Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and GreedWith all the tree love going on in the past week it got me thinking about a book that I adore.  The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant.  I read this book last spring on our trip across Canada.  I started reading when we left British Columbia and I didn't stop until it ended somewhere in Saskatchewan.  Wherever I could, at gas stations, diners and hotel rooms I pulled out this book and crammed in as much reading as I could.  And now I'm reading it again.  This book is just that good.

It has all the elements of a great story - murder (of a horticultural kind), mystery, intrigue and suspense.  Amazingly, it isn't fiction.  The event took place in 1997 in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia.

One of the things I love about this book is the care with which the setting is described.  The author has written an absolutely captivating description of the West Coast temperate rain forest.  If you have ever been in the rainforest it will be like walking there again.  If you haven't been in the rainforest you may feel compelled to visit it.  The forests in this book have been treated like a character and you get a sense of their beauty, their history, how they feel, the sound and the smell.

The central character is the villain and has committed a crime like no other.  While it is clear what was done and by whom, it is not clear why.  Is he really a villain or is he mad?  There is a case to be made for mental instability.  The other option is that he is making a statement in the boldest way he can to capture people's attention.  But will people understand his statement or will they simply be so caught up in the violence of the act that they miss the point?

Perhaps what I like best about this book is that is made me look at logging in a new light.  Like a lot of resource based jobs logging is a business that is declining.  There are less trees and they are being taken down faster and faster by machines.  Large corporations have taken the place of smaller businesses.  Loggers are finding themselves unemployed.  This book provided a history of the forests and the industry that has built up around them.  It showed me that logging is not just a job but part of a culture.  People often started this career when they were barely youths and they learned it from their fathers and grandfathers.  They have learned skills which are extraordinary but almost useless when they are taken out of the forest.  And with every tree they bring down they are that much closer to losing their jobs and their way of life.  And there is the dichotomy - the forests they love and work in every day are also the forests they are killing. How does this make a person feel?  What would it drive you to do?


  1. I think it would make me have to plant more trees. I would have to be a tree planter one summer and a logger the next. :)

  2. Ms.S, this is actually a personal dilemma for me as my husband makes wood furniture. Now you know one more reason why I feel compelled to plant so many trees! For every table he builds I feel the need to plant more.