to work from 7:30 until 5:30, but somewhere along the line, Cam got overzealous. We ended up going until almost 6:30, narrowly missed dinner. It was a huge day for production, and my biggest day of the season. As a crew of seven we planted twenty-two thousand trees. If we could keep that up, then, theoretically, we could finish by Thursday. But we were not happy. Simon and Ben fought with Cam over being pushed too hard. I went to bed with tensed muscles, feeling unhealthy, unable to stop visualizing shovel cuts holes and trees trees trees. I barely slept.

We looked weary the next morning in the cafeteria. It was a bad morning, the first of a few for me. The kind of morning where one had to force food into one’s mouth and swallow against the will of one’s guts, knowing the calories would be needed, wishing there was an easier way to get them. My hands felt arthritic: they shook as I lifted my fork. We would have to go hard for four more days to get the contract done. This made me despair. I knew I had to just get my body to the block, and things would take care of themselves. The thought of planting trees, even just one, was concomitant with a feeling of heaviness and dread. Benny describes waking up that morning and just being, like, fuck.

Cam called the push off. There was no reason to ‘kill ourselves’ this late in the season. He had alienated Benny and Simon, who had been told this whole thing would be ‘smooth’ by Rhino’s owner. The new plan was to take it easy. Some of us were to go home on Thursday, and those that wanted to would stay. Knowing I was the farthest down on the totem, I told Cam I would like to stay but will gladly go in the place of anyone else. With a show of hands, everyone else indicated a desire to stay. It would be Jen and I. I was relieved.

We took the afternoon off that day, but my spirits never recovered. Every subsequent morning I dragged myself through my routine activities trying not to think of their motivation or purpose. I spread peanut butter across some bread. I filled my water jug with tropical juice. I carried my boots, my bag, my water, and my coffee awkwardly as I walked by the big trucks, the pile of rocks, the aluminum sided building, and to the truck.

My evenings, too, my time off, went by painfully. I could not enjoy them because they were too close to, and invariably led towards my mornings. Soon, I found myself in my land and out of hope.

And the land got a lot worse. Our second block was a gravel parking lot. Tallies went way down. It got colder. It rained for two days. The others were starting to feel heavy, too.

Two days after expressing a desire to stay, all of a sudden, everyone wanted to go home on the Thursday. I despaired some more. I was low on the totem. I would be the person who had to stay if everyone jumped ship. Jen and I.

Simon and Ben had been getting stoned every night, hiding like high school kids in the forest west of camp, near to an outdoor hockey rink that was falling apart: it’s plywood rotting a deep brown, some of the boards having fallen over. They would say they were going to do some paperwork.

Ben liked to make us laugh: he worked as a grip in Montreal in the off-season. He had the most relaxed attitude among our crew with regards to production. His cache breaks would last for over an hour, and he didn’t seem to feel guilty about it. I tried to pressure him one day into working harder, pleading with him, saying ‘If we don’t get enough trees in by Thursday I’m gonna have to be the one that stays now, and…’ He told me there are things that you can control, and there are things that you can’t, and I felt a little better. He was not motivated by money, he said, already having enough to get him through the fall. He came here to run a six pack, and analogized it to a team sport. ‘When you are kids,’ he said, ‘you have a team that you go around with playing sport. Now you have a team and you work.’ He liked to come and be outdoors for a little while. He also said he used planting as a kind of rehab.

As did stoic Simon: in passing mentioning ‘partying way too much,’ in thick, thick accent during his explanation of being here. I asked him if this would be the end of his season. He told me he would end his season at this time next year. He smiled and there was a silence. He explained: he planned on working on the coast in the fall, up until November, and then cone-picking through February, when the spring season starts on the coast again, and then back to the interior, back to Alberta.

My god, I thought. Cam had once worked a 200 day season and he elaborated: ‘When you work that long you take it easy in the daytime, make your three-hundred and go home. You get tired, sure, but you find a second wind – and then a third and fourth. You just keep going.’

I went. One morning Cam told me I was exhibiting a thousand yard stare. I try not to complain to Cam, so I started talking about Vietnam vets, having seen too much, and how it was such a tragedy that all of those guys came back changed forever, and he wasn’t listening. He interrupted me: ‘I think you’re just done.’ I was relieved.

I said, ‘Yes, I am just done,’ and it was agreed that I would leave on the Thursday.
Jen, warrior Jen, ever-ready and stronger Jen, would stay with Cam and Colleen to clean up the rest of the work. She told me she envied me - that she wished she could leave herself, but I only half believed her. ‘This is where Jen is supposed to be,’ I thought. ‘This is where she is massive. And Cam, free-wheeling, always seeming terrifyingly close to peril, would not find it easy to be this kind of Cam anywhere else. The outside world would not allow him to be productive, would need him to change.’

And me. I knew I had to go.

On the last day we planted until two thirty, and I made sure every single tree was perfection: straight up and down, one finger deep. Still, it dragged. Line planting in a group of five, we pinched the front of a piece and ended up having to walk in bags around a dormant body of grey water, to a green, buggy back corner, full of thick, slimy clay. This is called dead-walking, and it is something that is always to be avoided: a waste of time and energy, and thus - it goes, when one is doing piece work - money. We would plant that back pocket, and then walk back out, up a rolling grey hill, towards the one main cache, where, panting we could see the entirety of the piece. We all took breaks together and chatted, the smokers smoking, me eating. I planted alongside Simon, and we started counting down the bags early in the day. We were going to do five bags of 300. A fifty-fifty split: One-fifty Spruce, one-fifty Pine.

Our pace, already slow, slackened as the day went on. We had four in by 1:30, and decided that fifth should be a small bag. I took 240, and headed back in. Simon took 210 and had a smoke. Twenty trees into my line I saw Jen laboring up the hill towards me, evidently bagged out. I asked her if she had finished with the back pocket, and she said yes. I was relieved. I reached the end of our line and started backfilling.

Soon after, the other four were all around me. We worked well together, nobody getting pinched, everyone knowing intuitively what the other people were doing, where they could plant, what they should do. With a dozen or so trees left in my bag, I started back up the hill towards the cache. Halfway between the back and the cache, where a truck was now parked, waiting to pick me up, I put my last tree into the ground. I sat down on the hard grey slope and watched the others. They were talking and working, laughing. I looked over the barren flat gravel and saw thin green grids, marked by small bits of up-turned soil: the flip. I could hear Simon counting down his trees at the top of his voice. ‘Three…. (step step shovel throw kick) Two…. (step step step throw wiggle kick throw wiggle) OOOONNNNEEEEE!’ His shovel flew up into the air, spinning and flipping in a great arc before falling and hitting the ground. Then he went and picked it up.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Video: Morning at Kemess

Kemess 1

Prince George is in some rolling hill type mountains, spreading flat and shapeless to my eye in the airplane above and approaching from South-South West, and I arrived there at 10 in the morning on the seventh of August. I was instructed to be at the Rhino HQ at around 11, and was the last to arrive, in a large 15 passenger 'airporter' van driven by an obese and friendly native of the city. He was halfway through a sombre discussion of the downtown drug problem when I saw my colleagues and colleagues to be waiting in a parking lot. Cam was glad to see me, as I had not been in touch over the four days off, and he asked me if I had done my WHMIS test, and I said yes, I was all ready. He told me we would be flying out at 5pm, so we had a lot of time to kill.

There was Cam and his pretty, blue-eyed girlfriend Colleen, Jen, Simon: a 32 year old tall Quebecois man with red hair and a raspy voice, Benoit: another Frenchman in his 30's with a thick scar across his eyebrow and forehead, funny and talkative, and Nick Verberne: 'Bernie' a stout, happy go-lucky Ontarian with a booming voice. They were all, or had all been foremen at some point. They were all heavy, heavy smokers. I went from being the oldest person on my crew, all summer long, to the youngest by far, which was a relief.

We got to the airport almost late, and the person weighed our stuff. There was a sign near the door you walked through into the hanger that instructed us that our baggage could be subjected to search - we had previously been told that Kemmess was a dry-camp, that as soon as you were caught with drink or drugs was as soon as you were on your way home. I looked at Benny and Simon as they handed over their bags with a little bit of anxiety and a measured politeness. We walked out and felt a bit like Indiana Jones.

We took off and were in the air for about one hour, flying North, North-West. After a while we saw mountains.

The trees were smaller. We landed on a gravel runway and there were a bunch of other planes lined up. There was no bathroom on the plane, and a few people went straight to a nearby trailer to find one. Outside the trailer three school-buses, orange and black, opened their doors and people with bags came spilling out onto the gravel. Working people in denim and such, having finished their shift at the mine, on their way back into the town to see their families, one could presume. Then, we got onto the bus with all of our things and drove down a very, very wide clay road, on the left hand side, which was awkward, but, it turns out, purposeful (at mines they drive on the left hand side, so that when big vehicles collide head on, the drivers sitting on the left of them are clear of the impact and thus safer). It was much colder here, in the Northern Rockies, than it had been in Prince George, as we got out and moved our things towards a Gazebo bordering six or seven rows of ATCO trailers, each around 300 feet long, each holding about 50 small dormitory style rooms. We checked in, and went for dinner.

The eating area resembled a high school cafeteria, all bubbly frying sounds, linoleum and aluminum; only this one had great food and no cashier. We sat down, all of us planters at a round table, and ate gigantic meals. There was excitement around the table at the prospect of eating so well. There were tons of things to choose from. Three or four main courses, juices, a refrigerator full of different cakes, and pre-made sandwiches all promised to make our stay comfortable. The initial giddiness was slightly tempered by the feeling of being different, being watched. We conversed about what the miners might have thought about us. Our occupations are not that unalike, it was said: we are both primary resource laborers, both stationed in remote worksites. Only there is a difference. We stood out. We had beards and were far skinnier. We had two Frenchman, and two young women in our midst. There was a tension, especially in the eyes of the younger miners. An unstated conflict.

After dinner we explored a little, found a games room, played a little bit of pool, a little bit of ping pong, and then went to bed.
They had us wake up at Five AM, and we walked to the health and safety wing.

We walked past all of the things at the mine: the pile of rocks, continually growing under a large conveyor-belt, crane mechanism, the gigantic trucks, the smaller trucks, the contorted looking backhoes and rippers and other yellow steel structures that looked like giant tropical insects, the piles of 10 foot tall tires, the rocks, etc. Past the insignias and logos in the hallways, the logo of a gold river running through the mountains, the motto: safe production. Our orientation lasted three hours. We watched videos about industrial accidents, with graphic reenactments of the injuries and swearing. We watched the Bear Aware video - everyone had seen it before - and it was great, as usual, watching the big brown and black bears flop around.

We were told there were a couple of Grizzly Bears that liked to visit camp, that we should watch out. One in particular had been seen by many, and the miners had named him Rufus. We all drank coffee and laid our heads down on the table, jesting frequently. The videos were well produced, but their message redundant. They went on and we jested less frequently, laying our heads on the table. After a while we stopped talking.

At 9 we drove, and on the way to our trees we saw Rufus grazing in some grass near a set of pipes, facing towards, his head bordered by his large round shoulders, brown all over, face down looking for something, and swaying to and fro as he gently moved about. He looked soft and cumbersome, like a giant labrador.

Our reefer was on a high road, and overlooked the dam, or rather, the back side of the dam, that we were to plant for the next ten days.

It looked really good, but turned out to be so-so in places and good in others.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Video: Burning Boxes

UPDATE: End of Season Party

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.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cam's Greed Crew

Jennifer Foster 27
Jen was a high-production foreman at Celtic Reforestation, whose season was cut short by their inability to acquire a summer contract; who had to make the transition to planter at Rhino. She is unbelievably driven on the block, never allowing herself a cache break, and setting an uncomfortably fast pace for the rest of us to follow. She lives in Edmonton, and has probably impressed the hell out of anyone she has ever worked with or for.

Alexis Darrisse 24
Learned to speak English in his five seasons planting trees in BC. In the off season, he taught physics to high-schoolers. He has worked for Jen for the past two years, highballing her crew at Celtic, and boasts of being the company's safest driver. Alexis' humor gravitates towards the the archetype of the well meaning but embarrassing father figure - he is humble and sensitive and probably a great person to hug.

Adam Babiak 22
Adam is a second year planter from Toronto. He keeps to himself in camp and in the Van, witness to the endless jesting and performing of his colleagues with clear eyes and quiet brooding. He polices his health vigorously using a complicated mixture of vitamins, tonics, and protein beverages - all of which he is happy to share.

Chris Montagner 25
Chris is a comedian, a writer, and a proud transient with a pretty positive outlook on planting. One day, after work, we were waiting to be picked up by a helicopter and he broke it down to me: "I've just always felt like I belonged here. The first year I came out, I was like these are my people. this is where they have been all along. out here in the woods."

Cam Stewart 31
This is the foreman. He has spent the better part of the last ten years in bush camps, once working a 200 day planting season. Like Jen, Cam can be described as hard-core, though Cam is more of a cowboy with a fly by the seat of his pants managerial style. He is happiest when in motion, functioning best with a solid purpose and a little stress - he always wants to work on the day off.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Video: Reefer

Someone Else Gets Fired

Kathi had become a problem. She liked living in camp, sure, with all of the young people around and the social scene - but she didn`t like planting trees. She had often taken days off, in bad moods, claiming injuries. She would pretend to be working harder than she was, even faking vomit one day on the block, perfectly coordinated to when Cam drove by on his quad. She was vain and self centered, and traits like that come out very quickly here.
Cam and I left camp before the van. It was the day off, and we were on our way to fill up the water barrels at a nearby logging camp. The rest of the crew was in the van, likely hungover, making for the comforts of town. This was in the morning.
cam pulled his truck over at an intersection on the gravel road and started to roll a joint. I thought that this was out of character. Cam is in perpetual motion, a man who never stops rushing, so why would he here? It was just him and I, and I figured we were just waiting for someone to come by and show us where the logging camp was. Cam was distraught at the time, having just lost his best planter, Yossef, almost losing his own job, and wrecking his own vehicle. He looked like he had not been sleeping well.
He was halfway through rolling the joint when the van sped by, kicking up a thick, beige haze in it's wake. Hurriedly, he handed me the operation and sped after the van, eventually riding it's tail close enough for Jessie, the van's driver, to recognize that something was up. She pulled over.
I was holding an insurance paper cover with flecks of green bud on it as we pulled up alongside, like traffic cops. All of the planters were looking at Cam with a mixture of fear and expectation.
"YOU," he pointed at Kathi.
"Grab your stuff, let's go."
The tension was such that she obliged without protest or questions, grabbing the backpack that she had prepared for town that day. Cam asked the rest of the crew where they were heading.
We drove in silence, Kathi in the back, Cam smoking cigarettes in the driver's seat, and me bewildered in shotgun, ending up back in camp. I figured Kathi was being fired, and got out of the van as Cam was instructing her to pack up her tent. I walked away from the truck to avoid the conflict, and ended up at my tent, perched above the river. In the distance I saw Cam and Kathi, near her tent. Kathi was protesting with her arms folded, and Cam was looking at her. He walked around her and started to take down her tent for her.
Ten minutes later cam and I were in the vehicle together looking for the logging camp. When we got back, her stuff was all packed up and she was lying on a picnic table looking at the treetops. I helped her load her stuff into the pickup, and asked Cam where we were going.
­Drayton. He didn`t want to face any noise from the rest of the crew. She never got the chance to say goodbye to her new friends.

UPDATE: Nordegg, AB

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The final days of the Williams Lake contract were gruesome. We were waking at 5am and driving over two hours to a massive, slashy, difficult block, ending our days at six, getting back to our motel at 8pm, and cooking our own dinners using ramshackle instruments atop bedside tables. We were happy to finish there, and went up to Prince George to spend a night before traversing the Rockies for the fourth time.

The hotel in PG had a strict set of rules governing the conduct of tree planters in the rooms. We payed a 200 dollar deposit, which would be refunded at the end of the stay provided we did not play baseball in front of the building and smoked pot only near the fence out back.

We watched the new batman movie and dragged our gear out of our rooms the next morning.

We sat in the parking lot until late in the afternoon waiting for our van to be repaired, and eventually left for Alberta to work for Sun Pines.
A few years ago, Cam was involved in a vehicle rollover while working for Sun Pines, and ended up having to take the fall for the poor driving of another person. As punishment, he was barred from running a full crew on the contract, and now our crew has been disbanded. Now, including Cam, we are six - the three best planters from Cam's old crew, and two high production planters from a sister company. Cam has called us his greed crew. We are very competitive with one another.
By now, most people are very tired. Around ten people quit and left today.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Video: Humping a Box

Video: Cam`s Dog

Love Story

I am at the Overlander Pub in Williams Lake and it is Julien`s last night out here. The locals are out and dancing, this being a very busy saturday, and Julien`s kind of belowing. He is holding two bottles of beer in one hand, telling people how much he is going to miss them. He is a great big guy.
He first saw Jessica around two months ago coming out of a van with all of her stuff. She was late to arrive for the spring contract, shapely, with healthy skin and blond streaked hair. At first, he did not take too much notice, though his friend from home who he had come planting with, Kathi, who was getting close to Jessica in a high school mean girls kind of way talked early of how `nice` she was. It should be mentioned that Jessica, also called Jess, is the half sister of our boss, Cam.

One day, Julien and Jess talked in the van on the way to the block. Julien recalls being arrogant and talking about Quebec and separatism. He is possessed of an unusual degree of pride in what he calls the `culture` of his people, and takes great pains to make it known that despite speaking english fairly well, he is very, very french.

That day, Cam cut them into a peice together, probably thinking that Julien, his most promising rookie thus far, would motivate Jess, his sister, to plant more trees and vice versa. Jess likes to chat while she plants, and I am sure a lot of ground was covered on this day. She probably showed him a few tricks, being a second year planter, and he probably busted his ass to keep up with her. They rode home beside each-other in the van that day as friends. They are both tall and have similar proportions. They both dropped about twenty pounds over the season.

A week or so into the season they are sitting around a fire and it is the night off. People are throwing wax boxes into the fire and they smolder and burn incredibly hot for a minute pushing people away from the fire with hands over their eyes, then subside. Some of my crew are shouting CAM STEWART`S CREW 2008, which I can hear from my tent where I am lamenting my termination from Dynamic, too shy to make new friends just yet, worried about just what kind of people would yell such things. Julien asks Jess if she would like to go and watch Chappelle`s Show in the lounge tent. It is 3AM and nobody is around, and they are hammered on a couch together.

The next day Jess is crying and Julien is feeling bad. She is ashamed of herself for letting go last night, she says, and she doesn`t want Julien to think that she is `that kind of girl.` Julien is trying to console her and feeling something between guilt and pity, trying to convince her that it isn`t too big of a deal and that he still respects her. Things cool off for a while after that.

Cam gets word of the lounge tent, and starts to tease Julien a little bit. Julien knows there are eyes on him now, and is extra sensitive to Jess. They talk more, and he starts to really take to her personality. Soon they are watching films together in the lounge tent and kissing like teenagers. Soon after that they are staying in the same tent together every night. Soon after that they are kissing beside the van at the end of the day.

On the way from Fort St. James to Alberta they stayed behind to pick up the van, which was in the shop after being driven on the highway in second gear and having its engine subsequently replaced. They drove together to Jasper, where the great rocky mountains loom over the highway in the evening. Julien, coming from the East Coast (montreal) had never seen anything like this. He was overcome by the scenery, and its sense of grandeur. He was giddy with new experience and the possibilities that were opening up in front of him. She was driving, and he was in shotgun when he told her he loved her. She said that she was glad.

He is leaving a little bit early, but he has completely run out of energy and has been shitting the bed for the past two shifts. He needs to get home and to get some rest. He promises that he will be back next year. When we leave the bar and get back to camp he is sentimental and drunk. He takes my phone number and asks for directions from the Vancouver airport to the Tsawassen ferry terminal. Before going back to Montreal he is going to meet Jess` parents on Vancouver island. She will go to school on the east coast in the fall, three hours from Montreal. He plans on visiting her often.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Video: Bottleneck

Weathered Extremities

Video: Bear in a Tree

UPDATE: Horsefly

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My crew has been pulled from the Alberta contract, where the trees are dissapearing quickly, and moved back to the Williams Lake area for 800,000 summer trees with Tolko. We are now a camp of about twenty, headed by two crew bosses, living in Cabins and cooking for ourselves.

We are staying at the Crooked Lake Resort, a small fishing getaway far from everything. It is owned by a woman named Sandy and her family, who traded in their city life for something a bit more relaxing. A few of us have taken to paying Sandy to cook for us in the evenings, and her dinners have been great - there is something special about being indoors around a dinner table and lifting bottles of red wine off of a table cloth after a day of planting. Our spirits get high: the conversations are good.
About an hour east of Horsefly, our blocks are wedged into the Cariboo mountains at altitudes above five thousand feet.
On day one of our first shift here we pulled up alongside a peice of a land that was steeper than a double black diamond and covered with large logs and grass. I let out a "holy shit," thinking 'how could a person walk on this let alone plant it?' and Cam told me that this was our block. We scaled a series of switchbacks before getting out and doing our pre-work.
It rains daily, the bugs are as bad as they have been all season, and the steeps and slash cause near-hourly slips and falls. The smart planters have bought spike boots. I haven't had a real day off for two weeks, and am on my third rotation of the same four pairs of socks.
I ask Cam how this kind of land compares with what he has seen on the coast. "There is nothing that compares with the coast. Picture this with way more slash."
I have never planted on the coast, but hear of tree prices upwards 30 cents. The coast is where the most experienced planters go. I ask Cam if he thinks I could make it on the coast, if I should try to get a job out there, and he says "it is the final peice of your game. You'll feel like a rookie again, but when you figure it out..."
'Do you think my trees are good enough?'
'You are a hard worker and you want to do a good job, so I don't think you'd have too much of a problem.'
When I was cut into the block on day two I could not see my peice from the road.

Video: Quad-In

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Yossef is gone.

The last time I saw him was over lunch in Edson, directly after the confession. He was playing it off that he was taking the fall for whoever stashed the trees. He said that he knew the person would not openly admit to it, and that he would have the easiest time getting another job. He didn't want everybody to get fired. He didn't want to see Rhino's reputation suffer for someone else's cowardice.

So, he says, he jumped on the grenade and left. This is an act of heroism, in his words. But I am not sure I believe him.

My crew does. He parted in good spirits, with booze and hugs and all that. The perp is still at large in their minds, and this bothers me because it still leaves a possibility of my guilt.

We got back to camp, and things were different. I felt tainted, and looked for suspicion in others' greetings and gazes. There was a new crew in camp. A bunch of strong, older planters from another company that had run out of work. They had come to plant our trees because they had no more. There are less trees this year than there were last year, in total, and that trend seems set to continue into 2009.

All of a sudden there are too many planters. Crew Bosses are looking at their slower planters, knowing they can hire a pounder to replace them. The only thing keeping the weaker planters in camp is a feeling of obligation and loyalty held by management, and it is now being tested. The new faces mean business - the new backs are longer and leaner.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Perpetrator Emerges?

I wake up on the day off with the worst hangover I have had all year. Yossef is asleep beside me, breathing deeply with the covers wrapped around him with his bandana and hat on. The phone rings and it is Cam, and he wants to talk to Yossef. I wake him, pack my bags and put in my laundry downstairs.

I locate and head to the library to type this out and it pours out of me and it feels good. I get to about 6:00 in the day before when Cam walks into the library, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, a great big orange hoody from a rave that he helped produce on Vancouver Island around 2001. He calls my name, says lets go. I save the post, half finished, and get into his truck. We drive to a hotel room in silence, and I have the same sickening feeling of creeping dread, of menace, of the possibility of losing my job for something I did not do, of hurtful things that you cannot control. Cam is calling all of the drivers in camp and telling them to rendezvous at the Supervisor's hotel room.

Pretty soon we are there - it is bigger and has more amenities than the rooms we are staying in. Yossef is there drinking a cup of coffee. Slowly, people start coming in, everybody who was on the block where it happened the day before, about twenty five of us, not including management, dirty and smoking in a single hotel room. People are joking around a little, and they laugh for a second and then there is a silence, and people are looking around at each-other. Graham goes outside to fart loudly, out of consideration, which gives eases the tension. The last of us come in, and then Cam stands by the door, closing it, and everybody looks at him and shuts up.

He says we are getting to the bottom of this in ten minutes, or else he will be fired by Sundance, and will no longer be able to work for the company. That's it. Somebody comes out, or else Cam loses his job. Deadline set for twelve o'clock. He pauses dramatically to hammer home the severity of this statement.

He holds a talley book, something we use to write our numbers down in, and says that everybody here is going to go into the bathroom with the book and if they are guilty, they are going to write their name down on a piece of paper and give it to him when they emerge. If they are innocent, they will hand him a blank piece of paper.
A few members of the crew and camp give their last minute pleas to the group for the guilty party to come forth. They are not angry so much as sad. 'Please, this is tearing our crew apart.'

The first person walks into the bathroom with the book, emerges and walks past the sitting crowd and hands the piece of paper to Cam. Everybody follows him with their eyes. He gives the book and pencil to the next person and sits down again. We are mostly silent throughout this process. After a few people go I get the book, and feel hot and queasy. Everyone is pretending not to notice. We are all here, stuck in the same small hotel room. I walk into the bathroom, close the door and look at myself in the mirror. I pause for a minute and reflect upon the situation. I smile. I tear a sheet off of the book and fold it up, and walk out. I can feel the eyes on me as I cross the room and hand the paper to Cam. Cam is stoic. I hand the book over to the next person in the circle and walk outside, into the day. The tally-book ends up going clockwise around the room. We are pretty good at working together by this point.

Outside, we mill about, more and more of us, as time goes on, hanging around the great big white diesel vehicles that brought us. Some people continue to joke. Nobody knows what has happened.

Julien, a great big French Canadian guy whose winter job happens to be the de-icing of planes in the Montreal airport, approaches me, smirking. We don't have much to talk about. People are smoking. Chris, a long time vet whose girlfriend, Vanessa, was originally accused, and who has been one of the most outspokenly angry about the whole thing, pushes around on his skateboard while his dog, Sputnik, chases him, barking. I grab it for a second and busy myself doing manuals around the parking lot.

Word spreads that we will not be working tomorrow, and I am glad to have the extra time off. Some of us are making plans to go to hostels. Management is inside the hotel room with all of the little pieces of paper. They emerge slowly and head to their vehicles, giving nothing away. Julien assumes that they have gotten no answer. Meeghan, the supervisor, walks by me and I ask her if there was a name, and she says yes. Julien's jaw drops. I feel lighter, and plan on getting away as soon as I can.
I see Kathy crying, talking to Cam way away in the parking lot, and I think that she must have put her name down. I don't think she did it. She must have been pushed into it. The heaviness returns. I am talking to people on my crew and expressing my perspective. I say I don't know who did it and I don't need to know.

I walk up the street towards a Restaurant to get some breakfast, and Yossef joins me half-way. He is going to eat with me. I ask him if he put his name on the paper, and he says yes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Witch Hunt

6:00 am - wake up, it is sunny, make food.

7:00 am - walk to foreman's truck, can't find foreman's truck, oh yeah, it broke down in the rainstorm yesterday.

7:10 am - find foreman, ask him what truck to go in

7:25 to 9:45 am - long drive to the block, listen to new Weezer album a few times, sucks.

9:45 am to 3:00 pm - planting , swampy trenches, heavy stock, having a hard time making money

3:10 pm - Scott, company checker for Sundance Forestry, the company that contracts my company to plant the trees comes into my land, throws four plots, I ask him how the trees are looking, says they are good on density, pretty good on microsite selection, asks me to plant higher up spots on trenches, walks into Yossef's peice, directly adjacent

3:11 pm - planting trees, I hear Scott call "CAM," with rising pitch, like a mother who has found her children's mess and is calling to scold them, Yossef walks over there muttering about density in the accomodating tone he takes with company checkers, Cam walks over, to this little area in Yossef's peice, I assume Yossef has gone way too tight in his trenches, as he is flying today, bagging out 540 trees for every 405 I put in

3:12 pm - I see Scott Picking up bundles of trees, around 75, that had been hidden under a log in Yossef's peice, my immediate reaction is to plant a line in the opposing direction

3:14 pm - I am called over to Yossef's peice and told that there were trees stashed, Yossef insisting he did not do it, Scott in absolute full-on anger mode with accusing eyes saying that he is rounding up everybody who had been anywhere near this land today, and that whoever did this would come out with it and be fired before leaving the block today

3:16 pm - Mark Large, his girlfriend Jessie, Yossef and I, as well as two rookies: Vanessa, a hard worker in her early twenties who reminds me of Marla Singer and has taken to following me around in my land and observing my technique, a funny little thing with the kind of laugh you could hear over a banquet room full of chatter; and Kathy, a precocious young French Canadian who had been scolding me twenty minutes earlier for telling her to fuck off the day before, catholic girl with good legs who wears spandex pants on the block every day - we are drawn into a circle, the six of us who were working near Yossef's land

3:20 pm - we are lectured by Scott about the severity of this problem, he is sick to his stomach, and told that the person who did it would have to come forth, lest we all be fired, and I feel a little bit sick

3:22 pm - silence

3:24 pm - we all agree that there was nobody else in or around Yossef's land, and that the trees were stashed today, and that therefor it had to be one of us, sitting in a circle with our bags off in the middle of the block

3:30 pm - reminding myself I haven't done anything wrong

3:40 pm - Crew boss Cam goes back to running trees, his reputation and his company on the line, Cam Parks, a managerial big guy from camp, nice guy, comes to see us and give us his word about the graveness of our situation, Scott and big Cam go away to talk, it is very clear that we will not be allowed to leave until someone comes forth, and that it will not be good enough for someone to just take the fall - the responsible party must come forth, or we will all be fired

3:45 pm to 4:20 pm - I am cleaning my boots to keep myself busy and avoid eye contact with anyone. Whenever someone speaks up it is to address the mystery person in our midst with accusatory and fearful rhetoric, like: "whoever it is just has to be a man and step up, becuase they are wasting my time and my day, and we are all fucked if you don't just come out," people look around at eachother, who looks guilty, who could have done this, would Yossef stash trees in his own peice, wouldn't that be a little bit stupid for a guy with so much experience who has planted so many trees before and can plant 75 trees in about five minutes anyways, but there is a doubt, or how could anyone else have done it, did they sneak in there and put them under a log there, and if so does this mean they have malicious intentions towards Yossef, and when would they have done this, and how guilty do I look, as a person relatively new, who keeps to himself and plants big numbers, who was planting right beside Yossef, who lost his job earlier in the season at another company for reasons we can't be completely sure of?

4:30 pm - what behaviors are indications of guilt? How should I act?

4:45 pm - Scott comes back, tells us that our whole crew will be fired if the person does not step forth, like fourteen people, and Cam, part owner in the company will lose his job, and likely his future in the industry, worrying about Cam, worried he is not cut out for anything but this industry

4:50 pm - people talk about taking the fall, Yossef says he will volunteer, it is his peice, he says, he is crying, a forty three year old man with tears in his eyes, Kathy hugging him, his emotions make him look guilty to me

4:55 pm - I say "Yossef, if you did this, then come forth, and if you didn't then you have to not come forth, a fall guy doesn't help us," we are all tainted now, all of us, a big shit-smear across our face, until we know beyond a doubt who this was, I can see people in camp saying "I knew that Adam was a stasher..."

5:00 pm - nothing, thinking about truth and god, feeling assured and strong

5:20 pm - I suggest that Cam and Scott conduct private interviews, they do, we all talk to them for about ten minutes and then return to the group, they ask more personal questions, like who you think did it and that, I am honest and respond with gravity, they threaten to fire everyone, I tell Scott that that is `McCarthyism` and you will only end up raising the stakes of getting a wrongful confession using this kind of method, and that the stakes in terms of humility are probably too high for anyone to come out anymore; he doesn't trust me, I can see in his body language, Cam Stewart is in my land throwing plots, looking for trees? though I swear before god and on my mother's grave

6:00 pm - we rebundle the stashed trees and walk to the quad trail where we sit down, Cam, with everything on the line and electric eyes, stares dead at me and asks if I did it and I put my hand on my heart and say no, he has already counted Yossef out, as has everyone else in the company, his reputation being too good and the stashing being too amateurish, Cam says he thinks it was a rookie, which leaves Vanessa and Kathy

6:15 pm - Cam tells Vanessa and Kathy that he thinks it is one of them, Vanessa immediately breaks down into tears, says no, Kathy looks at him and says "I would never do something so disrespectful" which is probably a lie or a poor choice of words, as Kathy has disrespected me more seriously on several occassions, Vanessa becomes angry angry angry and calls her mom on a cell phone (the block is close to town), marching around near the van, exasperated, crying, Kathy stoic, Yossef saying he will leave the company regardless of the outcome

6:30 pm - we leave the block, I have two beers and give one to Cam Stewart and he shotguns the beer right there on the block and we walk away, towards the vehicles, on the way passing a gas compression plant, something that takes the raw gas and separates it into the good and the bad, expels the bad and sends the good down the pipeline

8:00 pm - check into a hotel in Edson, Alberta, go to strip club with Cam, who happens to have also lost his wallet, destroyed his truck, had his lunch eaten by a dog, stuck a quad in a swamp and twisted his ankle earlier in the day, a naked woman kneels on the stage talking to some roughnecks, she is the last dancer of the night and we have missed her show, Cam, 31 years old is carded and doesn`t have his wallet, we can`t stay, get offsales, I buy he waits, roughnecks try to pick a fight with him outside calling him a fucking faggot, him laughing like a maniac, completely unafraid and almost challenging

12:00 pm - spend time with crew, drinking and talking, really feeling up front with eachother, wondering whose head will roll and if it will be mine and if so how I would ever find another job after being fired twice in the same season, knowing that I am in a good position because of the amount of trees I plant, politically, but worried, thinking Yossef or Kathy, hoping it was not Yossef

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Video: Planter POV

Video: Storm

UPDATE: Drayton Valley, Alberta

View Larger Map

At the BCMI inn, where I am staying, there are no cars in the parking lot. There are large white trucks with company decals on the sides, and big tires; splatter coatings of grey clay around their base grow thinner up their sides, acquired on the many dirt and gravel roads that divide the green foothills between Drayton Valley and Edson. Roads that lead to wells, massive thrusting derricks churning and belching, or clear cut forrests; running adjacent to seismic lines and ten meter wide stretches of dead straight green grass that seem to go on forever, a scar marking the underground pipelines; roads that climb up hills that when crested reveal the far off jagged white shapes of the Rocky Mountains on one side, and a muddy flat horizon on the other.

There are no women at the BCMI save for the hostess and the waitresses at the Bar-Restaurant near the reception. It is full of men, alone and in small groups, eating high cholesterol breakfasts off of the Canadian Classics menu. Heavy set men wearing denim and wool, and high boots. Everything recognizable from the racks of Mark's Work Warehouse. They look threateningly unremarkable.

One shift here and the numbers are huge. We only earn nine cents a tree, so you have to plant more of them. But the land is, as Cam would say, 'dead-easy.' We are camped along a river in a provincial campsite, somewhere between Edson and Drayton Valley, one hour from cement in any direction. I can hear the trickle of the creek through my mosquito net at night, which becomes almost indistinguishable from the loud puttering of the generator beside the cook shack.

1/2 of Throat Kick

Mark Large, Bass

Riley, Drums

Friday, June 13, 2008

Video: Mess Tent




He talks about being from Spain, and having a Muslim father. Apparently he lived in New York for a while, before taking temporary residence in Montreal. I am not sure of the timeline. By the look of him, he must be in his mid to late thirties. He wears a doo-rag underneath a baseball cap that he does not take off even when he sleeps. He smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, and plants more trees than anyone I have ever seen.

Yossef is slight and muscular. He stands around six feet tall and has a 28 inch waist. He eats almost nothing but almonds and fruit. His limbs account for the larger portion of his physique. Spindly, you could call him, and slightly stooping, he moves quickly and has wide set eyes which give him a reptilian presence, like a gecko.

My first day planting with Yossef he put in twice as many trees as me. I was baffled at how such a feat could be even possible, and quickly began peppering him with questions relating to his technique and diet.

He speaks French, Spanish and slangish english in a quiet raspy voice. He refers to Tim Hortons as "Timmy Timmy," and smoking pot as "stone time." His favortie singular phrase is "unbelievable," which he uses to express exasperation, as in 'Can you believe this shit?' Out of his mouth it sounds like UM BA LEE BO.

His smile is full of cunning, which must account for some of his success. He works his land in ways that confound other planters and checkers alike, guaranteeing that people will most often stay out of his land. This can be interpreted as eccentricity, but is more likely a calculated strategy to throw everyone off.

Yossef is becoming like a planting mentor to me. He is the best I have ever seen, and likely one of the best that there is.

Trees and Spade

Sunday, June 8, 2008

UPDATE; Fort St. James

After finishing the Williams Lake contract on a five day shift, we had one day to move to Fort St. James and set up camp before starting in on the 500,000 or so Ministry of Forests (government) trees we are currently chipping away at. The haste made for a dearth of downtime that prevented me from adding to this page. Today is my first real day off in ten days.

In Fort St. James the prices are lower (13 cents), but the land is faster and the numbers are higher. We are camped only 15 kilometers away from a 250,000 tree block that we have been on the for the last four days. The proximity to and the size of the block mean that we are getting long days and big pieces of land. On day four, I closed a 10,000 tree piece having thoroughly exhausted myself every day of the shift, then celebrated by splurging on a single motel room on the night off. I drank three beers, ate a pizza and watched a nine ball tournament on television. In the morning, I had a bath, checked out, and walked to the laundromat, which was closed. I walked to a nearby gas station and asked a friendly cashier what time the laundromat opened. She informed me that it was closed on Sunday. 'Is there another one is town?' 'No.' 'Is there an internet cafe around here?' 'Yes, but it is closed.' 'How about a library?' 'Closed.'

I called the motel and asked if they had laundry service. They said no, so I took a day-room and bought some detergent from the grocery store. I hand-washed my clothes in the bath tub. I rung them out, hung them off of a rail, and am now waiting for them to dry while orating this post to Lauren, who is in Manhattan, using the motel room phone and a 7-11 calling card.

We are here for another 4 days before packing up again- this time for a 12 hour drive to our neighboring province.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

UPDATE: Moving Day

Today is moving day, meaning that our entire company is packing up and moving from Williams Lake to a new camp just outside of Fort St. James.

In the morning, my crew was responsible for tearing down the mess tent before we went off to the block. We planted until 6:00, and drove back hurriedly, hoping to make it all the way to Prince George by that evening. We collected all of our personal belongings, took down our little tents and packed everything into vehicles. I managed to do this very quickly, and walked down to the campground shower to clean up before the four-hour drive.

There is a mobile home between my old tent spot and the showers, which are themselves half way between my tent and my old crew. Along my half finished journeys, I had often played with a friendly cat that lives here. Today, there were four Indian children outside, between the ages of three and five. As I walked past they all started to follow me, teasing me in unison as kids will do on playgrounds, by calling me "poopy-pants".


I walked into the showers, laughing. My pants are covered with mud. I have worn them every day of what has been a long and hard five-day shift. All of my planting clothes are possessed of a sweaty, soily, body grime that covers me and makes me stick to my sleeping bag at night. My tent smells like a hockey bag. Everything is slightly damp.

I got into the shower, which felt good. I had no soap, so I just stood under the showerhead rubbing brown dirt off of my hands and face, taking care of what was visible. We don't have a day off between these two contracts, so I am not sure if I will be able to do my laundry and wash my sleeping bag out before I begin what will be another five-day shift. I really hope so.

When I got out, I had the feeling that my body had been waxed. The kids were waiting for me outside. They began with the Poopy-pants thing again.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


People often talk about getting into shape as being a positive by-product of planting trees. It is true that you build muscle and lose weight - it is a natural process. We are working ten hour days, hiking with weight around our hips, prying open holes in hard ground and bending over thousands of times a day. After a while of doing this you become extremely fit - and after that you begin to wither away. By the end of the season you are so physically drained as to become depressed, your system overtaxed and in utter shock. After two weeks on the outside, your muscle, now purposeless, will melt into fat. This is a level of activity that cannot be sustained, and an unbalanced fitness that can never last.

Rhino seems Badass

I have worked for Rhino for six days, and am still unfamiliar with most of the staff. Those that I have met thus far know me as the guy who used to work at Dynamic, across the way; most of the conversations I have had concern the differences between the two companies. The Rhino planters are curious about the tree prices and quality specs. They wonder if they would be better off, if they would make more money, on the other side.

I never say much about what strikes me as a pretty stark contrast in the aesthetics of the two companies. This being that the people at Rhino are different, more abrasive, and wilder than their counterparts at Dynamic.

For instance, there are about fifteen times as many facial piercings in the Rhino camp. People smoke and smoke pot constantly; in the trucks, at camp and on the block. I would venture to say there are ten smokers at Rhino for every one at Dynamic. The music plays louder and there is more yelling: there are more patch-strewn hooded sweatshirts than, say, polypro fleeces from Mountain Equipment Co-op. There is more hair dye, and less redundant/beauracratic tongue-in-cheek 'safety meetings' where we are lectured about the possibility of falling trees in the bushline.

At Dynamic there are a group of men who go to the gym on the day off. One of the crew bosses has a bench press outside his trailer. At Rhino, there is no-one like that. On my old crew, there was Benson, who played and recorded sugary, Belle and Sebastien inflected twee-pop on vintage analogue equipment. On my new crew, there are Mark and Riley, who play in a band called "Throat Kick."

There are also more dogs in camp, roaming like strays, being thrown out of the mess tent, chasing vehicles, and chewing up copies of the company newsletter: "The Turbulent Times."

Video: Night Off

Update: Being Fired and Hired

The day after I was fired, I went to the library in Williams Lake. I wrote a few emails, and by noon the day of my termination I had four job offers. I could have gone south, west, or east into Alberta, or I could go with a new company called Rhino who was working out of the same camp-ground as my old camp.

I weighed a number of factors. I didn’t want to have any more quality problems. I wanted to get back to work as soon as possible. Rhino was in my old camp, only ten minutes away. They were soon heading north and into Alberta – both places where I am tested and capable. I thought of the campsite: the pay-phone and the laundry services: the proximity to town.

I felt a perverse glee being driven back to the same camp by a new company.
I pitched my tent on the east side of the divide, about one hundred meters from where I was camped before.

I met my new foreman. I remember thinking that he had a presence. He had heard I had been having quality problems. I told him I would need someone who is patient. He said that he was patient. I told him I was glad and I would work hard every day.

I filled up my water jug the next morning and I could see my old camp and crew going through their morning routine. Things looked pretty normal, which was sad.

For the first shift I was unable to go and say hello, fearing the social awkwardness of returning and running into Kayla the forewoman or Jason the supervisor, or any of the people I did not know well in camp who might not take to my reappearance. I tried to, a couple of times. I would start walking over to Caroline's van and find myself wracked with anxiety less than halfway, blocked by fear and shame. This was kind of sad too. But it passed.

After six days of haunting I had been spotted a couple of times. I thought that the word must have been getting around their camp, so I decided to make another effort at walking across the field. I wore a pair of Groucho Marx glasses (with the moustache and the big nose and furry eyebrows) to make light of my predicament. RJ, the checker from Dynamic did a double take and then laughed as I kept a straight face.

My new crew departs for Fort St. James in four days.

Video: My Tent

Email From Coast Range Supervisor

I asked him for a job, then pulled out a couple of times. First to go with Dynamic, and then again, to go to Rhino.
Here's what he just wrote me:
"This is the second time you ask for a job with us a bail. Please stop wasting my time. If you'd come and plant with us in the first place you wouldn't be jumping from shit show to shit show."
I wrote back to apologize and agree.

Video: Log Crossing

Friday, May 23, 2008

Day Off

I have a new job, with a new company, camped in the same campsite as the old company. Today is our day off, and it is also my old camp's day off, and there are a lot of planters in town.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I've Been Fired

And it was a surprise. But it makes sense. I had become a problem.

On the surface, my trees were the problem. I have replanted far too often over the first three weeks of the season. This frustrates me, it frustrates Kayla, and it hurts both of our incomes. It can be attributable to my learning to plant in Alberta, where the tree quality is less important. It can be attributable to my attitude and ambition - I am always seeking to plant more trees and earn more money and will take every short-cut imaginable to achieve this.

Yesterday I was given a big peice of land and a warning that I had to sign, concerning my poor trees. I signed it and made a sarcastic remark to Kayla about this being a really nice way to start a shift. I remember thinking that I was performing the scapegoat role for Kayla's discontent. You see, Kayla has six planters, and makes 15% of what they plant every day. This means that she earns less than we do on average; unless she is able to plant trees herself. Kayla has been unable to do this thus far for a combination of reasons, most having to do with her relative 'greenness' on the job. She is a first year foreman. She resents having to check our trees, for it cuts into the time that she could be using to make money by planting.

The notice was a formal warning, and I presumed it was a just a threat. I thought that management was just trying to appease Kayla and bully me a little into feeling like I was on thin ice. Regardless, I was careful to plant good trees all day, and was happy to have a big piece of land for the first time all year. I was checked in the morning by the company checker. That is, the checker from the logging company that pays the planting company. He was happy with me trees. I wasn't surprised. I felt good.

At three o'clock Kayla came into my land and rummaged around for a little while. I didn’t see her because I was in a secluded pocket in the back of the piece. She was waiting for me at the cache when I came out. She looked anxious. ‘Hey,’ I said, throwing my shovel to the ground and picking up my water bottle to drink from. ‘Do you want good news or bad news?’ she asked me. I looked at her and lowered my chin. ‘Good News.’ ‘The good news is that I will allow you to fix your piece.’ I silently measured the implications of this remark. ‘Are you joking?’ I said. ‘I just walked through your piece and found open holes, at least 25% of your trees.’ She was acting challenging and dissapointed. ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me.’ I said. ‘You know I don’t like to do this’ She said. ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me,’ I said.

I don’t remember much of what was said after that. I kept it together, on the surface, until she left, then walked into my land. I threw my shovel repeatedly, as hard as I could and in no particular direction. I swore at the top of my lungs. It was a full-blown tantrum as I had not released since grade school. Everyone on the block could hear. It was shameful, animal shit, and I regret it. I walked my land, inspecting my trees for one hour and a half in an absolute state. My mind was whirring. The trees didn’t look bad to me, or at least not so bad as to warrant this. ‘This is injustice. Kayla is checking me too hard. It’s not my fault.’

I had had enough. I began to prepare a pitch to my supervisor. It was to go something like this: "Hey Jason, I know Kayla is frustrated with this job, and I am certainly frustrated with this also. There is a problem between us. I don't think she is seeing my trees with clear eyes anymore. I believe that I have become a symbol of her difficulties, and that she will never be able to trust me to just plant. Therefore, she will always resent having to be my boss.
"Perhaps I am a bit of a higher maintenance planter - I am also a fast planter who will work his ass off every single day. That is why I think Kayla should trade me to another crew: a bigger crew, where the person checking me will care also about my numbers and will have something to gain from my speed. What Kayla needs is a slow planter who has perfect trees: I am not that planter. Therefore, it would be best for both of us for me to move to another crew."

My solution seemed perfect. Surely he would capitulate to such a reasonable request. The ride home was really quiet. After dinner, I approached Kayla first, to tell her about my plan, thinking that she too would think this the best course of action. I wanted to get her on board before we went to Jason. I asked to speak to her alone and she said ‘give me fifteen minutes.’ I went back to my tent, sat down, and opened a beer.

On my way back to find Kayla, I was stopped by Jason. He asked me to come have a seat with him, and we walked over to a picnic table away from the hubbub of camp. Kayla came over to join us. I was in trouble.

He began by asking me what the problem was with my trees. I said I wasn't convinced they were bad. I said Kayla's complaints were 'contentious:’ I was unsure as to whether she was a good judge of the quality of my trees. This seemed reasonable to me, but it was scoffed at. Sensing I was in trouble, I quickly maneuvered into my pitch, asking him for a spot on another crew. He refused. I was surprised. I thought if I had another crew boss I wouldn't have quality problems, and he made a point of rejecting the notion that there is any subjective bias in assessing tree quality. Thinking he was bullshitting, or tooting a well established falsehood, I pretended to agree. I was expecting another round of light disciplining, and then he said: 'I think we've got to let you go.'

I asked him for second chance, and he held out the warning I had signed earlier in the day; held it out over a picnic table and firmly patted it down saying that this was my second chance. He told me to pack a lunch tomorrow and plan on heading into town in the morning.

I shook his hand and went and sat on a hill and drank two beers. Then I went to say goodbye to my crew, who I have grown close to. I slept poorly, thinking myself completely lost; unsure whether I would be able to find another job; too poor to head back to New York. I woke and packed up. Jason drove me to the Greyhound station in Williams Lake, and we had a conversation about paintball. I dropped off my bags in a big locker and he said bye without looking directly at me.

I waited at a restaurant for the library to open, and when it did, I started compiling phone numbers. I thought of the irony of being removed from a place you don't even like.

I started making phone calls.

Video: Stabs

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Video: Tree Runner

Getting Political

In piece work, it is said, you eat what you kill. You work hard, you earn more. It is all up to you. The best rise above the rest and enjoy a special status: the highballer - the person who plants the greatest numbers and earns the most. When presented with grievances about money from lesser planters, management will quickly point to the highballer: as Kayla did in conversation with me the other day.

‘____ is making 6 or 7 hundred dollars a day in the same land,’ She said, with the implication that I could too if only I was as good as ____.

I have been a highballer and remember having the same attitude. When you're on top it's always because of your ability. This is probably the ego's natural reaction to success. When you are at the bottom, I am learning, the ego acts in a similar self-serving manner. You aren't there, in the dumps, because of your lack of ability god forbid; you are down because an injustice or an external and uncontrollable circumstance is holding you down.

Our crew seems to be getting the short end of the stick. I have been dissatisfied. We have been dissatisfied. Mostly Caroline and I have been dissatisfied. We are the most willful and competitive of the bunch. Here is our beef: Firstly, we are being sent to blocks with tree averages far below what we feel like we can plant. For example: if we are sent to a 6000-tree block (as happened last shift), and there are six of us, there is a 1000 tree average imposed on us before we even bag up. That means (at a tree price of roughly seventeen cents) that we will make an average of one-hundred and seventy dollars. To me, this is not enough. Secondly, we feel that we are being asked to plant higher quality trees than the rest of camp. We are constantly replanting, which further hurts our paychecks. We feel that we are coming to be relied upon as a 'quality crew:' a group of janitorial lowballers who clean up the small blocks.

This problem is systemic. We are a six pack in a camp with two other full crews: one with 15 mediocre planters, and another with 25 solid, veteran planters. The other two foremen have been doing this for a long time, and enjoy seniority over Kayla. We know that when the higher ups (the supervisor in conjunction with the three foremen) are making their decisions we are, in lieu of our small size, the final consideration (we are producing probably 1/6th of the total, with the other crews doing 1/2 and 1/3 respectively).

Lately, near Caroline's sleeper van, we have been discussing our lot, and have drafted a formal complaint stating that: “We, as a crew, feel that we are not being allowed to 'reach our potential ('s)' as planters, and thereby earn enough money to be happy with our season thus far. We have also agreed that 'administrative adjustments' must be made in order to enable us.” If not, the implication is, we will have to do something about it.

‘Like What?’ A fellow conspirator said.

We had Caroline, a soft talker and veteran planter, present these arguments on our behalf.

Meanwhile, we finished off our trees out at Alexis Creek, and have packed up and set up a new camp at the Chief Will-Yum campsite just south of Williams Lake. We are all a little happier with this location, as it is merely ten minutes from town. This greatly elongates the amount of free time we have on day off, as before we were driving an hour-and-a-half each way, to Williams Lake and back. It also has a pay phone and laundry facilities, and I will be happier to have the opportunity to talk to Lauren on a daily basis.

It is unclear whether things will improve. We have stuck out our necks and stated our case. I am not sure where this will take us. Caroline tells a story about a crew that was in her camp last year. She said that they low-balled the camp every day, and still had to replant all of the time. They were undoubtedly forced to a higher quality standard than the rest, owing to their small numbers and anal-retentive crew boss.

'What happened with them' I asked her.

'Eventually they just got fed up and everybody quit.'

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Video: Truck Unstuck

Video: Lunch Treat

My Crew

A six pack. Five planters and a crew boss (Kayla). We commute together in a Ford F350 diesel truck, listening to music and joking with one another. We also plant off of the same caches, and eat at the same table. We are together all day. This is what I know of them so far.


He is from Kelowna, though he was born in West Vancouver. His father has a PHD in Political Science and owns a bookstore. Benson likes music, and has been slowly accumulating analog studio equipment over the past several years. He says he wants to go train hopping in the USA sometime soon, and also plans on starting a record label that is loosely based on the idea of mail-art. His nose bleeds often, and once in a while he will break into a fit of giggling in which his face will go red and his voice will crack. He has the t-shaped physique of a catalogue model, with broad shoulders and an upright posture. We sometimes call him 'the swede.'


She is from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and often phrases her questions with a rise and fall in pitch that reminds me of the English. Caroline was a wrestler in high school, and is also very crafty. Here she is wearing a 'costume' she made one night in camp. She wanted the crew to create alter-ego's and plant in costume one day last shift. I am not sure what super-hero she is supposed to be. I have seen her suplex Jesse. A fourth year planter, Caroline has highballed our crew almost every day thus far. She sleeps in a camper van that she bought for $1000 last summer, while planting, and always wakes up at the last possible minute.


She lives in Parkdale, Toronto, goes to the Ontario College of Art and Design, and studies photography. This is her costume, a redundantly named superhero: aquaman-woman. Jesse is about five feet tall and is very slight. She is an amateur boxer with a record of 2-2, and she can punch quite hard. She has a good sense of humor, and is often sarcastic. In an ongoing joke, when you are with her and she sees someone behaving foolishly, she will tell you that that person is on your team. This is confusing at first – but quickly becomes an easy way to laugh and indicate your distaste towards other people. Her father is a grip.


Eric has been working at a restaurant for the past few years. He became really fed up with it, and is now more than happy to be in the bush, surrounded by people his age, with nobody to serve. He rarely gets down, and can laugh at himself when he does. He knows a good deal about wine and enjoys coffee in a mug that has a Bob Marley sticker on it. I often tease him for the Bob sticker, which he knows to be something of a hippy cliché. He just laughs. He really likes Bob Marley. At restaurants on days off Eric is extra sensitive to the wait-staff. He has a genuine concern for the feelings of those around him. His mother is the secretary at an elementary school. He can't swim.