Remember when you were a kid, and the only way you could escape a day of grueling elementary school was if it snowed in such tremendous quantities overnight that the school buses couldn’t function? The proverbial Snow Day. Many a night I would pray for this white, flaky miracle. Crazy carpets would replace cramped desks, and a giddy sense of freedom would replace the authoritarian stares of teachers as I frolicked through powdery snow.
Tree Planters are a bit more ambivalent about snow days. Its Tuesday and I wake up to a strange pattering sound above me. This is soon followed by a chorus of groans and oaths as my crew members painfully liberate themselves from their tents. Which is hard enough with the aches of the morning, the impossibility of standing up inside your tent and the confusion of zippers. But add the surprise of a foot of snow sitting innocently outside your door, and the “Why’s” begin to overwhelm you. Why am I subjecting myself to these un-natural tortures? Why does it snow in May? Why am I awake at 530? And so on, until the thought of suicide in the face of outrageous fortune’s slings and arrows crosses your mind.
Or, simply put in the rough eloquence of the planter in the tent next to me as she crawled out into the snow: “F#*$ my life.”
A few days earlier, someone had informed me that there is nothing that justifies a day off tree planting. So, in a state of shock and resignation, I stumbled down to the mess tent. Big, wet flakes of snow caked on my insufficient fleece. My hands retreated like the limbs of a stunned turtle into the shelter of my sleeves. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to work.
I made my PB&J sandwiches for lunch and then stood stoically in the long breakfast line. I finally got into the kitchen for a tea and some chocolate oatmeal that began to bring me out of my existential stupor.
Finally, word got through the frozen grape vine that planting would in fact be cancelled. Vets walked nonchalantly into the mess tent as if they knew it all along. Supposedly, your hands freeze up after 50 trees or so and your pathetic little line of saplings can’t be seen or followed through the snow. So you can’t plant.
Its a strange feeling to get an unexpected day off as a planter. We come here to make money, albeit in a fun, challenging and dignified manner. A day off means a day spent in the wilderness making no money (and of course spending it in town). A day off is something we all pray for secretly, but something that disappoints the stronger parts of us.
Someone suggests a nostalgic return to the Snow Days of our childhoods. Snow fights, forts, angels. I raise my feet in a warm hotel room, flip lazily through a Grisham novel and think to myself: snow fights? sounds like a day in a Siberian gulag.