Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Rookie's Revelation by Erica Benson

I trudged down the muddy trail leading to the trucks. My planting bags slung lazily around my shoulder, my shovel helped me navigate through lagoons and animal carcasses. Like me, the sun yearned for the relief the night would bring. My feet felt like anvils from thirteen excruciating hours of tree planting. It had been a wet day; Benoit misjudged a “puddle” and fell in to his nipples. He was drenched, along with 180 seedlings housed in his silvi-cool bags. I almost planted a tree into a bee’s nest the size of Manitoba on the previous block, but caught my error when loud buzzing noises flooded my eardrums. The boy’s chucked rocks at it while the girls quickly maximized on their distraction, unloading their trees on the small block.

I speared my shovel in the ground, craving a plush mattress and goose down comforter. I threw my planting bags in the tall grass for a seat. I began to question why I had chosen to fly to a remote location in Alberta to live in a tiny tent with my sister and exist in a constant state of grime. I wondered whether the 5AM wake up calls, mosquito teemed camp kitchen and beaver water showers were worth the 10 cents a tree I was being paid. I also recalled a rumor floating around at the cache about McDonald’s for dinner and my stomach urged me on the endless trail. This was one walk that felt longer on the way back.

A conversation paraded through my mind, it was held the day before with my fellow slave worker Pax. We consistetntly had intricate conversations ranging from philosophy and history to drugs and suicide. On this occasion he asked me if I understood the word serenity. I wasn’t able to fabricate a clear explanation so Pax helped me in his gentle manner. He described it as a state of absolute peace, with yourself, and with your environment. Unfortunately I never consciously recognized a moment of serenity so I couldn’t treat Pax with an anecdote.

My memory came to a close when I reached the trucks at the summit of a four minute climb. There were scattered stars on one side of the sky as the sun neared the horizon. Most of the planters had returned, and I joined the usual end of day banter.
“How many boxes did you plant?”
“Do you have any food left?”
“How many times did you get stung?”
And today,
“Did you hear about Benoit?”
Scotty our Foreman confirmed the McDonald’s rumour, and we crowded the trucks to hand in our tallies.
As a rookie planter, you get the fortunate luck to sit in the Crummy, an emergency bench transformed into a box for five dirty tree planters to cuddle in. I took a seat on the far left that offered a minuscule window. I smiled as Jason, our appointed driver, rolled away from the block, and rested my head against Pax's shoulder.

That's when I noticed the gorgeous Albertan sunset. I sat up with a newfound calm and slid open the window. I gaped in awe at the beautiful melange of soft oranges, bold pinks and shy purples. I realized that although this job is physically demanding and mentally painful at times, I wouldn't trade it for a serving job at home. So far this summer I watched a live rodeo at the Calgary Stampede and tried sleeping through a lightening storm from the uncertainty of a tent while it struck close enough to feel the earth shiver. I overcame my natural shy tendencies and met a camp of sixty interesting and hilarious people from different regions of the world. I drove a quad for the first time, and learned how to make the best out of a terrible situation. Like the day we awoke at four AM so the mosquitoes formed a cloud around our heads, as if in a cartoon. Or the day Scott told me kindly that the bottom ten planters would not get to ride in the helicopter. In one month of tree planting I learned inexplicable things about myself and grew into a unique individual, overcoming much teenage insecurity. I formed an unbreakable bond with my sister, and wouldn't have enjoyed such a wondrous time if I hadn't been splitting that tent with her. I shared with her my love for literature, reading her "Apollo" aloud, often putting her to sleep. She taught me how to be comfortable with myself and proud of my individuality. She was also my supplier of support when I felt like a tiny bug on a big leaf. I looked down at the heads of my coworkers, my crew, my friends. We shared our life dreams with each other, our tears and our blood but above all, our laughter.
I turned to Pax and said one word,


  1. I think you've done a great job, I would love to experience something like that, unfortunately the closest I can get to planting my own trees is playing where they plant a tree for 30,000 points!

  2. After planting for several seasons, nothing surprises me anymore. And if anything happens, I just laugh it off or register the experience in my memories. It is pretty hard to decide on what is the best and what is the worst for tree plantation.

  3. Sounds like hell. I enjoyed the story, though.

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