Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Restoration History: Hoedads

"In the middle of a clearcut, planting a tree is a spiritual act; doing it over and over is healing." Eugene Weekly.

Photo courtesy of www.dechene.com

The Hoedads were an organized cooperative of tree planters, named after their tool of choice, a sort of pickax used to plant trees. Mostly college graduates, these young men and women went "back to the land" in the 1970s to care for the earth and try to live out the ideals of the the 1960's, although by the time my father was a forester in Oregon in the 1980's only "drunks and guys who couldn't make it doing anything else" were left. It was brutal labor, a job the Oregon State Employment Service lists as “the hardest physical work known to this office.., one person in fifty succeeds the three week training period.” But the scenery was fantastic, and the art, music, and poetry of the movement continues to speak to us...

...especially to those of us who follow in their revolutionary footsteps, planting trees and caring for the earth. Today, reading about the idealism of the Hoedads, it is tempting to romanticize their work in comparison with our own. For example, both men and women Hoedads commonly worked shirtless, while today we rarely work shirtless and there aren't really many women on the crew anyway.

But, reading further history reveals trade-offs even in paradise. The Hoedads were exposed to sprayed herbicides and pesticides, while today we avoid using most poisonous chemicals (except petroleum products). Our work today, like the Hoedad's, is a product of our times. We drive trucks and eat processed food and doubt whether we can make a real difference, while the Hoedads confronted prejudice, exploitation, and chemical toxins with the fresh idealism of the 1960's. 40 years later it can be hard to see if much progress has been made (there are still so many forests and riparian areas to re-plant!), but perhaps the important fact is what has stayed the same: the dedication, hard work, and, yes, idealism to try to make a positive difference on the earth.

"God almighty! Why am I here, saying this, and not there, and not doing, and making the forest?"
Please read this great verse poem by Richard Bear eulogizing the Hoedads.


How to use a hoedad.

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