Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Elements

May 17 2008

As it turns out, I didn't get integrated into another crew after the training was finished, instead I was given a crew of my own, promoted so to speak, so now I am a foreman. Inevitable cries of "nepotism" must be laid to rest by the fact that I have more experience than any other planter out here except my brother, who is the supervisor. Besides, nepotism is for nephews. This is fraternalism. How did I plant for ten years and never get a chance to crew-boss? Lack of aptitude some might snidely offer, but it was also a case of seniority. On my former crew, the average number of years experience was somewhere around fifteen, which put me behind most of my co-workers in line for a promotion. On this crew, the average is probably closer to fifteen weeks experience, considering the fact that half are greeners, so I suddenly find myself a perch among guppies.

Well, aptitude comes with experience, and I am gaining it daily. Besides a few setbacks, a forgotten map one day, a cache of trees left on the block another day, things have generally been running pretty smoothly on Baba's crew. Last week we got to the block at 8:15 a.m. to find it buried under two inches of fresh snow. Another crew working up the same road drove by saying they were heading back to town to drink beer and have some of the fun that snow days usually entail. I'd like to say I cracked the whip, but actually I just polled the crew and no one seemed to want to flounder around in the snow, so we started driving back down the mountain. But half a km from the block one of the planters ventured the opinion that we should have given it a try, so I promptly hit the breaks and turned around and we went for it. I wasn't about to force anyone to work, but I didn't want to take away the option either. We screefed the snow away and planted in it all morning, fingers frozen, and by the afternoon it had completely melted away.

The next day there was snow in the air instead of on the ground, nine hours of horizontal sleet, freezing wind and rain, and we worked through that too. Treeplanting has always carried something of a mythological quality for me, a feeling of participating in something epic. It truly pits the human body and strength of will against the elements, constantly daring you to fold. It's the closest I and any of my friends have come to serving in the army. Everything hurts, you spend much of your day questioning your own sanity for even signing up, and yet you know on some level that you're fighting the good fight, and that you will let people down if give less than your best, or quit (especially if you have dependents or a mortgage). The first greener quit a few days ago, because he said he felt he wasn't contributing, that he was constantly frustrated. The job isn't for everyone I guess.

My friend commented on the block the other day that there are two kinds of fast planters: the first are workaholic immigrants and francophones whose mentality is "we are here to earn", and the second are middle class white boys from the suburbs who have something to prove about their work ethic. I guess I fall into the second category, and so what? There is pride to be taken in choosing a harder path when easier ones are available, just to discover what you are capable of. I think that same psychology lies behind the desire of so many suburban white kids to be rappers, myself included. It's probably the least likely vocation you could choose in terms of success rate, but what else do you expect from such a defiant generation? Both treeplanting and rap give you skills and resilience that transfer to other things, once the grind starts to get you down, and both of them are there for you if you decide to dive in again. In the past I've been paid a lot better for performing than I have for treeplanting, but not nearly as consistently. Four years earning a living only from art is still pretty rare. This is me rationalizing why I'm back at work instead of touring like an itinerant rock star, or a Kerouac type, but I'll be back to that lifestyle soon enough.

Day three of last shift was blazing hot all day, on a block with big rock piles and frozen ground and snow patches to dig through and plant around. Frustration is epitomized by trying to plant trees in a big pile of soft-looking dirt that is frozen solid. Whenever I passed a snow patch, I'd scoop some of the slushy crystals into my hat to keep my head cool while I was working. The part of the block we were planting was a long hike to the back and cut off from the front by a wildlife tree patch left in the middle of the clear-cut, so that it was shaped like a big hourglass above the road. We stayed until almost six pm to finish that upper piece, just to save the next crew the hassle of having to walk over our planted trees to get to the unplanted ground at the back. Then we loaded the remaining trees and garbage into our bags and into boxes on our shoulders and hiked everything out, leaving no sign of the cache, because the quad (ATV) had broken down, fighting the good fight, karma yoga, all that feel-good stuff. After work I got the whole crew a beer for their efforts, feeling like Andy Dufresne.

Ten days to go until I depart for England and the next round of touring, and a return to relative solitude. How do I feel about this? I feel the same way that I feel about many important things, in my quintessentially Canadian way. How do I feel about vegetarianism, about global warming, about the seal hunt, about globalization? I feel a deep and passionate ambivalence.

No comments: