Our drive took anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours, depending on the location of the unit in relation to Seeley Lake, but we always drove slowly to the unit of the day nonetheless. This was because, for some reason, Plum Creek paid us by the hour for going to work but they didn’t pay us anything for coming home. This inscrutable corporate scheduling was serendipitous for us jaded tree planters, because even if the unit was close, we almost always gave ourselves plenty of time to smoke whatever shake or bud was riding with our crewmates and be hooting happy--which as far as I could tell was the central goal of forest work anyway--when we arrived on the scene to divvy up our drip-torches riding in the homemade angle-iron rack on top of the beat-up suburban—our crummy[i]. We would have looked like the atavistic pilgrims from another time that we were trying hard to be--maybe from the thirties or some such other fabled time--if anyone had been looking, which they weren't.
At that moment my drip torch lit a sweet spot directly below my boots. It caught instantly and spread willingly, and before I had time to realize it, I was about to become one with Joan of Arc and other misguided martyrs. Usually I was more attentive in avoiding these kinds of ironic situations, because excitement is part of the attraction to woods work, and we sometimes courted it. But this was a bit much, as a crew member crawling over the debris nearby pointed out by screamed wildly at me and waving me off the pile I had inadvertently lit. The problem with me that day was that someone had put some good bud in their lunch pail that morning, and I had been standing on top of the world as I had formerly known it, crying. But then, when I realized my personal danger, I leapt down without a second thought, and wormed my way out through tangled branches as thick as my torso, creeping away as fast as I could creep before the flames took and and the curtain finally burst.
I can tell you it’ll harden you, if you think about it. But I can also say that that’s the way we thought it had to be, when you work for forest wages.