By Melody Fraser, University of Waterloo
It’s a common perception that those who tree plant are a bunch of dirty hippies. I have learned, however, that one cannot accurately describe these people and their job unless they’ve experienced it for themselves. This summer I ventured up north to Hearst, Ontario, to do just that. I discovered that although there is the occasional hippie, there is much more to tree planting than a negative stereotype (and really, by the end of the week everyone could use a shower).
Simply put, tree planting is hard work. It will break you down and build your strength back up again both physically and mentally. The act of planting a tree seems easy enough, but repeating this process over two thousand times, 8-10 hours a day, five days a week can make it incredibly difficult, especially when you consider all the other elements of the job.
Our days started at 6:00AM. I would get up, get dressed, pack a lunch, eat breakfast, and be on the bus an hour later. Once on site, we would sometimes have a three kilometer walk-in before the actual work began. After putting on my gear and bagging up with trees, I would head into my land with an additional 20kg on my body.
Depending on the type of land I was working in that day, I could be planting through forests in complete isolation, balancing on small strips of land trying not to fall into a swamp, moving through thick patches of alders and getting whacked in the face by branches, or I could find myself in the promised land. It didn’t matter what the terrain was; we had to plant through it.
The weather was also unpredictable. It rained constantly for the first month, and then turned blistering hot for the rest of the summer. Regardless, we worked – rain or shine.
The only thing worse than the heat? What came along with it: the bugs. Hundreds of black flies and mosquitos would swarm around my head, biting the areas left uncovered by my bug repellent. When it became too hot for mosquitos, the deer flies would come out making it sound like the Indy 500 was racing around my head all day.
I cried, I screamed, and I eventually went a little bush crazy, but despite the horrible conditions, I never wanted to quit. To me, tree planting was about more than just planting trees. It was about the simplified lifestyle and the amazing relationships I formed with people who could understand exactly what my mind and body had gone through in a day. Tree planting was the first job I ever had where I was paid based on how hard I worked as opposed to an hourly rate. Every day I felt accomplished as it pushed me out of my comfort zone and beyond what I thought I was capable of. The extreme conditions made me grow so much in such a short period of time, and as much as I sometimes hated the job, I would go back in an instant because it is truly a life changing experience.