One Tree. So Many Lessons

One Tree. So Many Lessons

I had honestly never realized that trees could grow so large. Or that the Northwest, from Washington and Oregon, up through British Columbia, was truly a giant-tree-making climate.


I am always interested in science and industrialization and this book wove both into a heartbreaking story.


The history of cutting down trees. And of native peoples. And of industrialization. And how progress can sneak up on us.


The Golden Spruce really tries to make sense of the senseless – how science and industrialization and making money was so beguiling that it made it hard to see the end game, when it came to cutting down the trees of America. And of the world.


In 1919, for example, the Sitka spruce trees’ lightweight wood were discovered to have a rare combination of strength and flexibility that did not splinter when hit by a bullet. Formerly a low-value tree before WWI, these trees grew in abundance in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Previously bypassed for the “money-trees” – Douglas fir and Western red cedar, once identified as prime “airplane spruce”, enough Sitkas were cut to circle the earth one and a half times – almost 200 million board feet. Much of the airplane wood was cut from trees 400 to 800 years old.


The Golden Spruce is the story of one tree, a very unusual spruce tree that some estimate was over 450 years old when it was cut down. Located in the isolated Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, it was considered a spiritual tree, the K’iid K’iyaas or ‘Elder Spruce’ of the native Haida people. It was cut down in protest by a former logger who wanted to make a statement.


John Vaillant brings you right into the depth of old growth forests and makes you long to have walked nearby. But for me, John’s writing also gave me a real education without me being aware I was being educated. Subjects around whose edges I had skirted -botany (how trees grow), logging (didn’t know much), chainsaws (scared of them, and now I understand why), climate (how different climates allow trees of various sizes to flourish), came alive in a way I won’t forget for a long time.