Haines resident Jessica Plachta had an unconventional childhood. She was the daughter of tree-planters who roamed the western United States.
The thousands of trees they planted now grow tall, and Plachta wants to honor their work with a memoir. She is one of two Haines residents who recently received Individual Artist Awards from the Rasmuson Foundation.
Some of the stories from Plachta’s childhood are almost unbelievable.
“My dad, he was tree-planting, and a lightning storm came through,” Plachta says. “And everybody else went back to camp but my dad didn’t want to come back to camp with his bag of trees. So he just kept planting through the lightning storm and got struck by lightning. [He] survived that, and then came down the hill all just burnt, and rallied his crew to go and fight the wildfires that the lightning had caused. [He] kind of earned himself superhero status.”
Plachta’s dad wasn’t the only tree planter to pull off a heroic act. There’s another anecdote that sounds like something out of a movie. It’s about Plachta’s Uncle Fred.
“He came across a van that was parked in the woods and it turned out there was a kidnapped woman in the back of the van, bound and gagged,” Plachta recounts. “And he proceeded to get her free, both of them escaping gunfire and not getting injured, amazingly. But he rescued this kidnapped woman.”
With stories like that, it’s no wonder Plachta wants to write a memoir. But she says it’s not just the crazy moments that motivated her to do this. It’s her appreciation for her upbringing.
“There were a lot of kids up there, a lot of families,” Plachta says. “And we had a lot of fun and a lot of freedom and a lot of independence and contact with nature. And I think it made for a really nourishing, stimulating childhood.”
Plachta also wants to pay homage to the sacrifice her parents and their friends made. They worked hard on a job that didn’t pay much or provide security in retirement. But they did it to create a better world.
“These days when we’re all terrified of the impending impacts and current impacts of climate change,” Plachta says. “And here’s this group of people who 40 years ago were planting trees, and those trees are now forests.”
Plachta has always enjoyed writing, but this will be her first book.
She says she was surprised when the Rasmuson Foundation accepted her proposal. The $7,500 award will pay for a few things, including an editor and Plachta’s travel to interview her family and other tree planters.
With those conversations, Plachta hopes to gather enough material to write the story of what she calls an ‘invisible subculture’ that deserves recognition.