A Job for a Vagabond I consider myself a true Bohemian at heart. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I was born in Bohemia, which is in the Czech Republic. I moved back there after the fall of communism and spent 15 years in Prague, a truly Bohemian, artsy and fun party place. Especially in the beginning after the “fall of the wall”, when the city was compared to Paris after WWII. Before I left I grew to love Bohemian Paradise, where I cycled and camped during the summers. I would drag friends out from the city and became an expert at setting up my tent shortly before nightfall to seek out the nearest wonderful Czech pub. Lots of beer and other types of Czech festivals were also to be found.
But, alas, a true vagabond cannot stay in one place for too long (although, during the earlier years, the turnover of expats moving to and away from Prague was so quick I felt I myself was constantly on the move), and I finally realized my big dream of moving my business into a caravan truck to start sailing around the world.
While on the road I learned all sorts of caravan survival tricks, and a lot about hooking up to the internet while traveling. What a hi-tech vagabond I have become! Unfortunately, things did not run perfectly smoothly (technical issues), I lost a few key customers (personality issues – perhaps being alone in a sardine can for too long while banging away at the keyboard can remind oneself of The Shining), and some customers were scared or envied away by the fact that I managed my translation business from the beach (stupidity and ignorance issues).
There was a pine beetle problem in Canada and my sister, who publishes for the Canadian lumber industry, said there would certainly be a demand for my rusty treeplanting skills, so I emailed a bunch of companies and soon found myself back in my mouldy old boots.
Previously I had planted for six years while going to university. I’m generally quite sporty and, at the age of 43, rather enjoy raising eyebrows while kicking young bucks around the squash court, but two years on the road has softened me up and I was shocked at the pain of getting back into this grueling job. I also found I stumbled on some hotrod crew. Where before I was always the hiballer (fast planter) of any crew, I now found myself at the bottom of the totem pole, so I spent the summer analyzing things to death in the hopes of finding out their secret. I put all my thoughts into a treeplanting website, including how to survive this tough job from the perspective of an old fart with a history of joint problems. But I was still in better shape than many of the toddlers, who cashed in their young and expendable bodies to end their season limping out like hunchback.
The editor of this site stumbled on mine and asked me to write some blurbs about: “I have been interested in giving planting and beetle probing a shot for a long time. I wanted to see if you had any time or interest in writing an article about tree-planting for startbackpacking.com? The focus would be on the types of people you meet, how much you can earn (my visitors are looking to earn vagabonding money), etc.”, so here it goes.
I find treeplanters tend to be good natured, creative people who care more about the environment, their health and social issues than the average. Many of them are musicians with a vagabond and bohemian heart, and we find we think very much alike, detesting the corporate gig and always looking for a quick way to make a good buck, so we could spend the rest of our time doing what we want to do. Such as travel around the world. Many planters are experts at milking the UI system, planting the minimum 100 days and spending the rest of the year living like a king in some poor sod country. One planter coined it well when he said he makes an extra dollar on unemployment insurance for every two dollars he makes planting. But this job is not for everyone. The number of bugs piercing into your back every time you bend over, flying into your eyes whenever you turn around, to wake up at 6am every morning and crawl out of your warm and fluffy sleeping bag into the freezing cold, many are simply not up for this sort of torture and it truly helps if you are a vagabond who loves and has experience camping. You must also be good at mind-over-matter, if you want to make good bucks (I averaged 250 a day), otherwise you’ll just find yourself plodding along, complaining at every other step, dreaming of your comfy pillow back home, and not earn enough to make the entire exercise worthwhile. If you do plan to go out, I’d suggest you read through my treeplanting site, where I wrote about my famous juice, and all the other survival tricks I could think of. You can definitely prepare yourself for this job, and once you get into the frenzied mode of hurrying to the next plantable spot lest you lose another penny (one penny per second adds up to roughly 350 dollars a day, and the ultra highballers never waste a single second once they step off the helicopter), you will think back on all the extra money you could have made over the season if you would have prepared yourself better beforehand.
I love the people I met out there, and one book written about them and found on the romantic treeplanters site explains it well. When I last planted some 20 years ago, I made some tree planting videos, at a time when hand helds were just coming out. One day I hope to digitize it and throw it up on youtube or something. A truly kooky lot and, if you have any of the adventurist spirit in you, with at least some degree of endurance and perseverance, I’m sure you’ll have a great summer!