Tree planting is a popular summer job in Canada. You can make a lot of money quickly, you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, and it’s a paid way to lose weight while you dig holes in the hot sun over and over and over. It’s the perfect job, if you love very difficult jobs. Once you add in the shitty motel room you have to live in, with a complete stranger for a whole summer, you end up with a super bizarre experience that’s largely unenjoyable.
I spent two and a half months living at Sportsman's, a notoriously crappy motel in Merritt, British Columbia. It’s a go-to spot for planters, crackheads, and tourists who forgot to read the reviews for this “run down and filthy” motel. To put it into perspective, Sportsman's has no heating, no air-conditioning, limited hot water, and a drained pool. The stinky rooms accommodate two people, and each comes stocked with a toaster, microwave, two cups, two plates, and two sets of utensils.
In short, tree planting sucks. No matter the weather, you will spend long days hiking up hills, shoveling grass, and putting trees in the ground. At the end of the day, you’ll feel pain everywhere that you have nerve endings. Eight hours of sleep seems to last two minutes. Before you realize it, you'll find yourself under heavy rain the next morning, still half-asleep, with 40 pounds of trees hanging on your hips.
Since the job is so fucking tough, every fourth day you get a day off. Your muscles might appreciate it, but if you don't have a car, you're just going to spend it in a crappy motel. After a few weeks, you get to know every spot of dirt on the carpet and every flattened mosquito on the wall. If you intend to make it through the extent of your contract, turn your brain off and get used to the dirt, the smell, the spotty internet, and the overall shittiness of your temporary home. Alcohol helps.
Anyway, these photos of mine are not so much about tree planting itself. They’re about living in terrible conditions and fighting off boredom. The parties that tree planters have on their days off tend to be very photogenic. As you’ll see, planters are experts at finding new ways to “escape.” We’re also very adept at setting pools on fire.
Jean Philippe Marquis is a young Quebecois photo journalist whose work can be seen here.