News & Updates
Five Provinces One Season: The Tree-Running Adventures of the Migrating Smoky Tiger
By Andrew Courtnage AKA Smoky Tiger
Hey Brinkman tribe! I’m honoured to tell the tale of my 2014 season of tree running adventures, one for the record books, for your amazement and amusement. Long, varied, with many a sloping and soggy quad trail, fields of brackies as far as the eye can see, tree boxes, slash piles, and so many stubborn and beautiful planter folk. In the end I traversed five provinces in “Elfmist,” my faithful blue ’82 Volkswagon Westfalia. Looking back, it was truly a season that makes me proud to work with you guys. It made me realize how lucky I am just to be a part of this team.
The season started early in Manitoba in early April, with new Project Manager Tony Hisco and the Bison Crew. With our guru-goddess Robin McCullough having gone to manage OH&S, It was our first try on our own. I’m proud to announce that the crew under Tony's rookie leadership had a practically flawless season. Except for a slight bus hang up (coincidentally on the same day Eastern Operational Manager Neil Whan came out to check on us), other than that I can't remember a single miscommunication, mishap, or failure. We formed Voltron and rocked it. A 2 month contract made easy with high numbers and perfect quality. A highlight for me was the opportunity to try out the Argo, a sort of mini-tank used to bring trees into some labyrinthine bog blocks. The Argo turns into a boat in deep water and it was pretty neat hitting the open water and cruising through the reeds with big loads full of trees strapped to my personal amphibious chariot. Not sure how the planters enjoyed those blocks but I sure had fun and stayed safe to boot.
Next we migrated into some higher-level stuff in Ontario around Upsala. Upsala whose giant grotesque mosquito statue with morbid human body hanging from its jaws marked the turnoff to our camp. Here there were more slopes and jungle-like conditions. Our crew stayed strong and resilient, adapting well to the new terrain. Needless to say I had a lot of merriment in this bug infested zone, with some very memorable blocks and days swimming through mud pools, and performing small miracles on my four wheeled steed with wobbly quad tub in tow, losing a tire every few days. We pulled through and the crew disbanded to help finish up with other camps. Good job guys.
Soon I was summoned West in the Elfmist to help solve problems in Manitoba's sister province of Saskatchewan. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at this camp. I guess no one did, Saskatchewan is a relatively new frontier for Brinkman and a green crew was assembled under the leadership of the epic seasoned veteran Rob Atkinson. Rob faced all levels of adversity from the start. When I arrived, the camp was frazzled, facing challenging ground and a supremely complex contract. It was like arriving on a silvicultural pirate ship with a crew of beautiful but tired sailors who had faced the ravages of the open sea and lived to tell the tale though suffering many casualties. I’m proud to say we finished strong through the final stretch to finally close a really tough show. I’m hoping I get to return to Saskatchewan planting, there are possibilities of planting plunder there for the right crew of pillagers.
Next the Elfmist carried me to the wilds of Whitecourt, Alberta, to work with two more new Project Managers, Lumi Faucher and Mike Priestap. Wow how planting changes once you pass that border! Lumi was running Dawn's crew, probably the most beautifully glowing crew I’ve ever seen (sorry Erik). As soon as I arrived in camp Lumi quickly set me to work designed to break me. He had a block for me I'll never forget, difficulty level 9.5 on Nij's scale of quad accessibility. I eventually just jettisoned the broken quad in a mud pit up to the handlebars and defaulted to Dutch Helicopter (carry) the remaining boxes on my head to the back of the block to finish it clean. Next morning I rode Elfmist over to Priestap’s crew where he was running some massively hectic Heli blocks. I’ll have to nominate Mike Priestap for Rookie All-Star Project Manager of the year. His organization, logistical poise, and overall stage presence was truly impressive. Some of his situations were so difficult we had three quads and three tree runners going full bore at once. My time spent in this oil-torn region of Northern Alberta remained covered by a forest fire haze, giving me the sense that it was the land of Mordor, with Stephen Harper as Sauron.
After four provinces of legendary tree running, we departed on a summer festival tour. Despite almost unsurmountable obstacles, breakdowns and repairs, the wily Elfmist carried us to BassCoast in Merritt BC, then back to Winnipeg for the Folk Fest and then all the way to the desert of Nevada for the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City. Needless to say we were pretty spent when it was over. This brings me to the final chapter of this epic season.
Literally minutes after leaving Burning Man I got a call from Matt calling us up to Terrace BC. So Elfmist again set sail and 22 hours later we were in Vancouver and on a plane to Terrace. This was my second time planting in Terrace, an amazing magical planting zone rife with bandits and mushroom pickers. It was a tiny one-truck crew working for the Amazonian vet Christine Lepage. The planting was equally arduous but it was beautiful to say the least. Every microsite required crossing a jungle gym of slash up a slope with bags full of donkeydicks (XL seedlings). The contract took longer than anticipated and by the end there were only four of us left, but we got ‘er done. I docked Elfmist in Vancouver for the winter and headed home.
Post Script 2014
I’m not sure how many folks have planted in all five of the provinces Brinkman works in in a single season before, but I feel very blessed to have realized this achievement. It never ceases to amaze me the wealth of skill, character, and beauty that makes up the peaceful army of our organization. Although I revel in the challenge and adventure, and the constant wondrous beauty of the various environments, it is the comradery and love that I feel for this group that has kept me coming back for more than a decade. And for this I thank you all.
Check out the mythopoetic verses of the Smoky Tiger on soundcloud.com @ smokitigr.