Eating Dirt
A Globe and Mail Top Book * Amazon Best-of-2011 Pick * A Quill & Quire Non-Fiction Book of the Year iTunes #1 Non-Fiction Book of the Year

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

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A tree planter’s vivid story of a unique occupational subculture and the magical life of the forest.

Eating Dirt is an extended postcard from the cut blocks—a vivid portrayal of one woman’s life planting trees. This literary journey follows tree planters through a year on the job, through bugs and bears, remote camps and logging towns. It offers a glimpse into the unique subculture of those who work at one of the dirtiest jobs left on earth among the world’s last giant trees. The story also traces the seasons of the forest and the remarkable life cycles of trees.

“Gill takes us into the remote and rarely seen world of the tree planter, immersing us in the unique combination of sweat, fog, heartache and humor that distinguishes it from all other labors.”

John Vaillant

Charlotte Gill spent seventeen years working in the forests of Canada. During her career, she encountered hundreds of clear-cuts, each one a collision site between human civilization and the natural world, a complicated landscape presenting geographic evidence of our appetites. Charged with sowing the new forest in these clear-cuts, tree planters are a tribe caught between the stumps and the virgin timber, between environmentalists and loggers.

In Eating Dirt, 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 that evolved over millennia into complex ecosystems. She looks at logging’s environmental impact and its boom-and-bust history, and touches on the versatility of wood, from which we have devised countless creations as diverse as textiles and airplane parts.

Eating Dirt also eloquently evokes the wonder of trees, which grow from a tiny seed into one of the world’s largest organisms, our slowest-growing “renewable” resource. Most of all, the book joyously celebrates the priceless value of forests and the ancient, ever-changing relationship between humans and trees.

Nature · Environment
September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-55365-977-8
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-55365-793-4
CDN $29.95
51/2” x 81/2” · 264 pages
Co-published by Greystone Books and the David Suzuki Foundation

Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize Finalist * B.C. National Award Winner * Charles Taylor Prize Finalist * CBA Libris 2012 Non-Fiction Book of the Year * Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize Winner


“Charlotte Gill’s Eating Dirt – short-listed for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for non-fiction – is so winning because it bridges the dizzying gulf between the people who command that work be done and the people who do it. . . . Gill’s is a book you can live in. You come to speak its language and to feel as she feels.”

The Globe and Mail

“With Eating Dirt, Gill has produced a winner. Not all of the million seedlings she planted during her two decades in the wild will have thrived, but this book will.”

Quill & Quire (starred review)

“Eating Dirt will likely get passed, dog-eared and mud-stained around planting bush camps for seasons to come, and reading it will take retired treeplanters back to the thrilling agony of the cut blocks and slash piles they thought they had left behind, but it should also serve as a useful reminder to those who have never seen a clearcut up close: With every passing year we lose more and more of the woodlands that sustain us, and currently the only thing that comes close to replacing them is a small band of ragged fortune seekers, rebuilding our forests one tree at a time.”

National Post

“Gill’s short-story collection, Ladykiller, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and this work of non-fiction showcases her ability to apply literary techniques to non-fiction. The result is a beautifully written and educational book about trees and their utter importance to life on this planet . . . Eating Dirt should be required reading for everyone in B.C. and millions of others.”

Victoria Times Colonist

“Gill, author of the 2005 story collection and Governor General’s Literary Award finalist Ladykiller, brings all her storytelling ability to make her tree-planting “tribe” come alive. These are human beings, all right, and the descriptions of their trials and triumphs, the rigours and rewards of tree planting in these massive landscapes are eloquent and evocative.”

Vancouver Sun

 “In Eating Dirt, the Vancouver writer takes readers into a world of extreme beauty, devastation, adventure and boredom, exploring the pain and pleasure of a half-wild life.”

Canadian Geographic

Advance Praise

“With this book, Charlotte Gill has fitted a key piece, long missing from the story of West Coast logging. What happens after these wild landscapes have been stripped of trees is an important, if painful topic, and it is hard to imagine a writer (and tree planter!) better qualified than Gill to tell this story of death and rebirth in the woods. In the same spare, unflinching prose that brought her such acclaim for her short stories, Gill takes us into the remote and rarely seen world of the tree planter, immersing us in the unique combination of sweat, fog, heartache and humor that distinguishes it from all other labors.”

John Vaillant, author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce

“A joy of a book! Eating Dirt romps through the grime, the pain, and the legendary, eccentric life-styles of the tribe of tree planters. In this natural history of tree planting, Charlotte Gill discovers beauty even in the clearcuts of our thrashed forests, and the often-deranged culture that works to protect the remnants of a noble environment.”

Brian Brett, author of Trauma Farm and Uproar’s Your Only Music

“If you’ve ever spent a season plugging seedlings into clearcuts, you’ll feel right at home in Charlotte Gill’s Eating Dirt — both a personal account of her 20 years as a tree planter and an exploration of forestry and tree-planting, past and present. If you haven’t, you’ll be granted a window into a fascinating, uniquely Canadian culture. A beautifully written and absorbing book.”

David Suzuki Foundation