The Golden Spruce is the story of a glorious natural wonder, the man who destroyed it, and the fascinating, troubling context in which his act took place.
A tree with luminous glowing needles, the golden spruce was unique and, biologically speaking, should never have reached maturity; Grant Hadwin, the man who cut it down, was passionate, extraordinarily well-suited to wilderness survival, and to some degree unbalanced. But as John Vaillant shows, the extraordinary tree stood at the intersection of contradictory ways of looking at the world; the conflict between them is one reason it was destroyed. Taking in history, geography, science and spirituality, this book raises some of the most pressing questions facing society today.
The golden spruce stood in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), an unusually rich ecosystem where the normal lines between species blur. Without romanticizing, Vaillant shows that this understanding is typified by the Haida, the native people who have lived there for millennia, and for whom the golden spruce was an integral part of their history and mythology. But seen a different way, the golden spruce stood in block 6 of Tree Farm License 39.
Grant Hadwin had worked as a remote scout for timber companies. But over time Hadwin was pushed into a paradox: the better he was at his job, the more the world he loved was destroyed. On January 20, 1997, with the temperature near zero, Hadwin swam across the Yakoun River with a chainsaw. He tore into the golden spruce, leaving it so unstable that the first wind would push it over. A few weeks later, Hadwin set off in a kayak across the treacherous Hecate Strait to face court charges. He has not been heard from since.
Vaillant describes Hadwin’s actions in engrossing detail, but also provides the complex environmental, political and economic context in which they took place. The Golden Spruce forces one to ask: can the damage our civilization exacts on the natural world be justified?
The felling of a celebrated giant golden spruce tree in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands takes on a potent symbolism in this probing study of an unprecedented act of eco-vandalism. First-time author Vaillant, who originally wrote about the death of the spruce for the New Yorker, profiles the culprit, an ex-logger turned messianic environmentalist who toppled the famous tree the only one of its kind to protest the destruction of British Columbia's old-growth forest, then soon vanished mysteriously. Vaillant also explores the culture and history of the Haida Indians who revered the tree, and of the logging industry that often expresses an elegiac awe for the ancient trees it is busily clear-cutting. Writing in a vigorous, evocative style, Vaillant portrays the Pacific Northwest as a region of conflict and violence, from the battles between Europeans and Indians over the 18th-century sea otter trade to the hard-bitten, macho milieu of the logging camps, where grisly death is an occupational hazard. It is also, in his telling, a land of virtually infinite natural resources overmatched by an even greater human rapaciousness. Through this archetypal story of "people fail to see the forest for the tree," Vaillant paints a haunting portrait of man's vexed relationship with nature. Photos.
If you are from British Columbia, and the pacific northwest, you should read this. I gives a vivid decription of the founding of these areas, not to mention context for the many environmental battles taking place now, and what they mean.
I was driving a recycling truck and found this book in a recycling bin. I hopped in the passenger seat and read the entire book in one sitting. Should be required reading if you're from British Columbia.