Driftless's Reviews > The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant
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Jan 09, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, nature

The tree has often been used as the ultimate symbol of life. From the Genesis story, to poetry, to oriental art, to the modern environmental movement, it is an image that almost anyone can relate to. In the Pacific Northwest - home to some of the most spectacular trees in the world - there was one tree that stood out as more remarkable than all others. For hundreds of years a magnificent, 165 foot tall Sitka spruce known as Kiidk'yaas (the Golden Spruce) had been worshiped by the local natives, becoming a central character in their mythology. By some freak of genetics its needles were a brilliant golden color, causing the tree to almost glow, standing in stark contrast to its typical green neighbors along the beautiful Yakoun River that bisects Graham Island in British Columbia. More recently the tree had become a tourist attraction of some value. In 1997 a bizarre confluence of events led to the premature demise of this unique living symbol.

In The Golden Spruce, journalist John Vaillant combines history, biography, ethnography, psychiatry and ecology to tell the story of this tree and the Queen Charlotte Islands - known as Haida Gwaii by the native inhabitants - about 100 miles off the coast of British Columbia. He starts by describing the complex and fascinating environment of the temperate rainforest, creating a lush picture of this dark and damp part of the world. He goes on to reveal the history of the Haida - the islands' original inhabitants - known for their spectacular totem poles. He recounts the history of colonization and conflict, focusing initially on the sea otter trade, but then fully exploring the logging industry that is inexorably eliminating the massive forests of the Pacific Northwest. The loggers are in the process of finishing a world-wide deforestation project that began five thousand years ago in Babylonia, headed west through Greece and Italy, from there to the British Isles and across the Atlantic to Eastern North America. To present day observers, all of these places may seem perfectly "natural" in their current forms as desert wasteland, rocky Mediterranean coast, or picturesque farmland, but before the ancient lumberjacks arrived, they were all covered in forest.

You can read the rest of my review at The Golden Spruce.
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