Saturday, December 29, 2007

Read It and Weep, a Book Review

For the Trees

The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant

This is a great rainy day read for someone wintering in the Pacific Northwest. That being said, I’d recommend it for anyone whether wintering in Chicago or summering in
Australia or New Zealand.
The Golden Spruce is the memoir of a tree with assorted ramblings by the author. It takes the reader to a part of the world most of us have never been and never will have the pleasure of visiting, the Queen Charlotte Islands. These islands off the west coast of British Columbia are known for their rain and fog, their wild beauty, their native American population and, formerly, for one mutant tree, known as the Golden Spruce. This tree was revered by native and non-native folk alike for its size and unusual color. That color made it a symbol of myth and of the twisted logic of one logger, turned environmentalist and madman.
This book makes for a wonderful teaching tool. The story of one tree is not long enough to fill a book so Mr. Vaillant rambles through bits and pieces of American and Canadian history, Native American lore, a bit of psychology, some environmental science and a two mysteries, the mystery behind the death of a revered tree and the mysterious disappearance of the man who toppled it. Although the story itself is fascinating, the take home message for me, was the tale of the despoiling of the North American forests. I have driven and hiked through clear cut forests, but in no way did I quite realize the magnitude of destruction that mankind has wrought on our forests. As a kid I remember reading about strip mining and deploring the practice. How could I have missed realizing that similar practices were being done just around the corner from my home but for trees and not for minerals? I doubt anyone can read this book and not feel that we are bleeding our planet to death.
This is not a perfect book. Some of the prose is a bit overdone. “Timber cruisers and surveyors are avatars of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: woods-wise and tree-friendly as they may be. . . .” (p. 101). All I can say is, “Huh?”
I have one quibble I need to mention as a mental health professional. At the time this book was written, the main human character, Grant Hadwin, was still considered potentially alive and in hiding. However, someone seems to have released portions of Hadwin’s psychiatric records to the author. These are attributed to a “Confidential Source.” I doubt very much that Canadian mental health law is much different than that in the U.S. Someone violated Hadwin’s privacy and rights in a shameful way and I question the author’s good judgment in quoting from his medical records. If Hadwin ever comes back from the presumed dead, I hope he sues the Kamloops hospital that allowed this to happen.
Please read this book. It will make you think twice, and three times, next time you waste paper and “kill a few trees,” as we all are known to joke these days.


j.white said...

The stunning destruction of forests in North America to fuel the mindless building of excessively large 'homes' in plasticized subdivisions played a large part in knocking me out of construction.

Taking dumpsters of construction waste to vast landfills, filled to overflowing with perfectly usable materials, destroyed and replaced with new, just so they could have a bigger kitchen their jobs gave them no time to use.

The environmental carnage has to be seen to be believed. And nobody cares. "I want a bigger house! I want more property value!"

When I started, during the heavy recession in the early '80s, we did necessary things for grateful people. This degenerated into wasteful frivolities for people with more money than brains.

This isn't just a Republican thing, either.

The US economy itself is based on consumption, as much as possible.

And the current economy has been based for the last 10 years on the 'housing boom', the collapse of which I'm witnessing with thinly disguised glee.

pinenut said...

Thanks for reviewing this important book. I hope that you convince more people to read it and learn about these beautiful trees, our imperiled forests, and the urgent need to save them.

marja-leena said...

Thanks for this! It was interesting reading the story of the dreadful cutting down of that special tree again after some years. The Queen Charlottes are on my wish list of places to visit, right in my own province here, yet so far.

And of course the cutting down of vast ares of trees everywhere is disastrous for our climate as well, isn't it? All about consumption...