Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The car broke down, so I got a job and an apartment

Photo credit Courtney
I've been asked a lot how I came to move to Thunder Bay, so here's the story: 

Back in July, I got invited to a tree planters wedding in Toronto and since I was still in the extended summer plant, I didn't think I would be able to make it. Then I found out the plant was shortened and we were going to finish the contract early, but not close enough to make the wedding. Then, the week leading up to the wedding, on the Tuesday night, the supervisor mentioned he was headed to the nearest town (2hrs away) at 3pm the next day, to drop someone off who was leaving two days early...

Something stirred inside me and I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned till 1am and finally went to try and use the internet. Teddy, my tree runner for the first weeks was heading on a road trip from Thunder Bay to Toronto to go to the wedding, and had offered to give me a ride. (He had left the plant early to take care of some things before going to Toronto)

So, I sent Teddy a message:  
Hey Teddy!!! Since the moment you left I wish I'd gone with you. If you're still in TBay tomorrow, I'm coming!!
He messaged me back seconds later:
haha aww, treeplanting is hard :(
I was going to leave tomorrow morning sometime but I'm in no rush, I can definitely wait up for you if you want :) let me know
It was set:
Yes!! I'll hop on a bus to T'Bay and call you in the afternoon.
What's your number?
I finally went to bed, super excited that I was going to be DONE tree planting, AND that I was going to make it to the wedding AND that I got to have an Ontario road trip with one of my favorite people from tree planting. 

Photo credit Courtney, Treeplanting supervisor
I ambushed the supervisor at 5am and told him I'd be leaving with him too, at 3pm. I spent the day packing up my things and figuring out the Greyhound bus. Calling a number of times through MagicJack, riding off the internet I finally got a phone call through. No, I could not buy a ticket the operator told me, but I could wait on the corner of Manitouwadge and hwy 614, and the bus would see me and stop... A little apprehensively I waited with my bags and realized I was fully prepared to set up camp if a bus never came. 

It was the sweetest bus ride ever, no more bumpy bush roads, no more bugs, a comfy seat and AC! I was amazed at how beautiful the scenery was. There were people taking this bus across Canada and checking off marvelous lakes on maps as we passed by. I couldn't help but think again, I could live up here.

Photo credit Courtney
I stepped off the Greyhound in Thunder Bay and looked around for Teddy. He picked me up in his sisters car and broke the news; Teddy's car had just broken down and was towed to the nearest mechanic. We'd be stuck in Thunder Bay awaiting his car's diagnosis. Everything had been smoothly operating but while waiting for me, he went on an errand and the car broke down completely.

Photo credit Courtney, Teddy and Luna
I stayed at his sisters house and enjoyed a free day, so happy to be in a house instead of a camp, and free from planting. The freedom embraced me and I took so much pleasure in branching off on my own and walking around town. I was jonesing for a bookstore and after asking around and was directed to a small bookshop.

I started talking to the lovely lady at the counter and asked if they were hiring. They only accept volunteer's, so I offered to volunteer and left my email address. We continued to talk, I told her about my blog, she told me about possible writing groups, I asked about job leads in the area. Then I asked about apartments in the area. I really liked this part of town as it's already where I know some good people live. "Actually... we have an apartment upstairs, but you'll have to talk to Margaret about it."

I met back up with Teddy and did some online work for my aunt. The car's diagnosis was not good, and we started checking flights to get us to the wedding. Air fare was more than double the price for a last minute ticket so we bought the Monday flight and hung our heads that the wedding was out of reach.  

The t-shirt says Front: A breed apart
Back: There are everyday men and women...and there are treeplanters.

That night, since we weren't leaving till Monday, drinks were in order. A group of us cleaned up tree planters went to the Sovereign room and Foundry, the popular pubs of T Bay. Before we left each I asked about a good time to stop by to drop off a resume, and was told to come back in the afternoon. I came back to an email from the book store, to come by anytime between 2:30 and 6 the next day. 

I printed out my resume at the library and headed The Sovereign Room. A most popular spot, with cool decor, eclectic beer list, and amazing food. That's where I really wanted to go, I had thought about working there the first time I came in, and had my first tasty bite of jalepeno empanadas. As luck would have it, the manager checked out my resume and had also been to Bocas del Toro, had also spent time in Toronto and just found out he needs someone in the middle of August. I could be here mid August... so we shook on it.

Pretty thrilled about that, I headed to the book store. The rent was more than I was looking to spend for a room so I went upstairs to see the place. It wasn't just a room as I had expected, but a full apartment with art and writing studio space.
Freshly painted with lots of nice natural light and the only furniture: a big writing desk with chair. "It's like we were just waiting for you and it was meant to be." said Margaret. So I put down a deposit right then and agreed to moving in mid August.
the desk

The whole place reminds me of when I lived in High Park and Bloor West Village. I would have never been able to get an apartment close to this size for the price in Toronto. The best part is in 30minutes I can be in the wilderness, in 5minutes I can be by the water front, in 3minutes I can be at work, in 30seconds I can be in a bookstore. 

Then it was time for some crazy bush party, the supervisor was having a Fun in the Sun party that would last the whole weekend for all the tree planters still in the area. Teddy and I had to participate. So I should let you know, it was a surprise for me to leave to road trip to the wedding, so you can imagine the surprise for my boyfriend. Then the car breaking down was also a surprise to me, and so continuing with the surprises we just showed up at Fun in the Sun. I was oblivious, but the relationship was already toast and he evacuated the courtship faster than it took to say bookstore. All the other people made it an awesome party and I laughed till my sides ached. 

Photo credit Courtney
A lot of tree planting relationships start and end with the season. It was so hard to accept that it was over when it was. I didn't pause about Thunder Bay though. There were other great people who would make my transition here seamless, thanks Shannon and Steph!
Actually I had wanted to move to Thunder Bay when I was seventeen. I held the acceptance letter to the pilot program at Confederation College in my right hand and the course catalog for Holistic Studies to stay in Toronto in my left. I figured I wanted a foundation for life before anything else and the Holistic Health program could give me that, and figured I could get my private pilot license when I was 50, or whenever I happened to get to Thunder Bay...  

You may remember this facebook update and maybe now it makes more sense:
What a weekend!! Tried to make a wedding and ended up staying in Thunder Bay, where I got a job and an apartment: You're looking at the new resident writer of a Bookstore! And got dumped, surprise! My stomach hurts from laughing so much at Nolalu fun in the Sun and have a plane ticket to Toronto in the morning. To all you Torontonians, LETS PARTY!!

So there it is, the story of how I came to live in Thunder Bay, and also this song (thanks Larsen!):


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What a doozy

Wow, today, September 24th marks the two year anniversary of jumping on that first one way plane ticket. I'm closing that chapter, the two year long journey, and I feel like I'm losing a part of myself. I accomplished things I desperately wanted, I found things I didn't know I needed, and made connections that will last a lifetime. To anyone who's considering dropping everything to chase a dream, I support that decision and wish you the time of your life. 

Sunset in Panama, Bocas del Toro
For a sense completion to this period I bought a round trip ticket for a visit to Toronto. I may take other short trips but I will stay living in Thunder Bay for a time, to live a quiet life and write. Write about my travels, some short stories, and other such things. I still have some blog posts to catch up on, like moving to Thunder Bay, the epic road trip with Jenn, and what it's like to move to Northern Ontario.

stand up paddle boarding with Angus
I can't help but feel a little startled by this pause. Just five months ago I was living in Panama with 'snorkeling' and 'jungle walk' on my to-do list. Now it's 'laundry' and 'clean the kitchen'. Three months ago I was living in a tent with my nightly check for ticks and night by a fire. Now it's checking that the door is locked and blowing out a few candles. A month ago I was on a road trip and didn't know where I was going to sleep or what State I was going to be in next. Now it's a trusty bed and a scheduled work week.

Sunset in Panama
It's true about the human condition, we can become accustomed to anything. I normalized the traveling lifestyle such that getting back to the norm is foreign. It's nice though, and Albert Einstein said "a quiet life stimulates the creative mind." which is just the environment I was seeking to focus on my writing.

Paris, photo credit Jenn
So far it's been a battle to write and set up a new apartment. My mind already wandering to living in Italy, backpacking in Thailand, and exploring New York. Spain calls, France tugs at my heart, Panamanian sunsets sit behind my eyelids...

So my friends, this two year stint of only buying one way tickets is officially at a close. It's a time to replenish funds, relive through writing, enjoy having my own apartment again and who's kidding who - planning the next adventure.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

This story has a very interesting way of unraveling itself and each chapter gives a little more insight and shock than the last. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book about a small town in Montana. It reads so real as if it is a true story. The narrative of the main character is so honest and draws you in quickly. This seems like a book that anyone interested in guns would appreciate as the first chapter really goes into different rifles a young boy can get his hands on.

Here is my favorite quote from Montana 1948, that I think will give you a sense of the plot and the voice:

"What finally lifted me from the floor and moved me back down the stairs? It was trivial, yet it bore out what a boy I was when all this was going on. In the kitchen was chocolate cake. My father had stopped at Cox's Bakery the day before and bought a cake, and it was sitting on the counter. A murderer may have been locked up a floor below and the molecules of his victim's dying breath still floating in the air, yet these were not strong enough finally to stand up to my boy's hunger for chocolate cake."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tree planting (part 2)

On my best numbers day of hitting 3000 trees, I got a rush of adrenalin from pushing myself so hard; mind, body, spirit. I had conquered much inner resistance, my sankara's. I had pushed through everything and felt like I was ready for anything.

bunch of butterflies
I spent the first weeks of planting with lots of breaks. For me it was hard to remember it was still a job and to manage my time wisely. I was basking in the non-responsibility of it all. I didn't have to worry about sinking boats, or other people's land and property, no one was asking anything of me, and I was pretty content.

frog bum
One of my tree runner's, Teddy (the person who makes sure you have enough trees to plant in your land), stopped asking me about how many trees I'd planted and instead asked "Okay Sam, what did you see today?" The list has gotten pretty long, "A big blue jay today". I've seen bunnies, frogs, toads, birds of all colours, butterflies galore. My best find, that I am most proud of was 3 lunar moths after a light rain. As soon as I saw it I dropped everything, ran to get my phone with a camera and ran back to take a photo. I continually gave thanks for seeing beautiful land that maybe only 100 people would ever get to see. Growing up in a big city I'm used to land that gets trod on by thousands of people every day. My favourite thing was finding little pockets, like a perfect sitting rock in the middle of ten foot poplar with wild flowers attracting butterflies.

two lunar moths
Pre tree planting I thought seeing chopped forests with scattered piles of macerated wood, called slash piles would be what moved me to tears. "So you go in and plant after they've raped the land?" one friend asked over the phone (who uses toilet paper, paper towels, and stationary like the rest of us). I was angry about the concept of clear cutting but seeing (Northern Ontario) up close, mother nature is resilient and makes lush green spaces no matter how harshly you cut away. There would be other things to make me cry. One of my planting partners Steph, and I, made lots of jokes about the land, we keep fucking mother nature all day long, pounding our shovels into the earth, sliding our fingers in to put that tree in deep, she keeps batting us away with swarms of bugs, slaps in the face with poplar branches, biting us with rocks, always putting up the better fight, leaving us a little more wounded for the next day. Her cruelest trick is wasps allowed to live in the ground.

Frog on slash
The last week of planting snuck up on me and my procrastination determination sunk in. I was ready to have my best week and give my all. I hated seeing my name near the bottom of the list when the totals were printed, I was working, but not like a hardcore tree planter (I could get 1000-1500 trees in and be satisfied. Where other rookies around me were hitting 3000-4000) My Tuesday started like no other. I didn't have my shovel or my planting bags, I was passed a message in the morning that my gear was in the truck that had left earlier. When I got there though, no bags, not even extra bags, and no shovel. I sat for two hours under a tarp and had a nap. Most people can hit at least 300-600 trees in that time, and I was napping. I was passive aggressive and doing my best to not care, "That's a total days break for me anyway, who cares? I don't like planting anyway…" Then some bags and a shovel came. Bags are not instantly one size fits all. They need to be adjusted at the hips and shoulders. Thankfully it was a nice shovel, short and angled. I bagged up (counted out bundles of trees and put them into two side bags. I keep my right side bundles wrapped in their cellophane because my shovel stays in my right hand. I unbundle the trees in my left side bag, so my planting hand can easily grab the loose trees. The bundles are usually 20-25 one year saplings of black spruce or jack pine.) and I went to make my line in.
photo credit - Taylyn
I hate this part, starting at the front, looking for some kind of random direction marker in the distance and just hoping it's kind of straight (but it ALWAYS veers) this was a super shallow piece and I hit the back line (where the natural forest starts) really quickly. You don't plant in the forest but there can be some pockets to fit a couple trees. I peered in, I thought just three trees would fit (6ft apart) when my flight reaction kicked in. Pain seared in my hand and I instantly dropped my shovel, wasps were at me. More blasts to my legs and I was running, tearing off my bags so I could get back to the road. Screaming and swearing and crying. They got my shovel hand right between the thumb and pointer finger. My leg had three stings too and were already starting to swell. I hobbled back to my cache (where I had napped earlier) sobbing with "Fuck!" flying furiously. I put on some Icy Hot muscle relief (best bug after-bite) swore some more and went back to find my shovel. I already had a two hour break, I had no excuse to not plant, wasps unfortunately are part of the job. I spent the next few hours raging with anger. "How come I was here? I'm obviously the stupidest person in the world thinking I can do this, this is not a job for me." I got so fed up I dropped my bags and just walked on the bush road, "I'm quitting, I don't care if there's only a week left. Fuck it all." I said to no one as I picked my bags back up and hauled ass. I planted 2225 that day, a personal best and started two hours late and still had breaks. Yes I would be back tomorrow.

It's pretty but imagine planting trees in that...
At the beginning, the hardest thing about tree planting for me was making quick decisions and then committing to that decision. You plant a tree, take a step and make a new hole 6ft away, but land is not anything close to a perfect field and you have to choose where your tree is going to go, is there nutrient rich soil, is it going to be to close to the last trees you planted? I would hesitate where to throw my shovel and that is the worst time waster. Or I would throw in my shovel and renege. The days that I was angry I stopped being a perfectionist and pushed myself through the hesitation. The first day I hit 3000 trees I knew I conquered that hesitation and knew I could hold onto that for other projects to come. And boy do I have a list of projects.

swamp flower
So tree planting was hard because of the bugs and the wasps and the ever changing temperature. It was also hard to push myself everyday, to not take a break, to think quickly, to commit to my decision, to not compare myself to other planters. It was also extremely rewarding. You don't have a boss telling you what to do. You get to be outside in nature all day long. You are exposed to fun and ridiculous moments every day you go to work. Every tree planter thinks of quitting and how much they hate it, but more often then not the tree planters come back to push themselves through another year. To enjoy in the lifestyle that you get accustomed to out in the bush with all the familiar friendly faces. You get the satisfaction of knowing you're doing something great, planting trees, and making money that you don't have a chance to spend until after you're done. You can treat it like a sport, as a job, as a way to put your whole life on hold for a few months. It truly was an unforgettable experience.

I've been describing these as 'what faeries would ride'