Treeplanting In The North

(This is my first post for aferalspirit, and it will be written whenever the natural desire presents itself)

Ever since I acquired a deep inspiration from nature in my early years, I was curious about somehow integrating myself with the actual replenishment of the forests I would walk. Those forests which put me in tranquil states, and provided portals to self realization, habitats for my faunic ancestors, and evolved through millenia to stands as wooden monuments on the earth. I did not know how this would be possible, but I was aware of all the mass logging occurring in Canada and not to mention the rest of the world. It was until just a couple years ago that I discovered the act of treeplanting, and was thrilled to know such a form of labor could exist. After a couple years of making attempts to contact different treeplanting groups and doing excessive reading on the conditions and lifestyle of a treeplanter I finally had the chance to shed my skills in a camp for May and June this year.

I was to be relocated to the northern Ontario regions, where I would be living for a month and half in a tent, deep in the woods of some town that no cultured person would know about. Before this I was given a list for a copious amount of outdoor gear I would need to get my hands on; planting bags and shovel, extra boots, clothes that I did not mind getting filthy, insect repellent, rain gear, and not to mention my own personal items. A copy of Evola’s Ride The Tiger, de Sade’s Juliette, and Thoreau’s journals, and my faux wolf fur pelt. I almost missed my taxi & my train to mission north, but was quite comfortable once finally sitting on the carriage specially for planters and going past city after city, and over bridges adorned with graffiti.

After a gathering and initiation, we traveled en masse down the lonely roads of Kenebeek, and made our nomadic encroachment in a small clearing near a beaver pond. The whole camp was set up, there were 60+ others, and I traversed the forest seeking for the more practical places to pitch my tent, but instead opted for a niche by the pond away from the intrusion of others. This was the first night, and it was already late by this time, so after the feastings I retired to my canvas abode, and read then listened to music until sleep took me in. The next day was quite similar, with short mission on the logging roads to the block where I was enlightened as to what exactly I would be doing everyday, consisting of different techniques and then some yoga afterwards.

This felt like something instilled in me to progress with my life, like a zen. Treeplanting was originated in Sweden to my knowledge, because of the logging companies ripping down the forest to make housing, furniture, or phonebooks. It has since evolved quite prominently in Canada, especially in the mountainous B.C. & Alberta, and the infamously rocky Manitoba. In Canada, it seemed that anywhere with a population under 5000 had more animal denizens than humans and the forests they occupied were taken advantage of by greedy capitalists for mundane material profit. The typical days varied but to provide an insightful idea as to what happened to me was follows: I wake at 5 am and gather my needs for the day, then I would listen to ambient music outside my tent and try some yoga while fending off mosquitoes from biting my flesh. After this would be a communal meal, and I would take whatever I wanted for the time out on the block. At 7am, the planters would travel in droves on the beaten logging roads to our proscribed patch of woodland (or perhaps clear-cut is more appropriate). Sometimes there would be a walk in, and I remember during the first days a 5km hike on dusty paths, muck and water, and seeing moose, bear, and wolf tracks. Cut trees lines the sides of the dirt roads and I would be planting while feller bunchers, and pincer trucks would be hacking away and driving past me. I would fill my planting bags with about 300-450 seedlings, and we were planting both jack pine and black spruce. Clambering over logs, walking through swamps, digging through roots was necessary to find the right microsites for trees. Unless you had chameleon skin, you would be ravaged by many assortments of insects waiting to eat you alive (deer flies, horse flies, and black flies), and planting either in brutal heat or pouring rain and wind, but sometimes a happy balance between the extremes. I would establish my means of planting and preferred to go in straight lines to make sure my quality was perfect. To plant properly, you would have to mimic nature’s spacing, and plant so the root system would allow for most efficient growth. It was normal to dig through several inches of dead organic matter, and scrape a surface of dirt away until you could stab your shovel into the mineral soil. These were like exquisite food for the tree. After emptying your bags, you would clamber over the slash and rocks back to your tree cache, and load them up again, doing this for 8-10 hours a day depending on how long the drive in was. Often there would be black bears (Ursus americanus) stalking about, and although they were rather timid and probably did not see human that often, we would have to yell, bear! like lighting beacons on the mountains and alerting others of approaching danger. After planting each day we returned to our camp and I dined on the finest foods I have ever eaten. Treating my body properly was a main importance to me, and I was amply compensated. To be truly fertile was to amplify the power of the physical self, not just the spirit and experience. I don’t think I had the same food twice; curry, rice, asian pasta, borscht, meats, salad, vegetables, coffee and wine. After this I preferred to find my tent and relax while others conversed, and sometimes sit at the pond or meditate. I would sleep around 11, and this would be my abstract routine while I would plant 4 days with one day off.

On this time, we spent a portion of the day in whatever town we had been closest to and send messages to the outside world, or buy what we had already ruined. Early in my planting days though, I succumbed to injury when I fell and cut my thumb on a metal edge, which put me out for longer than I would have preferred. I was using a vintage tree planting tool after this which I called the ‘Woodland Phallus’. It was a long shaft pipe with a spike on the end of it that would open when the seeds needed to be ejected into the earth. There were many sexual connotations in the camp, that I began to pick up on from others as well. We moved to another place called Hornepayne and stayed in a hotel for a couple nights in between the trip. This felt weird to have conveniences again, which was more of a luxury. Other days were so filled with variation and unique experience that I would be hard pressed to honor one over the other. I remember one day when our walk in was 2o minutes of bushwacking through a pure spruce forest. There was colored sphagnum moss (Sphagnum Flexuosum) and roots that weaved over the uneven ground, and sinkholes of storm water like a labyrinth through the woods. Some fell in with everything but I used the flexability of the saplings to throw me across! One planter was followed by a lynx (Lynx canadensis), and sightings of bald eagles, moose (Alces) and black bear were fairly normal. I also observed several species of frogs including one that had white scales and a gold diamond-esque pattern on it’s back, and a serpent. I made two staffs adorned with moose antlers and femurs, deer bones, sheep skin, and etchings which stood by my tent and greeted me every morning. Our season had an abrupt end though, as the nursery which tends to the seedlings fucked up and 65,000 trees did not grow. I was planting close to 1,000 pine or spruce everyday, and with some decent experience could have been in the 2-3 thousand area. On scarified beaches it would be possible to do more than this, but I was always in rocky, slash covered woodlands. I already have my place reserved for next year and the hunger is gnawing.

Treeplanting was as much an eco friendly necessity as a spiritual experience. I was not worried about how much money I could take home, or if I had high numbers. To interpret nature as a struggling life form under human influence and for me to nourish it back to sustainability was the absolute means for my involvement, and I felt a deep contentment while putting the trees into the earth. I would know that every evening, the seedlings would transform and in about 50 years would be close to 60 feet high forests, scattered throughout the once barren landscape. Fauna and flora would make their dwelling there, growing, hunting, & regenerating, and those passionate ones like myself might also take refuge amidst the scented pines for a nature walk to study, or get away from urban life for a couple of hours. I can’t truly think of a more interesting form of honored labor, minding something similar like blazing trails, or wildlife conservation.

The time spent in the woods, living there for such a long period of time was subtly beautiful, and waking up to the scent of the forest or birds with majestic warbled calls imparted a deeper respect for its grandeur and simplicity. It helped with my ongoing desire of being a biologist and I made a decent spider collection (20-25 different species), although they had become moldy because I didn’t pin them in time. I missed the venus transit over the sun, but I was able to experience the true night’s darkness, and lie under the star clusters breathing pure cosmic air into my body. I also felt my spirit animal unveil itself to me again, while waking up from the cold one night, I heard a close by pack of wolves with some young, yelping and howling, sending primal messages to me.

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