Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe.
Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life
with the Tree-Planting Tribe
For many Canadians, tree planting is a rite of passage. For the rest, it's a romantic notion quickly dispelled by the harsh reality of our landscape and the gruelling repetitiveness of the work. There's the fresh air (brutal heat, drenching rain), the pristine natural surroundings (black flies, bears), an honest day's work (blisters, scrapes, aching backs), the sense of self-determination (isolation, whatever the opposite is of cabin fever) and the chance to undo environmental damage (futility, insignificance).
I've learned all about the triumphs and frustrations of slinging seedlings-from the cushiness of my chesterfield. Sure, my face wasn't whipped by branches, my clothes weren't stiff with sweat and grime, but Charlotte Gill's memoir of the tree planting life, Eating Dili, made me feel the grinding exhaustion, see the stunning views and experience the strained camaraderie as if it was my own.
It's no wonder Gill's writing is so effective. She's both an accomplished storyteller (her award-winning short story collection Ladykiller was published in 2005) and veteran tree planter (her career has spanned 20 years-and her seasons extended well beyond the summer months).
Eating Dirt has something for outdoorsy and indoorsy readers alike. Gill's vivid descriptions of the West Coast old growth forests are magical (until the clear-cuts come into view, that is) and she balances her extensive personal experience with lessons in biology, history and the evolution of forestry.
The characters that make up her ragtag crew and the conditions they endure could be the makings of a sociology experiment--they're fascinating. If only Gill could control their comings and goings as in fiction-it's so disappointing when a promising character packs it in after only a day or two of the back-breaking work.
What's most remarkable about Eating Dirt is its balanced approach. Despite the fact that the book is published in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation, forestry companies are not the enemy and tree planting is not glorified. Gill gives us tree planting as she knows it: gorgeous and ugly, crushing and thrilling--a job and a joy.