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

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When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest, 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, 16 When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest, 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. As vividly as John Krakauer puts readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America's last great forest.


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When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest, 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, 16 When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest, 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. As vividly as John Krakauer puts readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America's last great forest.

30 review for The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is one of those books that turns me into THE most annoying wife. I just couldn't help myself, I needed to read the interesting tidbits out loud. A golden spruce AND an albino raven. Trees as heavy as jumbo jets. A seven hour ferry ride to get to these cold weather islands. A first-nations group whose language is not related to any other group. Strong as the Vikings. Etc. This book was recommended to me by someone who knew I'd be on a ship near the Haida Gwaii. Never heard of whatever that i This is one of those books that turns me into THE most annoying wife. I just couldn't help myself, I needed to read the interesting tidbits out loud. A golden spruce AND an albino raven. Trees as heavy as jumbo jets. A seven hour ferry ride to get to these cold weather islands. A first-nations group whose language is not related to any other group. Strong as the Vikings. Etc. This book was recommended to me by someone who knew I'd be on a ship near the Haida Gwaii. Never heard of whatever that is? Me either. I learned so much about the people, the forest, the ocean, and this one man who decided to chop down a 300 year old rare golden spruce to protest commercial industry in the area. But describing it that way doesn't really do it justice.

  2. 4 out of 5

    BrokenTune

    2.5* rounded up. There comes at last a moment when the pole is centred in its hole, supported only by the people who surround it, that it becomes clear to some what it means to be Haida – and plain to all how many hands it takes to resurrect a tree. You looked at the star rating, didn't you? Well, there is a reason why this book only got 2.5* off me, but it is nothing to do with the level of interest with which I read this. Indeed, I have never thought that I ever would read a book about logging 2.5* rounded up. There comes at last a moment when the pole is centred in its hole, supported only by the people who surround it, that it becomes clear to some what it means to be Haida – and plain to all how many hands it takes to resurrect a tree. You looked at the star rating, didn't you? Well, there is a reason why this book only got 2.5* off me, but it is nothing to do with the level of interest with which I read this. Indeed, I have never thought that I ever would read a book about logging and the North American timber industry - and actually finish it. The Golden Spruce started off great with the disappearance of Grant Hadwin, former logger-turned-environmentalist, which is a mystery that has never been resolved. Hadwin's claim to infamy is that he felled a unique tree - the Golden Spruce - an ancient tree that by mutation developed a golden rather than green colour. A tree that became a local attraction and was revered by the Haida. In telling this story, Vaillant delivers a detailed history of logging in British Columbia, and the history of the relationship between the coastal First Nations and the settlers. The regional history is told in parallel with Hadwin's own life story - starting with his career as a logger and his growing personal issues with the work: "Grant was struck by the destructiveness of the logging process. Then only seventeen, he described logging techniques that stripped the mountainsides down to bare rock. ‘Nothing’s going to grow there again,’ he told her. This was an unusual thing for a teenager from Vancouver to be concerned about in 1967, especially one with Grant’s lineage. Logging had literally built the city and most people were still connected to the industry – if not directly, then through family members or friends. But things were changing in the sleepy green logging town. Not long after Grant had reported his observations to his aunt on the north side of English Bay, a fledgling organization formed on the south side, just ten kilometres away. They gave themselves a deceptively Canadian name, the Don’t Make a Wave Committee, but this would prove a misnomer, and, in 1970, they would change it – to Greenpeace." Hadwin's growing concern and developing mental health issues would culminate in his obsession with the destruction of the natural by the professional classes, and eventually lead to an act of eco-terrorism that had him arrested and charged for the logging the Golden Spruce in 1997. Except, that Hadwin disappeared before he could stand trial. All in all, I thought this was a fascinating book, not least because the story does not end with Hadwin's disappearance but goes to show that this wanton act of destruction inspired several attempts to recreate the Golden Spruce from shoots which had been taken earlier and the political mine-field that was created by doing so because of the tensions between Haida First Nation attempting to preserve their heritage and the enthusiasts who were trying to recreate the Golden Spruce so it can be grown and exported to willing buyers. Who'd have known that so much discussion could arise out of the felling of one single tree? "To get an idea of the scale of logging taking place in the Charlottes during the last thirty years, one need only look as far as the Haida Monarch and the Haida Brave. At the time of their launching in the mid-seventies, they were the world’s largest floating log carriers, and both were built to serve the islands; the Monarch (the larger of the two) is capable of carrying nearly four million board feet of timber (about four hundred truckloads) at a time. When one of these vessels dumps its load at the booming grounds in Vancouver, it can generate a spontaneous wave three metres high." So, why only 2.5*? I hear you ask: Well, I started reading this book as a paperback but an unfortunate accident involving coffee and a jam doughnut made me switch to the kindle version. I promptly found out that the books were different: the sequence of the chapters did not correspond and even the text within the corresponding chapters did not match. The kindle version read like the paperback had been gone with a chainsaw and then glued back together. Yes the text flowed, but I found myself re-reading parts that I had already worked through. Which brings me to the second snag - it was hard work reading the book. There is way too much detail about the history of logging - including a short history of the chainsaw and instructions on how to cut down trees. And by "way too" I mean it fine to reveal those details but it distracts from the story if every bit of history introduces new characters which do not add to the story and which are never mentioned again for the rest of the book. No problem if they had been cited in footnoted or endnotes, but trying to force them into the narrative did not work. I will leave off with a bit of trivia which illustrates the tone of the book - informative, yet, moving: "PORT CLEMENTS HAS suffered much; not only did the town lose its mascot (the golden spruce is the centrepiece for the town logo), but in November of the same year, its albino raven died in a blinding flash when it was electrocuted on a transformer in front of the Golden Spruce Motel. True albino ravens – as opposed to grey or mottled – are all but unheard of. To get an idea of just how rare these birds are, consider this: Alaska and British Columbia together cover nearly two and a half million square kilometres and contain the continent’s largest populations of ravens, and yet never in the history of bird observation and collection has a true albino ever been reported in Alaska. The Port Clements specimen is the only one ever to have been observed in British Columbia (it has since been stuffed and is now on display in the town’s logging museum)."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Look at this beautiful Golden Spruce: https://www.google.be/search?q=golden... ETA: Check out National Geographic's article on the Haida (Vol 172, NO.1, July 1987) Anyone interested in forest conservation should read this book. It is informative and clear. You will learn about the timber industry. Maybe that sounds dry, but the book is in no way dry. Why? That is because the author couples it with a true event concerning the chopping down of the tree shown above and the disappearance of the man wh Look at this beautiful Golden Spruce: https://www.google.be/search?q=golden... ETA: Check out National Geographic's article on the Haida (Vol 172, NO.1, July 1987) Anyone interested in forest conservation should read this book. It is informative and clear. You will learn about the timber industry. Maybe that sounds dry, but the book is in no way dry. Why? That is because the author couples it with a true event concerning the chopping down of the tree shown above and the disappearance of the man who chopped it down, Grant Hadwin in January 1997. Why did he do it? Was it right to do it? The latter has certainly been debated! And is he still alive? Moreover, this magnificent tree was an essential part of the Haida culture. The Haida are a First Nation tribe living primarily on coastal British Colombia, Canada, many on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). Their culture and traditions are also covered in this book. All of these different topics are interwoven and engagingly told. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Edoardo Ballerini. He did a great job. He never puts you to sleep. Both the text and the narration are engaging. I pulled out a map of the northwestern coastline of British Colombia, the Charlotte Islands and the Hecate Strait. When you hear of the virulence of this stretch of water you are drawn to find it and place it on a map. What makes this book good is how it covers an exciting, true event, history and conservation.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    4✚ 🌲 🌲 🌲 🌲 “Eight hundred years to grow, and twenty-five minutes to put on the ground. It’s sad, but it’s a living.” —veteran B.C. logger “Fancy cutting down all those beautiful trees . . . to make pulp for those bloody newspapers, and calling it civilization.” —Winston Churchill, remarking to his son during a visit to Canada in 1929 Following my favorite book of 2019, The Overstory, this surprise page turner sawed into the ventricles of my heart and rendered it into pulp. It was not lost on me tha 4✚ 🌲 🌲 🌲 🌲 “Eight hundred years to grow, and twenty-five minutes to put on the ground. It’s sad, but it’s a living.” —veteran B.C. logger “Fancy cutting down all those beautiful trees . . . to make pulp for those bloody newspapers, and calling it civilization.” —Winston Churchill, remarking to his son during a visit to Canada in 1929 Following my favorite book of 2019, The Overstory, this surprise page turner sawed into the ventricles of my heart and rendered it into pulp. It was not lost on me that those pages were made from that same by-product. This is the combined history of the Haida First Nation people who called the land home, the logging industry, and the destruction of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, particularly one singularly unique and sacred Sitka spruce, sacrificed by one man wanting to call attention to wanton clear cutting before it was too late to save any of it. “Upset about the Golden Spruce? Re-examine your perspective, . . . we tend to focus on the individual trees while the rest of the forests are being slaughtered . . . When society places so much value on one mutant tree and ignores what happens to the rest of the forest, it’s not the person who points this out who should be labeled.” —Grant Hadwin “He wasn’t irrational, he wasn’t suicidal, but I could tell he was a few fries short of a Happy Meal.” Constable Bruce Jeffrey Vaillant weaves it all together in the most interesting and skilled fashion. As author Sebastian Junger wrote, “Heroic and sad . . . in such a powerful way.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    J.K. Grice

    One of my favorite accounts of man and the natural world, THE GOLDEN SPRUCE is such an amazing book. Vaillant does a superb job weaving the history of the logging industry into this tale of Native Americans and one white man who seemed to push himself over the edge. If you like books such as INTO THE WILD, don't miss this one. Just and extraordinary read. One of my favorite accounts of man and the natural world, THE GOLDEN SPRUCE is such an amazing book. Vaillant does a superb job weaving the history of the logging industry into this tale of Native Americans and one white man who seemed to push himself over the edge. If you like books such as INTO THE WILD, don't miss this one. Just and extraordinary read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    L.G. Cullens

    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 doi 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

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jillita

    Have to admit that I picked it up because of the hunky guy coming out of the water on the book's cover. And it's about trees. How could that be bad? Took this on a long work trip and couldn't put it down. In many ways it's utterly depressing as the author pours through the history of how humans have decimated the world's forests, native cultures, and other natural resources...but the author crafts an unforgettable story of life among the wild Pacific Northwest coastal forests...from native coasta Have to admit that I picked it up because of the hunky guy coming out of the water on the book's cover. And it's about trees. How could that be bad? Took this on a long work trip and couldn't put it down. In many ways it's utterly depressing as the author pours through the history of how humans have decimated the world's forests, native cultures, and other natural resources...but the author crafts an unforgettable story of life among the wild Pacific Northwest coastal forests...from native coastal tribes to 200 years worth of logging history. Regarding the trees he also thoroughly researches aspects of forestry, logging, botany, druidism, and ecology to make anyone go out and hug their nearest tree. As for the hunky guy...the author also weaves his life, ecoterrorist act, and mysterious disappearance into this thoroughly engaging account of humans' interaction with their natural world and the rare, magical gifts that come around once in a few lifetimes. Being from the PNW I readily absorbed the topic and identified with the shocking swaths of clearcuts that abound in this area and with what it would take to save what's left of our precious ecological niche.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    There's a lot of interesting information in this book, and I enjoyed that aspect of it, but the author would have benefited from someone reigning him in a bit. He sort of wrote a small book about the early trading that took place along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, and then one about the natural landscape and flora in that region, and then one about the guy whom the book is ostensibly about. Almost all of which was new and intriguing info for me, but I feel like there was too much shifting There's a lot of interesting information in this book, and I enjoyed that aspect of it, but the author would have benefited from someone reigning him in a bit. He sort of wrote a small book about the early trading that took place along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, and then one about the natural landscape and flora in that region, and then one about the guy whom the book is ostensibly about. Almost all of which was new and intriguing info for me, but I feel like there was too much shifting of gears. I think the author has contributed to several magazines, so maybe he just needs more practice at book-length projects.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    Author John Vaillant portrays the unique ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest Coast with powerful images. The watery element is emphasized in the region's technical name, the Very Wet Hypermarine Subzone. The wetness comes not only from the pocket of moist air walled by a spine of coastal mountain ranges, but from the abrupt fluctuation in sea depth at the lip of the continental shelf. Tides are so high they blur the distinction between land and sea. Vaillant's most lyrical passages describe the c Author John Vaillant portrays the unique ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest Coast with powerful images. The watery element is emphasized in the region's technical name, the Very Wet Hypermarine Subzone. The wetness comes not only from the pocket of moist air walled by a spine of coastal mountain ranges, but from the abrupt fluctuation in sea depth at the lip of the continental shelf. Tides are so high they blur the distinction between land and sea. Vaillant's most lyrical passages describe the combination of earth and water where ancient old growth forests of gigantic Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and Western red cedar have flourished for centuries. These are not sun dappled sylvan playgrounds. They resemble instead the dense frightening darkness that haunted the imaginations of the brothers Grimm. “...for a stranger it is not a particularly comfortable place to be. You can be twenty paces from a road or a beach and become totally disoriented; once inside, there is no future and no past, only the sodden, twilit now....every fifth feet or so, your way is blocked by moss-covered walls of fallen trees that may be taller than you and hundreds of feet long....You have the feeling that if you stay for too long, you will simply be grown over and absorbed by the slow and ancient riot of growth going on all around you. It can be suffocating, and the need to see the sun can become overpowering — something you could do easily if it weren't for all those trees.” It is easy to imagine the urge to clear those forests — to civilize the land. That is what generations of humans have done whenever the natural balance could be tipped. Enter greed. After the bounty of fur-bearing animals had been decimated, economic imperatives targeted the forests. The forests were so vast, no one imagined they could ever be depleted. Vaillant ascribes an almost heroic quality to the earliest foresters, for whom the work was dangerous. It demanded unique skills acquired over a lifetime. The Haida cut trees for their huge war canoes; the Nor'westerners came to supply shipbuilders and homesteaders on the other side of the continent. Ironically, only those most intimate with the forest were skilled enough to destroy it. The activity was connected to a strong sense of pride and love for the outdoors, as well as an increasing monetary incentive. As forests were destroyed a few reluctantly recognized the contradiction. Al Wanderer, a 2nd generation logger admitted: “We basically gutted the place....I've made a good living...but sometimes you wonder if it's all worth it.” Earl Einerson, a lifelong faller declared: “I love this job...It's a challenge to walk into a mess like this and get it looking civilized....Another reason I like falling ...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.” The tipping point for deforestation came in the 1980's. Steam donkeys (machines for hauling logs) gave way to diesel machines and power saws. The technology had created a vicious cycle. As accessible trees disappeared more expensive machinery was needed. Clear-cutting resulted from the need for higher productivity required to produce a return on investment. Evans Wood was an example of the new business model. Decisions and money flowed from a distant corporate office. The actual work was done by contract labor. Some of that labor was local, but much of it would move on when the trees were gone. As always, money guided local political decisions. All of this is background for the main narrative: The madman, a former lumber man named Grant Hadwin, and the Golden Spruce, a Sitka spruce anomaly. The tree was around 300 years old in 1997; the lifespan of the species is estimated to be as much as 800 years. The tree was special. Its needles were yellow, golden in the reflected sun. Normally, this would indicate a disruption of photosynthesis, a death sentence, but the tree was huge and flourishing. It grew in a perfect conical shape whereas most Sitka spruce appear bushy and unkempt. The tree was unique in one more way. It was sterile. Its seeds would never sprout. It grew in the Yakoan River Valley on remote Queen Charlotte Island, home of the Haida. They named it K'iid K'iyaas or Elder Spruce Tree, and it figured in their myths. One story was that once there were two golden spruces. The female died and the male which was sterile remained. Another was that a boy disobeyed and looked back at his burning village and was changed into the tree. By 1997 the Golden Spruce had become a local attraction. It was surrounded by a stand of tall trees and protected by the Macmillan Bloedel Co. (the lumber company that absorbed Evans Wood). Grant Hadwin was an expert timberman. He surveyed and carved out log-cutting roads and was considered the best in the business. He also viewed the rapid deforestation with increasing concern. In 1987 that concern morphed into a messianic obsession. In the following decade his life fell apart as his passion grew. He was particularly angered that timber companies like Macmillan Bloedel could point to the Golden Spruce and other scenic protected areas, miniscule parcels of only five or ten acres, as evidence of environmental concern and responsibility. His rage boiled over into bio-terrorism: He cut down the legendary Golden Spruce, intending it as a symbolic wake-up call to what had been lost. Vaillant is a dramatic storyteller, and his narrative is not chronological. Some readers may have difficulty reconciling the history of the lumbering industry with Grant Hadwin's personal timeline. Some of the narrative is tedious. There are long passages that deal with the technicalities of big tree cutting. The questions he asks, however, are thought-provoking. Why is it important to save these forests? The appeal of old growth forest is spiritual and emotional. Trees that took hundreds of years to grow cast a sacred aura in our imaginations. There is sadness at losing something that can never be replaced. There is also an aesthetic appeal. A swathe of clear-cut blights the land like a scar. At the same time, few of us would willingly live in these forests. Even fewer would manage to survive. There are long-term consequences to deforestation, of course, that bolster rational arguments. Deforestation removes a critical guardian of the land. Without their roots the thin soil will erode. Without the surrounding protection from the wind, the entire forest will recede over time. Cut down the trees and the angles of sunlight so carefully calibrated by the surrounding stands will be disrupted, ultimately changing the internal climate of the forest ecosystem. The Haida are perhaps the strongest allies of the forest, not because of some harmony with nature but because this is their homeland and they can conceptualize the forest as part of a historical and cultural patrimony. It's decline parallels their own history of population decline from disease and forced acculturation. How can mainstream American culture counter its rootless and self-serving inclinations? Vaillant concludes hopefully, “Growing at a rate somewhere between stalagmites and human beings, forests can serve as a kind of long-term memory bank, revealing things about our environment, and even ourselves, that only our great-great-grandparents could have told us.” NOTES: Informative maps can be found on http://digitalcollections.library.ubc... and on Tim Whelan's sailing blog http://www.tgw.net/sailing/qca/aboutq... A series of 17 blankets depict present day Native American artist Hazel Wilson's reinterpretation of the Golden Spruce myth. http://marionscottgallery.com/EXHIBIT...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mag

    The story revolves around Grant Hadwin, an expert Canadian logger turned environmentalist, and his seemingly incomprehensible and barbaric act of cutting down an old, beautiful and one of a kind mutant spruce tree with golden needles called the Golden Spruce. Hadwin surreptitiously cut down the Golden Spruce one cold January night in 1997 and fled in the wake of his act never to be seen again. The tree was ancient and huge, over 300 years old, 50 meters tall and sacred to the Haida, the native p The story revolves around Grant Hadwin, an expert Canadian logger turned environmentalist, and his seemingly incomprehensible and barbaric act of cutting down an old, beautiful and one of a kind mutant spruce tree with golden needles called the Golden Spruce. Hadwin surreptitiously cut down the Golden Spruce one cold January night in 1997 and fled in the wake of his act never to be seen again. The tree was ancient and huge, over 300 years old, 50 meters tall and sacred to the Haida, the native people of Haida Gwaii, the native name for the Queen Charlotte Islands in Canada. His determination was so great that he single-handedly cut down the tree whose trunk measured two meters in diameter. Even though the act in itself is absolutely abhorrent, Vaillant is trying to show that Hadwin’s outrage might have been grounded in some reasons that were far from crazy. It so happened that the Golden Spruce was also a showpiece of MacMillan Bloedel, the biggest Canadian multinational wood products company. The company had an exclusive contract for logging on the islands, and was cutting the old growth there for years with absolute abandon and no consideration for the forests or the people. It was this latter fact that attracted Hadwin’s attention to the tree. In an open letter he said that ‘we tend to focus on the individual trees like the Golden Spruce while the rest of the forests are being slaughtered’. As a life long logger, Hadwin witnessed more than his share of the mindless forest destruction in British Columbia, and it seems that one day he simply couldn’t take it anymore. Using Hadwin’s story as a lead, Vaillant examines the centuries long West Coast logging greed and lack of consideration for the native people or nature. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since the publication of the book, or Hadwin’s act. The logging of the old growth forest is still going on with the same greedy abandon despite the fact that very little of it remains. Soon there will be none to speak of. It’s a well-written book with a wealth of information on West Coast woods, history of trade, the natives who live there, the use of wood and the natural history of the region. Spiritually, it goes well with Diamond’s Collapse. It’s good to even for a moment give some thought to Diamond’s theory of the end of civilization on Eastern Island in that context, even though the theory is now disputed.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Connie G

    The golden spruce was a tall tree venerated by the Haida, a Canadian First Nation tribe living on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The shimmering golden color was formed by a genetic mutation. This 300 year old Sitka Spruce thrived because reflected light from the water of the Yukoun River reached its inner green needles, allowing photosynthesis to occur. The book centers on Grant Hadwin chopping down this mythical tree in the dead of night in 1997. Hadwin was an expert logger who had a psychotic my The golden spruce was a tall tree venerated by the Haida, a Canadian First Nation tribe living on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The shimmering golden color was formed by a genetic mutation. This 300 year old Sitka Spruce thrived because reflected light from the water of the Yukoun River reached its inner green needles, allowing photosynthesis to occur. The book centers on Grant Hadwin chopping down this mythical tree in the dead of night in 1997. Hadwin was an expert logger who had a psychotic mystical experience which turned him to environmentalism. He was protesting the clear cut logging practices of the large logging companies which were turning the coastal areas of British Columbia into a wasteland of stumps and landslides. The golden spruce was located on land owned by a logging company. Hadwin, a fit survivalist, disappeared a few days before he was supposed to stand trial. The book goes into the interesting culture and history of the Haida tribe, as well as their dealings with the early Western traders who decimated the otter population in the Pacific Northwest. It also tells about the history of logging in the region, including the techniques used to fell the giant trees in the old growth forests. Death was a constant companion for the loggers. The spruce in the region was especially valuable for building light flexible airplanes in World War I. The history of the Pacific Northwest shows overuse of natural resources--otters, seals, and giant trees--for profit, not thinking about the environmental effects and future generations. Activist Grant Hadwin had an important message, but his act of eco-vandalism delivered it the wrong way. Readers interested in the environment and First Nation tribes will especially enjoy this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lela

    This book was informative, fascinating, beautifully written and haunting. Certainly continued the skew in my thinking away from the greed and destructiveness of logging companies....not to mention the continuing removal & killing of Native Americans. Had to weep at the losses.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma

    A book about trees and you'll be surprised about how much you don't know about trees. We use tree products everyday without thinking of where those products came from. A lot of trees have been destroyed in the past in the name of civilization. The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed tells of the life and death of that tree, which was cut down in 1997 by a disillusioned former logger. Like nonfiction writers John MacPhee or Jon Krakauer, Vaillant weaves facts into a compelling t A book about trees and you'll be surprised about how much you don't know about trees. We use tree products everyday without thinking of where those products came from. A lot of trees have been destroyed in the past in the name of civilization. The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed tells of the life and death of that tree, which was cut down in 1997 by a disillusioned former logger. Like nonfiction writers John MacPhee or Jon Krakauer, Vaillant weaves facts into a compelling tapestry, with rich, layered prose, a fine eye for detail and a solid central theme he builds like a sturdy wood cabin. The Golden Spruce is a meditation on what the spruce itself meant, and a springboard for him to look at the conflict between man and nature in the Northwest. Vaillant meanders a lot in his chronicle — the golden spruce disappears from the book for whole chapters at a time — but who can fault him when the digressions are as interesting as they are here? And they all relate back to the book’s central theme: the inherent tension between man and nature in this part of the country. We learn the history of the Haida Indian tribe of the Queen Charlottes, who revered the golden spruce and were devastated by its destruction. We also get capsule histories of Northwest exploration dating back to the days of Captain Cook, and a detailed portrait of logging in the Northwest. But perhaps most strikingly, Vaillant tracks down the sad tale of Grant Hadwin, who killed the golden spruce. Hadwin is like a character spliced together from Jack London and Edward Abbey books, with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson – from a wealthy Vancouver, B.C. family, he grew up to become a rugged outdoorsman, a logger legendary for his stamina and his fierce individualism. Not a team player, Hadwin still managed to make a solid living working for logging companies. But as time passed, he grew more and more disturbed by what he saw as a greedy corporate mentality taking over the woods, and particularly the spectacle of clear-cutting. He became erratic and radical – some think he was suffering from mental illness. One cold night in January 1997 on the Queen Charlotte Islands, Hadwin strapped a chain saw to his back, swam across an icy river to where the golden spruce grew – and cut it down. He meant it as a statement. A rambling letter he sent to area newspapers included lines about “a wake-up call,” and his “rage” toward those responsible “for most of the abominations toward amateur life on this planet.” The golden spruce, an impossible rarity, was gone. Hadwin’s position was: why get upset about one special tree when thousands of ordinary trees were cut down every day? But few saw it his way, judging from the outcry that ensued. In the end, Hadwin vanished, presumed drowned while crossing the perilous Hecate Strait in a kayak on his way to a court hearing. But his body was never found, and those who knew him believe he had the skills to easily escape into the woods and start a new life somewhere far away. The tragic irony for Hadwin is acute: in trying to make a stand for protecting the trees, he destroyed an icon for the Haida and became vilified by them. If he hadn’t disappeared, he might well have been killed. Trees are a pretty political issue in the Northwest, but Vaillant straddles a moderate line for most of the book. He does come down firmly against the corporate-driven clear-cutting of forests. He takes readers through the development of logging, from hair-raising, brutal work by men and mules in the woods to the encroachment of mechanization and farmed harvests. Loggers themselves are mostly represented as tremendously brave, hard-living men working one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. (There’s more than one injury related here that will make a man cringe in horror.) The logging industry has been forced to change as once-inexhaustible supplies of old growth turned out to be finite. Some of the old loggers Vaillant profiles are a bit like Hadwin, loving the woods but distressed to see their final fate under man’s never-ending thirst for wood. “I never dreamed the old growth would be finished,” one longtime logger tells Vaillant. Vaillant has written a story nearly anyone can enjoy - those left or right of center might quibble with certain points, but it’s overall a remarkably even-handed and thoughtful book. The Golden Spruce is worth reading for anyone interested in where the Northwest has been, and where it’s going.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mmars

    A 3 star read rounded up to 4. Sometimes a book turns out to be different from what you expected and such was my reading experience with the Golden Spruce. This makes it harder to be objective. I was expecting total focus on the cutting down of the tree and the man who did it. That is here, but there is so much more. And, well, had I paid attention to the subtitle and the picture (duh!) I’d have realized the book’s focus was the tree itself. It also doesn’t help that I had heard nothing of this A 3 star read rounded up to 4. Sometimes a book turns out to be different from what you expected and such was my reading experience with the Golden Spruce. This makes it harder to be objective. I was expecting total focus on the cutting down of the tree and the man who did it. That is here, but there is so much more. And, well, had I paid attention to the subtitle and the picture (duh!) I’d have realized the book’s focus was the tree itself. It also doesn’t help that I had heard nothing of this incident and did not know of its sacred value to the Haida. In fact, I knew little of the Haida. Or the Queen Charlotte Islands. Or, for that matter, I guess I should include the northern tropical forest to this list. . So it may be an unfair assessment to say Vaillant went into too much depth with many subjects peripheral to the main topic. Because if it’s a topic I already know about I love books that tell me more. And Vaillant leaves no stone unturned. Everything from how logging a tree works to hybridizing and splicing to the discovery and exploitation of the Queen Charlotte Islands natural resources to the wars and decimation of the indigenous peoples of the area. But what I wanted was the story of the man who cut down this very, very special tree. He doesn’t appear for a long, long time because the story of the tree is very, very old. Think native myths of its origin and you get a small picture. Much, much happens during the hundreds of years in the lifetime of such a magnificent tree. A tree which may even have been so golden because there was something wrong with it. It may just have been sick and survived and thrived. A freak of nature. By the time psycho man goes and chops the tree down, you realize how little it takes to kill it (I don’t advise it. It’s dangerous work and only a highly skilled logger could do it themselves.) and how long it took for it to grow. By the way, no one knows if he’s dead or alive. He was a sort superhuman. Super strong and able to withstand conditions that would put every other living being into hypothermia. Able to live weeks grazing on plants most of us would think of only as weeds. He disappeared into a climate that can decimate a body within a period of 24 hours. He may still be out there. Scary.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    It seems that in order to succeed - or even function - in this world, a certain tolerance for moral and cognitive dissonance is necessary. A Sitka spruce once grew near the banks of the Yakoun River in the remote Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte islands off the coast of northern British Columbia. It grew for hundreds of years before it was technically documented for what it was: a rare anomaly of genetics and environment, growing healthy and visible for miles. Revered by the It seems that in order to succeed - or even function - in this world, a certain tolerance for moral and cognitive dissonance is necessary. A Sitka spruce once grew near the banks of the Yakoun River in the remote Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte islands off the coast of northern British Columbia. It grew for hundreds of years before it was technically documented for what it was: a rare anomaly of genetics and environment, growing healthy and visible for miles. Revered by the Haida people, myths and legends surrounded the tree and its origins. ...and then in January 1997, the rare tree was felled by a former logger-turned-environmentalist, Grant Hadwin. Mentally unstable and misguided, Hadwin's ecoterrorism message was against the logging companies, and other environmentalists - attempting to gain their attention that they weren't seeing the forest for the tree. Huge tracks of old growth plowed down... but this rare tree wasn't touched. Hadwin's decades as a logger made him even more dangerous, as he so quickly hacked the tree that meant to much to the people of these islands. The public outcry was immediate; followed by death threats, and law enforcement trying to figure out how to charge a man who so injured a culture, not just a mere act of vandalism. Hadwin didn't deny and stood by his act, but then, in a series of events leading up to his court trial, he vanished. His battered sea kayak and a few belongings washed up on shore, but no sign of a body. Rumors have circulated for years that he staged his own death, choosing to live as a hermit in the back country, along the border of British Columbia and Alaska. The story is already quite dramatic, and Vaillant, as he did in his other book (which I loved!) The Tiger, provides a rich tapestry of history, both natural and cultural. I especially enjoyed the botany, forestry, and genetics, explaining why this tree was truly so special.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ettore Pasquini

    What a painful book. This is a story about a tree, although from the get-go you see it is actually about many trees. And actually it’s about the region of Earth (Queen’s Charlotte Islands in British Columbia) that hosts them and what relation its inhabitants have built with her in the last 300 years. It talks about how western "civilization" has exploited the natural resources of the North-West without any conscience. This was and is primarily carried out by logging corporations, who nonchalantly What a painful book. This is a story about a tree, although from the get-go you see it is actually about many trees. And actually it’s about the region of Earth (Queen’s Charlotte Islands in British Columbia) that hosts them and what relation its inhabitants have built with her in the last 300 years. It talks about how western "civilization" has exploited the natural resources of the North-West without any conscience. This was and is primarily carried out by logging corporations, who nonchalantly cut most of the old-growth in the northwest -- majestic trees that were several centuries old, 7+ feet wide in diameter. It makes you think how stupid and careless we must be as a people to recklessly build machines that can cut through a forest as easily as a lawnmower can cut grass. A giant tree can be cut, prepared and put on a truck in less than 25 minutes nowadays. Up until what point are we going to continue to destroy a natural habitat that literally took centuries to form itself? Why do mankind has such difficulty in understanding that just because something (in this case, a forest) looks so vast that it appears infinite, it is in fact not infinite? That's the same approach we still have with the ice on the north pole and with petrol oil. On the other end, the sad thing is that the men directly responsible for this savagery are the poorest people there. People that would not be able to find a job otherwise can walk into the forest, start cutting trees and all of sudden they are rich. From their point of view, this is an opportunity that they cannot pass, because society doesn't offer anything else. There's also the paradox that the more efficient they are at cutting down trees, the quicker they destroy their source of employment. And a century earlier, we see that other humans destroyed the population of sea otters, in the same careless fashion, to satisfy a business need. So, it's pretty cool that the author talks about these related stories and these existential conflicts. How we very pragmatically mix human economy with nature’s economy, even when the two are incompatible. Another merit of this book is that it makes you think about how the actions you do in your life impact the world you live in. What you take for granted (paper, devices, the waste you generate) and what you can do. The tone is never preachy, and the descriptions and anecdotes are very inspiring. Intertwined in all this is the story about Grant Hadwin and his controversial actions. I love how this guy is brought (back?) to life, the mystery behind his acts, his ability to live in nature (I want to be him), his skill as a logger and imperviousness to the elements, and the inner conflict he must have had. But most importantly, I loved this book because it puts you in contact with the beauty of nature. It's really inspiring. How you can appreciate and sink into something that is marvelous, truly unique, and yet so fragile. It made me think about how meaningless, or at least less meaningful, are other details in my life that instead I dedicate a lot of time and effort to.

  17. 4 out of 5

    JenniferD

    waffling a bit on the star rating... 3.5, if we could. not quite a 4-star read for me. vaillant is a very good writer. i was riveted by his book The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, so was keen when the golden spruce was chosen for my in-person book group. the book club discussion was very good, and the group was divided on hadwin's fate - a testament to vaillant's writing and the structure of the book, leaving readers open to form their own ideas and opinions. there is a lot of inf waffling a bit on the star rating... 3.5, if we could. not quite a 4-star read for me. vaillant is a very good writer. i was riveted by his book The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, so was keen when the golden spruce was chosen for my in-person book group. the book club discussion was very good, and the group was divided on hadwin's fate - a testament to vaillant's writing and the structure of the book, leaving readers open to form their own ideas and opinions. there is a lot of information and history presented and so much of it was fascinating. there were three main issues that kept niggling at me as i read, and kept me from giving the book a higher rating: * wondering how this story would have been told through an indigenous author's voice and perspective; * feeling distracted at moments when inferences or suppositions were made; * concerns around the portrayal of hadwin's mental health/wellbeing. these points aside, the story is very engaging - though i wasn't quite as riveted as with the tiger. vaillant really does have a way of creating nonfiction page-turners, and he made me truly care about so many aspects of this story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bibliovoracious

    A riveting read with breathtaking scope, considering that the core is a mystery story without resolution. Vaillant takes the reader on a walk through a vast tract of background, covering Canadian history from first contact, Pacific logging practices, Grant Hadwin's ancestry, Haida Gwaii traditions, and environmental opinion. All this with the pageturning energy of a murder mystery. But there's no convenient good/bad guys; there are complicated, layered, and very current issues to be weighed. I th A riveting read with breathtaking scope, considering that the core is a mystery story without resolution. Vaillant takes the reader on a walk through a vast tract of background, covering Canadian history from first contact, Pacific logging practices, Grant Hadwin's ancestry, Haida Gwaii traditions, and environmental opinion. All this with the pageturning energy of a murder mystery. But there's no convenient good/bad guys; there are complicated, layered, and very current issues to be weighed. I think the ultimate beauty of the book is that it doesn't deign to make decisions about the story it's telling or tell you how you should feel about it, it just gives you all you could possibly want to know to draw your own conclusions, and thus leaves you with a very powerful, lasting feeling.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mj

    Overall Rating I finally finished The Golden Spruce and recognize that I may have done a disservice to the author and the book by reading it in short doses over too long a period. That’s not how I like to read. I find the reading process much more fruitful and powerful by reading only only book at a time and over a short period so that only one book can be my primary focus. Unfortunately I had lots of work commitments and too many books on the go at the same time as I read The Golden Spruce. That Overall Rating I finally finished The Golden Spruce and recognize that I may have done a disservice to the author and the book by reading it in short doses over too long a period. That’s not how I like to read. I find the reading process much more fruitful and powerful by reading only only book at a time and over a short period so that only one book can be my primary focus. Unfortunately I had lots of work commitments and too many books on the go at the same time as I read The Golden Spruce. That being said I enjoyed the book and would rate it 3 stars. I found it a difficult book to rate because it covers so many issues and topics. In the beginning there was some tough 2 star reading that felt like slogging. The small and compressed font made reading difficult for me and I wasn’t really interested in the extent of technical detail regarding logging equipment in a story I thought was about The Golden Spruce. However, early on there were also 4 star flashes with respect to the coastal rainforest descriptions, the environmental issues and the Haida people. I really liked how the author always explained things in comparison to known things so that the awesome size and impact became very visual and immediately apparent to me. There was lots of information about these topics as well but in this case I found myself enjoying the detail, no doubt due to my interest in the subject matter and a higher degree of prior knowledge about it than I had with respect to logging equipment. Many parts of the latter half of the book also deserved a 4 star rating. I enjoyed getting to know Grant Hadwin better, reading about others’ thoughts about him and reading quotes from real people about their experience and opinions about logging. The inclusion of more people and information from them appealed to me. I also learned a lot about coastal waters and waves but once again there was a lot of technical knowledge and lingo about the various types of waves which were new and totally unknown to me. The research and references were great. I was very impressed with the knowledge and mass of information and understanding that Vaillant has about the logging industry and the environment. I do wish the book had been better organized. I found it meandered a lot and while I don't usually mind circuitous wandering or stream of consciousness writing in fiction, I think The Golden Spruce as a non-fiction. would have been an easier read if it was organized in a more linear fashion. Also, Vaillant or his editor might have reduced the amount of material being covered and cut out some of the subject matter i.e. he could have organized less material in a more understandable A to Z fashion. While I thought that Vaillant did a good job of bringing t together at the end with his critiques and assessments, I would have preferred a bit more pulling of things together as the book progressed as well. Looking Forward to John Vaillant's First Fiction I think Vaillant will do well writing fiction. He offered a number of critiques and assessments in the second half of The Golden Spruce. This deviates somewhat from many non-fictions but I enjoyed learning his opinions, given his tremendous knowledge and seeming thoughtfulness about the various issues. It almost seemed like he was holding himself back early on and after he had presented “all the facts” it was ok to “editorialize”. This was some of what I liked most about the book – his ability to see “the big picture.” I only have peripheral knowledge about the illegal immigration of Mexicans into the U.S. and have long been interested in the topic, so I think Vaillant will do a great job in his first fiction "The Jaguar's Children" – first doing in-depth research, second using his intellect to bring it all together to provide an overview and finally providing insight and suggestions. The only question for me is “can Vaillant capture the passion and humanness of his characters?” Based on his passion about the environment etc. as demonstrated in The Golden Spruce and his family’s history and love of Mexico, I am pretty confident that his new fiction will be a very compelling read. Yes I Would I Recommend the Book Selectively and with a Caveat I wouldn’t recommend The Golden Spruce to everyone but will selectively recommend it to people who are fairly technical in nature and who like to read non-fiction and technical material. Also I think people who are highly interested in or have visited the West Coast of Canada might enjoy The Golden Spruce. I think strongly committed environmentalists would also enjoy the book and it would be a good eye opener for those at the opposite end of the environmental spectrum with minimal knowledge or concern for current conditions.. My caveat would be that this book is really a History about Logging and that the Golden Spruce and Grant Hadwin are sub plots and not the major story. I was expecting and would have preferred the opposite. Nonetheless, I learned lots and it was a solid 3 star read with man 4 star sections.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lesley Hazleton

    Extraordinary story, wonderfully told. Was haunted by this story ever since I first read part of it, I think in The New Yorker, or maybe Harper's. Pounced on it when I saw it had come out as a book. Not just the built-in tension of the disappearing hero/antihero, driven crazy/sane by eco-destruction, but an amazingly empathetic telling from the point of view of all concerned -- conservationists, First Peoples, and loggers (and sometimes, the same person can be all three). Plus of course that sac Extraordinary story, wonderfully told. Was haunted by this story ever since I first read part of it, I think in The New Yorker, or maybe Harper's. Pounced on it when I saw it had come out as a book. Not just the built-in tension of the disappearing hero/antihero, driven crazy/sane by eco-destruction, but an amazingly empathetic telling from the point of view of all concerned -- conservationists, First Peoples, and loggers (and sometimes, the same person can be all three). Plus of course that sacred, glowing, golden, mutant spruce...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Reading in the Rockies

    ⭐⭐⭐ 3.5/5 “During one autumn around 1700, on the west bank of the Yakoun River, a random Sitka spruce cone opened and let a seed like no other drift to earth.” The Golden Spruce is a fascinating and detailed account of the rare tree after which the book is titled, the story of how it came to be and its unique ecosystem in the coastal wilderness; the story of the man who felled it, and the nearly 300 years of context in between. Vaillant describes the exploration and discovery of British Columbia, ⭐⭐⭐ 3.5/5 “During one autumn around 1700, on the west bank of the Yakoun River, a random Sitka spruce cone opened and let a seed like no other drift to earth.” The Golden Spruce is a fascinating and detailed account of the rare tree after which the book is titled, the story of how it came to be and its unique ecosystem in the coastal wilderness; the story of the man who felled it, and the nearly 300 years of context in between. Vaillant describes the exploration and discovery of British Columbia, the history of the Haida’s contacts with European traders and settlers; he discusses human impact and climate change, the industrial revolution and deforestation, the history of the logging and wood products industry, and how these all relate. This is a work of non-fiction and has won many (deserved) awards within its category; the cover depicts “A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed.” While the writing is captivating and well-researched, The Golden Spruce will serve as a reminder to use critical thinking whilst reading any genre, including non-fiction. Allow me to elaborate. My own hometown, which is in actuality a city, was described as being the nearest “town,” 130 kilometres inland from Prince Rupert, BC. While a seemingly insignificant detail, it begged the question, which other aspects of the story were small inaccuracies? It could also be argued that the non-chronological writing style is in itself sensationalized – why should a non-fiction story be written in non-chronological order? Simply put, because describing a city as a town, and laying out the timeframes as Vaillant did, sounded better. One other inaccuracy I had trouble putting to rest was that a photo is captioned, “Grant Hadwin embarking from Prince Rupert by kayak, February 12, 1997,” however; within the next few pages, Hadwin launches his kayak on the afternoon of February 11, returning sometime around midnight, and at dawn on the 13th, set off again – he does not actually embark on February 12. At times it was difficult to differentiate between whether the author was paraphrasing someone else’s comments or stating his own opinion (and I may be alone in this, but prefer non-fiction to be fact-based and not opinion driven). When Hadwin went missing in 1997, it was not the first time. In 1993, amongst his belongings at his abandoned campsite, Coast Guard search-and-rescue retrieved a fifteen-page document Hadwin had written and entitled, “The Judgement.” Vaillant writes, “The appended document is entitled “THE JUDGEMENT”; it is fifteen pages long and impeccably typed. Considering it was written by a high school dropout who had felt compelled to leave first his country and finally his campsite because he believed he was under surveillance by the CIA, the contents are surprisingly cogent and considered.” While the author may not have intended this comment to be condescending, it is not in the slightest bit surprising that Hadwin would produce such an articulate and considered manifesto. In addition to being incredibly skilled in the trades and wilderness survival, he was clearly intelligent. It may also be unfair that the subjective descriptions others had of Hadwin – mad, radical – are presented as fact. Was this the author’s intention? Even fellow reviewers of The Golden Spruce are given the impression Hadwin was crazy or had mental health issues. Following the felling of the Golden Spruce, Hadwin sent a final blast fax which was received by Greenpeace, Prince Rupert’s Daily News, the Vancouver Sun, members of the Haida Nation, and friend, Cora Gray. The fax was not received by MacMillan Bloedel, yet Vaillant presumes they were the intended recipient. Hadwin explicitly states, “…you apparently need a message and wake-up call…I meant no disrespect, to most of The Haida People, by my actions or to the natural environment, of Haida Gwaii.” He also told a reporter for the Queen Charlotte Islands Observer that “We tend to focus on the individual trees like the Golden Spruce while the rest of the forests are slaughtered … Right now, people are focusing all their anger on me when they should focus it on the destruction going on around them.” Nevertheless, the immediate reaction from the Council of the Haida Nation was that the loss of the Golden Spruce was a “deliberate violation of our cultural history.” The reaction of the community was that Hadwin should fear for his life and would have a hard time surviving in jail, should he make it there alive. The community reaction to Hadwin’s actions, and the impressions left on book reviewers, not only proves Hadwin’s point – we tend to focus on small details while ignoring the bigger picture – but sadly indicates they’ve also missed his point entirely. While I may find myself alone in this, it is my hope that Grant Hadwin is alive and has found peace; perhaps he is homesteading on a remote island or has found himself a small and sympathetic community in which to live. Despite only 3.5 stars, I would recommend this read, but would advise to read with caution and without bias. While The Golden Spruce would make for an excellent book club read as it promotes lengthy discussion, this book potentially raises more questions than it provides answers.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Isaac Yuen

    Short Version: This is an absorbing story that weaves together the history of Western Canada and the culture of First Nations, European explorers, and loggers on one of the most remote and pristine locations on Earth. Long Version: The story is centered about the singular Grant Hadwin, an outdoorsman that puts other outdoorsmen to shame, and who was more at home in the untamed west coast rainforest than he is in normal society. It speaks of his transformation from a logger/ timber scout into an e Short Version: This is an absorbing story that weaves together the history of Western Canada and the culture of First Nations, European explorers, and loggers on one of the most remote and pristine locations on Earth. Long Version: The story is centered about the singular Grant Hadwin, an outdoorsman that puts other outdoorsmen to shame, and who was more at home in the untamed west coast rainforest than he is in normal society. It speaks of his transformation from a logger/ timber scout into an environmental activist through a spiritual awakening. It culminates in his publicly condemned act of cutting down one of the rarest trees in existence, the three-hundred year old Golden Spruce of the title, as a shocking form of protest to get people to think about what we are doing to the environment. Hadwin’s justification: By destroying the unique, the special, he hoped that people would turn their attention to the systematic pillaging of the old-growth forests at large. We needed to focus on the forest instead of the tree. The book provides a great and thick description of the Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) and the history of the Haida, along with their fascinating myths around the Golden Spruce itself. I’ve always wanted to travel to the Haida Gwaii; in my opinion, it’s one of the gems of the world, so the fact that this book explores it in detail definitely didn’t hurt. Some of the most thought provoking sections of the book explore the theme of relentless exploitation. People, when exposed to the temptations of making a quick buck and of getting ahead, are fully capable of overexploiting their environment, no matter their origins. After realizing how valuable sea-otter pelts are, the Haida proceeded to hunt them down to near extinction. After realizing how useful Sitka Spruce is in plane construction during World War II, loggers equipped with a game-changer, the chainsaw, leveled thousand-year old forests within the span of a few decades. In a lot of ways, the book puts forth some interesting parallels between the Haida people and the loggers on the West coast: it looks at both of their height of power and their subsequent collapse. The unrelenting drive for efficiency is doubly devastating: it overwhelms the capacity for an essential resource to regenerate, obliterating any hope for sustainability. At the same time, productivity increases force people out of their livelihoods, and economic collapse and unrest becomes inevitable. But what they did was not done out of malice, but as Vaillant puts it, of “unsentimental pragmatism”. The mentality of if “you don’t do it, someone else will” is extremely prevalent. The remorse that is felt after the fact, after the destruction, is intense and tragic. On more than one occasion in the book, loggers look back in hindsight at the barren landscape of their clearcut and and lament, “My god, what have I done?” It’s a classic case of the Tragedy of the Commons, and of good people doing bad things. The same market forces and the same logic leads the inexorable path of extinction, of overexploitation, of a scorched earth. The other theme I really enjoyed reading about in the book was about the value and ideas we place on trees. Vaillant writes that trees are by definition, a defiant and subversive act against the fundamental laws of physics: gravity and entropy. It is the ultimate expression of order and of life. Trees are also the only living things that visibly operate on a vaster timescale than us, stretching back centuries into the past and enduring centuries into the future. It was interesting to read about the explanation about the existence of the Golden Spruce from the Haida perspective and the scientific perspective. Both explanations are nothing short of miraculous, but in completely different ways. On the negative side, I personally don’t dig the structure of the book. The main story veers off into pretty significant side tangents. Sometimes I just want to get back to the main story! I get why it was done, but I just found it a little distracting. The main story ends up being a little anticlimactic, especially when the back of the book spoils a large portion of the story. Such a shame. Overall, it’s a good book and an entertaining read. If you have any interest in the history of the West Coast, of the First Nations, or in the familiar stories of resource exploitation, check it out. The prose is also very good, vivid and memorable; Vaillant’s a good writer and an excellent researcher.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Having been born and raised in a logging town in British Columbia (my dad was a faller/bucker), and having worked in the West Coast logging industry for a year and a half, this book was definitely of interest to me. That also may make me biased to like it. Regardless, it was a really interesting book. I enjoyed the writing style and for some reason I actually liked how John Vaillant jumped around between topics. For example, one moment he was writing about how badass and drunk West Coast loggers Having been born and raised in a logging town in British Columbia (my dad was a faller/bucker), and having worked in the West Coast logging industry for a year and a half, this book was definitely of interest to me. That also may make me biased to like it. Regardless, it was a really interesting book. I enjoyed the writing style and for some reason I actually liked how John Vaillant jumped around between topics. For example, one moment he was writing about how badass and drunk West Coast loggers were, then the next chapter was dedicated to Haida culture/legends, then the next chapter was about the man who cut up the massive spruce (Grant Hadwin), and then before you know it he's talking about the biology of spruce trees and sequoia - I don't know. I see how that could annoy some readers, but I liked it (probably in part because of my bias). Honestly though, anyone could find something interesting or at the very least - amusing - within these pages. It was a good book, full of interesting facts about the history of the West Coast logging industry, if you're into that sort of thing. Would recommend.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Abby Howell

    Since I worked for the Forest Service in Oregon 1979-80, much of the story about logging and the huge trees of the Pacific Northwest resonated with me. I remember logging trucks with one, at the most two huge trees, barreling down the curving logging roads. I didn't realized I was seeing the end of an era. This is more a book about this not-to-long-ago era of rampant logging in the Northwest and the Queen Charlotte Islands, and less about the one man who killed a sacred tree. I appreciated the i Since I worked for the Forest Service in Oregon 1979-80, much of the story about logging and the huge trees of the Pacific Northwest resonated with me. I remember logging trucks with one, at the most two huge trees, barreling down the curving logging roads. I didn't realized I was seeing the end of an era. This is more a book about this not-to-long-ago era of rampant logging in the Northwest and the Queen Charlotte Islands, and less about the one man who killed a sacred tree. I appreciated the in-depth writing about the trees and the area of the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Haida Gwai tribe. In a way, the story of the golden spruce felt slightly tangential to the main thrust of the book. However, the death of the tree did mirror the death of so much of the old growth forest. Good solid research and writing. I'm ready to catch the next ferry up to the Queen Charlotte's and see them for myself.

  25. 5 out of 5

    JBask

    Come for the pre-Colombian glimpse of the Haida Gwaii islands, stay for the heartbreak of environmental degradation! I keep doing this to myself. I read these incredible histories of North America before European contact and find my mouth agape and my breath coming in gasps. Imagine with me an island with the oldest non-agrarian civilization. Fish and shellfish so abundant and the people so great at swimming and canoe-building and fishing that they don't plant food for themselves. Imagine dug-out Come for the pre-Colombian glimpse of the Haida Gwaii islands, stay for the heartbreak of environmental degradation! I keep doing this to myself. I read these incredible histories of North America before European contact and find my mouth agape and my breath coming in gasps. Imagine with me an island with the oldest non-agrarian civilization. Fish and shellfish so abundant and the people so great at swimming and canoe-building and fishing that they don't plant food for themselves. Imagine dug-out canoes that would fit 100 people and gear, with pilots so fierce that they would go raid the mainland and had blood feuds all up and down the western coast of Canada. Imagine a straight with waves and tides and winds so treacherous literally no one could cross them except the people from this wondrous island. I still have so much to learn about the first peoples of my country, and this was a breath-taking glimpse into British Columbia's coastal people and the history of how the heck we got to where we are today. I thought I already hated the clear-cutting logging practices before I touched this book. I learned about so many new and horrible ways to die felling old-growth forest I may never pick up a chainsaw. The author did an incredible job giving us the historical context of the felling of the golden spruce of Haida Gwaii, and pointed out there are no easy answers in the modern world. I see a ton of similarities between the loggers of the early 20th century and the petrochem workers of today, but "lies are easier to swallow when the money is good." Worth the read, but a heartbreaker for sure.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    My biggest criticism about this book is that the back of the book makes it sound like it will focus on Grant Hadwin, however that was not really the case. The book really focuses on the lumber industry and ties everything back to the industry, rather than to Grant. I do however think the book succeeds in making you rethink how you see the environment.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Iris

    I remember visiting the Big Cypress in Florida as a school girl and hearing years later that it had been burned by an arsonist. I don’t think Grant Hadwin’s motive for destroying the Golden Spruce was fully explored or explained in the book. Some conjecture about mental illness and plenty of indication that he liked to prove he could outwit and outdo others. We are collectively guilty of depleting the earth’s natural resources to meet our needs and satisfy our whims and desires. How many “golden I remember visiting the Big Cypress in Florida as a school girl and hearing years later that it had been burned by an arsonist. I don’t think Grant Hadwin’s motive for destroying the Golden Spruce was fully explored or explained in the book. Some conjecture about mental illness and plenty of indication that he liked to prove he could outwit and outdo others. We are collectively guilty of depleting the earth’s natural resources to meet our needs and satisfy our whims and desires. How many “golden spruces” have been felled for me? Grant Hadwin is vilified for cutting down one very special tree but Vaillant makes it clear that we share his guilt. With each passing day I’m more and more convinced that we are destroying the planet to such a degree that human life cannot be sustained as it is. Our only hope is in our own species’ faculty for working together to meet big challenges.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ali Vira

    I read this on a kindle which made me feel a little better about deforestation... Just a little

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike Badger

    A great book lent to me by an even better pal.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Howard Cincotta

    The Golden Spruce is ostensibly the tale of two lives and deaths: that of logger and environmental activist Grant Hadwin, and a massive Sitka spruce tree with a remarkable mutation that resulted in golden instead of green needles. But the real protagonist of this riveting and deeply researched story is the forest and coastal seas of British Columbia, an otherworldly landscape of violent winds and seas and deep arboreal forests populated by a race of giants – cedar, Douglas fir, spruce, and redwo The Golden Spruce is ostensibly the tale of two lives and deaths: that of logger and environmental activist Grant Hadwin, and a massive Sitka spruce tree with a remarkable mutation that resulted in golden instead of green needles. But the real protagonist of this riveting and deeply researched story is the forest and coastal seas of British Columbia, an otherworldly landscape of violent winds and seas and deep arboreal forests populated by a race of giants – cedar, Douglas fir, spruce, and redwood trees. These old growth forests loom over the lives of the region’s human populations, beginning with the Haida, master canoe builders, totem carvers, and warriors, whose domain was the Queen Charlotte Islands off the British Columbia coast, and home to the golden spruce. The early encounters of the warlike Haida with the first rapacious European explorers read like the collision of alien civilizations in their mutual incomprehension and conflict. For the British, their sailing ships served as refuge, weapon, and survival capsule – at least until steel, cannon, and smallpox subdued the Haida, and the collapse of the trade in sea otter furs reduced them to penury. But the region’s true wealth lay in its vast forests, and the ultimate exploitation of these lands came with clear cutting of vast tracks of trees that were some of the largest living things in the world. Logging is back-breaking work, and statistically remains a highly lethal occupation. What has changed is its scale and technology, symbolized best by the replacement of the ax and crosscut saw with the chain saw, which allowed loggers to drop a 150-foot, 1,500-year-old Douglas fir in a matter of hours. In 1997, after swimming naked across an icy river at night, Grant Hadwin used a chain saw to cut down the golden spruce as a deranged environmental protest. But the real victims were the Haida people, who were in the midst of an attempt to recover their cultural heritage and take control of their ravaged land. Parts of the southern Queen Charlotte Islands have been protected a nature preserve, but much of the north resembles a moonscape. Vaillant skillfully tells the story of Grant Hadwin, a timber surveyor and extraordinary outdoorsman who, on a solitary wilderness trip, experienced what in one age would be described as spiritual revelation and in another as a psychotic break. For many years, Hadwin earned a comfortable living from his work with timber companies – he was expert at laying out logging roads – but increasingly he found the environmental destruction that clear-cut operations left in their wake to be intolerable. Hadwin was arrested for cutting down the golden spruce, but before his trial he disappeared in a kayak in Hecate Strait between Queen Charlotte and the mainland and was likely drowned in some of the most dangerous waters in the North Pacific. But his body was never found, and Hadwin has become more myth than man, much like the legendary tree he destroyed. In the novel’s coda, we see the end of the era of old-growth logging, a once apparently inexhaustible resource, finally succumbing to the weight of industrial-scale forestry operations. Meanwhile, the Haida, along with botanists from around the world, are attempting to graft and grow golden-needle spruce seedlings taken from the fallen mother tree.

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