Wake up at 5 a.m. Make breakfast and lunch for the day. Trek an hour to work. Perform grueling physical labour all day. Trek home. Sleep. Repeat. While this may not seem like the ideal job, what if your office is the great outdoors? What if you're helping the planet while making a good chunk of change and meeting lifelong friends?
Tree planting has emerged as a unique summer job among students, who travel to various locations across the country to plant for approximately four months at a time. Rather than working in an office or a job in the service industry, planting trees can yield rewarding environmental results, as well as a huge chunk of cash.
I love being outdoors and the idea of being really remote and living in a community of like-minded people really excited me, says Stephanie Hawco Trevorrow, a former tree planter with five seasons under her belt. She worked with the company Outland in Northern Ontario and eventually Manitoba.
I also heard the money was great and I wanted to help pay some of my tuition. The pay is a definite selling point, as some planters live all year on the earnings they make in the summer. Trevorrow says her earnings became travelling money later on in her planting career.
She describes her experience as one that has its ups and downs'definitely not a standard 9–5 job. Trevorrow's typical day would begin at 5 or 6 a.m. She'd put on her dirty clothes which were dry, if you were lucky, she says, make a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, eat breakfast, then jump on the bus with the other planters to ride for an hour to the logging site.
Once on the site, the day becomes incredibly physically demanding. All day long, you just navigate your piece of land, she says, taking mental note of obstacles like swampy areas, birds' nests or wasps' nests, trying to fill up your land with trees in such a way that every step you take is making you money. The process of planting trees isn't one to be taken lightly, however. Basically, you'd just be lurching around with 50 pounds of seedlings strapped to your hips, bending over every seven feet or so. It's not as simple as putting a tree in the ground, though; it has to be planted properly so it actually grows.
The average BC tree planter plants 1,600 trees each day, lifting a cumulative weight of over 1,000 kilograms, bending and driving the shovel into the ground more than 200 times per hour. The physical demands are so great and unique that WorkSafeBC has created a guide dedicated to awareness of and how to avoid injuries while planting.
Matthew Cloutier, a tree planter of seven years with several companies such as Free to Grow in Nova Scotia and Spectrum Resource Group in BC, knows first-hand this isn't for everyone, but it worked well for him. Camping and living in a tent to be exposed to the great outdoors was a draw and seemed ideal for my own adventure, he says.
But not everyone can hack it, since the conditions can be pretty rough. Difficult times are when the camp cook is producing less than ideal amounts or quality of food. Bugs. Rain. Rocks. More bugs. Getting lost was an issue for some. Pneumonia was always a risk, especially in early spring. Waking up to a reduced breakfast because the waterlines froze overnight. Generators that break down or catch fire. (And his list goes on.) He says he tried to bring on friends for the summer to try out planting but only one finished the season and no one tried again.
That said, despite the sometimes grueling conditions, tree planters often talk about the amazing times they had and the great people they met.
Back at camp, everyone would crack a beer and eat a massive amount of dinner, said Trevorrow. Away from all the trappings of modern life, you really get to know each other. Everyone brought something unique. It was the most welcoming, non-judgmental environment I've ever been in. She goes on to say that the group of planters did everything together, making even doing dishes fun. We'd play music and sing around the fire most nights. We'd make up games and write songs for each other, and make things for each other, and go on little fishing expeditions or hikes. And we'd have ridiculous themed parties.
Campfires, music, free-thinking individuals with a drive for life are all features which spurred a camp social life, agrees Cloutier. The partying lifestyle on nights off and dancing around a large community bonfire was a discovered plus.
Both say that the experience tree planting was significant to them and will never be forgotten. You live in such close quarters, under such extreme conditions, that you really get to know each other in the bush in a way that you wouldn't in the city, says Trevorrow. I'll love those kids I planted with for the rest of my life. I know I'll always look back on planting as my "those were the days" days.