Rain, An Occupational Hazard
January 10, 2014 12:10 AM   Subscribe

I wallow on my knees in thick mud, hoedag in hand slogging up a near vertical hillside, napalmed bare... rain whistling sideways so hard it bores through my hermetic, vulcanized head-to-toe rainsuit. I look like an astronaut traversing across an eerie, silent moon crater rhythmically bending over to scrape the ground every 6-9 steps... That was 1978 when I was a migrant treeplanter; a job the Oregon State Employment Service lists as the hardest physical work known to this office.., one person in fifty succeeds the three week training period. Like thousands of other college grads that year, I was the product of a liberal education promising an exciting, good job as reward for four years of costly training. So what the hell was I doing planting trees and eating mud for a living? Well I'll tell ya, being a rowdy forest worker in a self-managed collective of modern gypsies traveling the beautiful hinterlands of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and northern California made career pursuits or regular employment look awfully dull. Hoedad's Stories and Poems - the rise and fall of an American reforestation cooperative.

Just a heads up, it's obviously a pretty ancient site and while some of the stories open new browser windows, at least one will download as a word file.

Also this is interesting - while searching for previouslies on Hoedad I came across this 2005 comment, a first hand account of the Mt St Helens eruption from Idaho.
posted by mannequito (9 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
What an interesting read! It's a bit tough going to figure out where everything comes from, but well worth it. I can't imagine today's crop of graduates even coming close to being prepared to work under those conditions or in that spirit of co-operation with one another.
posted by dg at 2:22 AM on January 10, 2014

My dad was a hoedad!
posted by festivemanb at 2:52 AM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

This almost makes up for the whole state being converted to 1 giant clearcut!

posted by Colonel Panic at 3:23 AM on January 10, 2014

I read through that 2005 comment with a growing sense of familiarity - and then noticed my own name at the bottom of it.

The 2+ years I spent as a member of Hoedads Reforestation Cooperative, Inc. was, by far, the most interesting time of my life. I have never known a more capable and hardworking group of people. We lived and worked together in remote forest camps where we had to rely on each other to deal with any problem that arose. It was very difficult, and very rewarding.

dg, there are still some young people out there doing the same work under the same or similar conditions. I don't know if there are any cooperatives remaining, though. They're all probably working as employees now.
posted by wadefranklin at 4:52 AM on January 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Tree planting is a rite of passage for a lot of Canadian students. It was like trench warfare - albeit without all the killing or dying - but still one of the best things I've ever done.
posted by Flashman at 5:07 AM on January 10, 2014

I had a breathtakingly short career as a tree planter. Up at 3, put on wet clothes and go get on the crummy, work harder than imaginable in the rain on steep slopes amid the detritus of recent logging, get yelled at for J roots, ride home as it gets dark, eat and go to bed, get up at 3 the next morning and repeat.

They told me that I would get to the "body break-in" point but I quit before that happened.
posted by Danf at 8:47 AM on January 10, 2014

Oh man, in these parts, having been a Hoedad is sort like having attended Woodstock.

If there had really been that many members, there wouldn't be a patch of bare ground anywhere in the forest...
posted by madajb at 8:52 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

During my above-mentioned stint working for a contractor, I knew a few hoedads. They were, to the person, very good people and there might have been a place for me among them but I never got over that hump where I could do it day in and day out.

In the way of providing some cultural context, I'll share this story. A hoedad asked is she could store 50 or so hits of windowpane acid in my freezer. I said, "Sure!" A few months later, she came over and asked for it, and it was no longer in the freezer. Turns out that I had not told my wife about this, and she assumed that there was just this empty paper bag in the freezer and tossed it. "Bummer," was all Diane said, and let it go.
posted by Danf at 11:05 AM on January 10, 2014

Tree planting.
Kick, kick, CHUNK.
Bend. Stuff.
Move on two steps.
Repeat 400 times.

Frozen peas on knees.
posted by qinn at 12:04 AM on January 11, 2014

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