Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Longest Memory by Fred D'Aguiar

I don't know if I would have ever known about this book had it not been highly recommended by Justine as I was rifling through the books about to be abandoned due to a move. I found it very engaging. I enjoyed the style of each chapter carrying a different characters voice, and allowing the story to slowly unravel with new insights. I'm not sure how common this book is but if you can get your hands on a copy it's a short (less than 200pages) and beautiful read. You'll be better off having read it and it's sure to stir up some emotions. As I finished the last chapter I was already eager to hand it over to a friend who would appreciate it and hope it gets continually passed around. One of the things I do love about paper books (versus ebooks) is the physical gift and passing on the love of the story is more concrete.
Thanks for sharing Jus, you were right, I really did enjoy it!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This book was recommended to me a couple years ago, but I only got my hands on a paper copy recently (thanks Justine!). I have to say I enjoyed it. I can understand why it would be required reading in school but I may not have liked it as much had I not read it of my own volition.
It's a great story, and deserves to be a classic.This quote rang true for me.
"A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say."  
— Italo Calvino
This book may be small and just over 100 pages, but the feeling is mighty, the characters are real, and the story is a memorable and heartfelt one.
I'm sure I'll come back to this one, and hope to come across more of Steinbeck's works.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The tree planting lifestyle (part 1)

Those are my boots, the day before tree planting began!
I stumbled upon a labyrinth in Thunder Bay with
encouraging messages engraved in the brick road.

"It's 6am and time to rise,
wipe the sleep from your eyes,
grab some clothes and hope they're dry,
jump into the lunch line,
hop on the bus, don't be late,
that would be a rookie mistake!"

That's the beginning to one of the many songs I made up while planting. My all time favourite which I do hope to record: "I hate tree planting today" it has a really upbeat catchy tune.

 So here's what tree planting was about...
Waking up in a smelly, slightly damp tent, the colder the morning, the warmer the day will be. Throw on your favourite tree planting outfit, the same sweet sweat smelling shirt you wore yesterday. Trudge over to the food tent to make a lunch with snacks that will last you a full day of planting, which is double the food you would normally consider eating. Grab breakfast and eat it in the mess tent or on the bus. Look at the white board to see which bus you need to get on and carry your 4lt of water, gear and food. Don't worry, this is always an awkward process, there is no smooth way of fitting yourself and your gear on the bus with 20 other planters.

The Silver Bullet stuck again - photo credit: Taylyn
Then it's the 30 min to an hour drive in a school bus down a bumpy dirt road to head to a block of land that will be divided up so each person gets a piece. The long ride allows you to take a nap and then duct tape yourself. Tape your fingers, boots, holes in your pants, etc. Get dropped of at your piece for a day of solo or partner planting.

Box Fire & Tents - photo credit: Taylyn
Tent Alley - photo credit:Taylyn
Plant all day. Eat when you want to eat, hydrate when you want to hydrate, dig a hole when you need to do some business (that's my nice way of saying shit in the woods), have dance parties when you need to dance. Get back on the bus with all your smelly comrades and cheers that the day is done and it's time for grub and drinks and campfires. Go to bed. Repeat.

Lake view

Your new home is always by a lake for a water supply. You will be drinking filtered lake water. There's a tent area, sometimes called tent alley, where everyone's tents create a cozy camping community. There are outhouses, which the cleaning of are part of the nightly chores that get rotated among the planters. There are trailers for staff and a kitchen trailer. There are two large tents, one for eating, one for the buffet of food, which will later serve as a good area for beer pong, and The Table Game, (work hard, party hard) and huddling together on weekends when it rains. If you're lucky someone will have set up clothes lines to hang wet clothes so they can become damp instead of sopping wet.

Eating Tents - photo credit: Shirley
Staff Trailers - photo credit: Shirley

There are no mirrors so you wont have to ever wonder how you look. By the faces around you though, you can only imagine you also have black fly bites all around your eyes, and on your cheeks and everywhere. Showering is at your discretion and if your not too exhausted to wait in line. Some people shower once a day, some people save showers as a weekend activity. Before bed it's a good idea to check for ticks. You've probably already taken a bunch off yourself and fellow planters. You can use ticks to make art projects and messages on duct tape. Most of the seats on the bus have a big piece of duct tape ready to peal back at any moment to trap your new found tick.

Ticks on Duct Tape - photo credit: Megan
If it's the weekend you've probably gone in to town to at least do some laundry. (maybe go to church if that's your thing) Some planters consider it unlucky or pointless to wash their shirts. Although my shirt never looked cleaner when I pulled it out of the wash at least it got rid of the 5 days of marinating in sweat. My favourite tree planting outfit is a light blue tank top (thank you Jenn) with a linen blouse overtop. Leggings under jean shorts with two pairs of wool socks, one fitted one not. If it's raining my rain pants that feel three sizes too big, a bug hat if it's super buggy, a blue and white wool sweater when it's chilly (thank you goodwill). My steel-toe workbooks from Marks were guaranteed for 100 days and after only 30 had the markings of extreme wear and tear and smelled fantastically of bog water.
A Pretty Swamp
So the actual tree planting, how do you plant a tree in Northern Ontario?
Loosely holding the handle of an approximately 3ft shovel in the fingers of your dominant hand, throw the shovel head into the ground. You want to hold the shovel loosely because the Canadian Shield is unforgiving. If you hold the shovel tightly and hit rock beneath a thin layer of soil you will feel a shocking jolt run through your wrist and arm. This sucks. When you've hit creamy soil and your shovel slides in nicely, this is the opposite of sucky and will make you happy. You will probably smile. Then using your body weight, push the shovel (that is in the ground) forward so it is about 45degrees and loosing the dirt on the spade. Making a wide circle motion and stoping when you make a C, towards your hip. You now have a pie shape, or pizza slice hole in the ground. 
Loose Trees in Planting Bag - photo credit: Taylyn
If you're pro you already have a tree loose and ready in your hand. There are many variations on how to put the tree in the ground, I myself prefer holding my pointer and middle finger together, with the roots of the sapling flush with my middle finger. Now placing it in the large part of the pie and squeezing it into the tiny corner of the pie to make it nice and tight. Bonus points for having the tree perfectly straight.

Sam Planting Trees - photo credit: Shirley
You can take the shovel out or keep it in for the placing of the tree, every planter gets their own style. Now don't bother standing up to admire your work. In a still crouched down position, as soon as your hand comes up free of trees it's back in the bag to grab another while you simultaneously move forward to plant the next tree, you don't want to waste a step so as you go forward one foot is kicking the dirt hard to close the hole with the planted tree. Should take about 6-15 seconds per tree.
So in the time it took you to read that you could have probably planted 50 trees!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Wave by Susan Casey

I never thought a book would have me on the edge of my seat. This book was recommend to me when I was in Panama, living by the water. I was very unsuccessfully trying the art of surfing. My biggest problem was my fear of being churned out by waves. When I was about nine years old in Spain with my dad, I was walking along the shoreline collecting rocks and shells with my back to the sea. My dad who was waiting by the umbrella starts calling to me and throwing his arms around. I just stood there staring at his silliness when all of a sudden a huge wave was upon me, tumbling me, throwing rocks at my stomach and then thankfully spitting me out.  Every time I got overtaken by a wave when surfing I was pumped with adrenaline to get out of it and then drained of all energy and motivation to get back at it.

"This book describes the mechanics of waves", maybe if I understood waves better I would be less terrified. I had already judged the book though, I wrongly anticipated it was filled with technical aspects that would be a dry read with science terms I knew nothing about. I reluctantly pulled it off the shelf and it immediately pulled me in. I was kicking myself for not reading this book as soon as it was recommended to me. Susan Casey isn't writing from the safety of a desk, she gets in the thick of it, learning about waves from the true masters; surfers searching for a hundred foot wave, scientists caught in epic storms, predictors of world disasters. She takes you to the moment and on the white knuckle rides. Laird Hamilton, a pro surfer, is her main connection to the world of waves. The information she gives is truly awesome.

There are pictures, incredible accounts of natures power, and an excitement I haven't encountered in other reads. This book would make a great gift for anyone who likes to get caught up in action and adventure. This book, hands down, goes on my top reads list!

Friday, August 2, 2013

From the South to the North

So I left Panama at the tail end of April thinking (as I seem to always do) that I would be staying in Toronto for a whole lot of time. I wanted to rent a studio space, work on some art projects, get a bar job working on a patio in the summer. That intention was all well and good until I got invited to a going away party of a friend's girlfriend. Where a conversation went something like this:
"Where are you off to Katia?"
"Tree planting in BC."
"What?!?! I've always wanted to do that! I've been missing the application deadline since I first heard about it when I was 18, or I've been out of the country."
"Well, now's the time to apply because this is when people drop out, here's my foreman's email."
So that night, as most nights when I get a crazy idea in my head that I want to do something (for no other explainable reason then I want to do it), I couldn't sleep. I had only been back in Toronto for one week and here I was producing a full explanation for a foreman of why I wanted to go tree planting and why I'd make a good addition to the team. I put a fair amount of time and energy in that email, and figuring most of the work was done, I might as well do a search online and apply to EVERY tree planting company possibly hiring rookies (first time planters). This was a Thursday and exactly one week since I landed in Toronto.

I closed my computer resolving I had to continue with my job search in Toronto like nothing happened or was happening. I went to interviews and found even at the post I was most excited for I was still pushing a fake happy and while I waited for the second round of interviews I stared at my silent phone whispering in my head and to all the tree planting companies, 'please call, so I don't have to go in there' but nothing happened, no one called, I continued with my interviews.

It was Thursday again, and the opening night of The Great Gatsby, so of course I was dressing up. With my hair in curlers, and a 1920's dress waiting for me, I had dinner with my parents before going out. I was just explaining to my dad why I'm certain that I can now only live in spaces with an abundance of nature. How living with the outdoors in Panama fed my soul and I want to be somewhere where I can be outside all day. He was coming around to my way of thinking, certainly not for himself, but at least understanding where I was coming from when my step-mom called from in the house that my cellphone was ringing. "Yes! Please answer it." and I bolted upstairs.
It took a while for my brain to wrap around what was said,
"Sorry, where are you calling from?"
something something "Tree planting"
That was the magic word I needed to get super excited and have a truly happy interview. The talk with my dad made all my answers easily roll of the tongue. I knew I was in for a tough time of hard work, I knew I'd be living in a tent, and I knew I would be out in nature all day, every day.
"Can you start on Monday?"
That's when my I faltered. Monday, that was three days and a few hours away, and I would have to get myself to Thunder Bay.
"When's the latest I can let you know? Alright, I'll email or call tomorrow morning."
I went back to my parents beaming and fooling myself, but not them, that I hadn't made a decision yet. I had to sleep on it, buy steel toed construction boots and see how much airfare was before I could officially commit. As I finished dolling up in the mirror, I was so happy it wasn't a skype interview, there is no way someone would hire me for back breaking work looking like this.

Friday I woke up early, and looked at the list that was sent to me. I now had three days to get everything, where normally people had three months to prepare. I took a deep breath and went to Mark's Work Warehouse for some CSA approved boots and a hardhat. Of course I was saying yes!
Camping Gear
− quality waterproof tent
− tarpaulin/ground sheet
− warm sleeping bag (rated -15 desgrees Celsius)
− extra blanket, therma-rest, pillow
− flashlight, lantern
− eating utensils (plate, bowl, cup, cutlery, etc.)
− tupperware containers (for field lunch)

Working Gear
− rain suit (coat and pants) - nylon or rubber (quality!)
− Duct tape
− sunglasses, hat, sun screen, lip balm
− insect repellent (Watkins if you can find it, if not, something with “deet”)
− Insulated water jug (4L or more)
− Small day pack (to carry lunch, gear, etc)
− Comfortable, CSA approved work boots (Break them in before coming.  You'll thank us)
− Work socks (Many pairs.  Polypropylene undersocks paired with wool are best)
− T-shirts (many)
− Sweaters (expect snow at least once)
− Long underwear, toque
− The ability to use all of the above

Personal Gear
− Alarm clock and Watch
− Matches/lighter
− Swim suit
− Toiletries
− Towel
− Clothing for days off
− Spending money
− Mosquito coils
− MP3 Player, camera, deck of cards, etc.
− Ibuprofen
− Personal first aid kit (band-aids, etc.)
− Journaling tools.  Pens, paper, notebook, etc.
− We recommend bringing about $200 cash to cover any unexpected incidentals

Planting Tools
− Planting shovel
− Planting bags
− CSA approved hard-hat
− High visibility vest