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.