Thursday, July 11, 2013

Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill

I truly did not expect to like this book. I picked it up with a sigh, thinking that here I go again, starting another book I probably didn't want to read in the first place.   The story of tree planters held almost no appeal to me. So, I began the first page ready to be disappointed. By the third page I knew I liked the author's writing style. By the tenth page I found myself enjoying the descriptions of Vancouver island and the almost alien landscape the tree planters were traveling through.

Her writing is tangible, the words enveloping me as a reader.   I can feel the dirt under my fingernails, the sweat clinging to the back of my neck.  As I turn the pages I feel like I should be looking around to make eye contact with the people Gill is talking about.

I keep asking myself who would want to do this kind of work? The conditions, the filth,  the isolation, the hours and the alienness of the terrain has it permanently removed it from every conceivable list of  jobs I could ever fathom.

I told myself that I'm not interested in this book it's not a topic I have any interest in. Still, I keep turning the pages and continuing on.  I can see why this book was nominated for an award  - the topic is unique and the writing itself draws the reader into the story.

The drawback for me was the immense amount of information about the history of trees and forestry industry in the book.   At first it felt like it was handed out in bits and peppered through stories, and that was fine as I found it quite interesting.  Yet as the book continued I found myself drowning in the information and details.    As a result it took me almost a full week to read this 250 page book.

The author,Charlotte Gill, has a much different take on this lifestyle than I do. Where I would find the filth, exhaustion and repetition overwhelming and not something that I would want to spend a career doing, never mind a single season, she finds that she has a love for it.

"Some people think planting trees is as boring and crazy making at stuffing envelopes or at climbing a StairMaster. I love my job for exactly the opposite reason because it is so full of things. There are so many living creatures to touch and smell and look at in the field that it's often a little intoxicating. A setting so full of all-enveloping sensation that it just sweeps you up and spirits you anyway like Vegas does to gamblers or Mount Everest to climbers."

Tree planting sounds like one of those jobs you would need to have a calling to.  It sounds as though it may be one of the last frontier style ways of life that can be experienced in today's world.  For me, this book has been interesting and illuminating.  And I am quite happy (and thankful) to leave it to those who have been called.

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