From Canadian Comission of Conservation Report, 1918, British Columbia:
“All the efforts of the Dominion must be devoted to production and economy. The vast ressources of Canada, to which the term ‘illimitable’ has been has been so frequently applied, because of lackof knowledge, must be turned to some useful purpose. Untilled fields, buried minerals or standing forests are of no value whatsoever except for the wealth, which through industry, can be produced therefrom.”
WELL, 98 YEARS LATER, THINGS ARE A LITTLE MORE DIFFERENT.
Every summer thousands of people go out west to plant trees. By chance and luck, I was one of them in 2014. The idea of making good money, living in the forest and working outside all day was appealing. It sounds simple – load your bags with trees and plant them. Three steps, open a hole, put a tree in, kick it closed. You can carry from 200 to 400 trees at a time, depending on their size and weight. Every time a tree is planted, a small ribbon of degradable flagging tape is often dropped so that you know which areas are planted. Tree density and quality are important, at worst you may spend days without pay fixing bad trees. But you can also make an entire week’s pay of a normal summer job in a day. It often feels like work, the novelty of “planting a tree” soon wears off. You get up in the morning eat breakfast, prep your lunch and go on the drive to work which is up to an hour of trying to get some rest and wishing you were not here while being shaken by the bumps on the roads. It may be a roadside block or an hour of walking or helicopter block. Sometimes you look around you and realize you are 100km into the forest, no towns and no 3G service. There are no bad weather days. Blazing heat, swarming bugs, rain and thunderstorms, you are out there everyday.
During the first year I was on a 6 pack crew led by a friend of a friend I met in Quebec while cycling there in 2014. We had a Chilean, a Quebecois, two people from Ontario, one from Manitoba and me. We quickly became known as the 6 man wolfpack around camp. and later it was a full 12 pack.
With the bike in camp, I would very often sneak out and bike somewhere, I was twice warned not to go out but unless I ran into the camp manager I doubt I’ll get in trouble – instead I ran into a griz!
If you take the time to look close enough you can notice all the wildlife and critters. Camera with big zoom also helps 🙂
Second year I was in a smaller company. Amazing atmosphere and it took some time to get used to it. The kind where you put climbers, skiers, kayakers, musicians, students, hippies, artsy people and 25 year vets all together in one place.
With the blues, the mosquitoe bites, the sunshine and the storms it was also a good time to do some video editing. The idea was to make video series of traveling on a bike around the world. So far episodes 1, 6 and 7 have been edited there and it was such great escape from the working days. A way to remember and visit again those distant places and talk to these amazing people. The whle process was simple, stopping on the block to write some notes and ideas, sitting in the main tent and swiping mosquitoes off while editing, running off far from the generators to record narration and trying to block wind noise with my hands over the camera while recording amazing tracks from other treeplanters.
Between the long sunsets and picking berries on the walk to the block was yet another interesting place. Take for example this video, where Nate is telling his parents about Tree Planting. As a secret twist we included selfies with him when he was sleeping on the ride to work.
Getting out of camp this time was not not forbidden but encouraged and I got to spend a lot of amazing days and nights out around British Columbia. From fire lookouts, to old volcanoes, mountains and lakes.
Ah, the things you find at fire lookouts! Lumberman, with focus on energy. Next to a full page advertisement of The 3000 Slab chipper is an article focused on Baloon Logging. The “Cyclocrane” will be as long as a boeing 747 and will bring trees from hard to reach places, in addition unlike standard blimps the entire thing will rotate and “is expected to remain relatively stable” at speeds over 70 miles per hour.
Treeplanting was also a time to eat anything. Months of being broke on the road make food taste so good. Burgers, milkshakes, cakes and chocolate…. even a Mocha or two, a stark contrast of eating bread and pasta sauce in central america. But more-so was the all-you-can-eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at camp. The work of camp cook is difficult. Waking up at 4am to make breakfast and later dinner for 40 people, some of them with dietary needs (veggie, vegan, gluten, etc.) and tree-planting apetite. Normal days off mean a 5 hour return drive to town and shopping most of the day. There is no day off or being sick or tired. Imagine the havoc of no food in the middle of nowhere. BUT… a cookie shaped brownie with white chocolate chips… wow! (You cant see it in the photo because its covered in banana cream pie).
It seemed that this was the plan. Work for two months in summer and continue biking for the rest of the year. The third time around was getting from the blazing heat of Panama to a buggy forest in Canada.
It was on Morrison Camp, 160 km into the bush that I got to hang out with Gunnerbro, the camp’s only dog. Two weeks of not going to town, meant that there was lots to explore. From chasing beavers in the lake and bears in the trees to eating people’s lunches at work and escaping parties to hang out with a pony. (true story!)
While in town, Gunner didn’t quite like the loud party and escaped in the middle of the night to go hang out with a pony. We spent 2 hours the next day going around houses and asking around, he was recovered just minuted before leaving town.
It was mostly Gunner that made me go out biking, everytime I got on my bike to ride to my tent he would follow and I always ended up going out of camp and on the logging roads. He even joined me for an overnight 60km ride over the Babine Mountains. What a dog!
For 160 km in the bush, Morrison camp is pretty well equipped. 40 year old automated gas dispensing “gasboys” sell diesel and gasoline. The remains of a once busy camp were nearby, the Babine lake and the Bates range were never far.
The spring season end party featured a short film festival. 20 amazing submissions from planters, crew leaders and even the company owner.
HYBRID INTERCREW FILM FESTIVAL
(be sure to hit the full screen button at the bottom left of the video player)
Welcome to scummydale takes you to the life on the block as well as around camp, to the great tunes of Gabi.
Jackie’s video showcasing a fill block near Burns Lake
caution, this video contains the F word 11 times but gives a great example of common problems that treeplantes face.
The camp’s only dog who is excellent bear deterrent put together in a short video commercial
I signed up for an extra month of work in Alberta. The ride through the Rockies and Jasper was amazing. So was the part of Alberta inbetween the vast fields of the prairies and the jagged peaks of the mountains. Endless ridges stretch for as far as the eye can see and so do the clear cut blocks and pipelines.
Logging and oil were the main trades that sustain this region and so was the mining. “Mining coal responsibly” read the sign next to the mine and next to the massive excavation at the mountainside. With oil prices plummeting a lot of the industry is shutting down, there is also a ban on coal in Alberta and the mine hasnt been active for a while. Some towns, like Grand Cache will face difficult time as those industries employ over half the people there.
At day it was heat or rain or bugs, but I manage to spend at least an hour a day roaming the volcanoes in Mexico. By a stroke of luck my broken laptop turned on and I have been keeping it on sleep mode for weeks while hoping to finish See The World episode 7. And here it is:
Just like that it was over and I get to write the last bits of this journal entry in the greyhound bus back to Dawson Creek, BC. After 118,710 trees this summer I am finally done and before I can return to my bike in Panama and continue through the jungle and the carribean sea to Colombia there is one thing to do. Visit the North again, ride the Canol trail, raft the Mackenzie and see in how much trouble I can get in 50 days.