By Midnight Oil
Blog 18 (In memory of tree planting, which usually starts on May 1)
Beds Are Burning
My first blog said:
“Gene Simmons, the blood-spewing, fire breathing bassist and singer for the band KISS, says that the music boys listened to in their teens is most often the music they will gravitate to for the rest of their lives. (He said the same doesn’t hold true for girls, whose musical tastes, he says, often change with the times.)
What Simmons says about the male music audience resonates with me.
Music I listened to as a teenager, or younger, still resonates with me and it’s the music I still listen to most.”
The song that follows is from later in life and doesn’t resonate as strong but it does always remind me of tree planting.
The video evokes the hot, dusty desolation you sometimes feel when you’re planting trees, and it` reminds me of planting trees in Ontario when I was about 22.
It seemed this song came on the radio every morning when the 20 of us jumped in the work vans and headed out to work. (The vans were white delivery vans with no seats and we piled in the back and bounced around all the way to work on the metal floor.)
There was a French kid from Quebec on our crew who was taking mathematics at university. Whenever the Beds Are Burning song came on he’d say, “Why does he keep 'asking how can we dance when our earth is turning?' It’s easy. It’s gravity.”
I thing he may have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome.
This time of year is when thousands of tree planters set out to various camps across Canada to begin a two month adventure of planting trees. The peak season usually runs from May 1 to July 1.
I planted trees for six seasons, for a total of 12 months, and I planted trees mostly in B.C., but also in Alberta and Ontario. All told I would say I planted about 250,000 trees. The most trees I planted in a single day was 3,000 trees.
EVERYTHING THAT FOLLOWS IS FROM MY SECOND YEAR OF TREE PLANTING, which took place in Ontario. This was about 25 years ago and I was about 22 years old.
Tree planting can be hard on the body and on the mind, and people quit for various reasons.
One reason people quit tree planting is because of the bugs. Clouds of mosquitos and black flies can make life a living hell.
One day we were planting on swampy ground and we were taking a break. A girl on our crew asked if I would kill the mosquitos on her back. Her shirt had at least 100 mosquitos on it and I must have squished at least 20 every time I patter her back. It was nightmarish.
Another problem is what people call crotch rot. It’s not really a serious problem but I find it amusing that we had two people on our crew that quit because of it, so I thought I’d talk about it. (What is more common is something called ‘beaver fever,’ which people get from drinking bad water. It gives you diarrhea. Also common is Poison Ivy).
Some tree planting camps have portable showers, which is like paradise because you can take a shower every night when you get back to camp.
We never had a camp shower in our second year in Ontario and I remember one guy quit because he had crotch rot, probably from not showering. What is crotch rot? It’s basically when the inside of your thighs are rubbing together as such a high rate that the friction creates sores between your legs. I remember this guy could barely walk anymore and he quit.
The same thing happened to another guy on our crew who had crotch rot in his armpits. He was a big guy and everybody liked him but he was always complaining about how much his armpits hurt. He tried everything to reduce the friction but nothing worked, and then one day he put down his shovel, went back to camp, and went home. He didn’t say goodbye to anybody.
I always associate his quitting with seeing a black bear because, around the same time, (it might have been the same day) I remember a bunch of us standing around when a huge black bear ran at full speed right past us, about 50 metres away. In all my years of tree planting I saw many black bears but never did I see one running so fast so close to me. It was amazing.
LOST ALL MY GEAR
My second year of tree planting got off to a bad start. I lost all my gear, clothes and equipment.
I was on the bus from Calgary to Kapuskasing, Ontario. I had to transfer buses in Thunder Bay. Greyhound messed up my schedule and put me in a hotel overnight. I put my backpack in a locker at the Greyhound station and took a cab to the hotel.
The next morning I took a cab back to the Greyhound station and went to get my stuff and it was all gone.
I think I might have lost my key in the cab the night before. Somebody found the key, went to the station and grabbed all my stuff.
I had no work clothes, no tent and no sleeping bag. I wasn’t sure if I should go back to Calgary or go to Kapuskasing. I decided to go to Kapuskasing. When I got there I told my boss what had happened. He talked to people on the crew and managed to rummage up everything I needed, including work boots, a tent, and a sleeping bag.
What I remember most about Kapuskasing is the hotel we stayed at on our days off.
Tree planters work Monday to Saturday, go into town Saturday night, take Sunday off and go back to camp Sunday night and get ready for work on Monday morning.
Anyway, this hotel in Kapuskasing had the most powerful shower in the world. Our room was in the basement of this huge, old hotel. The shower was like a fire hose. It nearly tore my skin off. It was a huge blast of water and I loved it.
Here’s the hotel:
The next place we worked was near a town called Kirkland Lake. What I remember most about Kirkland Lake was a dairy bar I went to on our days off. They had the best milkshake and the best calzones ever created in the history of mankind. I must have had ten of them every time we had a day off.
Also, there were lots of bars in Kirkland Lake and we hit them all. I remember everybody dancing and having a good time, and I also remember being at a blues bar one night when a fellow from our crew got up on stage and started playing the harmonica with the band that was playing. He blew the roof right off the place with that harmonica. He was awesome.
Here’s Kirkland Lake:
GUYS AND GIRLS
Our crew had about 20 people on it, half guys and half girls.
I think the ratio has something to do with how attractive girls find the boss.
You usually stay at a camp with one or two other crews and it often seemed to be the case that when the boss was a guy the girls went bonkers over that the crew was filled with girls, or if it was a crew where the girls didn’t go bonkers over the boss, then the crew was mostly guys. I guess girls thought our crew boss was somewhere in between.
Our camp had a crew where there was a boss the girls went bonkers over. He had about 20 girls on his crew and maybe five guys. It was interesting to watch how he’d always be surrounded by flocks of girls who seemed to swoon over his every move and were always vying for his attention. It was crazy.
Anyway, Our crew had the fastest planter. He’d always come back to camp at the end of the day having planted 2,000 or 3,000 trees.
He was there with an older brother. His brother never said a word. He was a big fellow and was a reasonably good planter but didn’t socialize with anybody and kept to himself. Some of the planters talked about how he never talked. Personally I couldn’t care less if he never talked. Anyway, one day the brother who planted a lot of trees was fed up with how some of the people on the crew were treating his brother and they both quit.
I remember the same sort of situation when I was in high school. There was a guy in our Grade 11 English class who never said a word. If you saw him walk past you, he seemed perfectly normal, but in class he seemed to be in a daze and seemed to be living in his own world.
Anyway, his sister took the same class with him and seemed highly protective of him.
She was very pretty. I remember one time during class I got in a debate with her and our teacher about abstract art. I was telling her and our teacher, who was a woman, that abstract art was nonsense but neither of them agreed with me and tried to convince me it wasn’t garbage. (30 years later I’m not so militant in my disregard for abstract art, but I can’t say I’m a fan or anything)
Anyway, people sometimes whispered about the brother and his lack of engagement and a few months into the class they both quit and I never saw them again.
Anyway, back to tree planting.
When the season came to an end a group of people on our crew invited me to spend the weekend with them in Toronto. One of the fellows had a father who must have been fairly well off because he had a spare apartment in Toronto that he rarely used, so about eight of us stayed there for the weekend.
There was a bit of a glitch on the way to Toronto. We stopped in a town called North Bay to transfer buses. A bunch of us went to the liquor store to buy booze. I bought a bottle of Wild Turkey. Most of the crew was sitting on the ground back at the bus station and somebody asked me what I bought. I pulled the bottle out of the bag and when I did the bus driver walked by. He looked at my bottle and said none of us were getting on his bus.
I couldn’t believe it.
Anyway, I thought the whole crew would be mad at me but nobody seemed to mind. A lot of the guys and girls on our crew had matched up with one another so another night of partying before everybody went their separate ways seemed to be a good idea.
DEGRASSI JUNIOR HIGH
The next day we finally got back to Toronto. During that weekend we went to a Blue Jays game, went to see George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, and hung out with two fellows from the TV show Degrassi Junior High.
My tree planting friend who’s dad owned the apartment was friends with one of the cast members. He was one of the guys who was only on the show now and again, so I can’t remember what character he played, but another crew member that was with us was the tall red-head kid who played Snake (Stefan Brogen).
FOOLISH KID WHO TOOK ACID
Anyway we were at the bar one night and there were a bunch of people I didn’t know.
I remember one kid there talking about how he went through a stage in his life a couple of years earlier where he was popping acid.
He seemed very regretful of the decision because, even though he seemed normal, he said his mind was messed up.
What was most odd about it was that, to try to work his way through his feelings of abnormality, his parents sent him to a camp in the U.S., I think it was Arizona or New Mexico, where he was encouraged to take more acid.
When he took the acid at this camp he was encouraged to work his way through his feelings until he felt better about his state of mind. I’m not joking.
I’m no psychologist, but this sort of therapy seemed sort of silly, even dangerous. I could hardly believe what he was saying.
Anyway, when the weekend was over I took the bus back to Calgary.
I remember a couple times during dinner at camp there was an argument among the girls on our crew as to who was greater, Michael Jackson or Prince.
I sided with Prince.
Here's the proof:
Forget the beginning, just skip ahead to the 5:35 mark where he starts with All Along the Watch Tower, and quickly goes into The Best of You, followed by Purple Rain.