Monday, May 30, 2011

CanFor....Can(I plant)Six?

Latest installment of the treeplanting adventure.
Here we are in sunny Grand Prairie region. The land is vastly different from that of the mines, in particular,  there is now slash.  What is slash? You may be asking yourself. It is the leftover residue from when the loggers come in and remove the forest. In all of my years treeplanting, I feel that this land is the worst I've planted in....wait! Let me rephrase.  Slash-wise, it is the worst to plant in....the ground, when you can get to it, is actually pretty good. but the amount of clambering one has to do in order to get anywhere is quite the feat.
Today I felt like I was fighting the land. If it was a fight, the land certainly started it....trip sticks, snares and jabs all day long. I'm surprised a slash monster didn't rise up off the ground and chase after me. Seriously, it was intense. Nearing the end of the day, to top off the epic events, I was whacked in the leg with a devils club. These things are no joke. Tall shoots covered in, not small prickers like a raspberry bush, but rather large ones similar to those of thorns. Not fun to plant in, but the trees need to go into the ground! The way I see it, is a good test of character. Sometimes a person has to shrug and go fearlessly ahead....a good metaphor for life in many ways.
The main difference with this contract is that we live in a camp out in the woods.  This changes the dynamics of work, as now a community is formed, as opposed to staying in a motel, where one can easily hide in their room, and slip out of reality, into the television.  Now, we live in tents, share meals together and talk about our days. Typically, I like to avoid conversation about work, more so because I have lived it for the past 10.5 hours and my brain is ready for something more exciting. This can often be a challenge at the end of the day however, as fatigue has set in....needless to say a lot of jibberish comes flying out, and to those in the real world, can seem bizarre but out here, all makes sense, and much laughter is spilled because of it!
I can tell that I am getting worn out, as yesterday I could have sworn there was a house cat watching me plant, perched on a log, eyes squinting in the sunlight. (for the was a black and white cat) Then today, again perched on a log, appeared to be a little brown owl, winking its little eyes.  Now an owl makes more sense in this landscape, but a house cat? Or what about the giant elk hiding in the thistles? That one turned out to be a really funky looking overturned stump. Or the cut tree trunks that always are mistaken for a pair of boots. Endless trickery to the eyes and mind. Sometimes I wonder if I am actually seeing these things that hide as soon as I try and take a real look. Or maybe it is too much sunshine?
On our second day of planting this shift, I was planting my first row along the treeline.  This is a common area where one may encounter a bear, something that is always at the back of most every treeplanters mind. I think it has something to do with not wanting a surprise....and what a surprise that would be. Here I go, planting along getting lost in thought, when I hear a rustle. As I look out of the corner of my eye, I see something brown move. My heart begins to thump and pound, mind racing trying to recall what to do in a situation where you are face to face with a grizzly. Alas, nothing comes to mind at that time....but starting to wonder whether the fight or flight will spill forth at the last minute.  I turn towards my fate, take a huge gulp, and look. A small brown squirrel leaps onto the branch of a tree at eye level and then disappears up the trunk. Yes. A squirrel. Now the word 'microbear' has taken on a whole new meaning. If a squirrel can instill that much fear into a person, I don't think I dare wonder what would have happened if it was a bear.
Tomorrow is our first day off with this contract....for some anyway.  There are a few, myself included, who have opted for working.  All day, I muddled over this notion. To work or not to work. What if it is raining, will I still want to work? Am I really doing this to myself? Is it worth it? Shouldn't I rest? What is rest? Endless questions, which made it really hard to find a rhythm for the day. At last I had to stop, have a short pep talk with myself about being committed to working, and to move on with my thoughts. So for the rest of the day, what do I decide to focus on? Awesome costume combinations.  This actually ended up being a great thing to focus on, as planting and all the grunts slipped from thought, as the day drifted along with more ease.
Three days remain for me up here. It is incredible how quickly time has flown, even with long days in the land, panic comes around 1pm in the afternoon, as the day feels nearly over (even if if ends at 6pm). It's been an interesting experience returning to the planting world. The work itself feels like I have never left. A little rocky at first, now comes easily once again.  What has been challenging is maintaining a consistent rhythm throughout the day. There are some beautiful hours where I feel connected with the land, gliding through, with no thoughts. Just me and the trees and the land all one. Other days or hours even where every step is a struggle, there every place I try to plant a tree is impossible. This creates great frustration and is exhausting both mentally and physically.  Tapping here, there, opening a hole only to have it be filled with water, or to be an open air pocket sans soil. These are the times when it is vital to figure out how to have fun, otherwise moods can spiral out quickly, and then you are just left fighting with the land, and angry. A deadly combination. So today, with challenges at hand, I had an impromptu dance party at my cache (area where my food, water and tree resupply are kept). In all honesty, it was the highlight of my day! Might just have another little dance party tomorrow even! Maybe everyday from now on...
Ahh right. Lastly. The title of this piece. CanFor is the company we're working for. They are very particular with their contract. Again probably the most picky I have experienced yet, as there is very little leeway especially when it comes to density. For this contract, we are required to plant a density of 6 trees per plot.  A plot is a 13ft cord.  In that 13ft, you have to have 6 trees. On day one, I began with rather high density (8's) so began to space it out accordingly. I was pretty proud of how well I had adjusted to the wider spacing.  As I was closing up my first section, our tree checker, Morgan, came up behind me.  I asked him if my trees were ok. He looked at me, sighed and said no.  He had taken over four plots in my land, each time coming up with the same number: 3. What did this entail? Going back through my land and peppering in more trees to increase density.  At the end of the day, word had spread that I was an excellent 3 plot planter....with many jokes to follow over the coming days! I continue to struggle with sixes.  I can do fours and sevens real well, but that magic number six is elusive.

Then again, spatial awareness has never been my strong suit.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Mines contract....done like dinner!

Three shifts, 750,00 trees later, we have completed our first contract up at the mines outside of Hinton, AB. Day one now feels like months ago, though I clearly remember thinking on said day, how long it will be to the 22nd of May. Time has flown and a new forest is in the early stages of growth.

What started off as a barren, straw grass area, is now planted with baby tree plugs of pine and spruce.  As we drove away from our block for the last time, it was so cool to look into the land, and see all these little green trees, reaching up out of the ground, as if celebrating their new home, ready to start growing.

Treeplanting is such a strange life. While riding in the van back into town the other day, I was asked: "what gets you through the day?" This is quite the question, as planting is not easy. In fact, it is most challenging on the mind. Physically, your body will adjust, but it is all about your mental status and not getting stuck inside your mind.  So, what gets me through the day? A few things.
~Music is for starters. (Don't you worry, I keep the volume turned low, just in case I happen upon a bear...neither of us (bear and self) need a surprise). What's been on my playlist? A smorgasbord of mixed compilations made by friends, albums that have been highly recommended by others, a few random selections that have been hit or miss, and some old favourites that you can never go wrong.  What I have discovered? Songs that I know and love to sing along to, are not the best songs to plant to.  Why? Well, honestly, I can't help but want to stop planting, take a tree out of my bag, and treat it like a microphone, and serenade the wilderness with my off pitch notes! Though I love a good song to sing, it does not help get trees in the ground.
~Second, the challenge: plant more trees than the day before. Yes, this sounds like a really lame game to play, but it is amazing the motivation and challenge that this entails. Think about it. Each day is 8 hours, the challenge, up the ante every day. This could entail one extra bundle of trees, half a box, or even a full box! This is tricky, but what I find, is it is a goal to reach out for. It changes my mentality of "what am I doing?" to "what can I do today?".
~Drink lots of water.  This is also a great challenge.  Each day I bring with me 5L of water. On a good day, I drink 4. It is my endless hope, to finish all my water by the end of the day and not have to request the van to stop on the way home for a pee break/ wet my pants.
~Not worry about my speed.  This sounds a little weird, coming from my first reason, and may be hard to explain...but I'll try. Let's see. Speed is an interesting concept.  There is a lot of comparison between planters. Sometimes it's inspiration, other times (probably most times), it just becomes a pissing contest. It's easy to get cause up in this. The moment you begin to think about needing to speed up and put in more trees, inevitably, the opposite happens. Fumbling begins, trees start flying, the ground seems to become one giant soil-covered rock, morale drops and on the rare occasion a shovel goes flying, (typically not on accident). So what I have learned? Let it go. Don't fight with the land, don't grovel over things you cannot control, don't worry about what others are planting. Rather embrace the task at hand with patience and a good heart. With that being said, it is still important to push and challenge oneself...hence my personal challenge.
~Lastly, have something to look forward to. Out here, a hot meal is a dream. Fleece pants to put on, feet out of boots, toes wiggling in the evening air: the greatest feeling under the sun. A bed to lie down in: AMAZING!

So here we go. The town of Hinton, now a lingering memory. We're now further north, in the bustling town of Grand Prairie.  Tuesday, contract number two begins.  Ten days of work remain for me this summer, then onto changing gears once again.  But that's another story. Stay tuned!

Oboz Challenge

Hey folks!

Do you like hiking?
Do you like getting outside for fresh air?
Do you like trees?

If you answered yes to one or all of the above you should be a part of the Oboz challenge!

What is this you wonder?

Take a hike, and Oboz will plant a tree, annnd if that isn't awesome enough, you could also win yourself a new pair of Oboz shoes!

Here's a little background on the challenge:

Oboz invites you to lace up your shoes or boots, and get out and take a hike.

The Bozeman, Montana outdoor footwear company has put forth a challenge: simply go for a hike between May 23rd and July 8th, and Oboz will plant a tree for every hike logged on BOLDER—a website devoted creating a collective community around positive challenges and rewards benefiting health, fitness, the environment, community and education.

At the end of the challenge, every hike logged on BOLDER will mean one more tree planted through Trees for the Future, an international organization dedicated to improving livelihoods through beneficial planting of trees. Oboz plants a tree for every pair of boots or shoes it sells.

We always enjoy hearing stories from people getting outside and are especially excited to see what stories emerge from this Bolder Challenge,” said Taylor Keeley of Oboz. “These hikes will put a few more trees in the ground and get a few more pairs of feet in Oboz, too.”

Here’s how the “Take a Hike, Plant a Tree” challenge works:

  1. Go for a hike, walk, trail run, ski or snowshoe between May 23rd and July 8th, 2011. If you’re outside and moving under your own power on your feet, that counts!
  2. Go to, log in and record your hike. Add pictures, a short story or any other creative twist to get a chance to win Oboz shoes.
  3. Share your hike on Facebook and encourage your friends to give it the thumbs up. The most shared and liked hike—the people’s choice—will win shoes.

Every hike or ‘action’ recorded on bolder gets a reward: Oboz—through Trees for the Future—will plant a tree. Additionally, three people will win a pair of Oboz shoes for their response to the challenge:

  • People’s choice—the action or hike that gets the most Facebook ‘likes’
  • Coolest photo—best photo, judged by the Oboz team
  • Most creative—the most interesting or creative response, judged by the Oboz team.

After the challenge is complete, winners will be contacted on how to obtain their prizes. The winners, and their stories, may also be featured on the and Oboz blogs.

For more information, contact Oboz at

Go on now! Take a hike. Enjoy the fresh air. Make a difference.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Week Two Down!

Monday night, and am now winding down from five days of planting.  They rhythm is set, the mud has begun to dry, and this afternoon, my planting buddy, Linh, and I were transplanted to a new piece. What does this mean? A lot.  All this week, and most of last week, we were in a piece that had straw grass up to our eyes...if not higher at times.  It's one extra thing to struggle against in the land.  Suddenly, planting a tree becomes an incredible feat. My hands....scratched, scraped, poked, and stabbed, now look like a dogs chew toy!
Today, I broke down, and decided to plant with gloves on.  Well....fingerless gloves. I have to say, though resistant to the idea, I've come around quite quickly to accepting a little bit of padding between me and the elements.
Our new piece is almost a dream. It's flat (in comparison to the endless hills from the previous piece. See picture below). There is little straw grass and what grass there is, comes up to the shins. The one downside, the land is pretty dry, with clay soils, which means a lot of extra work goes into digging holes. This can also result in a lot of added stress on the wrists, resulting in tendonitis.  Already, a handful of planters are battling with creaking wrists. Nearing the end of the day, my shovel arm was definitely feeling the force of the hard ground.  Thank goodness we have a day of rest.
The wildlife out here is amazing.  Yesterday, I shared my land with a soaring red tail hawk.  Linh was back in town sick, so I was thankful to have my new hawk friend to keep me company. I noticed today, the first sprouting leaves on the aspens.  Spring is finally coming to the north here, and I came across my first wild flower.  I am not sure what it was exactly, but the flower head was globular, with pink outsides, and a pale yellow inside.  Very neat.  I kicked myself for not having my camera on hand to capture it.  A very strange looking flower, but such a treat to discover.  The land is fairly barren of life, minus the straw and an occasional patch of turf. As the day wound to a close, a few of us were walking up the road to our van, when just in front of us, came a herd of elk, running though the forest.  There must have been around 12 of them, in full speed.  Phenomenal to be so close! Then, if that isn't enough wildlife in one day, along the side of the road, just hanging out in a marsh, stood a big ole moose, paying no mind to our big red van bumbling down the road.  I'd say a good way to end the day...with nature constantly revealing special creatures when least expected.
Next week, is supposed to be our last week here in Hinton, before traveling north to Grand Prairie.  Because we're behind in numbers, we'll be working a 6 day shift.  This should be interesting. Five days is already pretty hard on the body, so we'll see how each of us are holding up come the evening of day 6!  Other than having a chew toy for a hand, all is going well out there, no major injuries or complaints to speak of.  What I have come to realize is that planting is the same old as usual.  Though a new company, it is still planting.  The game is to try and beat my numbers from the day before.  I am staying fairly consistent, increasing slowly yet steadily.  Today I reached 5.5 boxes.  Each box contains 315 trees making the grand total for today 1732.5.  My highest numbers yet for this contract.  Hopefully, next week I will continue to increase.  My goal is at least 6 boxes each day.  What makes it tricky with numbers is for every tree we are also to plant a tea bag of fertilizer. I've gotten into a routine now, but it certainly slows down the flow. Fingers crossed that the weather continues to work in our favour, without too much rain to bring back the mud, but without too much wind, where we're almost blowing away!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back on the block

I just completed my first shift of treeplanting.
After 5 years from my last planting stint, this week has been a brutal reintroduction to the world of trees.  My day starts at 6:20am, preparing my breakfast, beating my mud encrusted boots on a wall, and grunting intensely while trying to pull on my mud encrusted socks (currently the running time per foot is 3.5 minutes).  The land, having just recently thawed, is a mud pot, each of us returns from the block, caked from head to toe.  This makes it very hard to get any planting done, as digging a hole, the shovel comes out of the ground with a full mud pie attached to the end, boots, get engulfed in mud, closing the hole after planting the tree actually results, in the hole coming off onto your hand, tree included. Day one, very trying. But persevere and it will get better (not necessarily easier, but better). Day two we had traditional northern Alberta weather: rain, hail, snow (in no particular order).  It was coooold, wet and muddy: but there is an end to the day, with a warm bed, hot food, dry socks, and a comfy bed to rest ones weary bones.   Day three of this week, also my birthday, was a rough day, I am working in an area where the grass is as high as I am tall. Suddenly, I am getting in touch with my inner ninja, to kick down the grass so I might possibly get a tree in the ground.  Near miss nearly came when a blade of grass went up my nose while bent over, maybe one of the most unpleasant feelings to date, luckily no damage was done.  Day four proved to be a far better day, as I finally hit my stride.  This is key, once the rhythm has returned, then it is, more or less, coasting. Though I am still struggling to get my tree numbers up, muscle memory has kicked in. Phew! That's half the battle right there.
Tomorrow is our first day off. I'm pretty happy to have a day of rest, the first week is always the most challenging, so the rest will be much appreciated, with a trip to the hot springs in the mix to soak away some of the aches and pains that come with the job. Maybe do my laundry, to wash away at least two layers of mud, and that my socks slide on easy....for at least the first day next shift.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gluten Free Pizza Dough....Take 3

Attempt number three came that much closer into the success realm of gluten free pizza doughs.  I am on the scent and it won't be much longer until I crack the code.
What's that secret ingredient that binds it all together?

I am eager to continue to rise to the challenge, as already milestones have been made from the first recipe.  This time around, the dough was cooked, not translucent in appearance, did not have the potential to chip any teeth and tasted like pizza. Though attempt number two did have improvements, the dough was so rock hard especially in the crust, that teeth were one the verge of endangerment. Luckily, no casualties, but extremely close.

For round three, I dove into research.
Hmmmm. Scratch that statement.
For round three, I tried a new recipe variation. This time around the dough actually cooked, and was airy much like your typical dough. Though still very different.  Downsides: dough did not rise, has no elasticity, and required oiled hands for kneading.  Regardless, the product that came out of the oven, in fact tasted like pizza. That is an achievement in itself. For this round of dough, I shared it with my gracious hosts for the week here in Calgary.  Before I thought to take a picture, the pizza was eaten. A good sign if nothing else!

The recipe is as follows:

1 Tbsp yeast
1 1/3 C just beyond lukewarm water (or warm milk)
1 tsp sugar
1 1/3 C rice flour
2/3 C corn starch (or tapioca flour)
2 tsp guar gum
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cider vinegar
1/3 C cornmeal (gf) (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.
(If using milk, warm in a saucepan until just above room temperature)
In a bowl, add warm water (or milk), yeast and sugar.  Set aside and let yeast do its'll start bubbling into a beautiful froth of sorts.

In another bowl combine all dried ingredients. Stir thoroughly.

Once the yeast has had time to ferment and bubble, add in vinegar and olive oil.  Stir. Then add to the flour. Mix together, making sure all is combined well. Mixture will start looking like dough.  Add a little oil to the dough, and some onto your hands (this dough is sticky!). Begin to gather into a ball.  You can knead it a little.

(I tried to let it rise, and perhaps I did not give it enough time, or the temperature was not right for rising conditions. Regardless, nothing really happened. Next attempt I will test out a longer rise and see what comes of it.)

Because the nature of gluten free dough does not have much elasticity, stretching the dough onto a pizza pan is not going to happen.  Instead, I put the dough in the centre of a greased pan and began patting it outwards. You could also try rolling it. Once all laid out, I stuck it in the oven for about 5 minutes.

Remove from oven, dress it in all your favourite pizza toppings and return to cook for about 10-15 minutes or until crust was looking golden on the outsides.

Reflection: all in all, I'm really impressed with how this version turned out. The cider added a nice flavour.  Upon future attempts, I would like to test out milk instead of water, and tapioca flour instead of corn starch to see if there are any remarkable differences. What would happen if I added an egg?