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The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed (2005)

by John Vaillant

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8773818,986 (3.99)61
As vividly as Jon Krakauer put readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America's last great forest, where trees grow to eighteen feet in diameter, sunlight never touches the ground, and the chainsaws are always at work.When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island, they reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. Five months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw. When his night's work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 165 feet tall and covered with luminous golden needles, teetered on its stump. Two days later it fell.The tree, a fascinating puzzle to scientists, was sacred to the Haida, a fierce seafaring tribe based in the Queen Charlottes. Vaillant recounts the bloody history of the Haida and the early fur trade, and provides harrowing details of the logging industry, whose omnivorous violence would claim both Hadwin and the golden spruce.… (more)
  1. 10
    Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (Anonymous user)
  2. 00
    Maxine's Tree by Diane Carmel Léger (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: British Columbia forests, logging, environmentalism, and settler-nature relations.
  3. 00
    Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson (Anonymous user)
  4. 00
    The Overstory by Richard Powers (Gwendydd)
    Gwendydd: These books both talk a lot about the giant trees of the west coast, logging, and anti-logging activists.
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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Surrounding a specific event, this book not only depicts a very interesting history of Haida Gwaii (formally Queen Charlotte Islands) that is well rounded with applicable tangents, but also presents such in an insightful and balanced way. It is much more than is presented in our blinkered culture's instruction. Yet another example of how our evolutionary baggage is leading us on a self-destructive course.

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” ~ Chris Maser ( )
  LGCullens | Jun 1, 2021 |
I seldom read non-fiction, but this was a book club choice and I am very glad I read it. John Vaillant's prose is rich and quite poetic at times. But the engrossing writing does not overshadow the tale Vaillant set himself to tell. The main thread of the book is the story of how a centuries old golden spruce, that was sacred to the Haida, was cut down by Grant Hadwin, a logger gone environmentalist gone mad. In a more in-depth journalistic style and skillfully researched, Vaillant also tells us the historical factors behind the logging industry in the West Coast, and the difficult relationship between loggers and the indigenous people of the area. This is a multi-layered book, partially mystery, partially historical account, definitely haunting in the environmental questions it poses. ( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
An interesting story about logging in British Columbia, full of interesting detail, but perhaps focused on the contradiction, in loggers as well as the whole local culture, of killing that which you love. The protagonist, Grant Hadwin, cuts down an old and culturally significant spruce tree to protest clear cutting; and the same conflict appears at multiple scales.

> "Another reason I like falling," he said, "is I like walking around in old-growth forests. It's kind of an oxymoron, I guess—to like something and then go out and kill it."

> In 1730 millions of sea otters flourished in the kelp beds that dotted the Pacific coast, from Baja California north to Alaska, and south again along the Aleutian Islands and Kamchatka, all the way to Japan; by 1830 the species had been all but extirpated from most of its range. And yet, while the Natives appeared, in most cases, to have been willing, even zealous, agents of the species’ destruction

> With food so plentiful and the climate so moderate, the Haida, like their tropical counterparts, had an enormous amount of free time to feast, fight, tell stories, make monumental art, and build gigantic dugout canoes—in short, to develop a highly complex culture. It has been estimated that as much as 40 percent of the region's inhabitants were slaves.

> parts of the islands were refugia, places left untouched by the great ice sheets which covered so much of North America during the last ice age. As a result, these islands are sometimes referred to as the "Canadian Galapagos," and in many ways they are a world apart, hosting numerous species and subspecies that occur nowhere else

> But when early airplane designers discovered the tree, all that changed; the lowly—but huge—Sitka spruce became an aristocrat overnight. Light in weight, Sitka spruce wood possesses a rare combination of strength and flexibility that is ideal for making airplane wings and fuselages; cut into strips and laminated, it also makes excellent propellers. It has an added benefit in that it doesn't splinter when hit by bullets—an unusual quality for any harder wood. For these reasons, the highest grade of Sitka spruce became known as "airplane spruce,"

> In British Columbia, a typical faller works a six-and-a-half hour day, for safety reasons, and until recently, a faller working for MacMillan Bloedel could make $800 a day. But since Weyerhauser took over, company fallers have been replaced, increasingly, by contract labour, with the result that day rates have dropped about 30 percent

> "I do, however, mean this action, to be an expression, of my rage and hatred, towards university trained professionals and their extremist supporters, whose ideas, ethics, denials, part truths, attitudes, etc., appear to be responsible, for most of the abominations, towards amateur life on this planet." A day later, the golden spruce came crashing down.

> According to Haida legend, the golden spruce represented a good but defiant young boy who had been transformed, and because of this, some among the Haida saw the crime not as an act of vandalism, or protest, but as a kind of murder

> "The Haida people are saddened and angered by the destruction of K'iid K'iyaas, also known as the "Golden Spruce," in the Yakoun River Valley on Haida Gwaii. The loss of K'iid K'iyaas is a deliberate violation of our cultural history. Our oral traditions about K'iid K'iyaas predate written history."

> "He sounded normal—neither excited, nor scared, nor regretful—as if what he'd done was no more than throwing a rock through a window. I asked him why he did it, and then I told him the story of the golden spruce and he said, 'I didn't know that.' He gave the impression that he probably wouldn't have cut it down if he'd known."

> Sometime during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2000, someone made a nearly fatal chainsaw cut in Luna, the massive Humboldt County redwood made famous by the environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who spent two years living in the tree's branches. As with the golden spruce, the cut did not fell the tree, but left it extremely vulnerable to high winds (it has since been reinforced with heavy steel brackets and is still alive today).

> A culture is no better than its woods. —W. H. Auden, "Bucolics II: Woods"

> In the timber industry these ancient woods are known as "decadent forests" because their days of rapid growth are long past and rot is often present—two reasons the industry is in such a hurry to get rid of them.

> the golden spruce has become the most widely dispersed Sitka spruce on earth … he has been quietly sharing Bentham's Sunlight with the world for more than twenty years. Cuttings of this tree are growing now in Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and throughout the United States, among other places. The present price for a graft in a one-gallon pot is US$40, plus shipping. ( )
  breic | Jan 20, 2021 |
Fascinating tale, mostly well told. The story of the end of old growth is disgusting, and a blight on all of us alive to witness the spectacle. So short-sighted.

The protagonist of this tale is not very likeable, and though he eventually realized the error of his ways Buddhism introduces the concept of right work for a reason. Right work does not include the destruction of what you love, regardless of how much they are paying you.

The author does well to introduce the characters and the stakes, only sometimes straining to introduce one more interview subject to the narrative. He mostly succeeds.

I will remember this book for a long time. We all should have known better. ( )
  kcshankd | Nov 16, 2020 |
The first third of the book is some of the finest nature writing I have ever read. Now almost 15 years old, this book has lost none of its power or urgency in light of the world's denuded old growth forests. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Aug 29, 2019 |
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All Trees of noblest kind for sight, smell, taste;
And all amid them stood the Tree of Life, High eminent, blooming Abrosial Fruit Of vegetable Gold; and next to Life Our Dseath the Tree of Knowledge grew fast by, Knowledge of good bought dear by knowing ill. -John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV, lines 217-22
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Small things are hard to find in Alaska, so when a marine biologist named Scott Walder stumbled across a wrecked kayak on an uninhabited island thirty miles north of the Canadian border, he considered himself lucky.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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As vividly as Jon Krakauer put readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America's last great forest, where trees grow to eighteen feet in diameter, sunlight never touches the ground, and the chainsaws are always at work.When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island, they reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. Five months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw. When his night's work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 165 feet tall and covered with luminous golden needles, teetered on its stump. Two days later it fell.The tree, a fascinating puzzle to scientists, was sacred to the Haida, a fierce seafaring tribe based in the Queen Charlottes. Vaillant recounts the bloody history of the Haida and the early fur trade, and provides harrowing details of the logging industry, whose omnivorous violence would claim both Hadwin and the golden spruce.

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As vividly as Jon Krakauer puts readers on Everest, Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America's last great forest, where trees grow to eighteen feet in diameter, sunlight never touches the ground, and the chainsaws are always at work. When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island, the reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. FIve months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chain saw. When his night's work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 165 feet tall and covered with luminous golden needles, teetered on its stump. Two days later it fell. The tree, a fascinating puzzle to scientists, was sacred to the Haida, a fierce sea-faring tribe based in the Queen Charlottes. Vaillant recounts the bloody history of the Haida and the early fur trade, and provides harrowing details of the logging industry, the omnivorous violence of which would claim both Hadwin and the golden spruce.
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