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Your first pair of cork boots is significant. They're man's tools. Steel-toed. Leather and smell like Dubbin. You've put three coats of waterproofing on already. You arrange the raingear again. Gloves are in the pocket but you want to make sure. You pack a big lunch, a man's lunch because the crummy leaves at five in the morning and you won't have time then. You wait early in the drizzle but the driver is late anyway, shorter on enthusiasm than you. In the back it's hot and steamy, smells of fir needles and pitch and the men look you over, introduce themselves, some with the glint of "kid" in their eyes. No one talks much. Sleep and warm beds and the moist warm bodies of wives touch most minds in a melancholy daily loss. You try to pierce the beaded windows, the dark outside. You can't so you settle in for the long ride and think of hourly wages and travelling time, of union dues and a benefit package, of all the things you've been told and of some that you suspect.

Soon enough one of them speaks and you recognize the type, a braggart, always the first to make contact. "Wilson's the name. Ya ever work in the bush kid? Didn't think so. We're spacin' trees, thinnin' 'em out, ya see. It's called the hack and squirt. Ya gotta cover an acre a day or you're out."

The crew calls him Bucky. "A frustrated faller," one of them later explains. "Watch out for him," another cautions. "He's crazy in the bush, dangerous to himself and everyone else."

Bucky tells you how he worked up north and covered five acres in a single day. "We used chain saws and twelve hour shifts. Workin' for the gippo outfits ya learn the meaning of work."

The crummy arrives with morning light and the crew disperses. The foreman gives you a brush-hook and shows you how to sharpen it with a file. "You leave a tree every ten feet. Leave fir over hemlock and hemlock over balsam. Cut down all alders. The small trees you bend and slash like this and throw to the side. If they're over three inches in diameter you slash all around and squirt the slash full like this." A brilliant pink liquid fills the slash, 2-4-D you find out later, and he replaces the bottle in his belt. "Follow a strip down, keep up with the men on either side." He shows you how to move, zig-zagging, slashing, squirting in a five minute burst of zeal. He passes you the handle. "Go to it," he says and lights his pipe.

You're clumsy and trip and fumble but rush ahead, anxious to impress. He shows you once more then retires to the truck, to smoke, to listen to the two-way radio chatter. You hack, you hack, you hack and squirt. You zig-zag through the bush but have trouble finding the boundaries. You hack and blunder and wonder how much is ten feet. And how much is an acre? And you kill a fir and leave a balsam and every hack drenches your neck. Your hands hurt within an hour and by lunchtime your schoolboy hands are red and puffy, cracked in places. You sit around a spring with the men and they joke and talk and enjoy their sandwiches and one of them, a man with a beard, slips you some bandages. The afternoon drags and you lag behind the line that moves through the bush. The foreman appears and shows you again with energy and experience. He lights his pipe and then, while you work, returns to the truck.

The day is over and under the gloves your hands are torn and blistered and stiff and you sleep in the crummy though the others are talkative and playful. You return on Tuesday and Wednesday and the next day and pay day. When the week is over the foreman hands around cheques. "Is that your hard hat" he asks and you stammer and say it belongs to the company. The men grow silent and put away their gear. "You'd better give it to me then, you won't be needing it. You've had a week and you still aren't doing an acre."

"Couldn't hack it squirt," Buckey sneers. The foreman glares and the bearded man says "shut the fuck up."

So you ride all the way back, embarrassed but you feel strangely relieved. You talk and joke with the men instead of sleeping. When the crummy stops they all say "Luck." You walk home and you have four hundred dollars in your pocket.





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