Sunday, 31 March 2013

Confessions of a Tree Planter: An Interview with Adam Turpin

It’s that time of year again. No, not the annual spring barbeque where Uncle Larry dips into the mimosas and takes off his shirt to go Sasquatch hunting. I’m talking about planting season. Tree planting, to be precise. All around Canada people are digging out their mini shovels from the basement and heading off into the bush for weeks of painful labour, supplying our fair country with oxygen (and wood, and pulp, and paper….as I understand it) at pennies a tree.

But those pennies can add up. Just ask veteran tree planter and Toronto native Adam Turpin as he begins his umpteenth season, now foremaning his own team set to tromp around in northern Alberta’s wilderness in early May. You may think you know, but you have no idea. Enjoy: an interview with a man who is intimately connected our wooden giants.

Tell us about yourself. Who is Adam Turpin, in a nutshell?

Who wouldn't want a piece of this? Honestly?
I’ll try to make the nutshell as small as possible; I find it’s difficult to describe myself when I really sit down and think about it. I can start by saying I’m a soon-to-be York graduate who studied Kinesiology. I’m 25, and love long walks on the beach. Oops, wrong questionnaire. 

Seriously though, I’m a tree planter. This upcoming summer will be my fifth year doing it, and I’ll do my best to give you the most accurate picture of what it is we do.

What initially interested you in planting and why the hell would anyone want to do this?

It’s been so long that it’s hard to tease out the particular reason why I chose to go. An acquaintance of mine at the time, (a friend now) had gone and I was briefly told about it, and it sparked an interest. She spoke of the nature, the money, the drunken debauchery. It all seemed too unreal to believe so I had to try it for myself.
Paradise for planters, hell for pretty much everyone else.
I had previously done a mix of indoor and outdoor work, and I much preferred being outdoors. You’ve got to deal with the elements, but it’s more real…and planting most definitely has shown me the elements! Bugs, rain, snow, heat, mud - it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to give it a go, given the difficulty level. But that’s the beauty of the job. It really shows you what you’re capable of by the end of a season.

Planters will give you different reasons for their motivation, but it’s a known fact that employers want people who are motivated by making money. Planting can be a very lucrative seasonal job for the student (if you’re willing to work hard at it), so I think that’s a big reason why people start (and continue).

I understand that a very specific culture exists around planters and what they do. Can you lend a little insight into what this is and how you fit into it?

That’s a great question. 95% of people I talk to about planting either know absolutely nothing about it, or they’ve got a friend who talked their ear off about it because they went themselves. We certainly like to talk about our job.

From time to time, I hear about our stereotype though, that is, we’re all just a bunch of tree-hugging, pot-smoking hippies in the bush. While some planters may fit this description, others are your everyday Joes (and Jills). You wouldn’t be able to pick out a planter from a crowd just based on looks.  I wouldn’t call myself a hippie, but there are certainly aspects that we have all drawn from that subculture, such as having the utmost respect for your fellow person and knowing when to work hard and when to play hard. I can’t speak for all tree planters, but that is what I have seen. I can tell you we most certainly aren’t lazy!

What does it take to be a (successful) planter? Would I make the cut?


Adam and his team en route to a site in Northern Ontario
Ha, just kidding. I’m fairly certain you’d be successful at it, but that doesn’t mean I think most people would. It’s a very difficult job, although I think most are capable of it if they really put their minds to it. You look at the people you know and think “Hmmm, I wonder if you could last an entire season.” I guess it’s impossible to tell, unless they actually try it.

A successful planter is always going to have to draw from two components. The first is the physical requirement. It’s physically demanding work. You often eat up to 6000 Calories a day and drink up to 10 litres of water when it gets hot. The terrain can be arduous, and don’t forget that we’re carrying up to 50+ pounds of trees on us at once. And of course, you’ve got to bend over every seven or eight feet to put a tree in the ground. Needless to say, if you have any prior injury, this job will aggravate it. And if you don’t, well, your body will still hate you in more ways than you can imagine.

Of course, physical labour isn’t the whole thing; there’s still a huge mental component to the job as well. Doing this job is tough, but doing it while there’s a cloud of blackflies in your face and boots that are full of water is in a whole other category. Sometimes it can be hard to keep your sanity. Actually, the truth is, you lose that about two weeks in. I swear, every year I give in faster and faster, that’s called ‘bush crazy’.  I think it makes the whole experience a little easier to get through.

Storytime. Give us your best anecdote of being in the bush while planting.          

This is probably the most difficult question to answer, because I can give you a plethora of stories, given enough time.
Some plots are only accessed by helicopter - you have to be
air lifted in and out every day! 
Last season, while dropping off garbage at the dump, another foreman and I were surrounded by about five black bears. It was terrifying at first, but they were pretty tame and only wanted our garbage. It was exhilarating haha. Another favourite quip about tree planting is the ridiculous outfits we pick up at the thrift shop. I’ve seen planters in Santa costumes, banana suits, tu-tus, jogging suits, dresses, fur coats… you name it, we’ve seen it. I almost don’t think it would be quite the same experience without all the silliness that happens.

Is there life after planting for you, or will you just perpetually shove things into the dirt until you die or fall ill?
Go forth, Adam! Plant those bitches!
That’s a good question, and I’ve been asked it before. It really depends on my plans in the future. If I go back to school then I’ll be planting for a couple more years, but I hate making long term life decisions. It’s very possible, but I wouldn’t want to limit myself from doing anything else, even if I do love the job so much.

Cool. Thanks for the interview!

Thank you!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Under One Tent: The PARC Night Market

It’s late Monday morning and I’m sauntering across Queen Street West in the heart of Parkdale, attempting to shake off a post-St.Patty’s hangover. Coffee in hand, I make my way into the familiarity of the main floor of the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre – usually the beating heart of street life in these parts, but not today. Today there’s an eerie absence of hubbub, a vacancy where life normally presents itself in ordered chaos.

I climb the wooden staircase to the second floor to the tune of a thousand creaks as the worn wooden floor absorbs my weight and I make my way into the ‘Healing Room’, where behind closed doors I hear the hum of hungry sewing machines and the quiet tattering of voices. Through mounds of cloth, waves electricity permeate the door and glide through my body. I smile and turn the knob: this is it. Production week.

Alice - a production team favourite - and her puppet
Fast forward five days and although most of my week has been ‘business as usual’ I find myself anxiously anticipating its end. Stepping off the Landsdowne bus on Friday afternoon I am, unlike my past weary half-drunk self, excitedly rushing across the street and back to 1499 Queen West where I run into Michael Burtt, Director of Making Room Community Arts and the ringleader for the evening. Michael has had no problem taking me under his wing over the past seven months, integrating me into his program and consequently exposing me to a world far beyond the sidewalk life of Parkdale. Though everyone is in a caffeine fueled turbo charge, Michael seems to have met his own personal apex of pre-event frantic as he quickly delegates set up procedures and I, now completely high off of the shared craze, quickly go to work preparing the drop-in centre for a spectacle like no other: the PARC Night Market.

What comes to mind when you think of a night market? Abundance of tasty culinary delights? Eccentric figures selling you clothes and jewellery? The feel of a busy evening market is its own euphoric sensation: smells, sights and sounds blend into one and you are locked in a transcendent space where magic becomes life. Aiding in the transformation of PARC space into a night market didn’t taint this experience for me; only heightened my awareness of what it really was. 

The incredible musical photo boxes.
And so, by 7pm sharp, we had successfully transformed PARC space into something out of a whimsically drawn picture book or ancient tale of gypsy dance and carnival characters. We were complete with a memory canning station, live band, fortune booth, embroidery table, clay puppets, hand-crafted jewellery, painted canvasses, and – the project I had the most impact on – the creation of kaleidoscope picture boxes complete with a victrola-esque music pipe. The ceiling was decorated in rags and lanterns. In the middle sat our canoe – built in a previous PARC lifetime and a vessel for memories.

Over 200 community members and PARC staff participated in the Night Market, crowding the spaces in between exhibits and moving to the rhythm of the live music. At the end of the night and after striking (production language for 'cleaning up the giant mess we just made'), five staff remained in a bar across the street – some still in costume – staring into our beers with permanent smiles etched across tired faces. PARC – Sand in Water – had finally culminated, but in the most appropriate way possible. From across the table, Michael breaks the silence: ‘what do you think we’ll do next year?’

Sunday, 17 March 2013

I'm a RoMANtic

I like romance.

There, I said it. I am a man, and I enjoy a good love story more than I would normally like to admit in any social situation. I also refuse to believe that I am an anomaly. We males have too many ways in which to mask this, standing behind a social norm that would be as inaccurate as when sloths mistake their arm for a branch and fall to their deaths. It’s time to rise – a collective of man-romantics.

I was recently involuntarily subjected to read Anne MichaelsFugitive Pieces for a class this semester, and, while the book is a beautifully stylized natural history marvel, I’m pretty sure my favourite parts were the subtle injections of romance. Now, I’ve tried this before: with nothing left to read and yearning for some literature, I forced myself to take on a Nora Roberts book entitled The Three Fates last summer. Despite being a so called ‘romance novel’, I wasn’t aroused in the least. I thought my story-book romance days were over.

But Micheals does something completely different and much more to my liking. Her version of a romance isn’t some smutty, overly-detailed repetitive patriarchal half-porn, but a classic in descriptive beauty (without all the graphic parts). I so appreciated her ability to describe the essence of a character though another character, allowing for her poetic writing style to bleed elegantly across each page. Romance wasn’t the centerpiece but a component part of a larger story, told through the eyes of a fictional post-World War Two first generation immigrant to Canada who struggled with identity, mental health and forming a healthy love interest. It was beauty at its finest.

So why do I feel like the only man on the interwebs to support the creative talent of romance media everywhere? Just buck-up and admit it: we’re all suckers for a good love story, and there isn’t anything wrong with this. So all you self-identified males who front an emotionless manly-man guise can start acting like real dudes with hearts and feelings and mushy stuff. After all, feelings are called feelings because we often can’t control them.

So let’s foster the feelings of males everywhere, and put the MAN back in roMANtic.  

*Looking for a little romantic inspiration? Buy Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces here.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

An All-Canadian Road Trip Playlist

When you think Canadian Road trip, what’s your soundtrack? There are the obvious picks from home-grown greats like The Hip, Rush, Neil Young, perhaps a little Morissette for good measure…Indeed, when it comes to tunes that pair well with tarmac, Canada certainly isn’t shorthanded. Now, I’ve already written about Canada’s top ten road trips, so I could make up a road trip playlist that includes every big hit from famous bands that emerged in the North like some thoughtless pedestrian blogger. Or, of course, I could instead create a different mix of Canadian bands/songs that are equally as deserving of your car stereo (but more unexpectedly so).

Yeah, I’ll do with the latter.

Stars: Take Me to the Riot

We’ll start with the well-known Canadian pop-rock collective Stars and their enegetic single Take Me to the Riot. This diverse music machine from Toronto and Montreal will soon have you chanting ‘take me to the beer store!’ or ‘take me to the in-laws! (but sedate me first!)’ or ‘take me…..just take me anywhere goddamnit!’. Turn it up or get out.

Hey Rosetta!: Seeds

Newfies: people born for road trips and road trip tunes. This example is no different. The eclectic rockers from St.John’s have created yet another piece we can enjoy cranked loud behind the wheel. This song was actually written about being on the road. How the hell can you ask for anything more perfect?

Land of Talk: Quarry Hymns

You need to vary your roadtrip playlist. While the above two selections say ‘DRIVE, motherfucker, DRIVE!’ this one in particular be all like ‘drive, but relax yourself. Be the car. Breathe it in. Flow with the road. Eat a fruit salad. Pee in the cornfield.’ Allow lead singer Elizabeth Powell to sooth that travellin’ bug and transcend into a world of open air and ridiculously expensive gas stations in the middle of nowhere. This is a hymn for the road-weary.

The Strumbellas – I Ain’t Tryin’ to Die

We’re in need some serious country infusion here, but not the ‘I shot my horse in the leg’ kind of country music. Nay – only the indie country delivered by six-piece folk band The Strumbellas. Nothing really makes more sense on a roadtrip than some good ol’ foot stompin’ yee-haws and a “Hallelujah” for freedom. Tis a toast to the road; just not when we’re driving.

*The Strumbellas are so awesomely indie I couldn’t find a video of this song. Instead, here’s a link to the Soundcloud version of I Ain’t Tryin to Die.

Great Lake Swimmers – Your Rocky Spine

An ode to Canadian landscape, tastefully likening it to a sexy ass woman. That’s what you get with Great Lake Swimmers – polite, articulate…but master seducers nonetheless. Originally from the small town of Wainfleet, Ontario, the Swimmers continue to crank out melodic folk rock that was built for the travelling person.

The Arcade Fire: Keep the Car Running

Ah, another under-celebrated Canadian great: The Arcade Fire. Other than producing songs that are just epic, the Fire continue to embrace their astonishing creative scope by producing music that fits all kinds of descriptions and categories. It goes with the territory when you have a million different musicians in one band who are all riding on a neverending rainbow of innovation. This time around, you’ll want keep your car (and its stereo) running. Loudly.

Tokyo Police Club: Favourite Food

Road trips are perfect opportunities to take a trip down memory lane, and Tokyo Police Club offers you a perfect mental vehicle. This group of youngsters from Newmarket have grown recent notoriety for their fast-pased, post punk style with catchy riffs and light-hearted lyrics. “Favourite Food”, originally released on their  first LP entitled Champ, is a departure from the aforementioned formula, but a perfect piece for the road.

The Weakerthans: One Great City!

Road trips are for seeing the unseen and escaping life in the smog dome. Winnipeg natives The Weakerthans are all too accustomed to the daily routine, perfectly summarizing life in the city with their working-class antithesis One Great City!. Insert ‘Winnipeg’ with your home town, hop in a car and let the Weakerthans sail you out of the concrete jungle and into open air. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Breakfast in Tweed

My hypothetical online dating profile wouldn’t have an exhaustive list of interests: biking, traveling, writing and…..breakfast. I. Love. Breakfast.

Noms. Breakfast in Tweed: Vegetarian Style.
I mean, how can you not? Sunday mornings were meant for greasy, delicious and hearty foods. In breakfast we find the answers to life’s most important questions: what’s a high-energy solution for starting the day off awesomely? Breakfast. What’s the best remedy to shake off last night’s drinks? Breakfast. How do I avoid an awkward morning with what’s-her-name I just woke up beside? Walk of shame, then breakfast. How can you ask for anything better?

So when I was given the opportunity to eat at one of Southern Ontario’s best breakfast joints while en route to Ottawa last weekend to see family, the answer was easy. We would deviate from the monotony of Highway 401 and head northeast from Belleville, stopping just before the road meets highway 7 in the small town of Tweed, Ontario. While this tiny collection of farmers, small businesses and local restaurants is a typical rural settlement full of quaintness and familiarity, tucked in the main drag is a breakfast joint that rivals the best: The Gateway. 

My early morning culinary adventure began as I stepped from the snow-covered sidewalks of Victoria Street on a Friday and into the interior warmth of the Gateway Family Restaurant. While I’d like to imagine that I fit in well with the locals, I’m also pretty sure my polished leather Clarks and flannel print scarf beamed an obvious ‘city folk’ label the minute every other patron acknowledged my presence. “Never mind”, I told myself, “we’re here to get our breakfast on”. And getting our breakfast on we did. Three eggs, multiple cheeses, two slides of toast and a pile of fried potatoes later, I was as satisfied as I could have been after demolishing everything on my plate.

Though the food was exceptional, the enjoyment of a meal at the Gateway doesn’t end there. What I appreciated most about the experience was how unapologetically normal this place was. The flashiness of breakfast spots in the city is all but alive at the Gateway. Instead, wood paneled dividers and cheaply framed photos create an ambiance of plainness that refuses complication. Everything is straightforward and real. No bullshit. A breakfast that fills your hunger and expectations without the fireworks show. I liked this place immediately. 

So next time you’re driving route 36 towards Ottawa, be sure to stop in the small town of Tweed for a breakfast you’ll not soon forget. We recommend the Gateway special.