Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
hardcover, 255 p., $24.95
An outstanding raconteur, Canadian author John Vaillant probes deeply into the story of the felling of a unique tree, the Golden Sitka Spruce, that had been venerated by indigenous people for centuries. It was a symbol of an enduring spirit of the forest among the Haida, a Native American people of the Northwest. Known to those who lived nearby on Queen Charlotte Island but a myth to many, the tree was first seen by scientists in the early twentieth century. The author sets the scene of the destructive act by going back in time to the area’s geographic beginnings: he describes the coastal waters and landscape where the forests arose. Then he introduces the people who inhabited the land, as well as the explorers, fur traders, and loggers who came to reap the bounty of a pristine territory. He relates the history of the timber industry in the Northwest. The industry's activities led to the disenchantment of a former logger, an expert woodsman turned protestor, who symbolically cut down the tree in 1997. Concluding the tale, Vaillant relates the mysterious disappearance of the perpetrator of the act; what happened to the Haida following the desecration; and the efforts by scientists to reproduce the tree. He is to be commended for handling all sides of the environmental issue with great sensitivity and for his excellent scholarship in this journalistic endeavor.
— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden
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