I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the work truck, on our way to a workshop and demonstration on rutting management, trying to come up with a fun way to summarize my internship as a mix of forest and farmland race by my window. I have less than two days before I pack up and move back to school for my last year in Integrated Resource Management and things show no sign of slowing down.
The fact is, an experience like this is not something I can easily interpret in an honest way while it’s still happening. Since I started in May, it has been a flurry of new assignments, new people and new places; I still feel like an alien in disguise, visiting a planet and trying clumsily to fit in with the locals. Thankfully the three other interns I work with, Josh, Ryan and Darcy – the last two of which are classmates in my program – are in roughly the same boat.
But I have mixed feelings about going back to school. There’s a rhythm to life in the sticks that I am going to miss. There’s a sense of excitement from not knowing exactly how each day will turn out. I’ve also gotten accustomed to my team, with whom I experienced things none of us will soon forget.
In fact, for how challenging the summer was, we will probably end up reminiscing like old, retired army buddies. So, for my last article I’ve decided to share some of the memories I think we’ll talk about in a retirement home someday, between shouting matches over who gets the last bowl of split pea soup.
The Holes in That Old Elm Forest
In Saskatchewan, native elm forests are an extreme rarity with only a few occurrences in the northeast around Hudson Bay. They are a shade of their former glory though, as the mature old elms that would have made most of the forest canopy died out to Dutch elm disease in the late 90s. We came across one of these stands while surveying fixed radius plots north of the Pasquia Hills where there were a few straggling native elms, but mostly a mix of Manitoba maple and poplar in the canopy. What was interesting was the sinkholes – large enough to hide in – that turned out to be heavily decayed, hollowed-out stumps buried in the soil with thick, furrowed bark still preserved around them suggesting they could have been remnants of the former elms.
Our First Time Riding in a Helicopter to a Tree Planting Operation
Flying for the first time is one thing, but the sound is what really got me. The sound of a chopper engine powering up as the blades slowly oscillate at increasing speed, everything reaching an unbearable pitch just before you leave the ground and rise above the tree line… It’s just awesome. The tree planters approached the chopper with about the same level of enthusiasm you’d see at a bus stop. I guess they’re used to it.
That Time We Nearly Lost One of our Own to the Swamp
While surveying variable inventory plots, my partner Josh and I were assigned a designated ‘hike-in’ location that we might as well have swam to. I was hiking ahead through a wetland when I realized he wasn’t following me anymore, so I turned back to find him up to his thighs in mud, struggling to move. The look on his face is what I’ll remember: genuine terror, like he was convinced the swamp was going to devour him whole. I regrettably didn’t get a photo of this.
Those Swarms of Mosquitoes, Horseflies… and Hornets
In late spring, the interns and I were having dinner with the recently retired General Manager of the timberlands office, listening, getting the benefit of his decades of experience, when his face mysteriously clouded over. “Three out of four of you will be stung by hornets this summer,” he said. The prophetic tone gave us a good laugh, but only a few weeks later the nasty bugs began their siege. Fortunately, only one of us got stung this summer – albeit nine separate times. So, thank you Josh, you lightning rod of sting.
The Sisyphean Task of Roadwork
Throughout the summer, we were asked to assist with road maintenance and operations, which turned out to be some of the most physically demanding days we had. Our supervisor on these projects seemed to run on some secret primal energy that allowed him to work non-stop in heat, bugs and wildfire smoke without ever breaking a sweat. He genuinely seemed to enjoy it though, so we learned to as well (I think.) All I can say is that, after spending an entire day lifting and moving rocks, then going home to bed and dreaming about moving rocks, there is a certain peacefulness to it that I’ve grown to appreciate.
The Mill Tours
Weyerhaeuser’s OSB mill in Hudson Bay processes hardwood exclusively, while the Edgewood sawmill in Carrot River processes softwood. Both companies share harvesting rights in the Pasquia-Porcupine Forest Management Area, and we got to tour both mills to see how they work and how they differ. While the technical aspects are interesting at either mill, personally I’ll never forget “the ponds” at the OSB mill, where logs soak before debarking and smell like a fermented poplar stew, quite unlike anything I’ve ever smelled.
All That Ribboning and Surveying
We spent most of our days hiking through remote areas ribboning buffers, cutblock boundaries and road centre lines, and timber cruising in various eco-sites. While it was repetitive at times, there was always something that caught our interest. We visited nutrient-poor black spruce bogs where small trees less than 4 cm in diameter at breast height were over 50 years of age, and ultra-rich sites where poplar, spruce and birch regularly exceeded 50 cm in diameter. Identifying plants, bird watching and making off-the-cuff assessments about the landscape filled the gaps in conversation.
…That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed my foray into forestry this summer with the Green Dream Internship Program. It was a lot of fun and I feel lucky to have had so many valuable learning experiences in one summer. Thanks to FPAC and the Green Dream Internship Program for giving me the opportunity to write. A huge thank you to my supervisor Amanda LeBlanc for her support, and all the staff at the Weyerhaeuser Hudson Bay timberlands office for their advice and mentorship – they are some the hardest working people I’ve ever met and a true inspiration. Wishing you all the best.