Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

One place I want to visit is Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). This island archipelago is 90 km (56 miles) by ferry from Prince Rupert on the northern British Columbia coast. Speaking of ferries, I get some of my best books about BC in the gift shop on the ferry between Horseshoe Bay and Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. On a recent trip, I found The Golden Spruce (Vintage Canada, 2006) by John Vaillant.

The Golden Spruce was a 300 year-old yellow-coloured Sitka spruce located on Graham Island in Haida Gwaii. It grew from a minute seed that sprouted around 1700 to a massive tree "sixteen storeys tall and more than six metres around." This amazing biological wonder was the result of a rare genetic mutation that thrived along the bank of the Yakoun River in a rich, fertile lowland called a "spruce flat."

Vaillant likens the Golden Spruce to the bumblebee which can miraculously fly despite less that aerodynamic characteristics. With limited chlorophyll in its needles, the carotenoids (the same substance that makes fall leaves turn red, yellow and orange) shine through. Not surprisingly, this unique tree had special significance to the Haida First Nation people. It also made it a prime target for Grant Hadwin, a former logger turned environmentalist. The Golden Spruce is the story of the tree and its demise at Grant Hadwin's hands in 1977, but it's also so much more.

John Vaillant artfully weaves together the history of Haida Gwaii's discovery, Haida inhabitants, logging practices in British Columbia, and the life of Grant Hadwin. The author is a master at blending facts and background information into a story that grabs the reader. I enjoyed it very much even though the event itself was a sad occurrence. If you are looking for a book that gives an unbiased depiction of logging and life in remote areas in British Columbia, I highly recommend The Golden Spruce. -- Margy

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