The Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce

A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed

Book - 2005
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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, a mystery that 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 in this gripping and perceptive book, 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, an unusually rich ecosystem where the normal lines between species blur, a place where "the patient observer will find that trees are fed by salmon [and] eagles can swim." The islands' beauty and strangeness inspire a more personal and magical experience of nature than western society is usually given to. Without romanticizing, Vaillant shows that this understanding is typified by the Haida, the native people who have lived there for millennia and know the land as Haida Gwaii - 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, a tract owned by the Weyerhaeuser forest products company. It survived in an isolated "set-aside" amidst a landscape ravaged by logging.

Grant Hadwin had worked as a remote scout for timber companies; with his ease in the wild he excelled at his job, much of which was spent in remote stretches of the temperate rain forest, plotting the best routes to extract lumber. But over time Hadwin was pushed into a paradox: the better he was at his job, the more the world he loved was destroyed. It seems he was ultimately unable to bear the contradiction.

On the night of January 20, 1997, with the temperature near zero, Hadwin swam across the Yakoun river with a chainsaw. Another astonishing physical feat followed: alone, in darkness, he tore expertly into the golden spruce - a tree more than two metres in diameter - leaving it so unstable that the first wind would push it over. A few weeks later, having inspired an outpouring of grief and public anger, 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. This fascinating book describes the history of the Haida's contacts with European traders and settlers, drawing parallels between the 19th century economic bubble in sea otter pelts - and its eventual implosion - and today's voracious logging trade. The wood products industry is examined objectively and in depth; Vaillant explores the influence of logging not only on the British Columbia landscape but on the course of western civilization, from the expansion of farming in Europe to wood's essential importance to the Great Powers' imperial navies to the North American "axe age." Along the way, The Golden Spruce includes evocative portraits of one of the world's most unusual land- and seascapes, riveting descriptions of Haida memorial rites, and a lesson in the difficulty and danger of felling giant trees.

Thrilling and instructive though it may be, The Golden Spruce confronts the reader with troubling questions. John Vaillant asks whether Grant Hadwin destroyed the golden spruce because - as a beautiful "mutant" preserved while the rest of the forest was devastated - it embodied society's self-contradictory approach to nature, the paradox that harrowed him. Anyone who claims to respect the environment but lives in modern society faces some version of this problem; perhaps Hadwin, living on the cutting edge in every sense, could no longer take refuge in the "moral and cognitive dissonance" today's world requires. The Golden Spruce forces one to ask: can the damage our civilization exacts on the natural world be justified?
Publisher: Toronto : A.A. Knopf Canada, 2005.
ISBN: 9780676976465
Branch Call Number: 364. 164 HAD V
Characteristics: xiii, 256 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm.


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Sep 09, 2018

Fascinating book centered around the cutting down of the famous Golden Spruce in the Queen Charlotte Islands by a white anti-logging fanatic who most likely was mentally ill and made most of what money he had by brilliantly designing logging accesses. The author explores the Haida culture and the tribe's relationship to the Canadian government, British Columbia logging practices, the ecosystem of the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the complicated life of Grant Hadwin, who cut down the tree in an apparent act of protest against corporate logging practices, with a little botany thrown in. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in First Peoples (the Canadian moniker for those that people in the United States call Native Americans) and the Pacific Northwest rain forest ecosystem.

Feb 28, 2018

This nonfiction book is dense and belabors details about logging that make it difficult to get through at times. I was expecting more of an exciting read about Grant Hadwin and the Golden Spruce but it does not feature prominently. Instead of reading the book, I would recommend John Valliant's New Yorker article that is concise, includes the interesting details, and gets to the point:

Jul 21, 2017

I loved this book. I learned about the Haida people and logging. Also what happens when someone with such good intentions goes off the deep end and does something so wrong. I found Grant Hadwin quite fascinating. I also watched the documentary about him and, among other things, was amazed at the house that he built.

Feb 13, 2017

Much ado about nothing. Journalistic style writing.

Aug 14, 2016

This was a really unique and interesting nonfiction, recommended to me by my aunt! The blurb on the book compared it to a Krakauer book, and I'd mostly agree with that. It certainly brought the temperate rainforests of British Columbia alive for me, but John Vaillant also maintains an individual writing style.

The Golden Spruce is not only the story of a singular tree; it's also the story of the Haida people and the history of the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest, all intertwined. The old growth trees of the Pacific Northwest are really, really old, so the book begins way, way back, when people were just starting to populate the area. It was very interesting to read about the myths and legends traditionally associated with the golden spruce. I would've appreciated a pronunciation guide, or phonetic spellings of all the words associated with the Haida people... Vaillant provides phonetic spellings for a few of the words, but not many, and they all include a LOT of vowels with not quite enough consonants. For example, the name of the golden spruce is Kiidk'yaas.

There's also a lot of background on the logging industry in British Columbia. It takes a unique person to work in that field: all the loggers interviewed for the book said that they got into the industry because they loved being out in the woods. Yet, their job is to cut down those woods.

Overarchingly, The Golden Spruce is the story of Grant Hadwin. He's a logger who starts to see how logging will end eventually- in the total decimation of Canada's beautiful old-growth forests. I kind of got the feeling from the book that he might have been a little crazy, too. He decides to cut down the golden spruce in protest, to show how valuable a tree can be. I say that he's a little crazy, because in order to do this he had to kayak across dangerous water in Canada in February. I don't know that I'd even want to kayak in Canada in August- too cold!

At times the book felt slightly disjointed, but it did all come together at the end. I found it all pretty interesting, and remained engaged the whole time. There are black and white pictures in the middle of the book, so I had to take to the internet to find a color picture of the golden spruce.

Jun 28, 2016

Well told story, but I would have liked the author to give more details about Hadwin's writings...I can't find any copies of his manifestos.

May 05, 2015

Fantastic read. A complex, yet easy reading book that deftly combines history and mystery into a single storyline. Good research gives this book weight and insight into the forestry industry in BC. Must read for British Columbians

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 19, 2015

A local author writing his first book relates a real life tragedy and mystery with thoughtfulness and informative detail. The story of Haida Gwaii’s golden spruce offers insight into B.C.’s roots—its discovery, culture, landscape and one man’s struggle with the devastation of the coastal rainforest. The reader is haunted by the living spirit of the tree and the sacredness of its place within nature.

Dec 05, 2014

This is a fascinating true story about a lumberjack gone rogue. Besides being entertaining, I feel I learned a lot about the history of the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest.

Jul 04, 2013

The Golden Spruce is truly a story of myth, madness and greed.
It gave so much information and at times I felt that it was a manifesto about the destruction of our forests and not pointing out what we are doing to our world and the people doing the destruction not getting it.

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Jun 26, 2012

spacecat thinks this title is suitable for All Ages


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