SHIFT TWO May 9th
My pants were getting tighter around my quadriceps. The burden of the trees weighing around my hips receded incrementally, felt less and less noticeable, until I started taking bigger bag ups, and they too would become easier to bear.
My hands were hurting, but the blisters were glazing over into hard pockets of smooth and insensitive callous. The first two days of the shift saw me steadily improving, numbers-wise. On the third day I was cut a particularly ugly piece, consisting almost entirely of rocks and boulders. Kayla apologized and said I would be rewarded with a better piece of land next time.
This happens - you can’t have a great bit of land every time out. You have to plant the tough ground to get to the good ground, and when you are planting the tough ground you imagine you are paying a debt to your crew, doing them a service that you hope will be acknowledged and paid back in time.
This was the most difficult ground I had planted thus far. I couldn't find any soil to plant the trees in. Every time I threw my shovel down a loud metallic 'TING' would go running through my hands to my body and head. I tried my best to stay productive, but it was slow. I couldn’t get in the numbers that would make me happy, where I would be comfortable with my earnings.
After a few hours of this, Kayla came into my land to check my trees and declared that nearly all the trees I had managed to plant were unacceptable.
She said ‘Quality is a priority, and makes a reputation as much as quantity. If our trees aren't good enough, we can fail a block and not get paid as a company.’
I replanted for two full days before the piece was in passable shape. Two days where I earned nothing, where I walked and re-walked my rocky, difficult land, pulling up trees and replanting them.
Maniacal anger overtook me. When I dug up what I thought were good trees, this anger found an object in Kayla.
Finding a bad tree, I would curse the land, and what seemed like the impossibility of planting good trees in this land. Then at myself, my impatience, my ineptitude.
I thought of New York, where my fiancée (was she really my fiancée? I had proposed on her bed several days before I left, in tears - an act of desperation, with a small ring, an heirloom my mother had given me) was likely working comfortably in her office.
I rehearsed variations of insults, ‘I quit’ speeches.
I would sometimes lie down, or attempt to cry, twisting my mouth, contorting my brow, and forcing a sob into the unending tirade of shit talk directed at myself, my life, my land, and my boss; dishonestly, pathetically seeking some unearned emotional release.
I daydreamed. I hoped a bear would emerge from the treeline, maul me, and leave an intimidating scar across my brow line. A brush with death would legitimize the sympathy I longed to be lavished with. Kayla would regret making me replant - the crew and camp would coddle me.
I imagined telling the story to horrified cosmopolitans in the candlelit bars of downtown New York.
When the second day ended and my ordeal was over, I sat on a patch of upturned soil on the edge of the logging road beside my piece with Caroline, anticipating a ride back to camp, and then to town, from Kayla, who at that point was off at another nearby block. I felt the warmth of the sun on my back, tempered every so often by almost transparent clouds that drifted rapidly across the sky in the steady breeze, which sifted through treetops far out across the block sounding like sand continuously pouring through a wooden instrument - or a river of silt.
I talked about a David Foster Wallace story I had read in my tent the night before. At the end of the story, the vain and self-centered narrator is revealed to be speaking from beyond the grave, after his suicide. Tears came to my eyes. Caroline asked to borrow the book, but I told her I had not finished reading it.