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.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Video: Stuck Truck

Shift Two

My last shift started good. I started to get things back, my technique and shape, and began to feel good about it. I felt a competition growing in me. My quads were starting to fill out my pants. The weight of the trees around my hips seemed less overbearing. My hands were hurting, but getting harder. The first two days of the shift saw me steadily improving, numbers wise.

On the third day of the second shift I walked into a particularly ugly peice of land. In it, there were hundreds of boulders and fallen trees, two steep reveens and four small lakes. I couldn't find any soil. Every time I threw my shovel at the ground I would here a metallic 'TING' and feel vibrations run through my body. I didn't know where to plant good trees. .

After a few hours of this, Kayla came into my land to check my trees, as is her job as my boss. Nearly all of them were unacceptable. She said "Quality is a priority, and makes a reputation as much as quantity. If our trees aren't good enough, we can fail a block and not get paid as a company."

It went for almost two days until the piece was in passable shape. Anger swooped around inside. Kept thinking 'why am I here and what am I doing with my life?' and 'I hate this'. Rehearsed variations of 'fuck you I quit' speeches. I would like to have cried, but couldn't. 'What would a shovel sound like connecting with a human face.' I lay down for a while. If a bear had come to maul me I might not have minded. If he left me with a big scar across my face and a brush with death. I imagined myself, rugged. My scar would scare people, but I would be nice about it. 'I was mauled by a bear.’ People would remember me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Video: Rough Road

Video: Snowy Block

Shift One

I arrived in Williams Lake at a tiny airport. I was waiting for someone I had never seen before, and that made me nervous. I looked at everyone long enough to see if they were looking back, looking for me. There were few people in the airport. I walked to the glass door at the front where you could see the cars come in, driving in a big loop towards the front. It was too cold to wait outside. The cars came infrequently. I made my shovel visible on top of my things, so as to be easily identified, and waited.

After two hours, Kayla arrived.

We shook hands and I loaded my things into her truck. This person is my boss, and I will have to spend a lot of time with this person, so I tried to be as open and friendly as possible. I tried to ask her about herself, and reveal a little about myself. We drove up to the head offices so that Kayla could pick things up and I asked her with questions about quality and tree prices. It was snowing. Kayla got out and left me sitting in the truck for around forty-five minutes. The snow made me feel really bad for myself.

When Kayla got back in her truck, she apologized for taking so long and I said ‘no worries’ and we drove on. First, to buy some gloves at Surplus Herbies. Then, to camp, an hour and a half west of Williams Lake, on a big ranch overlooking the Frasier River, two kilometers east of Alexis Creek, BC. There are about a hundred of us there: foremen, runners, planters, checkers and cooks; drifters, college students, transient workers, rookies and grizzled veterans, mostly between the ages of 18 and 40. Below us, across the river, are five hundred cows whose mooing echoes through the valley at all hours.
It was almost dark when I arrived. I scrambled to set up my tent in a light snowfall and then spent a chilly night, fully clothed, in my sleeping bag.

I woke to half a foot of snow, which stuck around and prevented us from working until late in the day. When, eventually, we were able to bag up, the motions came back to me easily.

People are more concerned with quality here, which slows you down and prevents you from planting as many trees. The tree prices are higher, however, meaning you don’t have to plant as many to earn the same amount. I am used to the Alberta style, and have struggled thus far.

Now it is day-off, a Sunday, and everything is closed in Williams Lake save the laundromat. I had to walk three kilometers to find a net-cafe.

NOTE: In camp there is no Internet connection, so I will only be able to write on this every five days.