Life of a tree planter no picnic

Sarah Pruys

Every year, groups of students come north for a summer of tree-planting—lured by the idea of good money, great food, and a summer of living in the bush and making the world a better place.
Their expectations often are met with surprises, but overall they seem to have a great time.
At the Super 8 Motel here Sunday morning, Scott Morrison, 21, Jake Morris, 18, Amos Dowbar, 18, Jonathan Hounsone, 19, and Chapin Waite, 20, discussed their summer so far planting for Haveman Brothers Forestry.
Dowbar explained how they begin their day at their Cedar Narrows Road camp.
“We wake up at 5:30 a.m., make lunch, and grab what we can for breakfast,” he noted.
“Then we get on the bus at 6:30 a.m.”
Usually it is an hour or two drive to where they are planting that day.
“They said it would be hard work, they said it would be long days, they said it would be good pay, they said you would meet nice people, and that it would be a great experience,” said Morrison.
“They said there would be hot showers, but I haven’t got one yet,” added Morris.
“Actually, I’ve gotten showers that have burned me,” chimed in Dowbar.
“It’s unfortunate we don’t get hot showers because after a day’s work, you come back muddier than mud,” noted Morrison, preferring to believe that there had been no hot showers yet.
“But we got a lake,” Morris reasoned optimistically. “It was a little cold at first, but now it’s a bit nicer.”
In addition to not having hot showers (not that they are complaining), this also is the first time they’ve lived outside.
“We’ve been living in a tent for the last month,” explained Morrison. They have been camping before, but this is their first time “out in the bush.”
And with that, of course, comes those blood-sucking parasites—wood ticks.
They don’t have wood ticks where they’re from, but quickly and collectively agree they are “terrible” and “awful.”
When asked about they mosquitoes, Morrison exclaimed, “Oh my gosh. Show her your legs!”
They showed off their battle scars—ankles raw from where they put duct tape inside-out to catch the wood ticks, legs so full of mosquito and black fly bites they look like they have chicken pox again, and their sunburns and farmer’s tans.
“Horse flies, deer flies, mosquitoes, ticks, black flies . . .,” listed Morrison.
“Sometimes you find ticks in the last place you want to find them,” he added.
Some of them also put duct tape on their fingers to protect them when they are planting the saplings, but others don’t bother. Either way, the dirt is permanently ingrained in their fingernails.
And yet all agree they’re still having fun.
“That’s why we’re still here,” said Morrison. “We started off with like 68 people. . . .”
“And now we’re down to 56,” noted Dowbar.
“Some people just couldn’t take it,” he remarked. “They weren’t making enough money, they weren’t planting enough.”
They make nine cents per tree, but it goes up to nine-and-a-half cents if they plant 2,400 in a day.
Morrison referred to himself as the “camp low-baller.”
“You’re not ‘the’ low-baller, man,” said one of his friends.
“I’m pretty close,” he replied, saying he plants about 600-700 a day. And so in a full day’s work, if he plants 700 trees, he is making $63.
Actually, $38 once the $25 camp fee is taken off.
Morris averages 1,300 trees a day while Waite has reached the coveted 2,400 target.
They spoke of one man who they think must tree plant for a living, as he plants 4,000 a day. He’s probably already made $10,000 this summer, the group said.
“A good tree planter can make like $10,000 [in a season],” added Waite.
“The company doesn’t get paid until we plant a certain amount of trees,” noted Morris, so they’ve only gotten one cheque so far.
And with a projected three weeks to go until their tree-planting season is over here, they eagerly are awaiting their other cheques.
Meanwhile, they all agree the food—and the large proportions—are amazing.
“We had pad thai last week,” noted Morris. “I eat better here than I do at home.”
And after all of the hard work, they agree they would come back again “to the middle of nowhere.”
In total, they have to plant 3.5 million trees. Once that is done, they can go home.
Some of them have other jobs lined up for the rest of the summer, but Morrison plans on gaming for a month before working again.