“I shall not soon forget the peace I have found, deep in the wilderness; the peace of trees and ground.”
Another season has come and gone and I am home after a long and exhausting contract of tree planting. My shoulders are more muscular and very tan, I have the most mangled looking hands on a human (who does not actually have a flesh eating disease), and I am more than sick of warm Lucky Lager and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
I am craving sweet potato fries from Hot Belly Mamas, soup from the Seasoned Spoon, and cold beers on the patios of Downtown Peterborough. The feelings I have right now, however, are bitter sweet—happy to be sleeping in my own bed tonight, sad to be leaving the many friends old and new, exited to be doing regular summer things, but also craving the ridiculousness of life in the bush.
I hardly know how to process the culture shock that has come over me again; Sunday morning I woke up in my tent on the beach of Mud Lake, then drove myself three hours to Thunder Bay, boarded an airplane for one and a half hours and was being picked up in Downtown Toronto by my wonderful family. Suddenly the whole world was rushing past, the noise and bustling of people and vehicles comes like a wave, and I remember that I am back in Southern Ontario for the rest of the year. Thankful because I live not in the GTA. Though it is noisier than I have become accustomed to, it is still pretty quiet in comparison to Toronto, and I will once again adjust.
I know I am not the only one with these feelings, though some have learned to manage them better than I. It surprised me last year to learn that tree planting life and tree planters are such large portion of the student and young adult population of Canada. I have hardly ever met a person recently, who hasn’t been tree planting or doesn’t know someone who has planted. Planting, as I have grown to see it, is almost a Canadian rite of passage for many. It’s also an integral part of one of our major industries. There really is nothing like it on the planet; those who say otherwise have probably never done planting.
Tree planting made Discovery Channel’s “Top 30 Toughest Jobs” a few years ago, and many who actually work in the industry think it should be even higher. It’s also one of the least desirable jobs in the forestry industry itself. Yet every year thousands of Canadian young adults across the country pack up their things to spend the next few months in the wilderness.
As a student of Environmental Studies I often feel guilty in my motives for planting trees; it is not particularly for the environment which I do this, and if that were the only reason for planting I would have quit before I started. Tree planting is one of the most difficult and taxing jobs that I know of—not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. When our contract is over and I board my plane home I feel utterly spent, however it is also one of the most rewarding feelings. Financially it allows me to continue my education and acquire less debt. Emotionally I have friends that have lasted time and distance, and gain self satisfaction from planting. In two contracts I have planted over 150,000 trees that will hopefully grow up in the next 60 to 80 years and will promote all kinds of other forest life before being cut down and made into something new. The forestry industry makes up about 23.7 billion of Canada’s GDP and employs upwards of 600,000 Canadians directly and indirectly.
Though in many areas the industry is one that I cannot completely agree with, I have seen firsthand much of the outworking of policy to continue the health of Canadian forests. The longer I work in forestry the more I understand the diversity of employment and my preconceived notions about the people who work in it slowly go out the window. Just as much as all tree planters are not dirty hippies, loggers, haulers, and mill-workers are also not lazy, money-hoarding, backward, alcoholics like I once assumed. There are certainly people who do not care about what they are doing, or how they get their money. However, more often than not they are highly skilled individuals, living and working long, hard hours away from their families for prolonged periods of time. They get paid what they are worth and a bit extra for the inconvenience of location and the danger aspect, and they care very much about maintaining the changing world in which we live.
The world is moving, changing, and growing—not all good and not all bad—but change is coming because that is the natural order of things. I hope in all the change that will happen that some things, like the peacefulness of Northern Ontario, never does.