Eating Dirt

This book isn’t for everyone. But I’m a tree hugger, so it stands to reason that I’d be intrigued by it. (In my neighbourhood trees are such a hot button, I’d keep the trees and get rid of some of the neighbours if I could.) Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill is a memoire of Gill’s 20 years as a tree planter starting in northern Ontario when she was a student, then eventually going on to Vancouver Island. It’s back breaking, tedious, dirty, dangerous work, so why would anyone want to do it? She explains… “There are so many living creatures to touch and smell and look at in the field that it’s often a little intoxicating. A setting so full of all-enveloping sensations that it just sweeps you up and spirits you away”. How about that! She also gives a natural history lesson of area which I found fascinating. But I would, wouldn’t I. The biggest Douglas Fir in the world is 242′ tall. It’s on Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew. It’s a dwarf compared to the 400′ tall specimens that lived to be 1,000 years old in the first half of the 20th century. But they’re all gone. Six billion trees have been planted in British Columbia. At the height of the tree planting trade there were an estimated 18,500 tree planters in the country. The average career of a tree planter is 5 years. 5 back-breaking years. Gill did it for 20. Back in her student days in Toronto, her housemate Aimee, a tree planter herself, was her inspiration. She said… “I’d never seen her cry, never seen her anxious or upset, never heard her complain and I never heard her utter a jealous word. I could stand to have my back broken if this was the way a spine could grow back.” At the end of planting one day in B.C. Gill and her group of fellow tree planters came upon a travelling kitchenware salesman who had car troubles. They managed to help him put chains on his tires to try and get his wheels out of the snow. When they told him him they’re tree planters he said… “Thank you for healing the planet”. Will it work, all this planting to replace humongous forests that have been stripped bare of all the trees that have been growing for eons? 6,000,000,000 trees planted! No one knows. Only time will tell. Thank God some people think so and are willing to do the actual work.

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