In 1983, at nineteen, Greg Nolan was hired (reluctantly) by his older sister’s boyfriend—a treeplanting contractor based in Northern British Columbia. His crewmates didn’t know what to think of the wide-eyed kid whose mom drove him the 750 kilometres to hook up with his first job. But within a week, Nolan was hitting the thousand-trees-a-day mark. By the end of his first rookie season, he gained the status of top producer among a crew of extraordinary young men and women. Over the course of his twenty-seven-year career, he planted over two-and-a-half-million trees. Planting large numbers of trees, Nolan excelled at. Surviving in some of the more remote, isolated and technically challenging regions in BC and Alberta, that was trickier, often requiring resourcefulness... and luck.
Nolan was stalked by a large black bear on his first contract near Purden Lake, BC. He all but lost his mind supervising his first project deep in the wilds of Northern Alberta. He was nearly mauled by grizzlies while tenting out in the wilds of Bute Inlet. Nolan survived hurricanes, landslides, hostile loggers, Woodstock-like tent camps, whirlwind romances, the madness of the subculture and life-threatening situations of nearly every conceivable kind. Despite many escapes, Nolan was not immune to tragedy and he grappled with guilt over his own indirect role in a multiple-fatality vehicle accident, throwing him into a deep depression. Only by returning to the challenge of planting trees in remote wilderness settings, did he manage to find peace.
For Nolan, the job offered far more than mere financial reward; it opened the door to a world that very few people, especially those in urban centres, ever get the chance to experience. As he writes, “S**t tends to happen, with the craziest of frequency, when you place yourself in the path of a tribe of roaming treeplanters. The adventure never seems to play out the same way twice. You come together in the middle of some of the most remote and pristine wilderness on the planet, and once there... you live, work and experience things that will entertain your thoughts and haunt your memories for the rest of your days.”
Hair-raising, cocky and a blast to read, Highballer is an exuberant record of a time in the silviculture arena when the industry was largely unregulated, and the wilderness was still wild.