Crying, Cursing, Singing, Laughing: A Greener’s Guide to Planting
By Freya Wasteneys
“Tree planting is super hard!”
“You know tree planting is a lot of work, right?”
“I know someone who tree planted… it was horrible…”
Those were but a few of the warnings I received in the weeks leading up to my departure for camp. Warnings I had heard repeatedly, and yet still managed to increase my desire to do it. My self-punishing stubbornness twisted the kindly cautioning of friends and strangers alike into temptation.
“I’m an athlete, I like physical work. I love the outdoors. I want to plant trees!” I told the doubters, in what was to become my mantra. I thought I was prepared, but I soon learned otherwise.
Arriving at the camp was an experience in itself. Looking around, one could easily separate the veterans from the rookies, the greeners. The veterans had an air of resignation; they were seasoned warriors who knew what they were getting themselves into. They were muscled, toughed and toned, with quiet words of wisdom to impart upon those of us who dared to approach them.
And then there was us – the greeners, skipping around our new playground in all of our wide-eyed innocence. We babbled excitedly to one another, speculating and waiting with nervous anticipation.
Our first morning was chaos: it couldn’t have been any other way. I reminded me of preparing for an exam without attending class. They told us to remember the necessities: shovel, bags, boots, flagging tape, gloves, high-viz vests, but in my inexperience I forgot the things one would think if as common sense: jacket, sunscreen, bug dope, a pillow for the ride, they lay forgotten in the melee of clothes pushed to the corners of my tent.
That morning, as we bumped our way down logging roads, veering every so often to avoid pot holes, a greener commented on the “steep terrain” and “numerous slash piles” we passed, but they were soon set straight by a veteran, who informed them with a somewhat pitying look, that it was the nicest land we were going to see… probably ever.
Thus began the spiralling disillusionment as we quickly realized that the things we had deemed difficult, a worst case scenario (surely!) were in fact a planter’s dream. A creamy paradise.
And so as the day matured, so did we. The sun rose higher and bathed us in a dehydrating light, making us sweat from places we were unaware held sweat glands. Awash in salt and dirt, we learned that planting required more than inserting a shovel into the ground and sliding in a tree. There were things I had never even considered – quality, spacing, finding microsites… not to mention a million other things that our sun-drunk cerebrals tried to grasp, but soon sloshed out of our holey-bowl brains as our foreman added more and more ingredients to the intoxicating mix.
When they finally let us loose on the land, it was a cluster-fudge of inexperienced planters. Which sounds delicious, but unfortunately wasn’t. They told us to “look for triangles!” and plant using 3.1m spacing, but we soon found that finding trees was comparable to finding Waldo.
Eventually we began to pick up momentum, and with that momentum, confidence. Confidence which was rapidly crushed under steel-toed caulk boots as we were informed all the ways we could plant a bad tree:
At which point they showed us techniques to avoid such monstrosities.
By the end of the day, everyone’s heads hung a little lower and postures drooped with the realization that we had a long way to go. Planting was hard, but not for the reasons that we had originally prepared ourselves for.
Feeling more tired mentally than physically, we piled back into the trucks, slightly dejected, but in most cases more determined.
It was in that first day that I realized that planting is an art – a smooth and continuous movement – the offspring of dancers and ninjas. Watching the experience planters could almost convince you it was an easy job. They worked with the land rather than trying to conquer it; one hand loosely holding the shovel that seemed to become an extension of their body, and the other hand deftly reaching in their bag for a tree.
Looking back now, I realize how important the “less haste, more speed” mentality is in planting. Taking the time at the beginning to properly learn techniques saves time and money in the long run and reduces risk of injury. I also learned early on that planting is a mental game in which we are faced with extremes on a daily basis. A game in which we find ourselves cursing, crying, singing, and laughing within the span of a minute, an hour, a day, only to go back and do it all again.