News & Updates
Manitoba Conquest: My Prairie Planting Prayers are Answered
By Andrew Courtnage
This humble Manitoban tree runner is proud to report a successful season of silviculture adventuring in the Sandiland Provincial forests of South Eastern Manitoba in 2013 as well as a renewed contract in 2014. Working in my home province has always been a dream of mine and I vividly remember many a night off somewhere in BC sitting around the fire drunkenly whispering in the ear of Dirk or John, “Bring Brinkman to the prairies. We are the center. We are the heart. We are the province that will bring the whole company together geographically." So when Robin McCullough informed me that she was running a planting show in the Sandilands, and that they were in need of a tree runner, I felt my proud prairie heart soar, finally my prairie prayers were answered.
I falsely anticipated a logistical cakewalk; after all one thing that surely defines the prairies is the complete absence of slopes or inclines which makes for long stretches of easily navigable arrow-straight roads, and blocks that resemble farmers’ fields. Heck, some of those fields are even site prepped! Easy quadding and driving for me I thought! No way could I have anticipated the unique challenges that prairie planting would present.
Robin, our stalwart, fairy-like supervisor had run a contract here the previous year. This year she would draw myself and fellow Manitoba patriot, Tony Hisco, from the West, as well as some fresh-faced upstarts to reinforce the staff line up. The final lineup consisted of foremen Tony, Mike Homewood, Anna Tocynska, Laurel Ward, Evan Allen, Sable Blake, Laura Little, Pat McBride, with Nick Teramura on quality assessment. Lucie Wardle and Gwyn Anderson deliciously rounded off the cooking component.
Perhaps the first major challenge was picking up the 80 plus planters from the Winnipeg International airport in gale force winds, organizing their massive amount of gear into the trailer and then loading them into the school buses. At one point I became airborne trying to rope down the tarp I was using to cover the big blue trailer. 80 planters are a heck of lot and only 20 of those had any planting experience.
Inside our makeshift mess tent next to the curling rink in the abandoned farm village of Piney, Manitoba, Robin gave hands down the greatest intro welcoming speech I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard some pretty darn good speeches, from Erik's poet-mystic Viking style to Johnny's pacing in Viking boots eloquence to Claude's thickly accented fatherly warnings and good-natured curses. Robin had already developed an entire mythos to support the spiritual aspect of the tribe based on the Eagle power animal, a soul-enriching and morale-boosting cosmology. In fact I believe it could have relevance to the whole company and I’m proud to think she may have the position to implement it in her new role as head of OH&S at the office. Finally assembled in that muddy tabernacle in Piney we formed the ‘Eagle Training Camp.’ Now that I’m writing with eagle-eyed retrospection, the whole season kind of reminds me of the Mighty Ducks movie where a sort of ragtag, inexperienced, riff-raff type team overcomes many obstacles before finally learning to form the Flying V and achieve the Stanley Cup. In our case transmuting into an eagle and planting a heck of a lot of trees.
Managing a ginormous crew of mostly greeners is a massive undertaking, especially when we started the season with an apocalyptic storm. Ninety percent of the tents were underwater within the first couple of shifts, every day our mess tent was half destroyed, and all our tree boxes were repeatedly spread about as if a plane had crashed. To get to the staff table we would cross a bridge made of old planks salvaged from a junk pile. At this point, greeners were dropping like flies. I tried to deliver a rallying speech to half a dozen of them huddled in the swamped dry tent to no avail.
Eventually, in an epically Manitoban maneuver, we actually migrated the entire crew into the curling rink for a few nights until the storm blew by. In typical Brinkman style our resilient spirit carried us through as we discovered that the weird ruins of our mess tent could magically transforming into a psychedelic disco-tech, so we hosted Winnipeg's greatest DJ Co-op for my birthday celebration.
Then the sun came out and folks started to settle into the planting experience. The Sandilands are so named because much of Manitoba is the remains of the bottom of a vast primeval ocean called Lake Aggasiz. The sandy and often brackied soil made for some very rapid planting and I soon realized as a tree runner it would be a big challenge to keep up. The brackie blocks were so flat and Pac-Man-like that planters could calculate exactly how many trees would be planted from the road.
As the days started to heat up drivers were introduced to another obstacle of the Sandilands; sand traps. Unlike mud, which becomes more hazardous as it gets wetter, sand gets stickier as it dries. More than once I bellowed in vain as the fat duellies of my F550 flat deck tree truck sank into a seemingly hard straight away, like a trumpeting elephant into quicksand. Thankfully there was often the famously friendly Manitoban farmer, ready nearby with a tractor to pop me out.
Shedding more greeners and becoming leaner in the process we migrated to the top side of the Sandilands forest near a tiny town called Hadashville. Here the Eagle camp truly started to mature and grow its feathers. Stubborn greeners started to get big numbers; a triad of hard cores, dubbed ‘The Whippersnappers,’ would consistently out-plant the crew.
Another notable and unique hazard was the tic epidemic. Sometimes I’d roll up my pant legs to find a whole civilization of the little buggers gorging themselves on my ankles. At camp planters could be observed grooming each other like chimpanzees in a National Geographic special.
Some notable planting trials included planting around a sandy dirt bike arena filled with drunken, gypsy rednecks, planting in a narrow block shaped like an impossibly long twisty tube designed as an owl habitat, and attempting to plant in an enormous waterlogged marsh where I almost completely submerged the quad several times with much bellowing, gnashing of teeth and flexing of muscles. Here I learned to admire the resiliency of the burgeoning planters and foremen. Here the eagle got its wings.
In the end I believe our client was pleased and overall impressed by our planting performance as well as the versatility and organization of our camp. We shared reefer space with a company who, to my amazement, didn't use a single load binder to secure their tree loads. I foresee new areas of conquest for Brinkman in Manitoba in the future. The Eagle camp will return to the Sandilands this year hardened and more experienced, ready to pound and proudly represent this most honourable of planting companies in the prairies.