Rick and Manu had enjoyed their first tree planting season. Knowing what to expect, Rick returned prepared for his second year. Manu also wanted to go, but neither as a planter nor a kitchen clerk. There was an open position for tree runner, and Rick pitched him for the job.
The tree runner delivers trees to the planters. Their main responsibility is to ensure that planters never run out of trees. Besides, the tree runner also builds caches, a basic shelter to protect trees from the weather. Three wood logs stacked in a pyramid and a tarp make a cache. Manu liked the idea of driving side-by-sides, doing deliveries, and building caches. He applied and got the job.
Their first night in camp was a joyful reunion. Friendly faces and amazing food reminded the planters why they came back. The boss briefed them on the land, wages, and calendar for the season. Like the previous year, Rick and Manu were in different crews. Rick was with the planters, Manu with the staff.
The staff eat their meal together, but Manu preferred to hang out with Rick and the other planters in the common big top. Most planters Rick and Manu met were nice, respectful, and humble…and then there was Lawrie. Lawrie had strong views about everything. He was loud, interrupted people constantly, and gave his opinion without being asked. He self-identified as a fascist, and enjoyed being the center of attention by creating drama in camp. Lawrie's attitude triggered Rick, which also amused Manu. He asked him on controversial topics just to hear him rant. Idiots are never boring.
Lawrie's favorite topic was the tree planter’s etiquette. He would go on and on about the importance of etiquette, and how youngsters have no respect for it anymore. The year before, Lawrie bragged that he chose abstinence to keep his experience pure; part of the planter's etiquette. He then proceeded to hit on every single girl in camp, single or not. A true gentleman.
The first shift of the season was tough. The weather, too hot too early, left Rick on his knees despite his preparation. With the heat came the bugs. Horse flies, hornets, and mosquitoes swarmed the land and feasted on the planters. By the end of the week, Rick looked like he had chicken pox. Relief came with the rain on the fourth day. The water softened the ground, scattered the bugs, and cooled the air. Rick loved planting trees on rainy days.
Every day of the season, Manu built caches and delivered trees. It was a lonely job, but Manu spiced it up. He liked to observe planters from afar and made a game out of it. Tree planters were smooth, rough, fast, or slow, but each had a unique style of planting. Manu nicknamed them based on their style and gave them special abilities. There was the boxer, the octopus, the panther, the tornado, the sensei, the flamingo, and the ghost. Rick was not good enough to get a nickname.
It was a rainy day off and Manu was working. He did not mind light rain, but in that part of Canada, the weather was unpredictible. Heavy rains caused mudslides and obstructed roads. Manu had to dig trenches all around his caches. In the mud, everything was tougher. The ground was uneven, the logs heavier and hard to balance. Manu tried different approaches but each attempt ended in a failure. In the end, he played Jenga with the logs. The caches he built that day were weak and unstable, but they held. Good enough.
The next morning, the forecast showed 17⁰ overcast with 80% probability of thunderstorms. Glad, Rick finished his breakfast and jumped in the bus. Their new land was far away. They went across three rivers and weaved through steep mountains, a scenic ride before the day. They reached their destination and loaded their bags in the side-by-sides. Rick sat next to Manu in the front, with three other planters in the back. Manu was smiling as he drove the planters to their lands, way up the hill.
- Rick: Why are you smiling?
- Manu: I saw your piece...super creamy.
- Rick: You’re fucking with me.
- Manu: You’ll see.
- Rick: Really?
- Manu: You’ll see.
It was a lie of near presidential quality. Manu kept smiling as he dropped each planter at their respective cache. When it was Rick’s turn, he waved him goodbye, winked, and drove away. Rick examined his land. It looked terrible: super steep, piles of stash all over, and rocky at the top. The land was everything but creamy! He heard Manu laughing in his head, cursed him, and lit a cigarette.
A second side-by-side dropped a planter in a fluorescent orange coat at the cache. It was Lawrie, Rick's cache buddy for the day. Rick cursed Manu again, and walked away to take a leak. In a conscious effort to avoid him, Rick lit up a second cigarette and waited for Lawrie to leave the cache. Only then did Rick load his bag and start working. For every bag of trees, Rick paced himself to not meet Lawrie at the cache. Manu on his side-by-side, watched and giggled, a boy hugging his pleasure.
The rain started around ten in the morning. By midday, thunder roared over the mountains. Steady at first, the rain increased with the storm. Water trickled down the hills, creating puddles of mud on every trench. Rick was no match for the conditions. He slipped many times, hurt himself a few times, and struggled to keep his pace. The rain kept pouring all afternoon.
Manu's last tree delivery was at 3pm. He had to wait and drive the planters to the bus for the ride back to camp. Manu parked on a viewpoint and watched over Rick's land. He tried to spot Rick but could only see Lawrie in his orange coat. The orange silhouette walked down the hill towards the cache. Lawrie untied his bag, peeked around, and crouched under the tarp.
Intrigued, Manu turned on the engine and approached carefully. The rain smothered the noise of the side-by-side. Like a snake, he sneaked in quietly to get a good look at the cache. He saw Lawrie in a horse stance, pants down with his orange coat tied around his waist, and holding the top of the cache with one hand. Shocked, Manu shifted to neutral and pressed hard on the gas. The engine roared. Startled, Lawrie pulled himself up in one sudden move. The logs slipped under the extra weight and the cache collapsed, burying Lawrie under it.
Manu screamed, loud and long. Thinking it was an emergency, Rick stopped planting and dashed to the cache. He saw Manu screaming and laughing, completely hysterical.
- Rick: What’s going on?
- Manu: AAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHA
- Rick: MANU!!! Dafuck is going on?
- Manu: AAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHA AAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHA
Doubled up and unable to speak, Manu pointed at the cache. Rick noticed Lawrie’s bags and the tarp moving.
- Rick: LAWRIE!? LAWRIE, ARE YOU OKAY?
- Manu: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAH
- Rick: SHUT THE FUCK UP! LAWRIE! ANSWER ME, ARE YOU OKAY?
Manu was grinding his teeth not to scream. After a long silence, a voice came from under the cache.
- Lawrie: I’m fine.
- Rick: Do you need help?
- Lawrie: I'M FINE!
- Rick: Are you sure? Yo! What’s that smell?
- Lawrie: FUCK OFF!!!
- Manu: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHHA
Rick could not get the facts straight. Torn between disbelief and disgust, he glanced at Manu. But Manu could not speak. Between laughs and puffs, he mimicked the scene, and soon enough, Rick got the picture. His eyes widened and his face shone, spreading hysteria like wild fire. The two boys were on the ground, crying with laughter. Lawrie moved under the cache.
In a flash of clarity, Rick grabbed Manu’s shoulder.
- Rick: Take a picture!
- Manu: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahaha
- Rick: Quick before he gets out! My phone is dead!
- Manu: Aaaaaahaha Aaaaahaha..No!
- Rick: What? Why not?
- Manu: Aaaaahaha eti…hahah eti... haha etiquette!
- Rick: BWAAHAHHAHAAHHAHAH
The two boys got in the side-by-side and backed off just enough to get away from the smell. As Lawrie rolled in his shit, Rick and Manu watched and laughed.
The story spread in camp and beyond, but no pictures were taken.
Good planters observe etiquette.