Hippie Hoedads
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

"Once you're soaked
    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."
                ~~ Jim Dodge

Tree-Planting Slideshow

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 edited by 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 changes.

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.

Like the Okies 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 gave 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.

Rural Delivery
Rural Delivery

Commentaries and advice 
on rural living
by Michael Hofferber

Visit the
Rural Delivery Blog
Birth of a Cooperative: Hoedads, Inc., a Worker Owned Forest Labor Co-Op
Mini Planting Hoe
Working the Woods, Working the Sea
Pulaski Axe
Man Planting Pine Tree Seedlings

Farmers Market Books
Market Entrance
The Nature Pages
Lease a Booth
Search the Market
Buy Direct Directory