Planting Trees

I'm in the middle of the woods. A bag rests on my hips half-filled with baby trees and I carry a shovel in my hands. I find some nice soil, dig a little hole and plant a little tree 350 times until day’s end

If you're not a tree planter you might think 350 trees is an impressive feat – it's not. The average worker sows between 1,200 to 2,000 trees a day. My tree success fails in comparison.

I take a break on an inviting stump and guzzle water in the sun as other planters in my crew move along the cut block. It is a beautiful day. My body aches. This is tree planting.

Earlier that morning I'm awake at five and leaving town an hour later in my friend Kristina's car. We drive 40 minutes to planting camp, a field peppered with tents and trailers. I've always envied tree planters – their rugged wherewithal, their camp parties, their ability to endure some of the toughest terrain and even tougher weather. Now I get to join in.

I meet Jonah Trinkwon, my crew boss for the day. He wears a wide-brimmed hat, his face covered in days-old scruff. Our planting bags loaded, we hit the road to our first job.

Kristina explains that we are going to plant trees in a previously planted block, called a fill plant. My bag filled with 55 trees – pine, larch and fir – we hike the bank and begin.

“You're looking for creamy soil,” she explains, demonstrating the best places to plant, the best soil to look for. She pushes her shovel into the dirt, wiggles it and shoves a little larch into the soil. She punches the soil around the tree, gives it a tug and flags it.

I catch on slowly and follow behind the rest of the crew. I manage to get my 55 trees in the ground at the same time as the girls finish planting 200 trees each.

I head back to the truck with my empty bag alongside Jonah, leaping between deadfall. Jonah tells me he's been planting for 20 years; this year is his last. The camp plans to throw a retirement party for him this weekend. He talks about the camp community.

“Planting really becomes a part of you,” he says. “A part of your soul.”

I fill my bag with 65 trees and my legs burn with the uphill hike. Purple crocuses wrap themselves around trees and Indian Paintbrushes add a splash of colour to the lacklustre landscape.

“Mmm, creamy,” I say aloud, digging my shovel into the ground. It's easier to find nutrient-rich soil for the little saplings my second time around.

“She's a tree-planter now,” replies Mackie. Witty banter floats between the crew all morning – I'm envious of their camaraderie.

The cool breeze disappears with the rising sun and the shady hillside becomes a scorching slope. I wipe sweat from my forehead and head downhill for a snack. Crunching my teeth into a delicious Fuji apple behind the shade of the truck, I look out across the valley to an old cut block on a steep embankment. I've developed a newfound respect for planters.

A red tick crawls up my leg; I flick it off. Karen hands me a bottle of geranium essential oil and tells me to dab it along my boots and wrists. I plant another 75 trees before we move to the next job.

The crew meanders through the next empty cut block, each tree they plant bringing the forest back to life. Although I'm tired, I force my way along the line determined to plant 95 more trees. Jonah tells me about Cathy and Rainer Korn, who together supervise the planting contracts for Brinkman and Associates. Jonah says that without them none of this would be possible.

When we finish, I unlace my boots and wiggle my toes. Jonah tries to convince me to stay for dinner.

“You've got to try Mim's cooking,” he says, talking up camp life. My bathtub calls for me, though, and I head home, tired-eyed.

The following day Cathy tells me that her and Rainer's crews have planted approximately 80 million trees in the area in the last 30 years. They have current contracts for Canfor, Galloway Lumber, Teck Coal and – most recently – Jemi Fibre. They employ 47 people. It's a wild job, Cathy says, but the hard-working crew and camp life make it wonderful.

My backs aches in subsequent days and I'm reminded of my feeble tree-planting attempt. Then I remember that there are 350 new trees in the ground because of me and the ache subsides. Except it doesn't, because tree planting is hard.