Today I headed to the storage room for inspiration, and cracked open a box of “stuff” my mother had delivered from her attic. By “stuff” I mean enormous boxes full of things I stashed in her attic over the years. I looked through essays from elementary school and pictures from junior high. Then I came across a fanny pack and I died inside a little.
I had honestly forgotten that I had ever owned a fanny pack. I had also forgotten I’d ever set foot in Chetwynd, British Columbia, until I opened up the secret back compartment and discovered a receipt from a store in Chetwynd. It was from the good old days of actual cash register receipts – the ones you could see an imprint on and just a name and then a bunch of numbers. Unlike today’s receipts, it was only about 2 inches long and it contained two items. Now every receipt contains a complete description of the purchased items. I almost need to take a separate bag to contain my grocery receipts.
Also, of mild interest, I found a sticker from a box of trees. Ah, the nostalgia. The good old days of slogging through the interior of both British Columbia and Alberta. Much like running, I was never anywhere near being a pro at tree-planting. Unlike running, though, there were no real side benefits unless you count stoicism and a pile of great “I can’t believe I did that” stories.
One of my favourites wasn’t even my own, but I got to hear it about it mere seconds after it happened. There was a certain young man from Williams Lake, BC, who just happened to be a star tree-planter*. He’d plant with whatever crew he liked and quadruple the planting rate of the next fastest planter. When I asked him, one day, what his secret was, he spoke out of the corner of his mouth while the other corner clenched a dirty hand-rolled cigarette (forbidden on the sites, but he was magic so he never got in trouble) “it’s all about economy of movement.” Great words to live by.
In any case, one particular day we were planting at a site that was “a burn.” After the place had been logged (many years earlier) a controlled burn was used to clear the remaining brush. This “block” had obviously been burned years earlier, as significant regrowth had happened. By regrowth I do *not* mean that trees were starting to regrow. That takes ages and moves in very slowly from the edges to the centre. In this case, what was growing was Fireweed. If you’ve never seen Fireweed, you can take it from me (or wikipedia) that it is rather a lovely sight to behold. Wikipedia also contains the crucial bit of info that it can grow to 8′. I would argue that 8′ is not the uppermost limit.
The block, that fine summer’s day, was entirely covered in a gloriously dense field of beautiful purple Fireweed. It was gorgeous…and dreadful. If you have ever been tree-planting, you will know that economy of movement is not the only ‘economy’ in the forefront of everyone’s mind. No one would subject themselves to volunteer tree-planting. The idea, then, is to plant just enough trees to fit the required density. Too many trees and you won’t make as much money, too few trees and you’ll have to go back and fill in**. This is achieved by learning to eyeball the exact number of metres required between trees in a complete circle. Therefore, it is extremely important to know where the other trees have been planted.
Remember the Fireweed is up there, swaying in the breeze (think: tall, thin stalks), 8′ high. The baby trees are generally somewhere around 9-12″ tall. This is where flagging comes in. On this particular block, it was necessary to flag each tree (well, to flag the closest giant Fireweed stalk) so you could have a clue where your previous row was. Even with all this added work, it was still frustrating and nearly impossible to keep even. People would double back on their own previously-planted lines, or end up in the middle of someone else’s area. It was a draining day.
The previously mentioned Star Planter did not come by his method by chance. He had learned about his economy of movement strategy by his adherence to single-minded focus. That day he was a study in fierce concentration and he still planted at lightning speed. He was like a man possessed. I was planting next to him (well, on those rare moments when he’d pass me doing another 12 rows whilst I laboured through my first, but you get the idea).
So fierce was his focus, it was rather a shock to me when I was bagging up (ie: placing a new whack of trees into my tree-planting bags (here are some visuals if you really want to know)) and I looked up to see Star Planter running toward me with no shovel.
The interior of British Columbia and Alberta is not overly inhabited. By humans, that is. It is, however, happily and abundantly inhabited by all manner of wildlife. Depending upon the organization with whom one planted, various means of protection were given to planters (I should note, however, that at least when I was planting, back in the late 90s, it wasn’t usually the wildlife that injured, maimed, or killed planters, it was usually the crazed driving on old, washed out logging roads and the multitude of ensuing bus/truck accidents). I seem to recall that this crowd required bear spray (which is like mace on crack).
Star Planter had not had time to use any type of protection or deterrent, however. He explained that he’d been manically crashing through the Fireweed, planting up a storm and flagging everything in sight when he suddenly, without any warning, ended up face-to-face with a bear. “What did you DO?!?!” I asked. “I ran!” he said. He ditched his shovel, spun on his heel, and took off toward the edge of the block, running as fast as his legs could take him.
There is an old joke about bears: you don’t need to be able to out-run a bear, you only need to be able to out-run your hiking companions. No one can outrun a bear. Not even a superstar planter. It seems the poor bear was simply minding his own business when a CRAZY GUY suddenly got all UP IN HIS FACE with noise and weird smells and flagging tape and the bear had the same thought. Run. Interestingly, the bear chose exactly the same route as Star Planter (no doubt because it was the clearest path, having just been mashed into oblivion on super planter’s way into the block).
Star Planter said within seconds the bear nearly knocked him over, did not pause, and tore off into the woods, never to be seen again. Star Planter coasted to a walk and carried on to where he saw me bagging up.
And then he smoked a cigarette. Later he planted more trees. The end.
Who knew a ridiculous fanny-pack could generate such a (fond?) memory.
Day 17 Scorecard: 85 down, 1740 to go
* I forget his name. Sorry. I went out planting on my own so we had zero mutual friends and this was about 20 years ago. What can you do?
** unless you’re being paid per tree, in which case you get absolutely the maximum amount of trees per square inch you possibly can cram in there.