My name is Bob Ploss and I’m an old treeplanter. I started in 1970 with BCFS crews in Nelson where we planted with hodads, in long lines, with toilet paper for flagging. I was a founding partner of Evergreen Treeplanting Coop in 1973 and worked for twenty years in the biz. My 21 year old son called the other day and asked for advise about going planting and the attached letter is my advise to him. It may have wider appeal? The two images are from 1975. Bob Winegar was the prototype high baller and this image is from a show on a big burn near Nakusp.
The other image of me in a West Coast camp. We camped north of Tofino in March and April for many years. We thought we were tough, but we were really stupid.
“Treeplanting is just like Disneyland, except everything sucks.” Anon.
“Every contract, no matter how perfect, is only one day away from disaster.” Anon.
Treeplanting is a very extreme form of activity. Extreme physical exertion (everyone kind of knows and expects that). We are talking real physical – like on par with running a half marathon every day for four months, uphill, carrying 30 kilos, in the rain, wearing heavy boots. People can adapt to physical challenges with good technique, good diet, and proper conditioning. What REALLY sorts out the Planters from the rest are the extreme mental and emotional challenges. You have to function at a very high level of focus and commitment in a totally repetitious and boring activity, while mosquitoes buzz in your ears and assholes harass you about niggly fussy rules. All this happens in primitive places far from your family, friends, girlfriend, and comforts.
I survived twenty seasons of this stuff. Monique lasted eleven. About 60% don’t make it through the first season. This is part of what I learned:
- Take REALLY good care of your boots and feet. Your boots are your traction, ankle support, screefing tool, shock absorbers, protection from sharp pointy bits, and means of transportation. Your feet are vulnerable to blisters, fungus, sprains and bruises. They are where YOU hit the ground, get very cold, and (frequently) will be the first part to break down if not maintained. If your feet don’t work, you don’t work. You need fresh, clean socks every day. This is not a suggestion, it is a rule. Most folks like Bamas. I preferred felt insoles and heavy wool socks. Some folks used the thin sock/thick sock combo. Carry a spare pair in your day pack. Carry some mole skin to protect areas that feel like they might blister. Change your caulks (pronounced “corks”) before they get dull. Some people bitch about the cost of caulks and walk around on ball bearings. Not too smart. If you sprain an ankle, you miss a month of income. Put a dab of grease on the threads when you put them in – it helps a lot when it’s time to twist them out. Take note of the special knot (loggers knot) used to tie the laces. Learn it! It will save falls, and unties when wet and tight. Wear flip flops in the shower area.
- Always hang onto your stuff. NEVER believe statements like: “It will be OK here overnight” or “You’ll be coming back here later…” Always carry your rain gear because it always rains when you leave it on the landing.
- Avoid camp politics. Be aware of what’s going on, but don’t get swept up in the mostly bogus bullshit that thrives in small isolated groups. EVERYONE thinks everyone else has better ground, is the foreman’s pet, etc. etc. Gossip is entertaining, but not very worthwhile, and ultimately, toxic. This is a lot easier to say than to do. Just plant your trees and mind your own business as much as possible. Adopt a “professional” attitude and don’t get upset when things go wrong.
- Do not tolerate dangerous or impaired driving. If you crummy driver is speeding, cutting corners, passing inappropriately, not using a radio properly, smoking weed or drunk; ask for another ride. If pressed, explain why. If you can’t get a safe ride to work, it’s time to switch crews or companies. Almost 100% of the fatalities in treeplanting have been caused by dangerous driving.
- Work on your technique A LOT. It’s one of your main tasks in your first season. Learn how to plant well before you try to plant fast. The opposite is a recipe for disaster.
- Carry and drink LOTS of water. Four litres on the landing and a litre on your belt is just a good start. Keep your salt intake high. In hot weather, salt everything you eat. Learning how to maintain your health in extreme circumstances while working very hard is the other main task of your first season. Which nutritional supplements and vitamins and in what dosage? How do you bend over a thousand times a day without pukeing? What kind of lunch is still edible after sitting in the sun/rain?
- Try out the “staff” handle shovel. It is a little bit slower than a “D” but has three huge upsides: much less wrist damage and pain, better mobility in rough terrain, and ultimately, a longer, more pain free and productive season and career. This is especially true for the tall planter because the short “D” puts you into a serious back curl. The long handle allows you to use leverage and body weight in place of arm strength and wrist impact.
- Your long back is your weakest point. You must learn to bend properly or your season will be very short and you could be in serious pain for many years after.
- I was the designated First Aid Attendant for most of those twenty years and saw a ton of injuries. Top three: tendonitis of the wrist, sprained ankles, and foot problems (blisters, rot & bone bruises). Almost all serious injuries (fractures, major sprains, etc.) occurred at the end of the day. A combination of fatigue, dehydration and just “letting up” on attention with the end of the day and the truck back to camp in sight.
- There are no corner stores, no internet connections, few phone calls, and little “free” time in treeplanting camps. Planting, eating and sleeping take up 90% of most days. Maintaining your work gear (boots!), washing your socks, and personal hygiene will take up another 5%. Not much left for getting in trouble or having fun. Go into the Bush with enough of everything you’ll need to last for quite a while. Bring your own books and music. No one likes a mooch.
- Treeplanting crew are not friends. They are mostly ruthless competitors in a very stressful mini world. You are all in the same niche on the food chain. I planted with hundreds of people over twenty years. We shared pain, adversity, success and a whole lot of campfires. Eighteen years later I still consider three of them to be my friends. Not great odds.
- Given all the stress involved, there is a ton of free floating madness drifting around, especially toward the end of a contract or a season. Tempers are short and the capacity for patience and tolerance is totally drained. Stand clear of other people’s mental collapses and try to keep yours to yourself.
So what’s the up side? There are a few. You can make some big money in a relatively short time. This will result in having both available to pursue your art, your passions, and serious travel. Or you can just hang out on beaches – a lot more freedom than most people can even imagine. You work on your own, with a mountain side for an office, a chunk of tree box for furniture and another chunk for “paper work”. I’ve had conversations with eagles, and watched grizzly cubs learn about fishing. I’ve meet wolves, otters, and bears – up close and very personal. I once held a pigmy owl in my hands. You get to see remote places of magic and wonder. There are nights devoid of human/mechanical noise, skies full of stars or ablaze with northern lights, hot springs with whales passing by, and a wonderment of interesting people. It’s a big adventure.
Lots of Luck! Love, Dad