Haida Gwaii is a unique and mystical place. It is often called the “Galapagos of the Pacific” due to the many unique species of wildlife and fauna native to the islands. The island’s location, off the coast of British Columbia, experiences unique weather, which is different on both sides of the island. It is lush and green with trees including cedar, spruce, hemlock and other varieties. Thanks to an average of over 52 inches of rainfall per year in the eastern half of the islands, and a whopping 168 inches in the western half, the trees have grown big and tall. In the forest along the Yakoun River, there was a Spruce tree, golden in color, a mutation of nature. It stood out in the woods along the river, and some would say it shone, a bright star in the forest.
While The Golden Spruce, A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by John Vaillant tells the story of a horrible act of terrorism against this special, unique and revered Golden Spruce tree on Graham Island in Haida Gwaii, Vaillant also weaves a story that includes many interesting facts about the area, the fishing and logging industries, and the people who work in them. You will also learn about the Haida, their customs and their beliefs and how one man could take away a part of their spirit. If you enjoy reading about the many places we cruise on the coast of British Columbia, you most assuredly like this book.
Book Review: The Golden Spruce, A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by John Valliant
In January of 1997 Grant Hadwin, swam across the ice cold Yakoun River at night with a chainsaw and axes in a float bag behind him. He cut the golden tree with strategic cuts where it would fall in the next wind storm two days later. He immediately claimed responsibility and called his actions justified as a demonstration against the logging industry. A warrant was set for his arrest, but the laws for cutting down a tree are not extreme. But this was a special tree, over 300 years old and unique in the world.
He elected to further show his protest by kayaking in the middle of winter across Hecate Strait, from Prince Rupert to Masset, near the site of his crime in Port Clements. He never made it, or at least as far as we know. His kayak and gear were found 65 miles to the north on Mary Island in Alaska, below Ketchikan. As you will read, Grant was an expert survivalist, and his friends say he could survive anywhere. Many think he is still alive today.
Author, John Vaillant, builds the tale with much information about logging and the lumber industry and mankind's demand for lumber and wood products. The scale of the numbers is staggering. You learn that Europe and other parts of the world used to be covered by forests but were cleared out for lumber and to create more space for people to live and farm. Now, the west coast of North America is providing lumber and paper products for the world. Trees are considered a renewable resource, with little consideration for the time it takes to create true old growth timber. Many of our largest trees and old growth forests are now gone, with a small number protected like items in a museum.
This was Grant Hadwin's message, and parts of it resonated with me. Though the means were wrong and felling the sacred tree had an unintended impact on the Haida nation, our remaining old growth forests should be considered carefully before they too are logged. While renewable, the decades or even hundreds of years of growth a prime tree needs is too high a price to pay.
For those who cruise the Inside Passage, or dream of boating through this amazing cruising ground, this book will have a special meaning.
~Review by Mark Bunzel
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