Published in Urban Graffiti
The camp was at the end of a dusty logging road, a hundred kilometers up from the highway. The only other settlement was a tiny Indian reserve, just visible through a stand of trees from the road. The camp consisted of four portable trailers, each a city block long, and two smaller trailers, one for the administrative office, the other for the cook shack, the whole lot plunked down in the middle of a clearing shorn of all vegetation down to bare earth.
It had been a tough season, the worst I’d had in the four years I’d gone tree-planting, and I thought the camp would be a good place to go into myself, read the books I’d been meaning to read since I’d gone into the bush, prepare myself for the transition back to the city. The loggers weren’t due back for a few weeks, and we were all given our own rooms in one of the long trailers. The rooms were bare but comfortable, and the steady hum of the generator out the window blocked out the sound of my fellow tree-planters yelling back and forth in the hallway, or playing guitars in their rooms. I found the camp beautiful in a way, an echo of the Northern towns I’d grown up in and almost totally forgot about when I was in the city. The smell of oil and exhaust mingled with the sylvan-sweet scent of fresh-cut timber, and broken logs stuck out of the mud like the remains of a building after an earthquake. Next to the railway cars, a tractor with a claw the size of a small house shifted logs in and out of a twenty foot pile, while fully-loaded logging trucks appeared regularly at the opposite ends of the clearing, sending up plumes of dust, their tottering loads of freshly-skinned trees glistening in the sun. It was like a giant factory dropped in the middle of the woods.
I’d been mildly depressed for weeks. Part of it was how much tree-planting had changed since the year before: gone the free-wheeling travelers, the misfit hippies and punks that had been my solace in other years. The students were taking over, and their bright faces, so sure of their future and their places in it, gave me the horrors. In the morning, they played Van Morrison’s ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ in the truck and at night they gathered for hippy sing-a-longs in the cookshack or even the hotel room, hauling out bongos and guitars. When they started in, I usually went off somewhere to get drunk.
But mostly I was depressed about Molly. We’d been together a couple of years, ever since I’d met her in Vancouver hanging around the punk rock bars when I’d come down flush after my first season. She’d just come back from England and a month after we’d met, she’d wanted to go back, and dragged me to London, introduced me to a whole world of squats, traveling, the London and Europe punk rock scene. We toured all over Europe, staying in hotels and squats in Paris, Madrid, Berlin, going back to London when our money ran out to join up with our pals in the squatting scene, make enough money so we could travel again. We were always in some kind of drama: we both liked to drink, and we’d fight, break up and get back together again, sometimes a couple of times in one day. We had a lot in common too: parents from the old country we didn’t talk to anymore, a couple years on the street when were kids, the right, through those same parents, to British and Irish passports. The desire to leave Canada, to move ever forward. Yet part of the reason I’d come back in the intervening years, discarding my leather jacket and Doctor Marten’s for lumberjack shirts and cork boots, exchanging the ancient grey British and European streets for a mouldy tent and cutblocks of gnarled and rotting logs, had been to get away from her craziness, to remind myself of who I was. That winter had been the worst. Not just drinking, but dope. No longer on the periphery of our scene as it had been in other years, junk moved ever closer until everyone we knew was using and we were smoking off the foil to bring ourselves down after drinking too much.
For all that I missed her, missed our life together. I couldn’t shake the feeling that coming tree-planting had been an enormous step backwards, a part of my life that no longer fit. Yet now that I was in the bush, I was scared of what would happen when I hit Vancouver, this time to no Molly. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up, if I could even go back to London without her. After awhile it was easier to lose myself in work, not think too much about what might be waiting at the end of the road.