We all had a stake in it; we all had something to win and something to lose. Stuck in the mud, tears streaming down my face. I had already been there for two hours and the quad just wouldn’t budge. My body was just too small to give it gas with my thumb and push and lift the whole thing at the same time. Even though it took me two hours to admit that to myself – I kept saying “I can do this!” and would give it another try. And then another. But each time, I sunk myself deeper into the mud hole and the quad was now on its side. Maybe I was just trying to distract myself from the cloud of black flies. They are the reason I finally broke – my face itchy and swollen and my ears in a hot rage. What the fuck were they thinking giving me a quad with no brakes? No matter how deplorable the work conditions, we all kept going back year after year. Sure, I’ll deliver for my own crew. As though I was superwoman with extreme physical strength and mechanical skills. What was it with me, trying to prove some sort of gender equivalency? I could really use one of the guys right about now I kept thinking to myself. At this point, I knew my whole team would be soon sitting on the road waiting for trees. So, I abandoned the quad and walked the remaining five k. Sure enough, all thirteen of them were just waiting for me to show. When I entered the block with no quad and no trees – Well, they were unimpressed to say the least. Some quite pissed off, not at all surprisingly.
At 7 am that morning, I had given them a speech. I wish I could say it was the motivational kind, but no. It was more of a tough love, you’re not working hard enough, give ’em shit kind of speech. They all had to plant a lot that day – averaging 2000 trees each – for us to move on from that hell block where we had been working already for 8 days. I had been set on wrapping it up today. In my attempt to push my crew to plant hard, I found myself imitating the male bosses I had had in the past. Tried to make the long walk into the land seem trivial with stories of “back in my day” and mock them for acting like pussies for complaining. I was going to bust my tail for them I had decided. So, they better do the same. Essentially, I started my day angry hoping it would get me through what seemed like a ridiculous task. What my crew didn’t know was that I had only slept three hours. I had calculated everything. I did two trips in with trees the night before. Loaded up with a truck load at the tree cash at 5 am that very day. If I managed to do two quad runs per hour, we would be good, with two more truck runs to the tree cash in between.
So, those of them that understood how high the stakes were, loaded up their first bag-up with 50 lbs. of trees to walk in. Some of them did so quietly and marched through the first mud hole with determination. They showed they were on board and planned to just get’er done. Others whined and complained to which I could just say “we have to do this either way”. The worst of them was Andy. He had decided to boycott and stay in the van. Which was nothing new. He was about to get fired but somehow thought he was being smart.
By my third run in and out with the quad, I got so annoyed with Andy napping in my face that I radio-d the supervisor to please come get him and take him into town. Turns out my supervisor was more fed up than I was. He took Andy into town all right, but he swung by camp first for Andy to pack. He dropped him off at the bus depot with no money and told him to figure it out. Andy actually owed camp fees and hadn’t earned crap.
As I saw my crew when I entered the block on foot with no trees, I thought back to that moment when my supervisor had come to get Andy and check in. He had asked if I was sure that I would be ok. He was more invested in me wrapping up that block that day than me. But I told him I’d be good on my own. I was ahead of the game. He double checked even, letting me know that if he left me, he wouldn’t be back till after dark. “Are you sure you don’t need help?”, he couldn’t have asked more explicitly – and two or three times. I wanted Andy out of my hair so badly that I said I was perfectly fine. I knew all the muddy sinks wet spots on my route like the back of my hand. We had already built a bridge over the worst spot. Which is exactly where I ended up getting stuck – not more than ten minutes after my supervisor was out of radio shot. The bridge was the exact width of the quad and in my over-confident rush, the front tire slipped and the quad flipped into the mud. Two hours I spent there. Wishing Andy was still in the van cause he would have been close enough to see me and be that extra hand.
But instead, my “I can do this even though I am a girl” attitude took over. We all had to go back to that block the next day – adding on another minimum wage pay day to be living in a swamp in Northern Ontario planting trees. Back at camp, the day would be washed away and we would all gather around the fire laughing and venting about how ridiculous it all was. For now, the van ride home once everyone had walked out was dead silent. Sometimes, that’s just the way we all needed it to be. Someone eventually cranked up the tunes and it help shift the mood. We did wrap up that block the next day and finally moved on to better land.