Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Story of the Golden Spruce


[Image via]

In light of this week's class conversation on Western Expansion and the removal of the redwoods and sequoias in the 19th century, here is the story of Grant Hadwin cutting down the golden spruce. I was a little fuzzy on the details (it's more dramatic than I remember it to be) and it looks like there is a movie currently in production.

A passage from John Vaillant's New Yorker article follows:

"On the night of January 20, 1997, Grant Hadwin, then forty-seven, stripped off his clothes and plunged into the Yakoun River, towing a chainsaw behind him. The river was swift and the water was cold, but this was no problem for Hadwin, a self-described “extreme swimmer” who had alarmed local police in Whitehorse, Yukon, earlier that winter by spending a quarter of an hour in the Yukon River when the air temperature was thirty-five degrees below zero. The golden spruce was more than six feet in diameter, and Hadwin's chainsaw had only a twenty-five-inch bar, but Hadwin had worked in the timber industry for years, and he knew how to make falling cuts. Leaving just enough of the core intact so that the tree would stand until the next windstorm, he returned by ferry from the island to the mainland port town of Prince Rupert. Shortly afterward, copies of a letter he had drafted were received by Greenpeace, the Vancouver Sun, members of the Haida Nation, and MacMillan Bloedel, Canada's biggest lumber company, which had a timber lease on the land on which the golden spruce stood. The letter said, in part:

I didn't enjoy butchering, this magnificent old plant, but you apparently need a message and wake-up call, that even a university trained professional, should be able to understand. . . . I mean this action, to be an expression, of my rage and hatred, towards university trained professionals and their extremist supporters, whose ideas, ethics, denials, part truths, attitudes, etc., appear to be responsible, for most of the abominations, towards amateur life on this planet.


The golden spruce fell a couple of days later. Locally, the reaction was extraordinary. “It was like a drive-by shooting in a small town,” one resident of the islands told me. “People were crying; they were in shock. They felt enormous guilt for not protecting the tree better.” This was in part because, according to Haida legend, the golden spruce represented a person; and, later, a public memorial service for the tree, presided over by several Haida chiefs, was held “to mourn one of our ancestors.” But beyond the mourning, some Haida, as well as residents of the mostly white logging community of Port Clements (where the tree had stood), wanted revenge."


Jacinda Russell

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