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: