News & Updates
Matty's War: Special Reserves Called to Duty East of Matheson, South of Nowhere, Ontario
By Matty Brown
As soon as I hang up I realize I don’t have any bags. That’s the problem with being out of The Game a while— you’re not expecting a call to pinch hit—least of all one that involves bagging up. When’s the last time I did that? But here I am thanking Judi Tetro for the opportunity when it occurs to me that I’ve given her nephews most of my planting equipment. This will mean a trip to my parents’ barn where my brother and I would send gear to die. I’m going to have to hope that somewhere amidst the heap of busted buckles, duct tape patches and zap strap stitching, I can put something together that will hold out for 7-8 days of planting near the Ontario/Quebec border, East of Matheson, South of nowhere. I put together a serviceable set of bags and pull out a rusted wreck of a speed spade from the glory days of Hornepayne.
A mouse had made a nest in my right steel toe boot…
J.T. assures me it’ll be a lucrative show, pine ground, full accommodations, and a “greenside-up” client. On the last point, it turns out we got a no-BS forester who has worked closely with Judi years ago when we were breaking in to Northeastern Ontario. Proof it pays to do it right the first time. Turned out the forester had a story for just about every tree planted in Manitouwadge: Bombadiers buried to the racks in black muck, snow caches stuffed with bare root stock, sheer-bladed wind rows, and even the dreaded seven-cent trees. One thing’s for sure: if you’re making money in the tree business in Ontario these days, you know what you’re doing. Even the foresters daughter will be on the crew, and I hear how her first trees were planted in Manitouwadge too, when she was three.
I’m always struck by how much I like planters. Not their hygiene, not as roommates, or at dinner functions in the off-season, but I like them. They understand me; they are familiar, and while no two of us are the same, we share a visceral connection through the job we love to hate. It’s probably what I miss most about The Game. You put six planters in a truck for a week, run ‘em hard through some bush with a campfire and some beer and you’ve got yourself a decent reality TV show with a lasting friendship or two. Do that with the pension-bound public sector outfit I’m with now and you’ve got Coronation Street: The Deleted Scenes.
That first day on the block with a new crew is always interesting isn’t it? You find out so much about people: so-and-so chain smokes, these two are a closet couple, this guy loves his metal bands, he’s fast, she’s faster. I am the slowest planter here. It’s not even close. 77k is not a whole lotta trees in the grand scheme of things—it’s a descent day’s production for a 30 spade crew where I come from. But there’s only five and half of us, and we have to be done by Labour Day—seven days from now. Do the math and factor in that people are spent and want that long weekend to unwind, do the cottage thing, get back to school, whatever, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.
There’s three blocks, just over half the trees go in the first and its good-enough land, but it pisses rain the third and final day in there, and much of my time is spent on the quad shuffling trees and cleaning out caches. Despite the rain—or perhaps because of it—we’re in the truck by four, and it feels good to have a shift in. We debate a run for the border: it’s an hour back to town and the bottle shop closes at five here in Matheson pop. 1200. We roll the dice nixing the border run plan and cruise into town at five-minutes-to closing. I forgot how good beer tastes after a shift of hard work.
On the night off there is Springsteen.
On the day off I am lost. Well, not lost but I can’t find tomorrow’s block. Great client, yes, but maps... It’s one of those: “you’ll know it as soon as you find it” blocks, but as anyone who’s spent a morning slamming trees into the wrong block will tell you, that’s not as confidence-inspiring as some UTM coordinates. The maps are spread out all over my truck Shotgun, and my Alaskan Malamute, Molly, has sat her muddy 100-pound butt on half of them. Would we like the job as much if there was a red carpet to every block we planted?
It’s not like there’s a crew coming in hot behind us. Anything we get done tonight is one thing more we won’t have to do tomorrow. And no sooner do you clear your mind, relax, and push that lump down your throat do you go from being lost to found. And the block looks good, damn it’s good: a nearly-perfect ten-hectare square, of sandy, clear, Pli land. 12 cents!? On the way back to camp It occurs to me we might get all 17k in the ground in a day, which would set us up nicely to finish in five days. Betcha this gang is up for it. On the drive home I’m listening to The Stones on 940 AM when I notice a pack of Exports stuffed between the seats. Two left.
The Capitalist in the planter lives for the days when you show up at the block, and, barring an injury or act of the planting gods, you know you are going to make some serious coin that day. I get that we are always trying to make serious coin, but you know what I mean: there are days when you just know you’re gonna make a lot of money. The next two are such days for our gang. After demolishing the 17k on Day 1 we are hit by rain the next morning, but it lets up just short of drowning our courage. We finish the last tree at around 4:30, the fifth day of the job. It’s been good money—the last two days especially.
We take the long way home to check out Kirkland Lake. I realize I left my crocs on the block. Damn it. One of us planted trees along the highway here, somewhere, can’t exactly remember where—it was a while ago. We slow down at an overgrown cutblock. We think this might be it, hard to tell. Trees take their time. We stop at Tim Horton’s and the LCBO, blasting the new Daft Punk on the way home. We talk to each other, over each other, about each other. We talk.
Job well done.