Review

Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe

Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe
by Charlotte Gill (D&M Publishers, 2012)
A book review by Heather Unger

Charlotte Gill is a career tree planter; you can tell when you read her book. By the time you’ve followed the course of a tree-planting season in Eating Dirt, you feel like a planter yourself. You’ve taken in the breath-taking vistas and hushed forest floors. You have dirt ground into every pore and eyes swollen shut from bug bites, and you’ve weathered the inevitable tree-planter madness. (The height of my own planting psychosis came on a particularly cold and rainy day, when peeing in my rain pants seemed like a better idea than baring my bottom to the elements.)

In a 2011 CBC interview, Gill mentioned she had no environmental agenda when she began her research for Eating Dirt. This makes her conclusions about the environmental impact of forestry all the more compelling. Throughout the book, Gill explores the deep history, folklore and science of trees, as well as the role trees play in the world’s cultures and economies and in the human quest for wealth and power. She inspires a love for the forest and gives us pause in our lust for trees and our propensity to squander what they offer: “You don’t need a PhD to note the difference between a virgin forest and a recycled one. The ground here is stones embedded in sand, covered over with crusts of sun-dried moss. The third-hand forest, when it grows, will be leaner than the one it replaces. And the next one more brittle still. Logging even has a name for these diminishing returns. Fall down.”

A reviewer described Gill’s earlier collection of short stories, Ladykiller, as “booby-trapped with combinations of words so lethally effective they may as well be dynamite.” The same could be said for Eating Dirt: in it, Gill uses language in innovative ways to draw vivid pictures for her readers. Too bad she has carried over some of her descriptors from story to story and from one book to the other. It must be tough to constantly think up new and brilliant word pictures, but the déjà vu is distracting and dulls the dynamite effect.

Eating Dirt will bring tree planters back to the rich smells of dense forest and the raw feel of the cut block; other “tribes” will like it ’cause it’s brimming with amusing detail and colour.

Issue 28

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 28, Winter 2012, The Worship and Anarchy Issue.

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Issue 28, Winter 2012

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