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`Hour dogging' in Montana

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WE called them ``hour dogs'' because they woke the camp up in the dark to get out on the line before anyone else and get the jump on time and wages planting trees. How many mornings had I thought of the proverb, he who blesses ``with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.'' As I lay in my sleeping bag, feeling as though I'd been hit by a truck the day before from the rigors of planting trees in the rock and rough country of high mountains, they snapped branches for kindling, rattled pots and pans, laughed, and one actually sang.

Their noise signified that we (they called us ``the late crew'') had less than an hour to get up, be out on the line by 6:45 a.m., swinging the heavy hoedads into hard soil, roots, subsurface rock, to make a deep hole where a fresh tree might have a chance where loggers 20 years ago had cleaned out everything.

It was our valley's forte, this tree planting, and every spring we fanned out from the Huerfano in Colorado to wherever our computers had won us a bid with the Forest Service. It was one of the things many of us did for our home and children, besides the jobs we invented, our cottage industries, for there is little formal employment in our area. It was on the job in Montana that I found out about ``hour dogging.''

We good-humoredly let the ``hour dogs''do it. After all, we had 150,000 trees to plant, and the sooner done, the sooner home. But they were annoying, our own people, coming in in the evening with 12 hours to record in the book to our humble ``10s.''

And what's more, they had their own clubby humor. All day long they'd yell back and forth ``I'm in!'' Meaning: They had just planted a tree at the required depth, no J-roots, no rocks, an 18-inch scalp around the tree, which wasn't easy. To the late crew, even midmorning or after lunch they'd say, ``You in, yet?'' even though you'd planted hundreds. And at lunch they seemed relaxed, in bonne forme, talking as at a picnic, while we'd eat and faze out for a snooze.

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