My summer of dirt, sweat, and trees

Working long hours in the blazing sun as a tree-planter is seriously tough.

Sep 3, 2015

As far as jobs go, my worst summer job wasn’t that bad—I wasn’t cleaning outhouses or flipping burgers (although, my first job was actually at McDonald’s and it was a pretty good gig). I'd been travelling for the winter semester and applied for a bunch of random jobs while away. Like my mother I have a green thumb, love the outdoors, and enjoy hiking and camping, so I decided to apply to some environmental programming positions.

I ended up landing a job and was super excited to be outside all day working with plants and people, two of my favorite things! It was going to be a perfect summer job! I'd be educating people on native plant species in the Edmonton area and planting in city parks and spaces. With my previous experience in programming, and being the nature lover that I am, it sounded like a dream come true!

Long, Hot Days Planting Trees

The job posting stated that I'd have to work some evenings and weekends. In the past I always worked two or three jobs at a time so having to work a few evening and weekend shifts wasn’t a problem. What I didn’t realize was that this meant my weekly hours were often heavily weighted over a few days—leading to some very long work days. With some jobs, working 10+ hours doesn’t feel like you’ve worked 10+ hours, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

As it turns out, the job required significantly more manual labour than I expected. Some of those trees are heavy!

Because I was planting trees I had to wear certain safety equipment, so even if it was like +45 degrees outside I'd be stuck there for nine hours in steel-toed boots, long pants, and a non-breathable safety vest—I was literally protected from everything but the heat!

On the really hot days it would feel like a second sun was radiating off of the ground and blasting you in the face. I didn't know I could sweat out of so many bodily orifices!

The Worst Job Site Ever

There was one planting site I'll never forget: Victoria hill, it's etched in my mind forever. It's a south-facing hill (more like a cliff, really), which means that it receives direct sunlight all day. There are almost no trees on the hill (which is why we were planting there), so there was no shade save for the small shadow of the truck. There was no escaping the sun, I felt like a fish frying on a dock!

While my planting partner and I were slowly melting from the heat we also had to maintain a level of enthusiasm to keep the volunteers motivated. Under normal circumstances this was difficult, so the added challenge of cooking from the inside out became grueling. If we failed to plant all the trees we'd have hundreds leftover to deal with at the end of the day.

Even I didn’t want to be there on the scorcher days so I could only imagine how the volunteers felt. Sometimes groups would be given 5 gallon trees to plant and I ethically couldn’t allow one of the volunteers (usually children) to carry the heavy trees up the hill so I'd lug the 25-50 lb trees up myself. It wasn’t programming, it was hard labour!

The Tree-Planting Struggle is Real

My job technically wasn’t to plant with the volunteers but rather to facilitate the event. This was really hard to do when I'd see people ignoring my instructions on how to plant the different trees and shrubs properly. At the end of the day, I wanted some of the little plant babies to live! This led to a constant internal struggle between hiding in the shade and getting out there and planting myself. Despite the sweat, planting usually prevailed…

Even though that summer job was very mentally and physically challenging I still had a great summer. My passion for the outdoors was revitalized! I learned a ton about the native plant species in our area, and I discovered that while I need to be active and outside for my job, shade is also a requirement! 

I also discovered that elbows can sweat profusely and that my body caps out at 8 hours of manual labour.

Even through those difficult times, I ended up making a great friend—spending 10 hour days in the blistering heat together forged a strong bond! I learned a lot about myself that summer and for that, I’m thankful. But still to this day I shudder when I drive past Victoria Hill.


MacEwan University

I'm almost done my degree and still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up but that's okay!

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