The hell of tree planting

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Now that you’ve read the romantic side of treeplanting, let’s delve into the nasty stuff.

If you are lucky, you get to stay in a logging camp. Warm bed and room at night, a cafeteria where there is often a pingpong table, maybe pool table, various board games and cards, and often a satellite tv. Although the tent camps can be more uncomfortable, I prefer them because, in the logging camps, people often stay in their rooms, collect in small groups, or just watch the tele, while in tent camps almost everyone collects around the fire after dinner, playing music and just generally hanging out as a big family. I will explain the worst of the worst from this perspective.

One thing I can suggest to you is to make sure you get a warm enough sleeping bag (at least to minus 20C), a good tent to keep you warm and dry and the no see’ums out, and proper attire with good rain gear.

My first few years I did not have a sufficiently warm sleeping bag and had to lay my jackets and other clothes on top to add an insulating layer. If I rolled over, something might fall off and I’d have to struggle to rearrange everything for optimum warmth. I left the smallest crack open to let in a bit of fresh, albeit freezing cold air, trying to keep most of my warm breath within the sleeping bag.

I used a regular air mattress, half filled with air, to make it soft to sleep on. Once you press out the air you can roll it up and to take little room in your backpack. The last year I planted, there was a small leak but I was so tired after another exhausting day, I just slept on hard ground and was too tired to patch it up.

Getting up after a cold sleep is the worst. I’d sleep on top of my work clothes so they wouldnt be like frozen popsicle sticks when I tried to put them on before 6am. Often I’d wake up with a sore throat and felt sick, considering not to plant that day, but I needed the money and forced myself. Fortunately, once you get moving and start warming up, after about half an hour you sweat out your cold and you feel fine until the next morning.

Then it’s a race against the other planters to the tent toilet, mosquitos biting you in the but, balls and anything else exposed, en masse.

Then it’s a rush to the mess tent to wolf down breakfast and still have enough time to make yourself a lunch bag to last you the day.

Then it might take you about an hour or more to get to the block, barreling down some logging road in one of the company trucks. Possible to get a little nap along the way.

Now you get out of the truck, stretch a bit, and look up at yet another daunting piece of slash that you have to wrestle with all day. But best not to even think about that but start bagging up, lest it discourage you. Day in, day out, the same.

The early mornings can be almost pleasant, but over the day it might start to warm up. Perhaps you are on a burn block, the duff and top growth seared into a black blanket that you have to shovel your way through to get to the parched soil underneath, the hot sun absorbed in the black, radiating heat back at you while you cover your entire body with layers of clothes in an attempt to keep out the bugs.

The bugs are so intense you resort to a net over your head, but this only adds to the heat, as sweat pours down your brow and you find it difficult to wipe through the net.

Over and over you hunch to plant in another tree, taking only a few seconds per tree, but it is enough time for about seven mosquitoes to burrough their beaks through two layers of shirts into your back. You speed up to shake them off.

Or perhaps it has been raining a steady week, water dripping down your pants and inescapably finding their way into your boots, such that when you finish your run and hide from the rain under the tarp at the cache, you take the opportunity to peel off your boots to pour out a healthy splash of water. Take off your multi layers of socks, wring them semi dry, look at your elephant wrinkled feet and put on your socks again.

When it is hot you dream of the rain, when it is nonstop rain you curse for the sun.

After a few months of this, the endless repetition starts to gnaw at your mind. My last season was my second grueling 8 months long, but I remember towards the end of it I was seriously having psychological problems forcing myself out on the block again. Our female highballer broke down crying a few times. Once everything turned purple and I was forced to lie down in the forest on my back, close my eyes and ease my mind.

The relentless bugs only add to the frustration. To survive this job you need to tune out, focus on the task at hand and just push yourself enough so you have no time to think about what you are doing. If you don’t push yourself hard enough, you get back to camp and are somewhat depressed because the day’s earnings really does not seem worth the while. If you do earn enough, only then do you find relief back in camp, before you crawl into your sleeping bag and start the whole process all over again.

Then one day the reefer pulls up and the entire crew is dragged out to volunteer their time to empty the semi of endless boxes of trees, forming a chain to stack them under tarp roofs, which you probably had to help set up.

The same with the main mess tent and the tent outhouses: the pits need to be dug at the beginning of the contract, tents put up, and then taken down and packed into the trucks once the contract is over – all free of charge.

After another long, hard day, you finally roll into camp and stand in a long line in the cold waiting for your turn to take a shower. Most often drawn from a nearby river through a pipe and filter, with gas generator pump humming away. Sometimes the water is not heated, or just a trickle, so that experience can be frustrating as well, as the mosquitoes surround you and attack you from all sides.

The positive aspects

If you can survive this, you can survive anything. It really is good for character building and only the toughest survive. It took me three months to get my body into shape and bring my numbers up to highballer levels, but then it was a great feeling of accomplishment, on top of the world.

Those who survive tend to have or develop a rugged nature, and you find yourself in good and exotic company. You feel somewhat invincible. And if you love nature like I do and are fortunate to make it to the coast or mountains, it truly is a pleasure to see the massive trees or look out the window as they chopper you along the coast to work.

It’s not something I’d want to do anymore, because at 53 my joints just hurt all the time and my muscles don’t heal by morning (I was still earning $250/day), but once my body got into shape when I was going to university, I could pull in an eight month season without much of a flinch.

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We are a family operation managing private custom boat tours in the beautiful Palawan area, and are happy to help travelers with their plans through the country, having traveled a lot of it ourselves and planning to visit it all. The pages in this section concern when I was treeplanting in Canada over eight summers.

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