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Originally published Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 5:09 AM

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“Eating Dirt:” down and dirty, planting the Canadian forests

Charlotte Gill’s “Eating Dirt” chronicles the author’s experience replanting the industrial forests of Canada, complete with mud, insects and snow, not to mention leeches, bears and cougars.

Special to The Seattle Times

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“Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree Planting Tribe”by Charlotte Gill

Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation, 264 pp., $16.95

Charlotte Gill’s account of the work and lives of the people replanting the clear cuts that dominate the industrial forestlands of the Northwest is an arresting look into another world.

It’s all here: the rain, the mud, the Titanic meals in backcountry cookhouses, the nights in bad motels.

The crazed and marginal lives directed for a season into a manic drive to plant new trees in scourged ground, faster and ever faster. The bears, the bugs, the blood, the isolation.

Wrung from nearly 20 years working as a tree planter, in Canada, hers is a diary of extremity. But what sets “Eating Dirt” apart is the vividness of the writing. Gill’s prose puts the wasp in your shirt, the weariness in you at the cellular level, the grizzly too close for comfort:

“Planting trees isn’t hard,” she writes. “As any veteran will tell you, it isn’t the act of sowing itself but the ambient complications. It comes with snow pellets. Or clouds of biting insects so thick and furious it is possible to end the day with your eyelids swollen shut and blood trickling from your ears.”

Devil’s club and stinging nettle, sunburns and hornets. Leeches and ticks and bears and cougars. Over time, Gill writes, the work “... has the bodily effect of a car crash in extreme slow motion.”

Gill’s book is a searing look at the hard-used, bald spots in the woods we try to look past, and the lives of the people toiling to heal them with new green.

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