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!


  1. A wonderful insight into your recent activities. Thanks Sam! :)

  2. Love your post, Sam, but I don't think they'll hire you as a recruiter! Keep on living and loving life. I hold you in awe!


    1. Haha yeah, but there's nothing sugar coated about tree planting so the recruiters do have to make sure people know what they're getting into. My part 2 about planting has more to say about the whole feel of things.
      Thanks so much for your comment!!