Friday, February 26, 2016

Tree Planting Books: Eating Dirt

About five years ago, a book came out that focused on life in the coastal tree-planting community.  The book was called "Eating Dirt," and was written by Charlotte Gill.  I eagerly read it as soon as I got my hands on it, and wasn't disappointed.  Charlotte was a tree planter, but the book didn't focus entirely on planting. There was also a lot of background about the logging industry in general, and some background on tree physiology and historical biology, with both local and global perspectives.

At the time, I wrote a very short review and made some notes.  I've been tempted to read the book a second time since then, but I'm also working on writing a couple books of my own.  I really don't want anything in her book to influence what I'm writing, which is why I've reluctantly refrained from a second reading.  However, I took my original notes and I'm posting them here today because I want to remind planters about this book.  At some point over the next several weeks, I'll share some notes about three or four other books that should also be of interest to planters.

Charlotte Gill, the author, was a planter for over twenty years.   She started in Ontario, but moved out west.  When she was still working in western Canada (up until just a few years ago), she worked eight or nine months each year, predominantly planting coastal projects (the professional part of the industry), plus a bit of southern Interior work in the early summer months.  Many of the people that she mentioned in the book are people I know.  When I'm planting on the coast, I usually work in the same area where she did a lot of her work (the north Island), and I've worked for the same company that she often worked for.

Here's an excerpt from a review by Quill & Quire:

"A thoroughly Canadian story, Eating Dirt is not out of place alongside other classic memoirs of the bush by Susanna Moodie or Farley Mowat."

Eating Dirt was the winner of the BC National Award for Non-Fiction, and was also short-listed for both the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust

There were a few things in the book that really caught my attention. For instance, she was talking about the amount of ground that a million trees covers. When this is quantified in acres or hectares, it somehow seems less impressive than her way of illustrating: one million trees covers five hundred city blocks in Manhattan. My own camp usually plants close to six million trees a year. I didn't really think about how much ground we cover until I thought of it as almost three thousand city blocks.

Another interesting fact is that when you're in a full forest canopy and you look up, it probably looks like the branches of adjoining trees are all intertwined above you. But they aren't. The trees are able to somehow sense their neighbours and the branch tips almost always stays a few centimetres away from each other. Of course there are occasional exceptions, but natural avoidance is generally the case. Charlotte mentions a lot of facts about trees and nature that seasoned planters take for granted, but which would probably surprise readers who aren't planters.

Charlotte also talks about the number of calories a planter consumes in a day: around five thousand. If anything, I think this is an under-estimate. It's hard to count calories accurately in a bush camp, because most planters just load up without measuring portions, and shovel the food in as quickly as possible. But I've always been curious about caloric intake, I've always tracked my own personal food costs while planting on the coast, and I've sometimes made attempts to measure my calories. A normal person might be shocked. Here's a fairly normal example of what I might eat in a day on the coast:

Breakfast: 970 calories

3 yogurt cups = 240 calories
3 cinnamon buns with butter = estimated 375 calories
Bowl of strawberries = 45 calories
Four hard-boiled eggs = 310 calories

During Day, While Planting: 3,835 calories

4 pepperoni sticks = 320 calories
8 granola bars = 1280 calories
About 1/3rd block (150g) of marbled cheddar = 600 calories
A cup of chocolate chips = 805 calories
Anywhere from 8-12 bottles (500ml) of water = 0 calories
Three bottles of Gatorade (591ml) = 390 calories
One half of a large bottle of Clamato juice = 440 calories

Dinner: 3,415 calories (which I eat over a period of a couple hours)

Two cups of rice (bazmotti/risotto/brown/long grain) = 400 calories
1/2 bag of cheese perogies = 840 calories
A third of a bunch of asparagus = 30 calories
1 large chicken breast = 165 calories
Half of a bunch of broccoli = 105 calories
Half cup of butter (1/4 pound) on these previous items = 810 calories
Half cup of cheddar cheese on these previous items = 265 calories
1 litre of almond milk = 360 calories
Large bowl of ice cream = 440 calories
A couple gatorade containers of water that I take to bed = 0 calories

Total for the day: 8,220 calories
(and about a dozen litres of fluids)

A lot of planters who work hard for 8-10 hours per day can eat this much food, day after day, and still lose a significant amount of weight as the season progresses. Back when I planted full-time in the Interior, before I was a supervisor, I typically lost about 25 pounds in the first 6-7 weeks. By the way, I vary my diet a bit from day to day when I'm coastal planting - I really enjoy meat, so some days are a lot more protein heavy (fish, chicken, or red meat), and pastas or quinoa are often a staple on the coast too.  It all depends on my mood.  I've been having a lot more smoothies full of fruits and juicing greens lately too.

Tree planting is a job that most people would hate. For actual tree planters, it's more of a love/hate relationship. For people who've never done it, this book is a great insight into one of the strangest industries in Canada. Check it out if you can. Here's a link to order a copy from Amazon:

And while you're waiting for your copy of the book to arrive in the mail, here's a link to a lot of tree planting photo galleries that I've taken over the past ten years. Each of the photos on this page is actually a link: click on it, and you'll be taken to a page with dozens of other photos. In all, there are several thousand photos that I've put online:

 If you'd like to learn more about the Canadian Tree Planting industry, visit:


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Photos of a Moose Rescue in Northern Ontario

This happened a while ago (spring of 2012), but I was just looking at some photos and thought of this again and thought I'd post it to share it to a wider audience.  It's the story of a moose that got trapped in a fiber pond in Ontario.  The notes below are taken from the email that I received about it:

Sunday April 15, 2012 dawned cloudy and cool in the little community of Terrace Bay, located along the north shore of Lake Superior.  My friend and fellow Conservation Officer Jeff Anderson stopped by the house, my wife Eleanor made fresh coffee and we were enjoying a day off now that the fishing season for walleye had finally closed.
When the phone rang that morning, it was to alert us that a moose was helplessly mired in a spillway next to the towns pulp mill. Normally, the hustle and bustle of a busy factory would discourage wildlife from getting too close, but in this case, the mill had been idle for quite some time and the mill yard was quiet and tranquil. 
The large man-made ponds that surround the property are part of a system used to treat waste water. They are all fenced except for the one closest to the buildings. Its unclear as to how the young adult bull wandered into the first one, maybe he was fleeing a vehicle on the nearby road, or perhaps he just thought it was a marsh. Whatever the reason, he attempted to cross the football-field sized settling pond and began breaking through the deep layers of sodden wood fiber. 
We quickly hatched a plan and began gathering some rope, hip waders and snowshoes while Jeff grabbed a patrol truck, uniform and shotgun. It was important to be prepared for any eventuality! When we all rendezvoused at the site, we were faced with the saddest looking animal you could imagine. Utilizing the snowshoes to stay on top of the layers of fiber, we were able to approach the bull, fasten a chain knot around his neck and attempt to pull him free utilizing the winch on Jeff’s patrol truck. Unfortunately, we could not pull him horizontally with sufficient force to drag him out without the risk of injuring him, so we needed a new approach.
Mill staff came to the rescue and arrived on scene with a large, tracked loader equipped with a boom grapple. The rest of us shovelled a space around the moose’s chest around which we were able to secure a heavy line. With this new ability to lift and pull from around the animals girth, the big bull was slowly drawn out of the muck and onto the bank. 
It appeared as though he had been there overnight and he was near death from exhaustion and stress.  Remarkably, by supporting him in a prone position, giving him a couple bottles of water to drink and rubbing his legs to restore circulation, he began to perk up! After 20 minutes and several attempts, he stood up on wobbly legs for the first time in many hours. He tolerated us as we held him up and later, as he began walking with our assistance. It was a very strange experience to calmly accompany him for the long walk around the ponds perimeter, but we all felt the same heart-warming feeling when he quietly stepped into the bush under his own power, and disappeared from sight.

Terrace Bay is a town on the north shore of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada about 150km East of Thunder Bay.

This was written by Paul Dennis, Conservation Officer, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Starry, Starry Night

One of my checkers from last year (Mike Ross, known online as Lars Zergun), put together a YouTube video a few years ago which I really liked. I'm posting it here instead of on my music blog because I think the people here would enjoy it more (specifically the tree planters).

The video is a compilation of shots that Mike took, some of which are from planting, and some of which are not.

The background track that he set the clips to is called "Vincent" by Don MacLean of "American Pie" fame, which was actually on the American Pie album. It's a beautiful (and pretty famous) song which has been covered by dozens of other artists.

The song refers to Vincent Van Gogh, the famous post-impressionist painter who shot himself when he was 37 years old, long before his paintings became famous. Click here for a bit of background on the meaning of the song.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Audio Versions of Tree Planter Training Material

I've been working on a project for the past year and a half that involves a comprehensive training program for first-time tree planters in western Canada.  I've also spent the past week turning all of the information into a series of twenty audio files, to match the twenty videos in the training series.  All of the audio files are in MP3 format, at 320 kbps.  I've posted the files onto my SoundCloud account, in case people want to listen and/or download just individual specific sections.  Also, as an alternative download source, you can go to my public Dropbox folder, then go into the "Canadian Reforestation" section, then into the "Planter Training" section, and see all of the mp3's there too.

The final versions of the videos can be found by visiting but for now, here are all the SoundCloud links in one place:

Introduction to the Industry

Why Do We Plant Trees?


Working Safely, Hazards

Rules & Regulations

Camp Life

Map Reading

Nature & The Environment

Basic Silviculture Knowledge


Common BC Coniferous Trees

The Planting Prescription

Planting Gear

Planting a Seedling

Meeting Quality Requirements

Spacing, Density, & Excess

Site Preparation

Maximizing Productivity

Behaviours & Attitudes

Wrap Up

 If you'd like to learn more about the Canadian Tree Planting industry, visit:

 If you want to join Replant's tree planter group on Facebook, visit:



Thursday, February 18, 2016

Introducing the Salmonberry

A couple years ago, I was planting on the coast in the fall.  The owner of the company, Nick, stopped by our room one evening after dinner.  He looked at me, and said, "I'm sorry."  I was puzzled, so I asked him what he was sorry for.  He said, "For tomorrow."  That sounded ominous.

The next morning, seven of us went out to a block together.  At the crew's tailgate safety meeting that morning, Nick had said that we were going to a very challenging block.  It turned out to be two giant patches of salmonberry, over our heads, that needed to be fill planted.  Luckily, the forester had herbicided the block, so although we'd have to work through a fairly thick tangle of brush, at least all the leaves were gone, so we could see where we were going.

It didn't look that bad, and Nina and I set out together on the low side of the road.  After the first four trees, I realized that it was going to be a tough day.  I don't usually bother to ask the tree prices, but I made an exception:  "Hey Nina, did you ask what the price was on this block?"  She said, "Eighty cents."  I started to laugh.  That was the last time that I laughed that day.

The moral of the story is, "When you think you want higher tree prices, sometimes you are wrong."

Anyway, that wasn't the point.  The point is that this purpose of this post is to teach you what salmonberry looks like.  Well, maybe not so much the plants, but at least the berries.  Salmonberry berries are often a very colourful orange-yellow colour, which I've never seen in other berries.

Salmonberry berries can also turn red after a while:

Occasionally, they can get to be quite large:

And most importantly, they're tasty!

So now you know what a salmonberry berry looks like.  Aside from the fact that the plants can grow to be taller than tree planters, and are extremely thorny, and you need a machete to force your way through them, they're a pretty cool plant.  The salmonberry is fairly common in coastal areas throughout British Columbia.

Here's a link to the Wiki, if you want to learn more:

 If you'd like to learn more about the Canadian Tree Planting industry, visit: