My church in the wild
Summer officially started this week - must of done, it chucked it down! No, it's the start of summer for two reasons - 1; it featured the last day of planting for the season, and 2; Test match special returned.
It's been a long winter. The wettest on record I believe - not good news for flying schools.....and tree planters. I remember thinking in mid Feb, (we start planting in October) I can't remember a day when heaven hasn't relieved itself on us. I threatened a while ago that one day I'd do an "Axemen" special, and today is that day. The end of a planting season seems like the right time.
Tree planters, you'd be excused for thinking, must be a bunch of tree huggers. Sadly not, no bare feet or rainbow jumpers on parade in a planting team. To be really good at it you must have an element of tree hugger in you - you have to admire woodlands, forestries and magnificent trees but it isn't the key ingredient. What you'll find is a bunch of blokes who spend too much time with blokes. No manners, no sympathy, no patience, no empathy, no where to draw the line. A group of lads with varied backgrounds and personalities but all hell bent on tearing shreds out of each other just to distract from the monotonous exertion. You need to be tough to last just a week, and not physically - mentally. It is all a mental battle, a challenge against yourself. A test of your characters strength, your resilience against pain, fatigue, boredom, exhaustion, repetition, frustration and more pain. If you can plant an average of 1200 trees a day over a 7month period in sun, wind, rain, heavy rain, sideways rain, hail and snow and keep your perspective. If you can start each new day at the bottom of a steep sodden mountainside with your counter reset to 0 and a fresh heavy bag of trees on one sore swollen shoulder and keep your spirits high. If you can load the weight of a big man across your shoulders and march across an Ent battlefield until your lungs are busting, your legs are giving out and there is no blood reaching your lower arms - and all the time smile wildly at your battle, then, I promise, you will find great reward in the woods
Dad first took me tree planting when I was about 12, four years later he set up his woodland establishment business. I worked for him during half-terms, school holidays, between travelling, on days off whilst at uni, between seasonal work and now It is my full time job nearly 20 years after he showed me how to plant a tree.
In this profession we see a side of our island that so few do and most wouldn't believe exists. In many cases the entrances to these woodlands are a forgotten gateway at the back of a rundown estate, or an innocuous track connected to a busy road. Our modern world so often rushes past these pathways to our wilderness. Exploring these tracks will take you (in Wales at least) to the loftiest most expansive and magnificent views of our country - from the ground that is. Here in this inspiring wilderness I am right below and closer to the great sky path N862, the airway that guides the trans-atlantic traffic. As we make our daily pilgrimage we prepare for a day that will challenge us physically, is full of the cleanest air, will require a unity and strong bonds between us. That will be dynamic and require flexibility in our time and movements. A day where, if it is your desire, you can either choose solitary reverence in your own thoughts and use the day to plot and scheme your future, or you can escape time and talk nonsense with those in the same mind-frame.
This profession has given me the flexibility to explore the world, to pick up new adventures, to have security, to provide a stable life and warm home to my family. It has given me the time to re-discover my passion and the ability to pursue my boyhood dream. It has given me fitness, freedom of thought and an iron will.
Now as we enter summer, we'll put down the spades, pick up our chainsaws and spraying tanks and challenge ourselves all over again. I look forward to days with my chainsaw helmet on, Test match special playing in my ear, a better view of the aircraft movements above, and mental preparation for more regular weekend flying.