Tree Planting has a strange sociological aspect to it. You are forced through great tests of endurance, through a form near torture, with a group of people. The bonds with others galvanize quickly as you struggle synchronically. But when push comes to shove, some different qualities can emerge that put the epithet ‘team’ into question. Qualities of the job that, in the moment, are downright stressful. But humorous from a distance.
Characterized in a certain way, treeplanting is a very selfish undertaking. You get paid for the trees you plant. And if other people are impeding your ability to plant trees, there can be friction.
For example, the van leaves at seven. Every minute I have to wait in the van after seven is a wasted minute on the block. So if I am sitting there as one of my crew members stumbles down the hill from his tent with one boot half-on, a muffin stuffed in his mouth, a desperate, half-asleep look in the eyes, a trail of personal effects scattering the ground behind him, I don’t take sympathy. I don’t care that they probably don’t have time to prepare a lunch or fill their water bottles or eat a warm breakfast. Its criminal to be late in the morning.
That said, the only form of punishment for such base acts is the silent treatment – an effective form of public humiliation/ ostracization.
The fear of this and the circus of the morning mess tent have encouraged me to evolve into a ‘morning person’. Every day, I hit snooze one less time and embrace the moment of suffering when, like a terrified crustacean exposed between shells, I crawl between my sleeping bag and my work pants.
Its not much better on the planting block. Planters aren’t very talented at sharing trees, or their land for that matter. When we close off a block, the whole crew can all get placed on the same track of land to finish it off. As space rapidly closes up, we often start jostling for space, stealing eachother’s lines, little Pac-men trying to score a few more points before we move on to the next level.
Let me return to the vagaries of the breakfast mess tent. At 630 am, 30 late planters rush in to simultaneously to grab breakfast and pack their lunches. They are disgruntled bears forced at an un-natural hour out of comfortable hibernation. The demand for lunch supplies is stratospheric. I eat 3 PB&J sandwiches, two fully loaded tuna sandwiches, 3 apples, a banana and some trail mix during a day. And I wouldn’t survive without it.
If you show up late to the feeding frenzy, you face supply shortage and viscious self-preservation. I once grabbed the last eight pieces of bread out of the bin, already fearing for my afternoon wellbeing. A few delapidated slices of spam were left strewn in the meat tray. And the poor guy next to me asks if he can have a few pieces. After a drawn out “aaaaaaaah…” I ended up giving him only the end pieces. I felt like a giant douche when a new box of bread showed up, but I honestly believed that my survival hung in the balance. Killing a man for a slice of white Wonderbread – it could seem justified during the morning gongshow. Good thing they use a dull spatula in the peanut butter jar.
Sometimes we forget that we are interdependent and we regress to barbarism. But in general, a diffuse sense of comaraderie usually pervades common spaces. There is more to life than money, and calories.