Adam Humphreys discusses his girlfriend and pitching tents in “Adam’s Summer Purgatory, 2008 (2013).” The book features his then-girlfriend Lauren as a faraway character. She helps him stay grounded while he endlessly plants trees in the Canadian wilderness. While Adam shifts from one sad-sack area to another, he develops a sense of calm throughout the experience. Nobody really wants to plant trees, but for a few people, it’s their only option. Select people even appear to enjoy it — being outside, becoming one with nature, being relatively individualistic. Everyone on the crews is motivated by how much they earn per day, though there’s a deeper feeling of help that permeates every location Adam visits.
Characters fly by quickly in the story. A few he barely interacts with, seeing them only from afar. What is a bit surprising is how his experiences could really take place anywhere. Despite being out in the approximate ‘middle of nowhere’ location, the story shows it is the same all over. Bad bosses are bad bosses no matter what the profession. Oftentimes the ridiculousness and drama of the situation shows how the same human impulse exists for any job in any organization, no matter how uptight or laid back the work atmosphere. Conflicts Adam has early on are particularly painful too. The friends Adam makes are fated to be torn away from him as his relationship deteriorates with his foreman and so forth. This connection strains and breaks.
Occasional literary references remind Adam that he is a far way away from New York. The David Foster Wallace part was touching — some of the selfishness Adam sees in the character makes him feel particularly lonely. Care packages are full of books for Adam to help him cope with being away. His Canadian roots no longer have any bearing for him. Alone in his actual home country, gone from his life and friends in New York, he’s rather isolated through much of his work. Planting remains such a solitary amount of work. Somehow Adam even manages to make the experience of planting an emotionally satisfying experience.
Typically trees are not such emotional creatures. Yet the way Adam talks about them makes it obvious that he does truly care about his work. He takes pride in it, even. Tree-planters appear to be totally bizarre creatures. Unfit to live in civilization, they create their own tent cities out in the wilderness to approximate culture. Adam appears to be caught in the middle of these two worlds: on one hand he longs to return to a place that kicked him out, and on the other he longs to leave a place that had been home to him for so long.
By the time Adam returns to New York’s ridiculous comforts, it feels comical. Juxtaposing the hardships of civilization with the hardships of a wild tree-planting tent city is particularly amusing. Adam Humphreys writes about what he knows. What he knows is the human condition. And that’s enough.