The cracked, bandaged fingers, slightly weathered smiles and all-over dirt stains in “Screefer madness” — a photo essay about tree planting, by tree planters, in the May/June 1997 issue — are timeless [Read the full story here]. And with the exception, perhaps, of the 90s-chic Tilley-style hat, the utterly practical, breathable outfits of the Canadian tree planter haven’t much changed in almost two decades. Today, many young easterners looking for work still bypass the hotels and bars of Banff, Alta., or the oilfields (especially post-2014) to replace felled forests in the west; others go no farther than northern Ontario for the same reason.
With a few 90s tree-planting statistics, “Screefer madness” makes the job seem worthy of its description as a “Canadian coming-of-age-experience.” About 17,000 tree planters worked for 1,200 contractors each year. Veterans could plant 3,000 trees in a single day from satchels bulging with 20 kilograms of evergreen seedlings at a time. In 1990, 789 million trees were planted, compared to fewer than 700 million by 1997, “in part because some logging companies are cutting fewer trees per hectare to allow forests to regenerate naturally.” (That annual number is now closer to 500 million.)
Along with the feature’s trees, stains and smiles go the stories and poems of tree planters themselves. They tell of the joys (planting), backbreaking hardships (also planting), occasional awkwardness (sharing a narrow vestibule attached to the camp’s sole, unisex shower) and ironies (making “a man-made forest with man-made trees” in wilderness landscapes).