Adam’s Summer Purgatory, 2008 (2013)

9/26 - Next


Yesterday I was given a big piece of land and a written warning concerning the quality of my trees. I didn’t read the warning, signed it sarcastically with a single ‘X,’ and made a remark to Kayla about this being a very negative way to begin a new contract. I presumed the notice, the ‘formal warning,’ was an empty threat.

I was happy to have a big piece of land for the first time all year, and resolved to plant good trees all day.

In the morning I was checked by the company checker, who was happy with my trees. I felt good.

I worked extremely hard, knowing this would be a chance to get in a solid number, to not only make up financially for all the stifled and short days, but also to show management in camp what I was capable of and thereby earn greater consideration in their decision making. After my fourth bag of 300, I checked my watch. It was 11:30 a.m. and I had 1,200 trees in the ground. If I kept working this hard all day, I could plant 2,500 trees, which at 17 cents would give me a daily take of $425, nearly twice as much as my next-best day planting with Kayla. (My first day of the season, during which I planted for another foreman, is still my biggest day of earnings, though I am in much better physical condition now - more evidence that the situation with Kayla is fucked and ridiculous.)

By 1:30 p.m. I had 1,800 trees in the ground. I had earned $306 and could foreseeably reach 3,000 trees, a considerable number, an elite number, which would earn me over $500. I felt giddy at the prospect, and continued to work as hard and fast as possible.

I saw Caroline at the cache, who I had lapped by that point.

‘You are really going today, eh?’ she said.

‘The land is good.’

I didn’t pause to talk or eat. I threw my bags on the ground, loaded them up with another 300 trees and was back to my piece within five minutes.

I finished my seventh bag of 300 and checked my watch on the short walk back toward the cache. It was 3 p.m. Two and half hours left to plant 900 trees. Three thousand, I was thinking, three thousand, three thousand, ‘How many did you get in today, Adam?’ ‘Three thousand.’


Kayla was waiting for me when I returned to the cache. She looked pissed.

I took a long drink from my water jug and rummaged through my backpack for something to eat.

‘Do you want good news or bad news?’ she said.

I said, ‘Good news.’

‘The good news is that I will allow you to fix your piece.’

I silently measured the implications of her remark.

I said, ‘Are you joking?’

‘I just walked through your piece and found open holes, at least 25% of your trees.’ Her tone infuriated me - she was acting like I had disappointed her, that this disappointment was making her feel sad.

I said, ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me.’

She said, ‘You know I don’t like to do this.’

I said, ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me. They were fine this morning. I was checked by the client.‘

She said, ‘I don’t know what kind of trees you were planting this morning, but the ones I checked weren’t good.’

‘Kayla...’ I said. ‘What is your problem?’

‘What is my problem?’ she said. She was offended. ‘My problem is your trees.’

‘Kayla,’ I said, ‘my trees are fine. The client checked checked my trees, they are fine. Why are you doing this? Are you trying to get rid of me?’

Kayla’s mouth moved as if she would respond, then she did not respond.

‘Have I said anything to offend you? Have I been anything but decent? I know I can have that effect on people. I am aware of... we are not the same kind of planter, Kayla.’

Kayla, I have learned, is a steady, high quality planter. She never made much money but always planted perfect trees which were for her a source of pride.

‘No,’ she said, ‘we are definitely not the same kind of planter.’

She said, ‘You have to plant trees that are as good as everyone else’s.’

‘You have unreasonably high quality standards, Kayla, and your crew is suffering. If the client checker likes my trees then the block doesn’t fail. The client is the endpoint. Making me replant trees after the client checker has already seen them and signed off on them is pointless.’

‘The client checker hasn’t seen the trees you planted this afternoon,’ she said.

‘They are the same,’ I said. ‘They have been checked. Are you trying to set me up?’

Kayla walked into Caroline’s land. Caroline was planting near the cache, and stopped to talk to Kayla, who had made her replant two days on the previous shift. I overheard Kayla telling Caroline her trees were looking good.

When I walked back into my land I threw my shovel repeatedly, as hard as I could and in no particular direction. I swore at the top of my voice. The trees were good, I thought. I threw my shovel at a stump and it ricocheted back toward me and hit me on the shin. I screamed.

I sat on a stump on a slight hill in my land and watched the other planters work. This is the end of the line with Kayla, I thought. I began to prepare a pitch for my supervisor, Jason.

‘Jason, I know Kayla is frustrated with this job, and I am certainly frustrated with this as well. There is a problem between us, a problem that is outside the trees themselves - I don't think she is seeing my trees with clear eyes. I believe that I have become a symbol of her difficulties, and that she will never be able to trust me to do my job.

‘Perhaps I am a bit of a higher maintenance planter - I am also a fast planter. That is why I think Kayla should trade me to another crew: a bigger crew, where the person checking me will also care about my numbers and have something to gain from my speed. What Kayla needs is a slow planter who has perfect trees. I am not that planter. Therefore, it would be best for both of us for me to move to another crew.’

A reasonable request, I thought. A good solution.

I felt confident Jason would understand.

Nobody spoke on the drive home.

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