Many people don’t make it through their first season of tree-planting. The reasons vary, from injury to home sickness or some other combination of factors. They swear it is the worst job in the world, they pawn all their gear off to the highest bidders. They aren’t wrong! The bottom line is that the job can be miserable. The ones that do make it fight hard for it every day. But what is it that sets it apart from other jobs: is it the physical or the mental strain?
Planting trees is an extreme physical challenge pushing the body to its limits. The potential for injury is sky high. I have heard it compared to running a marathon every day in heavy boots. Add to that fifty pounds of seedlings and hurdling over piles of deadfall.
Not only is the actual repetitive motion of the job strenuous, but every planter is at the mercy of the elements. Blinding sun, driving snow, pouring rain and incessant bugs are just some of the things to look forward to on a daily basis. The planters that excel are ‘machines’, planting thousands of trees a day, sometimes surpassing the five thousand mark and beyond. I always found that level of physicality inspiring.
It was the physical intensity that initially drew me to tree planting. I wanted to find out what my body could handle. I wanted to work in a challenging physical environment. As it turned out it wasn’t the physicality I found most challenging, but my mentality took a beating. By the end of my first shift I was certain I would have to quit, but somehow I managed to hang on by a thread. For most planters that is the daily reality, you’re just barely hanging on.
Luckily most tree planters have notoriously bad memories or at least selective ones. At the end of everyday, all of the struggles are set aside and the slate is wiped clean and ready for the next challenge. People force themselves to only remember the good, it makes the job a little more palatable. We forget the bugs and cold, but remember the accomplishment. You’re left feeling fulfilled.
If you take anything away from your experience as a planter it is that you can accomplish anything if you break it down into bite sized chunks. Whatever you do, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. It is a lot easier to focus on one tree at a time rather than dreading the hard work ahead of you. In treeplanting we use the term “one by one, all day long”.
The fact is that anyone is capable of becoming a tree planter. I have seen people from every demographic, forty plus year olds and eighteen year olds, men and women, tall and short, but I have never noticed one physical advantage that set anyone apart. It’s a mental edge.
A tree planter must have the understanding that the mind drives the body, and to really succeed they must have an unwillingness to quit. You will be more sore than ever before, you’ll be hotter, colder and wetter than you’ve ever felt (at least I was), but grim determination can help anyone push past the physical discomfort, it helps you hang on.
Every planter has to find what drives them mentally to do their best. Planting is most often described as an individual job, it is highly self-motivated and competitive. You compete both with yourself and other planters. Every planter strives to outdo their personal bests and to keep up with their co-workers. This friendly competition works in our favour. It is what drives planters to dig a little deeper and push that much harder to excel.
You’re also surrounded by other planters enduring the same struggle and you always have the team’s support. It might be as simple as your planting partner convincing you to do another “bag-up”, or just having people to joke around with or complain with. Whatever it may be, the support helps.
So why do we do it?
Mentally it always helps to remember the impact you’re having. Remember that when you strap on your bags and pick up your shovel you’re helping a forest grow. We should all strive to revitalize our environment, and planting trees is one of the most tangible methods. You can see the positive impact you’re having, you can watch it grow.
The challenges, both mental and physical, help to give you perspective on how fragile the environment can be and how much effort it takes to maintain it. Companies like tentree are excellent leaders in environmental stewardship.
Hopefully they demonstrate that we all have a part to play in our environment. There are many ways to play that part, but if you’re feeling up for a challenge, tree planting is a rewarding choice.