A tree's life

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 The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed
How often do we recall the origins of our paper cups, bookshelves or books?

âeoeIF CIVILIZATION HAD been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.âe

Camille Paglia's famously scornful remark came to mind while I read The Golden Spruce. In part, it was because both take their cue âe" though they go tearing off in radically different directions âe" from the same premise: peel back the layers of our built environment and get evidence of the steady ruthlessness of raw male power through the ages. But it was also because I couldn't help thinking that Paglia, whose vive la difference politics so enlivened popular feminism in the 1990s, would enjoy the virile muscularity of Vaillant's prose style:

Like a machine gun or an electric guitar, a chainsaw is a handheld deus ex machina: a supercharged extension of masculine will that is impossible to ignore. They are thrilling tools to useâe¦But they will also take off a man's limbs as fast as a tree's.

The Golden Spruce promises shock âe" with its account of the extraordinary logger-turned-environmentalist Grant Hadwin, who, in 1997, deliberately cut down a sacred 300-year-old Sitka spruce on Haida Gwaii which was famed for its âeoeluminous golden needles.âe The story goes beyond the merely sensational, however, into something grander and nobler, layering multiple topics with compelling clarity: the history of the international logging trade, West Coast ecology, Haida culture and history, oceanography, environmental politics, human psychology, and the economics, sociology and mythology of trees.

In a chapter called âeoeThe Tooth of the Human Race,âe Vaillant puts before us the basic human need for clear space on which to build shelter and grow food; then demonstrates how logging has altered the face of the planet in language so vivid it feels less like reading and more like being yanked up into space and forced to watch as mighty forests are inexorably razed from the Earth's surface.

John Vaillant

These concentric rings of The Golden Spruce surround its core narrative, that of the remarkable Hadwin and the intensely lonely places his haunted conscience took him. By the time the sacred Sitka falls, the reader's own narrative greed has been considerably chastened by the knowledge we are all implicated.

Yes, it was Hadwin who cut down one magnificent, irreplaceable tree, devastating the Haida nation in a way that cannot be quantified. But look at this book in your hands and then at the lives we lead; think of everyone who has ever thrown away a paper cup or trucked a BILLY bookcase home from IKEA.

How often do we recall that birch veneer and particleboard are from âeoea living appendage of the planetâe ? Think of swaggering, strong men across the centuries, wielding their axes for weeks at a time in deep woods, deprived of sunlight and the company of loved ones, many of them dying awful deaths. Then re-read the quote from Paglia, and ask yourself how much scorn the thought deserves.âe"Rahat Kurd

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