Why my 8 years of tree planting (and counting) has made me a better geologist

Someone I looked up to once told me that I would never amount to much if I kept just being a tree planter. I was at the end of my geology degree and happily spent every summer in the bush slamming trees into the ground and partying my face off, without any thoughts in my mind about actually being a geologist. Sure, rocks were cool and all..but tree planting was too fun.

My first season of planting
My first year of field camp
Taken yesterday, 3rd shift of season eight

Well, I took half their advice. I got my first geology job, thanks in part to that person, and I hesitantly embarked on a job that would take time away from planting; afraid I might actually enjoy it. I did. However, that didn’t stop me from continuing to plant. There are a number of reasons why I’ve kept coming back, year after year. I have my eight seasons (and counting) of tree planting to thank for why I am able to make all my geology dreams come true. Why, you ask? I’ve got more than a few reasons.


  1. I truly love it. When I thought about quitting planting, I couldn’t even fathom it. How could I quit something that I loved doing so much? It doesn’t matter what other people think or say, follow your passions. Although that love has definitely waned, especially over the last few years as my love for geology continues to grow, its still there. I feel truly content when I am out there planting, even if I am suffering. I like the hard, solitary work. I love the freedom it gives you to do whatever you please.
    My first day hitting 2k on the coast
    Simple, happy living

    The view, its all for the view!
  2. The financial freedom. I can’t deny it. That, in recent years, has become a huge reason for why I go planting. It was also a big reason as I was paying for my undergrad degree. There is complete truth in the fact that you can make an insane amount of money in a very short amount of time, if you work your ass off. Without being able to plant I wouldn’t have been able to take the geology jobs that I have. By taking lower paying work that was more meaningful, it has allowed me to be mentored by extremely talented geologists, and learn in ways I might not have been able to otherwise. It has allowed me to hone my craft, and my true passion within geology-mapping. I probably wouldn’t have thrived in this downturn the way I have without it.
  3. Tree planting doesn’t give a shit who you are. You are all equal. You could be the Dalai Lama…but it will still rain, or hail, or beam down unrelenting heat; the bugs will still eat you alive to within an inch of sanity; you will still get cuts and bruises in places you didn’t know you could; your hands will be permanently caked with dirt; your body will hurt, all over; you will still have to plant that god forsaken boulder piece. As my geology career continues to grow and flourish, I will never, EVER be above even the most beginner, grunt work task. I am better than no one. Tree planting reminds me that on the daily…and see my next point.
  4. It kicks your ass. Every. Damn. Day. It doesn’t matter how great you think you are at planting, or how many years you’ve been doing it. Planting always has a way of humbling me in new and unique ways every time I am out there. It reminds me that I am pretty insignificant in this big, wide world (especially when bears come out to play). Just when I think I’m doing really great, something goes awry…I trip stupidly, I bag up again and remember how damn heavy the trees are, I get attacked by wasps. I get cliffed out. I have a super shitty day.
    Not super stoked on the 12 hour day

    What my face typically looks like, covered in dirt
  5. It teaches you the value of good, old fashioned hard work. There aren’t a whole lot of jobs out there these days that can incorporate this concept. When you come back from a days work, completely famished, covered in sweat, blood, bruises and dirt…barely able to keep your eyes open and wondering how the heck you’d ever be able to survive another day. You do it again the next day, and the day after that. Its amazing what our bodies are capable of. Planting has taught me how to push my limits, and also where the upper reaches of those limits are. It makes you appreciate the money you earn, because you do just that; you EARN every cent with every ounce of your being.
    My first big hike, 4 months after I broke my leg. Gearing up for the field season in a few weeks time.
    26 days sans shower and counting…
    Snowstorm, July 21…

    Planting along the west coast of Vancouver Island in early February…the ground was still frozen
  6. It teaches you that  sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t like…or even hate, for the greater good. Yes, I’ve stated I truly love planting. I didn’t originally get into it for the money, even if its part of the reason why I’ve stayed. But, there is A LOT about it I hate. Getting up early, arriving to the block, my first bag up, when the day just drags on and seems endless….I could go on and on. I have a love, hate relationship with rocks when I’m a planter. I love to stare at them, but it also distracts me from the task at hand. If theres too many of them, and not enough soil, then we’ve also got some big problems there…But if I want to make money, each and every day, I have to suck all that up and keep going. The trees aren’t going to plant themselves! Money doesn’t grow on trees! If I want to do well I have to force myself to keep going, even when I don’t want to. This has played out in my persistence for networking and landing the gigs I want in geology, to being able to perform at the level I need to at the end of the field season.
  7. It has made me extremely well versed in adverse weather conditions, and just being in remote places in general. This is a huge one when it comes to being a geologist. The level of experience I have working with difficult people in small, remote, confined camp conditions; wildlife behaviour; logistics of working in the bush; awareness and respect for the outdoors is a huge asset as a field geologist. Employers want to know that you are capable of handling yourself out there, no matter the situation. With so many years of planting under my belt in so many different areas of BC, and Canada, it helps to show I am more than capable. Raining sideways? No big deal. Snowing in July? Whatever. Thick clouds of swarming and buzzing mosquitos in your ear while trying to record the rock type? Bring it on. Nothing could faze me, because its highly likely I’ve already been there before.
    Snowed off the block
    Typical planter legs
    Geologizing in the rain as per usual

    My first heli logged block
  8. I won’t quit. Ever. Although part of this is largely my personality, tree planting has showed me that quitting or not trying will get you nowhere. Literally. You won’t make any money. And you can’t do much these days without some coin in the bank. You don’t feel very good about sitting at the cache all day and making no money. Or sitting in the truck. The day will drag on and seem endless. If you can’t even survive among the “low life dirty tree planting hippies”, then where the heck are you in life anyways? Yes there are many planters out there that lack serious motivation, but they are still out there regardless. Which is a commitment in itself. Many people think tree planters are lazy, but we really have one of the hardest physically demanding jobs in the world. It teaches us its okay to relax every once in awhile! My constant commitment to planting means that I will stay committed to just about anything, because I’ll always compare it to planting…and if I can’t bring myself to quit that, then theres really no excuse for not being able to do whatever geology related task I currently have.
  9. It gives you confidence to overcome obstacles. And most importantly knowing they can be overcome. When you finish that really difficult piece you thought would never end, or the shift from hell…you get an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The best feeling is the last day of the season. Although its sad to say goodbye to everyone who became family, it is such an indescribable triumphant feat to have planted so many hundreds of thousands of trees, and have a bank account that says you can do whatever the heck you please. Each day you keep going gives you the confidence to accomplish more. This has helped me in geology where I have doubted myself. The more rocks I look at, the more geologists I work with, the more confident I become. As with planting, and anything in life really, practice makes better practice. Even if I am stressed out about the fact I can’t really figure out what that mystery rock is, I know if I keep trying I will eventually come up with some sort of logical answer. It just takes time, persistence, and a lot of thinking.
  10. Whether you were one in the beginning or not, it turns you into a self-motivated worker. It kind of goes without saying, because that is basically the entire job. No one is going to physically force you to plant those trees. If you want to become a good geologist, you have to be willing to work hard and put the time in. You want to know structure, or be able to identify rock types…then you better get reading and most importantly get out in the field! The only person that can make that happen is you. People aren’t always going to call you with job offers. A big part of where I am today is because of being pro-active and putting myself out there.DSCN1986P1000238
    Photo credit: Nicole Schaffer

    Photo credit: Nicole Schaffer
  11. Its therapeutic. For me, maybe not for everyone. With geology, you are always working with someone else…but there are also some jobs where you are very isolated and spend lots of time on your own. Since my days tree planting are almost always spent 90% alone, this is an easy task and it allows me to spend the time on dealing with myself. Whatever issues I’ve got going on in my life at the time, I can plant it out. I can scream, or cry, or be angry…those trees won’t judge me. It teaches you to be comfortable in your own head. I have learned how to use my time in remote places for work as avenues to deal with my head, and in turn keep me grounded and healthy. Being able to control my emotions appropriately so I can get the job done when it needs to get done is important in an industry where time is money. 37779_459858610349_64189_n
  12. It has made me incredibly physically and mentally fit. Without the test of true mental strength that planting gives you, I probably wouldn’t be able to so easily stand the conditions of the field work I sometimes do. Physically speaking, field geology is a complete breeze comparatively, and always will be. It gives me an even bigger appreciation for something I already truly enjoy doing.IMG_4494

    Photo credit: Nicole Schaffer
  13. It teaches you to appreciate the small things in life. A cool breeze on a hot day is like a godsend. Food becomes something so incredible and life changing. Being able to sit down at the end of the day. Sleeping, damn it feels good. When you work so hard, everything else is easy. You see things differently, and from a different perspective. The butterfly that floats past you. The bumblebee resting on your shoulder because he thinks your hot pink hat is a flower (even if it pisses you off a little bit). The tadpoles slowly growing in the ditch ponds. The way the trees sway when its windy. How to accurately predict an oncoming rainstorm (still working on fine tuning this one). Looking at things in this way has made me a more conscientious geologist. I look for the small details that could potentially have a very big impact. I have noticed a trend in my career thus far, and I have a hunch a big part of it is luck, but I tend to stumble upon things of significance. I always manage to find that mystery mineral in the entire outcrop, or the small bed of fossils. I believe a lot of this has to do with having an eye for the small things. It has pushed me to always keep looking further, and to never ignore even the smallest detail.
    Photo credit: Nicole Schaffer
    The most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen, 9:30pm…still on the block…

    Wild strawberries, so delicious!

 Tree planting has made me an infinitely better geologist, and will continue to do so for the rest of my planting days and beyond. Though my days of full planting seasons are nearly over, as geology work takes over, it will always be there for me if I need it. The more experience I have as a planter, the easier it is to find short term work to fit in between my geology contracts. This creates a perfect scenario for flexibility with geology. Until I put 1,000,000 trees in the ground officially, I won’t even consider hanging up my planting bags. Its a personal goal of mine, that for better or worse I will honour. Till then I’ll still be out there, whether I like it or not, slamming trees into the ground.

From northern Ontario swamps
To the icefields of northwest BC
To the coast of Baffin Island…and beyond!

5 thoughts on “Why my 8 years of tree planting (and counting) has made me a better geologist

  1. Sarah Bros

    Thats why I hire people who have spent at least 2 seasons as a tree planter. They have a strong work ethic and aren’t afraid of long hours and challenging weather conditions and bugs. Takes a special kind of person or as your Dad says ” a special kind of stupid” to work in forestry. Nice article Erin, enjoyed reading it.

  2. Steve Bros

    grasshoppa you have learned well…I can hardly wait to read that future press release for a major mineral discovery…u go girl…

  3. Bill

    I am wowed if that is a word …so proud to know the person behind all these incredible thoughts
    And a wonderful writer
    Love the beauty in your thoughts!!
    Uncle bill

  4. This is my rookie year but I like to think I push myself almost daily, year-round. Carrying a large bag, walking further than I have before (somewhere between 80-90km is my record) one day I’ll do the whole 100km in a leisurely afternoon stroll.

    1,000,000 trees is my goal too (I’d also like to walk around the world). That’s why I’m commenting. Maybe I’m too old to be starting but I’ll try anyway. Good luck in the future!

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