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

Picture Good Reads

by Jiayi Chew

Picture: Goodreads

In “The Golden Spruce” Vancouver writer John Vaillant invites the reader on a journey two centuries back in time, to the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia. These islands, also known under their indigenous name Haida Gwaii, were home to the Haida people. The Haida were spiritually connected with the dense forests that covered the land, as was expressed, for example, by worshipping a large Sitka spruce, the Kiidk’yaas, that, as a result of a genetic mutation, was golden in color and was believed to imprint sacred qualities in every man that visits the tree.

Over time, however, Western colonization and technological progress made the old-growth-forest ecosystem of Haida Gwaii subject to infinite human desire and the Haida people had to witness how the rapid uptake of mechanization led to the replacement of traditional forest systems with industrial logging operations.

The book tells the story of Thomas Grant Hadwin, a talented forester, who had worked for the industry many and who witnessed in the 90’s how the few remaining old-growth stands on Haida Gwaii came under threat of being logged. Hadwin, that had developed over the course of his work life a deep appreciation for the beauty of old-growth forests, distanced himself from the industry whose purpose it was to destroy the very things that were dear to him and became an environmental activist. Being trapped between his passion for the work he did for many years on the one hand and his solidarity with forests on the other hand, Hadwin had gradually gone mad and his poor mental condition escalated with an act of destruction, when he felled the sacred golden spruce of the Haida people, as an act of protest against the logging industry, and then disappeared on route to his trial.

The story of the Golden Spruce demonstrates to the reader the possible effects of uncontrolled and unlimited human greed. The book tells how the Haida people became victim of an act of destruction, since Hadwin’s radical attempt to draw attention to the issue of deforestation violated the spiritual and cultural heritage of those that are already deprived of their rights in many respects. The book is powerfully written and John Vaillant descriptively illustrates the logging history on Haida Gwaii, thus making the topic of deforestation accessible to a wide group of readers, independent from cultural or professional backgrounds. Unlimited and uncontrolled exploitation of forest resources, as described in the book, is an issue in many parts of the world. In Taiwan, for example, we can see how more rigid standards that have been adopted by the government to protect natural forests have resulted in increased import of timber from neighboring countries with poor environmental standards. The story of the Golden Spruce invites the reader to reflect on many social and cultural aspects surrounding forestry and thus presents a great resource to forestry students to discuss the costs and benefits of contemporary forest practice.

The author, Jiayi Chew, is a final-year student in Forestry at National Chiayi University (Taiwan) and responsible for the content of the contribution.

Book Details:

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

Author: John Vaillant

Publisher: W.W Norton & Company, New York, 2005

ISBN: 9780393058871 (Hardcover)

Language: English

Link to the Publisher

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