Planting Trees Was Life Changing

I Got To Know Myself As Never Before

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“Tree planting” by 2hoursperweek is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Everyone Is A Rookie Once

So, how did I come to be planting trees for a living for the first time ever at the age of 38? The short answer is that I was working a summer job as a mature, returning student. The long answer, in retrospect, is that maybe part of me knew it would heal me if it didn’t break me.

Everyone Starts From Scratch

I didn’t realize that nothing prepares a person to plant trees for a living except planting trees for a living. Former military members, manual laborers, triathletes and even people who worked as forestry laborers doing something else were equally unprepared.

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Photo by Anaya Katlego on Unsplash
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Deer on clear cut land, photograph by author

I Learned My Superpower Was Also My Weakness — I Don’t Give Up

That headline above — it’s in my mind right now in my oldest child’s voice. From only a week ago. He’s in his first year of university, stressed out about finances and frustrated that my husband and I don’t have our own finances in order yet. He’s worried about if money troubles could mean he has to drop out. I snapped at him to not make excuses for being a quitter (yeah, I’m not always the most empathetic person) and he pointed out that I don’t know when to quit. He may be right. Planting trees made me aware of how much this not quitting is my strength and weakness.

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Me after running my second marathon, with a stomach bug, something I may not have accomplished had I not planted trees. Photo by author’s husband, Jody Dugas.

Sometimes I Was Just A Bag of Meat and Bones — And That Was Okay

One thing that really changed was my relationship to my body. To reach the point I was able to make real money planting, I had to submit to simply doing the work, regardless of how I felt. Food became “fuel” , simply something I ingested for the sole purpose of keeping the machine-body of mine going. I didn’t care I kept eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches. Once I dropped my banana in the mud and just said “*%@# it!” and ate it anyway. It was still fuel. Many days all I really thought of was this repeating rhythm of “step, step,plant”, over and over. It turns out the human body really is made to do nothing but walk and carry and bend over for hours a day, day after day. One of my co-workers said what we were doing was “unnatural”, but I’d argue that if that was the case, how come people of all ages, shapes and sizes are able to do this job? We all just sleep, wake up, eat, move around, and eliminate wastes day after day, every day. It’s just the proportions and degrees of these things that change. One of my work friends found this depressing. He said, “I just feel like an animal. Like a machine. All I’m good for is just moving all the time, putting trees in the ground, and eating and going to bed when I get home.” Sometimes I found this depressing, too. But mostly I was amazed at the miracle of what my body could do, and the beauty of all our bodies and their capabilities. I don’t think I really appreciated how much just a “sack of bones” can do. My body’s beauty became more about its capabilities than it’s appearance.

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“Permadirt” on hands. Photograph by author.

I Discovered the Limits of Being My Own Company

Oftentimes, we worked on our own for a whole nine hours. We could see the heads of other people in the distance, and if you yelled somebody could hear you. But essentially, you were on your own.

I Stopped Sweating the Small Stuff

I used to really, really obsess about doing things the “right way”. The problem with it was that trying to do things perfectly really got in the way of getting them done in time, or at all. I think this was a large part of why I hit a really long plateau planting trees in my first year. I tried to space all the trees absolutely perfectly. I would check each tree to see it was in the ground tightly. I’d look around me and step between trees I planted, judging distance and replanting to make adjustments. Another planter walked past me and asked what I was doing one of these times I was checking. When I told him, he said, “Just plant trees. Let the foreman check. That’s what he’s paid for.”

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“Make do” rain gear. Photo by author.

I Learned We All Have Our Stories

In contrast to the long hours alone, the commutes in the work truck, and time in our living quarters when away from home, were filled with people. Even for those with cell phones, reception was spotty, and the jostling of bodies in the truck thwarted any attempts at reading. So what did we do? We told stories.

So, Was Planting Trees My “Destiny”? Did I Find What I Needed?

I don’t know.

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My husband and me planting trees. Photo by author.

I’m a business trainer specializing in workplace wellness and environmental sustainability. In my spare time I dabble as a mad scientist and street philosopher.

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