This is a ludicrous admission but since I cannot find a reason not to write it, I simply will. Well, a few ludicrous admissions actually.
Admission No. 1. More often than not, as I have written before, I find myself in my home, dressed head to toe in work clothes, work tights, work socks, with haggard face and sometimes dirty body. Sometimes I even wear boots, indoors. There is a hard hat in my wardrobe. It is grey and has splattered winter white paint across the front. (Yes, I know this is absurd). What I have noticed lately is that I seem to fall into my second skin when I am not paying attention, or when I am anxious or when I need to quiet my thoughts. I free fall easily into it. That second skin being that of a tree planter, or the version of myself this past summer. (I know I keep writing about this, and let me apologize if it becomes very obnoxious to read; but I simply have to write down what comes out about that entire experience this summer, because trust me, I did not write a damn thing when I was there. So. With that said, I am going to stop apologizing for being a tree planter and just get on with my confessional). Okay, sometimes when I am home I step back into the bush even if it is only through my clothes. I like to listen to a very specific chain of music in a very specific order and through this, I am transported to a place in my head where all I can see is land. If my head were to be cracked open during one of these quiet nights, it would probably look like a chunk of Boreal forest (clear cut et al) and it is pretty ridiculously pretty. When things quiet down (even if there is music playing--vinyl or headphones) it is almost as if my mind snaps open and it is only then in that tiny window of retrospect that I am finally able to write down what happened. Anecdotes march in, memories in short film-like form are projected against a wall in my head and I watch all of the faces that I would have died to photograph roll past.
These are all the people I told multiple times a week that I would kill to photograph:
- Stu Hatch (a half Brit, half Chinese sinewy beauty with almond eyes the color of green sea water)
- Alex Sikoursky (a giant, ginger-haired Russian with the hairiest body and the sparkliest eyes and the most delicate taste in music. He also had the most amazing yelling voice I have ever encountered. Whenever we would be late leaving the Block, Zach would get Alex to climb onto the roof of the bus to yell for the slowpoke of the crew. I am positive he was an extra in the Lord of the Rings series)
- Jim (Harry Potter goes tree planting; adorable and tender and humble wrapped up in one goofy ball. This man could quip like Josh Ruth)
- Matt Perez (intense eyes, one blue and one green with long dreads. He radiated blue/green light and had been living in China in a temple in the mountains learning Karate from a Master just before he came planting. Insane. He caught me off guard and kissed me once during a full moon and my standards for surprise make-outs were forever altered)
- Larry Legend (basically the most good looking french man you can ever conjure up in your imagination, that is Larry. S-E-X-Y of the untouchable variety)
- Nikki (a living dirt fairy with long, long curly hair and a passionate Quebeciose accent who wore round sunglasses better than any woman I have ever met. She told me once while we were prepping carrot sticks on a day off that she liked to garden in the nude. My kind of woman. Her children will be unbelievable creatures. Also, watching her interact with Christian, her brother, made me miss my siblings terribly)
- The Piglets: Jason and Christine (one of the most insane couples I have ever encountered. You really have to meet them to understand. They met in Drama Club in high school years ago and have been in love ever since their first onstage kiss. Amazing. Anytime I was drunk I would interview them because I couldn't get enough. Conversations with the Piglets were like a drug to me)
- Dan White (never called just Dan, Dan White was like that token boy in grade three that no one could stand, but everyone loved dearly. The summer would not have been right without him. Dan White once made bird noises for eight straight hours. No lie. He also got naked at five thirty in the morning one day while singing The Animal Song and body surfed the length of the crew bus, which is quite an impressive feat)
- Sarah McCaw (if I had had my camera the day McCaw felt into the swamp up to her neck, I would be a millionaire now. Seriously. I almost died from laughter and despair that day. I never thought being sucked down by a swamp was an actual reality until that moment. I do not remember how we got her or the quad that was loaded with about two thousand trees when it sank, out)
- Alex Nosrat (he had the driest sense of humor and a ridiculously good personality and eyes you could see shining all the way across the field. He usually had an eagle feather stuck into his hardhat and a planted in a football jersey made for an eleven year old boy. He was amazing and an eternal land slut)
- Dave Chianci (a Montreal Italian who I never saw without one of those expensive baseball hats on his head and diamonds in his ears. Enough said)
-Matt Markel (I don't know where to begin. We just got each other. I wish I had my camera the day he found me crying on the side of the road after deciding to leave the initial man in my life. His face at the moment he saw my train wreck face? Click, snap, amazing)
*Interesting roster. The women didn't make that great of an impression on me I suppose. This is just the tip of the iceburg of some of the amazing personalities I met. I met the shortest lived love of my life with the greatest mouth on the plantet. Oh, that. Amazing.
Anyway, this year I will not make the same grave mistake.
Back to Stu, he was the first planter that I noticed to have "the walking T". Straight back, broad everything, a T frame of perfect proportion that comes from months of insane physical labor and a hyper metabolism. Basically, he had the body of a teen gladiator. Retarded. He also had one of the most interesting faces I have ever seen in my life. He had the darkest brown scarecrow hair and all summer he asked me to cut it off for him. For some reason I never did. I think it was too appropriate to cut. Stu taught me how to plant fast. After planting with him for three days, my quality took a nose-dive and my productivity tripled. We never would have pair planted together if it weren't for Jim (Jim looks like a 21 year old Harry Potter. He was nerdy and free spirited at the same time. It was a beautiful combination of character that he wore well. I bet he was a wizard or a prince in another lifetime). Jim kept slutting (slutting means poaching someone else's land, or cheating the system for selfish purposes, kind of) Stu's land and eventually Stu was so fed up he stormed onto my piece and said, "fuck this. Today we're pair planting". The three of us were initially put on this monster piece together. Picture a giant, giant, giant hill that dips down into four weird valleys, each divided by a series of short corridors and then cut the entire thing in three. Just as he was passing our dividing flag line, I was puking my brains out at my cache. Heat stroke? Dehydration? I forget. Anyway, I finished puking and was wiping my mouth when I noticed Stu coming with his long staff. All I remember thinking was, "Oh no. He's going to make me keep up with him". And he did. And he did. Stu taught me how to plant and run at the same time. Stu whipped my ass into shape. Thanks, man.
I go back to those few days quite often. I was probably the happiest then and maybe the strongest. Either way, I remember details clearly. It is strange. I am scared for the day that I lose those memories. I am terrified I will develop dementia when I am old and grey.
There are lots of days I go back to. I could write a book about days with K on the Block. Eyes meeting in mirrors. Whoa. There is one day with Alfie that I will never forget (I hope). We were both stripped down to our very truest selves that day, planting side by side in a swarm of black flies in this insane piece. It had five secret gardens and a huge dark abyss (think Garden State, but less scary and more lush and sandy). It was like the Secret Garden, times a million. Alfie and I decided to attack a 3K piece together instead of taking 1500 trees each (keeping in mind this was a bit of an ambitious move considering we only had a day to finish it and had only been planting for about 13 days by that point) and planting in the middle of nowhere. When I say the middle of nowhere, I mean the middle of nowhere. You could kill people out there and no one would ever find the body. I'm talking land that has never been treaded by human feet before (a concept that blew my mind on the regular). So there we were, planting along, chattering in our usual rapid fire way when one of us (probably me) piped up with the idea to pretend that we were not planting, but were in fact sitting on the patio at Bar Italia drinking ice cold Hoegaardens. The ones that you have to drink with two hands. So we did. We pretended. We prattled on and on about life and relationships and family and beliefs and art and politics and food and and music and fears and hopes and dreams just the way we would have if we were actually at Bar I. Three hours passed in the blink of an eye and that was the day I learned pace and fluidity. We finished, barely. I doubt we will ever share another day like that again, and I treasure the thought now.
Admission No. 2. I know everyone listened to them in Grade Nine, but I only started listening to Radiohead this summer and it blew my brains in half. Every time I put it on, I felt a little embarassed until I stopped caring enough just to listen and enjoy it. Thom Yorke's voice sounds good early, early in the morning when the dew is still low and heavy and the sun is rising mauve and there are rabbits all over the gravel road. Thom Yorke's voice sounds really good after a fourteen hour day and someone is handing out their leftover purple electrolyte water (sweet water becomes like a drug out there after a long day. For me at least, maybe because I could never be bothered to pack it at 4:30 in the morning) in the bus and there is jazz between your lips with a toque pulled low and you are warm in wool because you ran for the bus just before the fourth rain of the day hit. Radiohead becomes very interesting then. I would listen to Here We Go Magic on Joyce Rd when we were ten clicks from camp. DM Stith was played every single morning as we pulled into the Block. It is devastating music, but I think it was appropriate because seeing the clear cuts for the first time every morning was also devastating. Joanna was played like a best friend when the rain came and it was lightening too hard to do anything except listen to Joanna Newsome while crouching on a log underneath a tarp at the cache, praying you won't get electrocuted. Shit, those were scary moments. Cat Power weaseled her way to the top of my playlist near in the last three weeks of the season. But only tracks from her Jukebox album and nothing else. Whitest Boy Alive was played everyday as we pulled into camp for the day, and then played repeatedly until my boots were off and I was horizontal in my tent.
It only dawned on me a few days ago that the only thing I took in this summer as far as learning/increased intelligence was concerned at tree camp, was music. And I didn't even have my iPod. I had Thom's and while his taste is impeccable, it was still not my iPod. I couldn't write, I couldn't read, I couldn't draw, I couldn't spell, I couldn't color, I couldn't cook, I couldn't multiply, I couldn't imagine, I couldn't do anything except look around and listen and eat Mel's food and work to death and sleep like the dead. That was enough. And that is the reason why I can only handle that lifestyle in doses. It was a completely different style of learning than I had ever experienced before. I encourage it to anyone who is willing to try it. It is so foreign at first. All the things I was used to in the city had no merit out there. No one gave a shit what bike I rode or what length my bangs were, or what books I liked to read, or what type of saddle I coveted, or how clean my bathroom is on the regular. What mattered was nothing more than being true. It was that simple. Who are you at your very barest? That is what you become when thrown into a giant patchwork of personalities who are going through the same withdrawal. There is no such thing as sensory overload in the bush. Another a wild thought.
I trust that the Richards' or the Rags' or the Sulas' or the Erins' in my life will be frank with me and tell me that enough is enough. I will continue to write but not publish another word about my summer as a tree planter. But I must say, there is something exciting about publishing whatever I want on the subject. I find writing on here and posting at my leisure a socially acceptable way to expel appropriate inappropriateness. Please forgive me if I have nauseated any one in the process.