I began tree planting the way most people did, in complete ignorance. My cousin had gone the previous two years and came back boasting of the money to be made. Eager for new adventure and the promised cash I applied and was hired. Having done two summers of tar and gravel roofing in the heat of the Okanagan Valley I thought I knew what miserable work was, but that was when I was still young and naive. Tree planting presented days of absolute torment although liberally interspersed with times of fun and laughter.
In hindsight it was somewhat surprising that I had made it so far as fourth season. I made decent money but certain not enough that planting would be the obvious choice of summer employment. I persevered partly because somewhere in the midst of the off season the painful memories would fade away leaving only the memories of the fun times. By the time the next planting season began I was positively excited to get out there. (The excitement generally lasted until about the third tree)
The other reason I kept it up was because the notion of quitting never really seemed a viable option. (Which was strange because I had made quitting a bit of a lifestyle with things such as piano lessons, chemistry 12, a woodworking course and grade nine.) I had shared in the laughter as we made jokes about the other rookies who had quit because of a "sore back" which is a euphemism for "not tough enough". I had no good reason not to quit and quitting due to not liking it was the same as admitting that I was a sissy. So there I was, in the truck driving home in the middle of my fourth season, more experienced than all but my foreman.
I realized then that it just wasn't worth it for me. I realized through experience that there was a good chance that I would forget and wind up planting again so I decided to put into writing my motivation to not plant again. I did it in the form of a letter to myself listing exactly why I hated planting. Surprisingly this little action, that was as much a way to pass the time while getting a laugh as it was a serious letter became something of a legend. (A very humble legend of course) I have been shocked though by the number of people who mention this letter that I wrote years ago. The surprising thing for me is that the majority of the people who bring it up never even read the letter themselves.
I am on the cusp of starting my eighth season planting so obviously the note failed. I'm looking forward to the season so maybe I should give it a close read. Here it is, complete and unabridged:
Dear Future Ed,
When you read this you will have forgotten about a few things concerning planting. Please read the following before considering season five. Planting sucks. It REALLY, REALLY, SUCKS.
There are lots of bugs. Mosquitos, no see-ums, black flies, and the annoying flies that circle your head forever. The plants are no better. Devil's club, stinging nettle, branches that trip you or stab you in the eye, mouth, nose or crotch. There are errant shovels into the knee or shin. The job is really boring and you always need to plant more trees. There are camps to set up and take down and of course reefers to unload. There are gong show days because of course no one ever knows what is going on.
Of course don't forget rain days. They are much colder and more miserable than you remember. There are trucks that get stuck or have flat tires. Some days are unbearably hot and others that are unbearably cold. Morning come too early and are far too cold. The weeks are long as are the days because there will be blocks that need to be closed off even if it means staying several hours late. The work is out of town so you will miss the best part about living in Kelowna, the summer. Baggin up in general sucks. Wet bags in the morning suck. Wet boot suck. Gettting out of the trucks in the morning sucks. Rocks, stick mat, grass mat, roots and creamy red rot that you can't plant suck.
Planting makes the whole body hurt but nobody gives any sympathy. Sometimes you go really hard but mistakes happen and replanting really, really, really sucks. You are always stuck in camp and days off are far too short. I've mentioned it already but rain days really suck. There are snow days, hail days, and sleet days. There are steep hills to plant and long walk ins. There are wasp nests as well. This list is not conclusive because there is too much to list. Don't be persuaded by promises of big money because the money isn't worth it.
Dangerous people to watch out out for are Lee Keller, Justus Smith, perhaps Clint (All whom are previous foreman who might have tried to get me to plant again) but most of all, ignore what Ed Smith tries to convince you. You don't remember. I am here and the job sucks. Please don't plant next year.