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[Editor's note: Click the arrows above to see a photo essay and learn about some of the joys and hardships of life as a tree planter in the Sayward Valley on Vancouver Island. All photos taken April 2013 and copyright Hans Peter Meyer.]

Anyone who's spent more than a few weeks in caulk boots has run into it: the romance of the woods. It's particularly fierce in the early spring, after a long winter of no money and physical inactivity.

Whether you're a logger, forester, or tree planter, there's something exciting about "getting back at 'er." Even my daughter, who'd happily thrown her planting bags into my shed after a challenging rookie year, admitted to looking forward to it. For long-timers, it's the awakening of a slumbering love/hate romance. We keep coming back for something, and it's not just the money.

For those in the planting world, Charlotte Gill's award-winning novel Eating Dirt is perhaps the best account of the job. Still, Eating Dirt doesn't quite get underneath what one fellow-traveller called the "terminal uniqueness" of the culture and economy of this industry.

Gill's account is powerful and evocative, but photographs can perhaps add to what she writes, telling in a different way the story of what planters deal with. This small collection of images describes a few hours with the Lukwa contracting crew. When these photos were taken, the crew was working a particularly gnarly bit of broken coastal ground, typical of a helicopter-logged setting. The backdrop: a beautiful valley near Sayward crowned by majestic Victoria Peak.

How are conditions this season? I asked Evan Gough, a more than 20-year veteran of the industry who's been supervising tree planting camps for the past few years.

"It's been a good spring," he says. "With the uptick on the logging side, there's more volume for us to plant. Supply and demand. We're coming out of a slow period and the prices are better than they've been. Most people have done better financially this spring than in recent years."

Which is a good thing. Because at the end of a hard day in the slash, it's the price per tree that puts food on the table.

I hope that someday Gill contradicts an earlier refusal to write a fictional novel based on her extensive experience of the culture, landscape, and economy of the tree planting industry. There's something "beyond the facts" -- beyond photographs, beyond the account she's already given -- about the industry that begs for what only a novel can do.

Perhaps that novel will be a bit of release for those of us who've been moved, and confounded, by our sometimes painful love affair with the woods.  [Tyee]

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