Planting finished over a month ago, but the residue lingers. Tendonitis in my right wrist, for instance, flares any time I so much as touch a tennis racquet. For a while I had a terribly imbalanced tan (dark upper body, pasty bottom half), but August’s sun cured that. I still catch myself considering a price tag in terms of trees—a tank of gas is a bag-up, rent is a good day’s wage. These effects come and go, but the deepest stain from my five-month planting season has been neurological: my brain is tough as a callous. I catch myself multitasking on top of multitasking, burning through daily tasks like they were bag-ups, judging traffic like a cut-block obstacle course, thinking all the time... forever efficiently thinking.
Outsiders to planting always say the same thing: “Tough work, tree planting, I don’t think I’m built for it.” They see the job as grueling manual labour, and of course there’s truth to that. But there’s a reason the fifty-six year-old veteran can plant more than the twenty-two year old jock—planting is just as much mental as it is physical. The mind of a treeplanter is as integral to the operation as the steel in our shovels. It allows us to think our seedlings into the ground. It keeps track of numbers, navigation, entertainment, and motivation. During my best days, my mind is like Tony Robins on speed: give me slope, snow, sun stroke... I can coach my way through anything.
The body is amazing, too. It’s the workhorse of the entire reforestation industry, and when we consider the scale of Canadian reforestation, that’s a lot of muscle we’re talking about. Still, the body is prone to its ebbs and flows. This past season for me was a merry-go-round of different ailments. I rode a sprained ankle one week, tendonitis in the finger, wrist, elbow the next, unexplained rashes, sicknesses, pain... My body became a wizard at healing itself, but what got me through those tough days was mental fortitude. I realized that if I stayed on top of it, my mind never had to dull. It never got tendonitis. It didn’t juice lactic acid when the terrain steepened. During shitty, wet July thunderstorms my mind was a bubble of comfort, lifting me above the sopping landscape to future beaches, bonfires, bubble baths.
Now that I’m back in Vancouver, my body is letting go of planting. I feel my spine elongate, my hands soften. I’ve squeezed the last of the Devil’s Club from my knee caps. I feel great, all things considered—healthy, wealthy, alive. It’s just that Tony Robbins is loitering at the podium in my head, and his diatribe is tiring me out. I find myself racing through daily tasks as though they were trees. Trying to get to an afternoon yoga class I rush the construction of a bathroom shelf, rip out too much drywall, curse, forget that life is not a cut block. I overlook the fact that while I benefit from a highly streamlined mental process during planting, there’s a time to kick back and relax.
The “real world” outside of bush camps is for me a time of creativity and spontaneity. It is a lifestyle that makes the 200,000 trees I planted this past season worth every incision, insertion and closure. But to fully arrive here I have to desynchronize myself from the patterns of planting, no matter how familiar they may have become. It came to a head the other day when I went on a date. She and I wandered up an abandoned train track with an old camera and a bag of trailmix. Nothing was planned, and I felt myself creeping ahead of the moment to where we’d go next, what we’d do, and what time did I think it was? I was out of flagging tape; there was no line to follow.
Around dusk the crows made their exodus to Burnaby, the sky turning black above us. My date started to sing a song about spaghetti and meatballs. I picked up where her memory failed her and we held that number through to the end.
Adrick Brock has planted in British Columbia and Alberta for the past four years. His writing has appeared in Vancouver Magazine, One Cool Word and is forthcoming in The Malahat Review. He lives in Vancouver and can be contacted at [email protected].