it doesn't matter
if it's raining.
The trees go in,
one by one by one,
and you go on
borne and lost in
that mindless rhythm
bent to the work."
Across the Northwest, from the Olympic Peninsula to the
Bitteroots of Idaho, thousands of acres of young Douglas fir and white
pine grow shoulder high on land clearcut a couple decades ago. These
young forests are the legacy of men and women, the hippies of the
1960s, who fled "back to the land" during the early 1970s and found
work as reforestation tree planters.
|I hadn't thought much about treeplanting in quite some
time when I came
across this slender book, "Working
the Woods, Working the Sea"
(Empty Bowl, 1986), gathering
dust on my shelves. It brought back vivid memories of Wilson River
Pass, the Coast Range and the hills above Garibaldi. From its pages I
inhaled wet cedar. Between its lines I could still feel the chill of
pre-dawn and see bundles of seedlings being loaded into bags.
A collection of photos, stories, poems and essays, the book
Finn Wilcox and Jeremiah Gorsline captured the history of a transient
culture that spread through the forests of the Northwest a quarter
century ago, only to be uprooted by much larger cultural and economic
| Like the
who headed west after the Dust Bowl years, or the
settlers who crossed the continent along the Oregon Trail, the
long-haired exodus north from California was fueled by idealistic
dreams: unspoiled nature, cheap farmland, communal living, freedom from
authority. They didn't anticipate depressed local economies, high
unemployment, or antagonistic residents.
Tree planting was one of the few jobs the long-hairs could find. It is
hard, seasonal labor, often performed in nasty weather on muddy slopes
deep in the mountains.
Planters with 35- to 75-pound bags full of
seedlings strapped to their waists would climb across hillsides,
shoveling open the earth with a planting tool called a "hoedad," then
bending over to plant the seedling. Climb, shovel, bend and plant.
Climb, shovel, bend and plant. A thousand trees a day.
|Some idealists tried tree planting for a day or two and
it up. The
work was too strenuous, bosses operated like slavedrivers, and it
seemed to rain all the time. But many kept at it, even after other jobs
became available, and the work transformed them. The "flower children"
became woodsmen and woodswomen
Where they are
today, I am not sure, but the tree planters who called
themselves "hoedads" were forming cooperatives and corporations and
business plans when last I interviewed them a half dozen years ago.
Those still planting trees were complaining then of bad backs and stiff
joints and the long drives to and from the woods.
The passage of the hoedads through these woods was but a page in the
long history of the Northwest forests, but certainly worth re-reading.