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.