Tree-Planting

James Arthur

The crew come from all over, because the money is that good.
            Women, men –
many are students planting as a summer job, moiling in the mud, sweating
            bug spray.
One day off, four on, in cut-offs above long johns, with a bag of saplings
            on each hip.
As one hand does the spading, the other slides
            a pine plug
into the ground. One breath, one stride, and the smack of shovel cutting clay.
            Some highballers
who’ve been coming since before the crew bosses were on the crew
            are old-timers
of more than 35, masters of the trade, who’ve customised their shovels
            by cutting
inches off the shaft, or by grinding a kicker off the blade. One planter, famous
            for having duct-taped
his fingers to the handle of his spade, tells the story again, deadpan –
            It’s not so easy
to wipe your ass when you’ve taped a shovel to your hand. Nights off, planters pile
            into trucks
for the long drive into town: for hot showers and the bar.
            There are fights:
some locals are sick to death of kids with nose-rings, mohawks,
            and money to throw around.
One planter’s working toward a Philosophy PhD. One guy stays up all night
            getting drunk
on a lawn chair in the river. And there’s a new guy who no one else can stand.
            His crewboss
is against him, he says – fuck her for giving him another bullshit
            piece of land.
He has no tent, but beds down in a rusted-out sedan
            with an ex-fighting dog
that wants to kill every other dog in camp. Always keep your head down,
            getting off a helicopter,
and always walk downhill. Always wash off the trucks before going into town.
            Don’t plant too shallow.
Don’t plant too deep. On the downtime between contracts, the planter with the dog
            vanishes
and never does come back – fired, everyone assumes, until a story gets around
            about the man and dog
walking out into a field with a softball and a bat, to play the game
            they always played:
the man would crack a high long shot for the bleachers, and the dog
            would run it down,
except this one time, when the man somehow timed it wrong. As he began
            his downswing,
the dog sprang into the air, jaws open, catching the ball, and the full force
            of the bat coming down:
the dog lived. The dog died. The outcome is unclear. – Let’s go back
            to the field, with the leap
still inside the dog, the blow still unstruck. Man and dog are happy,
            each in the company
of a creature he truly loves – so let’s leave them as they are,
            in the field.
Quiet. No breeze. The red stitching on the softball
            hanging in the air.