I just finished reading “The Golden Spruce - A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed” by John Vaillant. It’s about a man named Grant Hadwin who is a timber scout in British Columbia. In 1997 he cut down a 300-year-old Sitka Spruce Tree that was 50 metres tall and was rare because it was covered in golden-colored needles instead of green. What was strange was that Hadwin wanted to save the forests of B.C. and he cut down the Golden Spruce in an environmental protest. What he did horrified the entire community and was reported all over Canada. The tree was a scientific marvel, beloved by loggers in the area, and was sacred to the Haida people. After cutting down the tree, Hadwin disappeared and is still missing to this day.
Scientists say that the Spruce was Golden because of a lack of chlorophyl (what makes the green color in plants) in the leaves. Although this is possible, it is almost impossible that a tree with this problem, could survive so well, and be completely healthy and so large. Scientists said there is a chemical reaction that must be taking place inside the tree that allows it to reflect light and still stay alive. Other trees lacking chlorophyl just reflect light and they soon die. So although there is a reason for the color of the tree, the mystery is how it could stay alive a prosper.
After the Golden Spruce was cut down, many people tired to regrow the tree using grafting. Where you take a part of the tree and attach it to a part of another tree and wait for them to fuse together and grow. This was done at UBC and today two 4 metre tall Golden Sitka Spruces exist in the community where the Golden Spruce once was. Only this time, the trees are protected with fencing and wire to make sure no one can cut these ones down. People in the town suggested making a totem pole out of the stump or native masks out of the Golden Spruce to commemorate it. There was also an idea to make guitars out of it that the natives could use, since Sitka Spruce is the best kind of wood for making acoustic guitars. But, no one has made anything from the stump maybe as respect for the dead, or because the stump has now become a nurse tree and is home to many other life forms.
Grant Hadwin said, “We tend to focus on the individual trees, like the Golden Spruce, while the rest of the forests are being slaughtered.” This was the reason he cut down the Golden Spruce. He was frustrated with people for admiring one tree, while ignoring the problem of the earth losing so many forests because of extreme logging and clear-cutting. If I could meet Grant Hadwin, I would tell him that his strong passion for nature had become so overpowering that it had clouded his mind and drove him to do crazy things. I would tell him to control his emotions, whether they be anger, frustration, or love, because if they are not controlled, they control you and make you do desperate things. I would tell him that although he had a cause and he was frustrated with the world, the way he dealt with his problem was wrong. I think there is a better way to make change than doing what he did. Even though he tried to make a point, I would say there is no justification for cutting down the rare, beautiful, and beloved Golden Spruce that way a ray of light on this dark, depressing earth.
The book also talks about the unique habitat of the Queen Charlotte Islands, also called Haida Gwaii, home to the Haida people. “Haida” in their language laterally means “The People”. And “Haida Gwaii” means “Land of the People”. The book talks about the violent history of Natives meeting with Europeans, trading, and the hunt for furs. Much of this is mentioned in our socials textbook and we already studied it this year. But, in the book it says that after the most of the Natives were murdered by disease and smallpox, the ones who survived looked for jobs in white society. Many became loggers and had to cut down trees they thought to be sacred. After many Native children, including Haida children were sent to residential schools and lost their culture, the Haida language was almost extinct. Today, only 20 people in the world can speak the Haida language fluently and the youngest person who speaks it is 50 years old. Now, the Haida people are begging to rebuild their lost culture and get in touch with their roots. Their population is rising in Haida Gwaii. It is still hard for them to live like they did in the past when they are being subsidized by the government. Right now they are fighting for possession of all of the Queen Charlotte Islands since it all used to be home to the Haida people. In the book, it says that the reason being so much conflict between the Europeans and the Native was that both groups of people had violent histories and both never saw the other group as being legitimately human. The book shows that the Natives were also very violent with other Native groups as well as the Europeans. This passage from the book makes it seem like both cultures had the same flaws and they were destined to be in conflict from the first time they meet. I agree that the Natives and Europeans could not be cooperative with everything that went on between them, but I am in favor of the Natives. Even if they too were violent and arrogant like the Europeans, the Europeans were the ones who traded unfairly and in the end, killed almost all the natives.
The book describes the logging lifestyle and how popular and dangerous logging was in Western Canada. It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and it is the one that so many Canadians had in the 1900's. Most loggers started when they weren’t even finished high school and were killed before they were 30. Freak accidents were not uncommon in the logging industry, like a piece of wood going straight through you. Most of these young loggers were paid between 50-100 thousand dollars in the first year of the job. A logger once said “But even dropping the little ones[trees]-I get a thrill. I’ll never get tired of it, I’ve been hurt; I’ve had guys killed right next to me. But I guess that’s why the pay us the way they do.”
The book talks about how 60% of the forest in B.C. has been cut down, compared to 90% in the U.S. states. Many trees that are hundreds or thousands of years old have been cut down, and because of erosion, can never be able to grow there again for generations. We are using our trees like they will never run out and now we are seeing the destruction of clear-cutting. If we don’t slow down, and come up with a way to use trees sustainably (if possible), we will run out of lumber that is not protected in provincial parks and we will soon have a lack of our number one resource that has brought western Canada so much wealth. The book says that people came to B.C. for the sea otter, for furs, but the timber is why they stayed.
In the book it mentions that, “...tree farms and big-box stores have a lot in common: What they lack in long-term character, beauty or “soul”, they gain in alleged efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It is a side effect of capitalism, the roots of which reach down into our collective attitudes towards nature and the life cycle.”Our Society is spiraling into a completely capitalistic frame of mind. Everyday, efficiency and cost-effectiveness is being gained, while beauty and “soul” is being lost. We can see this is business, workers being replaced by machines, and people in power abandoning ethics for more profit.
I found The Golden Spruce to be a dispiriting read. When faced with the history of Western Canada, I saw it to be violent, immoral, unethical, and filled with greed and capitalism. Our past actions were in complete defiance with nature and what we should have been doing; protecting and cherishing the wild around us. Instead we violate it. I leave the book thinking that unless we stop our selfish and destructive behavior, we will end up murdering what makes our home rare in the eyes of the world. The things we take for granted will be gone and we will be faced with the consequences of or actions with no one to blame but ourselves. Past Canadians experience of nature was a destructive one. We viewed the nature around us as an abundant, unlimited resource that we could take from forever. We did not protect it. We thought it was greater than us and it would live on no matter what we do to it. We still think all of these things today. We used the natural resources around us to build the economy of B.C. Logging and fishing is what brought us wealth. We depend so much on the nature around us even today for our wealth yet we do not think to be sustainable. We see ourselves as being more important than everything, including nature. We cannot put ourselves second and let go of our selfish wants to see the bigger picture.