The golden spruce : a true story of myth, madness, and greed

by John Vaillant

Paperback, 2005




New York : W.W. Norton, c2005.


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)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bcteagirl
The Golden Spruce : A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed is a Non-fiction book set in British Columbia, largely on the islands. I have to admit, being a prairie girl, I had not even heard of the Golden Spruce before reading this book. Apparently on the Island there was a golden spruce, with needles that were a brighter yellow colour rather than green, a yellow that reflected the light so that the tree itself appeared to glow. It was one of a kind in that others with this mutation do not flourish or grow to a large size like this one did. This tree played a large part in Haidi myth and culture and according to myth was a boy who was turned into a tree (For various reasons, as there are different versions of the myth).

The earliest parts of the book discuss how British Columbia appeared before the settlers arrived, and then covered the various stages of logging of British Columbia. Technology greatly sped of the pace of deforestation. Other chapters covered the Golden Spruce and they myth surrounding it. It was spared, and the albino crow that favoured the spruce were a tourist attraction.

This story also focuses on Grant Hadwin the forester and woodsman turned environmentalist. Due to mental illness he came to believe that he had a divine mission of some sort to save the forest and return humanity to small agrarian groups (led by women incidentally). Rather than holding a mythological view of the Golden Spruce, he viewed it as a ‘damaged’ tree, a mutation that normally would not survive. He felt it was hypocritical to be proud of allowing this tree to survive while every day many many trees fell to logging. So one night he snuck out and cut the tree half down so that it fell with the next wind. The Haidi community as well as the local community were incensed. The police were unsure how to charge someone with cutting down a tree. After his first trial he disappeared via kayak and was never seen again. Given that in the past he survived for weeks/months on end in the forest no one is quite sure if he perished, is hiding in the woods, or went on to live in Russia. A good read, especially if you are interested in BC history and/or First Nations history.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
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.
LibraryThing member arrwa
This book was about much more than a man and a tree. You learn of the logging history in B.C., you learn about the history and culture of the Haida. This book illustrates how one tree represents a story that is symbolic to a culture who's roots extend to the first peoples being on at that land, yet is also preserved and revered by the very men who cut down trees for a living. This one tree tying two very different communities together. But then, to one man the tree represents a mask. One man who's life was spent as an outsider, one man who was so comfortable in the woods, so attune to its nuances saw this tree as a blind for all the destruction going on beyond this preserved groove. This book will constantly change your alliance, and make you think about all sides of this complicated narrative. A must read.… (more)
LibraryThing member dickcraig
A tree stands out in the forest. It is golden and different than all the other trees. The natives worship it as a god. Then someone, most unlikely, cuts it down. This is the story of the tree and the man who destroys it.
LibraryThing member wdlaurie
This account of the destructive act of an ex-employee of several Canadian logging companies is entertwined with the history of the Haida people, diminishing resources, and loss. The history and defacto genocide of the native tribes is interwoven with the clash of demand for timber and jobs.One of the unique aspects of this tale, aside from the mystical golden spruce, is the discussion of shamanism and mystical experience, which I wish could have been more in depth.… (more)
LibraryThing member patrickrashleigh
A varied and often fascinating account of logging and British Columbia. At times the language is a bit over-done, and at times it drags (a bit), but the opening chapters describing the Pacific Northwest coastal forests are the best description I've read of that unbelievable place.
LibraryThing member bnbookgirl
I though the book was well written and well researched. I found alot about the logging industry and it was very eye opening. There is also alot of information about the Haida, a tribe that worships these trees. The story line is similar to Into the Wild. A man's journey into madness and his eventual fall into the abyss. You wouldn't think a story about a tree would involve "Myth, Madness, and Greed" but this book really covers these topics. A fantastic read for our bookclub as it generated alot of discussion. We held our bookclub under some spruce trees and it was a great time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
The story revolves around Grant Hadwin, an expert Canadian logger turned environmentalist, who surreptitiously cut down the Golden Spruce, a one of a kind mutant tree with golden needles on Queen Charlotte Islands in 1997. The tree was ancient and huge, over 300 years old, 50 meters tall and sacred to Haida- the native people of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), and a showpiece of MacMillan Bloedel, the biggest Canadian multinational wood products company. MacMillan Bloedel had an exclusive contract for the Islands, and was cutting the old growth there with absolute abandon and no consideration for the forests or the people for years. It was this latter fact that attracted Hadwin’s attention to the tree. He single handedly cut it down one cold January night in protest despite the fact that it was 2 meter in diameter, and almost impossible to fell by a single man. 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’. The act in itself was absolutely abhorrent, but Vaillant is trying to show that Hadwin may have had good reasons to do it, and examines the whole history of the West Coast development and logging with stress on greed and lack of consideration for the native people and nature that has been going on for centuries. It is still going on even though there is very little old-growth forest left, and there will be none to speak of if the logging goes on for another 30 years.
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.
It goes well with Diamond’s Collapse. It left me both angry and sad, and made me ponder once again how short-sighted mankind is.
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LibraryThing member TerriBooks
I cruised on the Inside Passage between Vancouver and Alaska, and this book is set in that same area, so I was interested in reading it. It highlights some of the issues of that area, and of our culture in general, through the story of a remarkable tree, the Golden Spruce. This tree, important to the Haida who are native to the island where it grew, was a beautiful mutation that glowed through the old-growth forest and was cut down as a protest by a logger-turned-ecologist. The history of the native peoples, the over-logging of the beautiful hundreds-years-old trees, and questions about providing employment to people who live in this part of the world are addressed. Using the lens of this tree makes it easy to read, more like a story than a screed. Loved it.… (more)
LibraryThing member trish.
Great book about a man in BC. Loved it.
LibraryThing member banjo123
I found this book fascinating and thought provoking. It discusses logging practices in the Pacific Northwest by focusing on Grant Hadwin and the Golden Spruce; a mutant Sitka with great spiritual significance for the Haida people in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Grant struggled with schizophrenia, and with how he could integrate his connection with the old growth forests with his logging past.
This book give a lot of insight into the logging industry; the connection between culture and the environment and the connection between mental illness and spirituality. It’s been compared to Krakeur’s [Into the Wild], but I found that Krakeur focuses mostly on the personal, Valliant more on the political and economic.
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LibraryThing member BookMason
Read this book! A stunning tale and a interesting look at the deterioration of a human. Wrapped in a history lesson of the northwest pacific coast and the cost of one act on a native society.
LibraryThing member kasfer
An engaging and enlightening read.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
I like to think of Vaillant's book as a guided tour. He flies his readers over British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, giving us a bird's eye view of the forest sacred to the Haida tribe. He then swoops in lower to let us examine the history and culture of not only the land and its people, but of the logging industry hellbent on destroying it all. Once we have an understanding of the amazing expanse of British Columbia's natural forest Vaillant lands us squarely on the life of Grant Hadwin, logger turned activist. Vaillant has strategically shown us both sides of the coin before introducing us to Hadwin's shocking act of protest. Once responsible for mapping out logging roads Hadwin had a change of heart (and mind - he was rumored to be mentally ill and on medication) about the work he was supporting and defiantly cut down the area's largest 300 year old Sitka spruce.… (more)
LibraryThing member literateowl
Absolutely brilliant and rich story of Eco activist, natural history, geology, and human geography but reads like a great novel. Loved it!
LibraryThing member ScoLgo

Partly a chronicle of the illegal cutting of an extremely unique tree, partly a history of the west coast logging industry, and partly a study of the indigenous peoples of the area, this is a fascinating book. While Vaillant struggles at times with transition - I found a few of the narrative leaps to be somewhat jarring - the story that eventually emerges is truly extraordinary.

The sections on plant biology and the destructiveness of clear-cutting may be too detailed for some, (I admit that I found my eyelids drooping during some of these somewhat repetitive parts), but the book really hits its stride as we learn about Grant Hadwin. Hadwin is the admitted culprit that cut down the Golden Spruce and later disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Was he killed by people upset over his crime? Did he drown while kayaking to his court hearing? Did he fake his own death and disappear into the depths of the Yukon Territory? To date, no one knows for sure and the case may never be solved.

If you have any interest at all in the subject matter, I highly recommend this book; it really is a fascinating story that proves the old adage that 'truth can be stranger than fiction'.
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LibraryThing member kvrfan
A fascinating tale, very well told. A magnificent, one-of-a-kind tree, sacred to NW coast natives and a tourist draw for the local economy, is felled in the middle of the night. But the culprit (who readily admits his deed) is not a "usual suspect." His well-planned act was not done from malice or reckless irresponsibility. His was a mission. Much mystery lies in the history of the tree and still remains after the deed itself, nurturing more drama here than in many novels.… (more)
LibraryThing member judysh
An incredible story about a living thing, a tree, and the land and people around it. The story of history, spirituality, life, love, greed, good and bad.
LibraryThing member Steve38
A good story well told using journalist skills. A sacred tree is felled as an ecologic protest by a disturbed lone logger. From this bare sketch the author tells us of the logging history of western Canada, the lives of the first nation people, the impact of european colonisatio and the life of Grant Hadwin, the logger who did the deed. History, biography and nature writing combined well. The thread meanders somewhat and there is the occaisional bit of filler but good nevertheless.… (more)
LibraryThing member splinfo
Came away wondering if people who live in the Pacific Northwest know about this amazing story! A sacred tree is felled in the middle of the night to protest rampant timber harvesting. Story revolved around a man almost super human in his strength of body and mind, his ecological statement and then his disappearance. A mystery to this day. Lots about the indigenous people and logging history. I found it fascinating and very well written… (more)
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This is a fascinating account of the Golden Spruce, a one-of-a-kind tree that grew in the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia. Valiant uses this tree as a starting point for information about the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the Haida Gwaii (people native to the islands) and their culture, the history of logging, and details about how trees grow and propagate. There is lots of really interesting information in here, especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest and wander its forests - this could be required reading for anyone who enjoys the outdoors in this part of the country. The book can be a little disjointed, and sometimes it feels like Valiant goes off on tangents just to pad the book, but I still found it all to be really interesting, and it gave me a new appreciation for the forests I live in.

I happened to read this at the same time that I was reading Overstory by Richard Powers, and I suspect he read it too because a lot of the same information shows up in both books. It was great reading them together.
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
Interesting documentary style book on the Queen Charlotte Islands/West Canadian coast, its forests, history, and logging industry. The thread that holds the book together is the Golden Spruce tree and the gone-wild logger/naturalist who cut it down. Lots of indepth, well-researched background and tangential information along the way. These tangents make the story feel a bit disjointed to me, but it certainly provides a comprehensive, relatively objective perspective on the whole story. Remarkably a non-emotional presentation of a very charged topic -- a fine skill to walk that balance beam.… (more)
LibraryThing member Carlathelibrarian
I read this book as a group read for a Goodreads group I am part of. It is not something I ever would have picked up on my own. Parts of this book were extremely interesting and parts (to me anyway) were long winded and boring. If you are interested in the history of the lumber industry, this book will give you a lot of information. It is non-fiction, but there is a backstory about Grant Hadwin, a disillusioned timber man. Not a long book, but it took a while to finish it.… (more)
LibraryThing member sworldbridger
This book made me want to go to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Vaillant writes beautifully and exhaustively about a very complicated issue. Although his biases are revealed and he tries to weave a multitude of transecting stories into one big one which like in 'The White Tiger' at times loses focus of the overriding narrative. As well, he seems to be obsessed with unlikable and amoral characters from far away lands. I just want to go to Queen Charlotte Islands and only buy used books and used furniture and know within myself that the forests of today are not the same as the forests of yesterday.… (more)



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