Nature Literature discussion

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
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message 2: by Becky (last edited Feb 02, 2020 06:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Becky Norman | 786 comments Mod
I'm just over 1/2 way with the book and really enjoying it so far. My only complaint is that I would have liked a bit more time spent on the golden spruce itself prior to its demise. However, it reminds me a lot of Junger's The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea in its ability to capture so much of the "essence" of the place, people and dangers of earning a living in the area.

More to come once I've finished and have the opportunity to start asking questions.

message 3: by Sam (last edited Feb 04, 2020 10:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam | 49 comments I'm about a third in. Wondering how I some how missed this book until now. I grew up in an Oregon logging community int he 70s, mid-80s. Two large timber corporations pretty much ravaged the forests and rivers around us as well as our community itself. Their actions were at best unsustainable, at worst completely deplorable. What I witnessed--the damage to forests, rivers, and people--turned me into an activist once I made it to college, working to halt the logging of the remaining NW old growth forests. I now work on river conservation and dam removal to restore wild salmon & steelhead and now live in eastern WA, not the Oregon coast.

I've not visited the coastal forests of B.C. and I've appreciated his descriptive writing. I'm well-versed and studied in collage deforestation in Europe as well as the "New World," so those parts I like, but they aren't new information for me.

His descriptions of the dangerous work that logging is are really spot on. This was a regular topic of conversation in our community. Many people died in the woods, not to mention car accidents with logging trucks on the winding roads around where I grew up. My brother was a choker-setter, which Vallient describes. One of the most dangerous jobs on the crew. Knowing how accident prone my brother is, I'm surprised he survived.

Becky Norman | 786 comments Mod
I'll be fascinated to hear more of your take on this, Sam, since you have first-hand knowledge/experience of it! I have to admit, I got a bit depressed reading his accounts of the destruction wreaked on the forests and the little regard we humans seem to have for an environment when we identify something we can use from it.

Because I'm fairly ignorant of logging practices: I have always heard about how destructive clear-cutting is. Is that because it renders the soil unable to support additional plantlife for a long time afterwards? Or is it just because the logging companies don't bother to plant new trees once they clear-cut?

message 5: by Sam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam | 49 comments Becky, I think I will comment too much on this one!

Clearcutting, as the name implies, takes everything. So you are right, it does a number on the soil--lots of erosion, etc. And they take most of the vegetation. If they do replant, they do monoculture. They will plant one species--Douglas Fir. There is no diversity. They are tree farms, not true diverse forests. There are, in most places, very inadequate stream buffers. On private lands in the Oregon coast range it used to be only 25 feet, which is nothing. Often there would be landslides from the stripped earth that would take out remaining trees and dump sediment into the stream.

I remember revisiting one of my treasured childhood swimming holes in my 20s. I got there after driving through Weyerhaueser's massive land holdings upriver from my house on a backroad that used to be a shortcut. I drove through mile after mile of completely clearcut lands to get there, passing signs saying that I was being videotaped. I got to the WeyCo guard station and they almost confiscated my camera! They don't want the public seeing the damage they were doing that is a far cry from their commercials. This was in 1997. I found my swimming hole. Completely silted in. 3, 4 foot deep maybe. I cried.

One of the most damaging things about the logging is the road building that goes along with it. And when clearcuts are combined with roads--often built as switchbacks up steep slopes, it is a bad combination. The hillside is set up from landslides. I remember when we had huge warm rainstorms in the Inland Northwest in the winter of 95/96, landslides happened on nearly every clearcut/road combo. The rivers were hammered.

In later years, the U.S. Forest Service and timber companies would claim they weren't doing clearcutting anymore and doing the far more benign "shelter wood cuts." They are so great with their terminology. This meant they left 3-8 trees per clearcut. Which is nothing. And in a windstorm, those lone, straggly trees (they never left big trees, just smaller ones) would go down.

It is possible to do sustainable forestry! But intact pieces need to be left alone. Selective harvest is key. And road-building needs to be kept to a minimum.

And cutting it all down is not sustainable in terms of jobs either. When I was in high school Weyco and Georgia-Pacific shut down 17 mills in my hometown, giving us more than 25 percent unemployment and all the social ills that went with it--alcoholism, domestic violence, etc. The trees were gone and those jobs weren't coming back. The big Weyco lumber mill has been turned into an indian casino. My town has never recovered. I always think what a different future could have been if small, local operations had held on to lands, and strong conservation measures established early on.

Thanks for recommending this book!

Iris | 30 comments Thanks for choosing The Golden Spruce for our February read. I’ve finished and posted my review. The book left me feeling a profound sense of loss. I fear I’m a hopeless tree hugger living on the prairie.

Becky Norman | 786 comments Mod
I finished the book and have been spending the time since reflecting on it. When reading the summaries of the book and seeing comments online, I get the impression that the destruction of the tree outraged a lot of people, and that it touched the nerve of all that was sacred in the Haida people. But I have to confess, I didn't feel the impact of that in the book itself. Perhaps that was because Vaillant felt all of those emotions were a given and didn't require rehashing. Or perhaps he deliberately left them out in order to present a more objective portrayal of the incident and of Hadwin himself.

I suppose my first questions for the group have to be: do you think Hadwin's explanation of why he did it was valid? Or was he just an insensitive jerk? Or was he legitimately going mad?

Becky Norman | 786 comments Mod
The second set of questions (before I forget them):

Do you think "mutant" trees of this nature should be treated in a special way? After all, the subsequent cuttings of the golden spruce have struggled to survive and if we relied on specimens such as it to populate a forest, the earth would potentially be without sustainable trees altogether.

And how do you feel about the fact that cuttings were apparently taken without the Haida's knowledge and spread across the globe?

message 9: by Sam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam | 49 comments I think Hadwin had legitimate mental issues. His mind had become twisted.

I do think it was ethically wrong for people to take cuttings without the Haida's permission or knowledge. It was enough that a tree sacred to their society was cut down. And then to steal the genetics on top of that.

message 10: by Iris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Iris | 30 comments Becky’s first question about attempts to propagate the golden spruce could be applied to our efforts to recreate any rare specimen, e.g. flowering plants for their beauty and throw in pest resistance for good measure. We’re driven to manipulate nature to please ourselves. Let us instead value and care for what exists, study and attempt to understand.
Hadwin was guilty of destroying deliberately and single-handedly a singular tree, while the rest of us destroy collectively and thoughtlessly millions of trees, even entire species. There was artistry in his choice and his method.
In the book, clearly the Haida are not just innocent victims. And given no codified rules about propagating the spruce, scientists and tree enthusiasts can only be held to an unwritten moral standard in regards to the Haida’s rights to the Golden Spruce.

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