Monday, April 16, 2012

Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill

Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill

Release Date
: September 2nd 2011
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Greystone Books
Buy It: Book Depository
Gill offers up a slice of tree-planting life in all of its soggy, gritty exuberance while questioning the ability of conifer plantations to replace original forests, which evolved over millennia into intricate, complex ecosystems. Among other topics, she also touches on the boom-and-bust history of logging and the versatility of wood, from which we have devised countless creations as diverse as textiles and airplane parts.
As somebody who once got a job as a tree-planter, only to end up quitting before I even started when a parent got married the same summer I was supposed to work, I was especially intrigued in picking up this look into the life of a career tree-planter. Gill worked as a tree-planter for 20 years, and all I can say is: she should have been writing.

Well, maybe not, because then we wouldn't have gotten this incredible memoir, Eating Dirt. It's one of those books that manages to mix the personal and the factual in a smooth and interesting way. Gill covers all kinds of history: logging, tree-planting, agriculture, and other plant uses. Because of the non-fiction distractions, the chronology of Eating Dirt can be a bit confusing at times– I'm not sure, but I think that the ending took place before another chunk of the book. It probably wasn't helped by the fact that I took a three month break while reading the memoir though. I'm so glad I went back to Eating Dirt when I was ready for it, instead of swamped with school work, because it's really a poetic and amazingly written book.

Gill has some funny anecdotes, some emotional ones, and even some scary ones (Mama Bear anyone?). It makes Eating Dirt a great mix of stories, held together by her clear love for tree-planting. It's hard to imagine somebody doing this voluntarily, and the memoir is filled with an eclectic cast of people who do. I love the way the tree planters are mostly called "we" throughout the book, because it just makes it clear what a strong connection this kind of experience forms. Assuming that Gill has retired from tree-planting, I wish there had been a little insight into what it was like for her afterwards, but given that the book follows only one year, that probably would have required an epilogue.

I'm not sure I can recommend this book if you are considering planting trees. On one hand, it's a vivid insight into the job. On the other hand, I'm now one hundred percent glad I missed out on the opportunity to do. Eating Dirt exposes what life is like planting trees, peels away the bark to the soft underbelly, and the result is a beautiful and brutal exploration of a unique career and the people who choose it.

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