END OF SEASON PARTY August 6th
The Sun Pines trees near Nordegg went in quickly, partly due to greed and the knowledge that this would be the last chance to make money for quite a while, and also because all the weaker planters in camp had long since been replaced by veteran pounders from other companies. At the end, the competition became shameless. Planters 'creamed' each other out, argued over land, and complained about having no trees while foremen bickered over who got the good blocks, who got the shaft and who was to blame. Everybody moaned when they had it tough and then ran as fast as they could when they had it good. And now they are all done, and gone.
Large slabs of meat and boxes of sweet wine were provided for the end of the season party. We drank, ate, showered and made a fire in the middle of a field. Wax tree boxes were being added frequently and their heat pushed us away into a wide semicircle, single file, mostly, with the more popular surrounded by clusters of smiles, occasionally bursting into unified laughter. People talked about their plans; some swore never to come back, and threw their equipment into the fire: boots, bags, shovel, even tents.
Rhino’s owner, a Frenchman named Pierre who self identifies as a ski bum, approached Jen, with a beer in his hand, and asked what she would be doing next year. The cook and another planter asked me if I thought it would be appropriate to pie Pierre, and I said I thought so.
Pierre was promoting his company to Jen, hoping he could convince her to leave Celtic to run a crew on Rhino next year, and she was smiling, polite but unsure, when the pie hit him square.
Some of the planters began to chant ‘speech, speech.’
All eyes beheld Pierre in silent anticipation. He used his hand to smear the bright, white whipped cream off of his sunburned face, out of his eye sockets and nose, sweeping it toward his mouth, and then licking at it through a half grin.
He had not intended on speaking, or had not brought his notes, and he stumbled through a few lines of thanks.
Some of the Rhino lifers were cheering for him, for the words ‘awesome season,’ the foremen and those with a stake in Pierre's regards, and that made me feel like I had to cheer, too. So I clapped a little bit and it ended quickly.
Everyone went back to talking. Two girls kissed against a truck and then disappeared. The French drank against the English in a beer chugging boat race. Chairs were thrown into the flames, and cans were discarded about the grass.
The next morning, anyone who had a car left camp early to avoid tear-down. Those who needed rides didn't get out until 3 p.m. People hugged each other goodbye, some making plans to meet up later in the year. They are done, and it is a good thing, because they are exhausted, but it is also sad, because things will be different now.
I am not done. Pierre has invited me to do one final contract: 100,000 trees between seven people at a gold mine somewhere north of Mackenzie, BC. Five foremen will be going, including Cam, and two planters: Jen and I.
For 11 days we will live in a mining camp and plant the soil on the backside of a dam.