A Day in the Life of a Tree Planter

Have you ever wondered what the day-to-day is like for those amazing people that replenish our forests? Being a tree planter is certainly no easy job. We met Alexander through Instagram, and soon discovered that he had spent time planting with TreeEra’s partner planter, Brinkman & Associates Ltd. He answered some of our most burning questions about the daily life of a tree-planter. Enjoy:

What does a day in the life of a tree-planter look like?

A normal day for a tree planter varies when you glance between the rookies and the hardened veterans. So I will start with taking you back to my first year as a planter. Personally, I made the classic rookie mistake of over packing. I was getting off the bus with a bag I could barely lift off the ground as the vets stood by the camp fire with a beer in hand. The season starts in early May and at that point in Northwest Ontario the ground has thawed but you can still see patches of snow in the shaded areas of the forest. In order for me to set up my tent I actually had to clear some snow out of the way. We had an orientation and then the next day started the routine.
Wake up time is at 5.00am or 5.20am if you wanted to sleep in and don’t mind to rush around. At 6.10am everyone had to be standing in front of the buses for our daily safety meetings. The mornings were freezing cold, even for the vet planters. I remember having left my boots outside my tent and the morning dew had created a layer of frost that crackled around my ankles as I tied my laces. Our cooks Scott and Dylan were awesome, the food was amazing and you knew breakfast was ready when they ran the triangle bell hanging outside the kitchen trailer. As a vet I would always pack my lunches first because of the rush and then have breakfast. In the morning you had to collect everything you need for the day. This means at least 8–9 liters of water, a day bag which would have your lunch in it, a rain coat, sunscreen, bug spray and a planter’s best friend… duct tape. But one of the most important things you can have in your day bag would be a dry sweater! You also need to keep an eye on your planting bags, shovel, hard hat, planting gloves and safety glasses.
Bus rides to and from the block will be in my memories forever. It’s like the moments before heading into battle, a battle for the environment. The bus kicks up dust from the dirt road, loud music is being played and all you can hear is the sound of duct tape being torn from people taping the fingers of their “draw hand” or “tree hand” and their boots. Taping your laces is a good trick so that you don’t have to waste time retying you boots later on, also you want to tape the tops of your boots to your leggings to prevent debris from falling into your boots.
Tree Planters have to be prepared for everything, you plant in the rain, hail, sleet, or snow with little exceptions. Planters also have to be prepared for rolling starts, long walk-ins, pair-planting and days were you’re completely alone. Anxiety builds as the bus starts to approach the block, everyone is waiting to see what type of land is the challenge for the day. Often you hear a roar of rookies gasping in fear and vets shouting the word “CREAM!” The Foreman will show you the land you’re meant to plant and then takes off to set in the next planter, assuring you that they’ll be back within the hour. As a rookie I could hardly figure out how to fit 400 trees into my planting bags but by the time I was a hardened vet I was doing 600 tree bag ups, on occasion. The goal is to try and plant each bag-up in one hour or less to be able to make the most out of your day. Getting back on the bus is one of the best feelings in the world, nothing but smiles and high fives being thrown around everywhere. It doesn’t take long for a rookie to be accepted by all the veteran planters because we’re all fighting the same fight and battling in the same elements. Together we sit on the bus and we share our numbers for the day and the different challenges we faced such as fallen trees, rock caps or big hills. We laugh and try to guess what’s going to be for dinner, that’s always the hot topic of discussion after any day of planting and it was usually ready as the busses roll into camp. It’s in your best interest to fill your water jugs up at night to avoid the morning rush. As “tent o’clock” rolls around you’ll see that most people have gone to bed, unless you’re a part of the late night crew.

How does it feel to have contributed to so many tons of CO2 being sequestered?

Especially with these last few years being the hottest on record, it feels great to be amongst people who are like-mindedly trying to minimize environmental damages. I feel honor in having been a tree planter.

What is the most rewarding part of tree planting?

The most rewarding part of tree planting is knowing that when you put your mind to it, you can accomplish unimaginable challenges. When you go tree planting you may feel weak but that no matter what gets thrown at you, when you make it to the end of the season, you’ve proven to yourself that you are strong.

What is the most difficult part of tree planting?

I first looked at this question and wanted to say the bugs hands down are the most difficult part of tree planting but then I thought well constantly being wet is also extremely difficult. Planting trees in no easy task in itself either, people just get better at doing it. Then on another hand the cold is difficult, the heat is difficult and giving your best every day is difficult, so all in all I have to warn everyone that being a tree planter is generally hard work.

What do trees mean to you?

Trees mean a lot to me. I love being outdoors and hearing the sounds of the earth beneath my feet as I walk, sounds like twigs snapping and leaves crunching. Returning home after a season of tree planting is actually a weird feeling because you’re walking on pavement and when you’re going to sleep so no longer hear the sound of wind cutting through the trees. That’s what I miss the most about tree planting. When I look at trees I feel grounded and connected to the earth.

From you experience, what do trees do for the environment? Why should we plant more trees?

Trees do so much for our environment. Not only do they clean and provide us with the air we breathe but they also provide animals with homes. Also, it’s also incredible to think that an animal as big as the Moose eat spruce needles. There are an endless amounts of reasons why we should be planting more trees. They slow soil erosion and help reduce the temperature, the benefits are endless.

How many trees have you planted?

I’ve planted 300,000 trees.

Thank you, Alex, for taking the time to chat with us and for your amazing contribution to our environment.