by Brad Nelson 5/4/14
For me, the point of book reviews is to connect books with readers and to flex my creative “summing up” muscles. It’s not always easy to get to the gist of an idea…or a book. But if you can (as seen with the generally excellent Amazon.com review system), it can save you a lot of time and money.
The overall point of a review is not to show how supposedly erudite or smart I am. The point is that there are hundreds of thousands of books out there and each one takes several hours or days to read. A book is an investment. It may be an investment in knowledge, entertainment, or both, but it’s not like sitting down and whiling away a half hour on I Love Lucy. (That’s what People magazine is for.)
So what can one say about The Golden Spruce, particularly to a non-environmental-wacko audience? Remember, I don’t say that to insult anyone. But the fact of the matter is, those who have grown up in this culture over the last forty years have been indoctrinated into the Church of Global Warming and other silliness. It’s not silly to value nature in its own right. But it is silly to make a religion of it, especially an apocalyptic, human-hating one. Untold damage has been done to nature and to humans via environmental zealotry. The banning of DDT alone, for instance, is said to be responsible for millions of deaths, especially in poorer countries such as Africa.
Therefore reasonableness (and not necessarily reason…read this excellent short post by Michael Potemra) is what should guide us.
It should be noted, for instance, that the subtitle of the book is “A Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed.” And one could say the same thing about Obamacare and many other liberal/Progressive/Communist schemes. If you read this book as a thinking person, you will walk away with the understanding that it isn’t capitalism that is the problem (which is the justification for the Left’s excesses) and it isn’t government that is the problem (which is the justification for Libertarian’s excesses). It’s the human proclivity to zealousness that is the problem.
Whether talking about the environmental destruction of clear-cutting old-growth forests or the economic and cultural destruction of taking 1/6 of the economy (healthcare) and putting it in the hands of Marxists, it’s the same old story of zealousness. And yutes of today (and their parents) have gotten only half of the story. The half they have been programmed with is that utopia has not come because of greedy businessmen. And if only government were large and powerful enough, and run by the right people, we could have paradise on earth.
Most conservatives are not this naive. They understand that the same impulse that can cause men (and governments, it must be pointed out, which facilitated and profited from heavy logging) to clear-cut huge swaths of forest can cause them to cut down huge swaths of liberty. Unlike libertarians, conservatives are not anti-government. We’re anti-zealotry and pro-reasonableness.
Okay, with that preamble out of the way, is this book for you? Do you have to be a tree-hugger to appreciate it? Do you have to be one of those sorts who actually likes marinating in white guilt in order to thumb your way through this one? Do you have to be the type of person who sees humanity as a virus in what would otherwise be a pristine and paradisal earth?
No, but clearly this book is steered toward that market. Even so, the author does generally tell an interesting tale that isn’t absolutely one-sided.
And it is the tale of a giant mutant golden spruce tree in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands. It’s the story of a longtime logger, Grant Hadwin, who one day got a “vision” and appoints himself as the protector of the forests. And presaging the environmental wacko movement, in order to draw “awareness” to the plight of the old-growth trees being cut down, he goes out one night under the cover of darkness and chainsaws this rare tree to the ground.
The book itself is full of interesting information unrelated to this event. This event, in fact, is somewhat clumsily wafted in and through the other information and histories of the region and the people of the Northwest. But there’s enough interest in the peripheral events, and the main event, to hold this hodge-podge together. This Grant Hadwin guy is an interesting character. He’s the envrionmental-wacko version of Daniel Boone in many respects. He was extraordinarily well adapted to the forest, as if he were a human nymph.
You learn of the first Europeans to venture to the Northwest which the author says was the last region on earth, besides the two poles, to be explored. And one reason it remained a new frontier was not just because of its remoteness but that it’s so damn wet. (Not news to me, I can tell you.) He reports that many explorers and traders considered this area harsher to live in than the jungles of Africa or South America. And the author creatively points out that the people who ventured here were as if traveling to another planet, not just another continent. It took months or years to make the journey. And one was completely dependent upon one’s “space vessel” (one’s ship) for all the necessities of life. If you lost that ship, you were done for.
Men were first spurred to this Northwest region in any great numbers by the quest for sea otter pelts which sold for huge profits in Asia, particularly China. And one reason you don’t have to be an obnoxious tree-hugger to enjoy this book is that the author isn’t a complete ideologue when it comes to presenting this history. He notes, for example, that the natives of this region where just as guilty as the Europeans in plundering the sea otters and other resources. And he notes the myth of the “noble savage” and the reality that Native Americans were a very war-like, slave-owning people who had a great impact on their environment.
So this isn’t a completely environmental-wacko tome. The author provides all kinds of interesting information, both on the European explorers and traders, and the natives of this region as well. Of particular mention are the natives (the Haida Indians) who live on Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands. And he does a more than fair job of fleshing out these natives and their way of life without painting them completely as victims or noble savages (although at times he does lay it on a little thick). Again, much of the interest of this books lies in the many little factoids about this region, the natives, the forests, etc. The story of the Golden Spruce is somewhat an excuse to delve into these other subjects.
The Golden Spruce itself was some kind of mutant that did not produce an adequate supply of chlorophyl to color the needles of this spruce sufficiently green. It was also sterile. How it still not only survived, but thrived (its growth was not stunted), is a bit of a mystery. Some explanations are given in the book, but they do not seem definitive. This tree was a true and unique freak of nature.
And the logger-turned-environmental-wacko, Hadwin, made the point in some of the manifestos he circulated that the regular old-growth trees are a wonder too. It’s just that we got used to cutting them down by the trillions of board-feet. And this is true. The idea that there was a limit to the number of trees you could cut down didn’t occur to anyone — not to business and not to the governments who profited from the clear-cutting as well. The forests just seemed limitless, especially to Europeans who had centuries ago cut all of theirs to the ground.
The author also explores the centrality of wood to Western Civilization, which is certainly true. But as much as he tries to blame “capitalism,” he misses the boat on the total picture as he leaves government and human nature somewhat blameless. So, as thoughtful conservatives, you can read this book for purposes of information and enjoyment and understand that this author can’t sometimes see the forest for the trees, although he does note the important human element that one could call an “arm’s race.”
Once the fur trade started and became quite profitable for the natives (who loved showing off their wealth at a good potlatch), it became near impossible to throttle back. Plenty of natives understood that what they were doing was not a good thing, but if their rival tribes had the superior goods and weapons that were supplied by the trade in pelts, they could not afford to fall behind.
This is somewhat related to the idea of “the tragedy of the commons.” Having said that, one should note that the word “sustainability” means nothing as commonly used by the Left today. It’s become a mere slogan. It’s become another unscientific environmental wacko notion. And that could be the subject for a whole other book because in this one, there is no discussion of this aspect. Nor is this author self-aware enough to extend this idea to what you could call “the tragedy of the Communists” wherein, via demonizing the private sector, government reproduces (and exceeds) all the sins of business and private individuals.
This book is chock full of all kinds of interesting tidbits. But it’s not particularly smart. You will need to fill in a few of the blanks yourself as I am doing here.
In fact, you are pummeled a bit by an anti-logger bias. No doubt this author ran into a rather callous disregard for forests-as-forests by the loggers whose livelihoods depended on logging and, humans being humans, needed to rationalize what they were doing (and, again, these thoughtful factors are not included in the book). He seemed to go out of his way to be an axe-grinder (pun definitely intended). And at the end of the book, the author tends to explode a bit into environmental-wacko-ism, but I just skipped that part.
But this does seem to be a well-researched book. And it’s not all axe-grinding. It is indeed a shame that more of the old-growth forests weren’t preserved. These things take from 400 to 600 years to develop. And you don’t have to be a sissy tree-hugger to appreciate the grandeur of the forest as a forest. Conservatives need not cower in shame because they have been so besmirched and slandered by the zealots as wanting to do nothing more than bulldoze the Amazon. We’re not against government regulation. We simply for reasonable government regulation based on facts, not hysteria or The Church of Global Warming.
Anyway, I’m sure I’ve turned most of you off of this book. But it really is filled with much interesting information, made all the more interesting at least to me because I live in the Northwest. And I do like to spend time out with the trees. It’s just that you will never find me actually hugging them or justifying hatred of mankind as a “virus” because I’ve been propagandized by Marxist, Western-hating wackos. • (2120 views)