Sunday, October 18, 2009

The planting papers: Spent lighters and helicopters

In the heady days of my young adulthood, I planted trees for 5 summers in Canada's wild west.

I was wild eyed and smelly, I was tie-dyed, I glowed in the dark. I have been told that there are stories I tell about those years that I need to write down. Here is the first of what may be many planting stories.

There were many days like this, but this one stands out. It was a cold morning, but clear. The chopper pilot figured it would be a nice, clear day for flying. Myself, my buddy Curtis, and the checker were the first to fly to to work site. They sent us in to set up the clearcut block for the rest of the crew, who would be flown in 4 at a time throughout the morning.

We touched down, unloaded some supplies from the chopper, then waited for it to return, first with a sling of trees, then with a load of planters, on and on it would go. We waited, we waited, we rolled smokes, we waited. The checker got on the walkie-talkie. 'What is the delay?' Camp: 'The pilot is simply waiting for some low clouds to clear' Fair enough. Cigarettes rolled, comfortable tree stumps found, Curtis and I sat. Flick, flick, flick (damn!) my lighter was out of juice. Curtis must have one that works. 'Gotta light?' Flick, flick, flick, (damn!). 'Nope, I am out of gas too'.

It was then that the rain began, it was then that we began to realize how dire our situation had become. The checker, ever-armed with a walkie-talkie, kept checking in with camp. The pilot, in camp, dry, was still waiting for the clouds to pass. He had us nearly convinced that he'd be up in the air soon. This was the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, the weather could change by the second. True, true, but how the hell were Curtis and I going to light our quickly dampening cigarettes? 'Wooden matches? I wonder if the checker has some in her first-aid kit?' Oh that Curtis, thank God he was there to do the thinking under pressure. The checker did in fact have a package of matches. Huzzah! But shit, weren't they as wet as everything else... no way we'd get one to light. Fuck, shit, argh, we were really Jonesing by this point.

Curtis, stubborn, nic-fitting, started to rapidly flick his Bic. The idea was to hope and catch a light from the sparks from the flint. Brilliant, it was so gaddamned crazy and desperate it just might work. It did! Puff, puff, ahhhh we were soon in flavour country, the rain be damned.

The checker, our connection to the outside world, cold, shivering, said: 'The pilot says that if it is still cloudy and wet by 3:00 we should think about beginning the long hike out. It will take about 3 hours to get to camp by foot'. It was about 1:00 when we had heard that jolly bit of news. Hurray! Good times. Best continue chain smoking.

The rain had stopped. The sun was peeking through the clouds. Curtis and I were playing shovel baseball. Shovel baseball was a game invented for planter downtown. The rules are simple. A single was sticking the shovel blade first with one flip. A double 2 flips, a triple 3, a homerun 4. Good times, safer than pine cone baseball (but that is a story for another day).

I think it was my ears that perked up first. A Chopper makes a distinct sound, it can be heard from many miles away, especially if there isn't anything but 3 people and trees in those many miles. It was about 2:30, the sun was out. We were being rescued. A little wet, a little muddy, thumbs numb from Bic flicking, but happy. It had been another one of those days.

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