Exceptional EA’s Bookshelf – The Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce - J VaillantClose your eyes, if just for a moment, after reading this paragraph. If you’re among the assistants from the dozens of countries other than Canada who log on to Exceptional EA  – or if, in fact, you’re reading this from anywhere beyond beautiful British Columbia – give your eyelids a rest while drawing upon any perceptions you may have of this part of our planet from which I’m writing.

Done? If you’ve been to BC, you may have recalled breathtaking mountains, rolling (or steep!)  hills and clean, clean air that is home to forests, valleys, lakes, orchards and ranch lands, along with vineyards and beaches – perhaps some of those to be found in the sun-drenched summers of the arid Okanagan, or others (think bullwhip kelp) along the coast of the mainland or assorted islands. The west coast of Vancouver Island is home to surfers, eagles, whales, otters, seals, seal lions, storm watching and Clayoquot Sound, and has drawn significant attention from environmentalists, as do resource-related economic plans in other areas of the province.

While we’re known as Canada’s gateway to the Pacific, you may think of  small towns, rural communities or the diversity of Vancouver, where we can readily walk or bike to a number of beaches from home … or hop in a car and reach a mountain top in under an hour. Perhaps you envision salmon, whales and bears – while it’s black bears who raid the berries in our relatives’ North Shore yard, BC also hosts the  grizzly and kermode – or the beauty of Vancouver or Whistler Mountain as broadcast during the Winter 2010 Olympic Games.

Whatever images come to mind, they’re likely to reflect the natural splendour of a region known for forestry, fishing, energy and mining long before Lionsgate became an element of Hollywood North, or lululemon launched its IPO. BC’s forests have supported many families, and inspired numerous activists.

Massachusetts-born John Vaillant, who spent his post-college years in Alaska where he worked in the fishing industry, has written for The Atlantic, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, The New Yorker and The Walrus – and, in recent years, has made BC his home. His two books both hold a place on our bookshelf and his first, The Golden Spruce, published in 2005, may serve to some as an introduction to BC’s Haida Gwaii, an archipelago also known as the Queeen Charlotte Islands, and  its people. Vaillant’s book also tells the tale of  a West Vancouver-raised  logger and forest technician whose passion for the environment led to his destruction of a unique 300-year-old tree, Kiidy’aas, also known as The Golden Spruce.

Vaillant was awarded both Canada’s Governor General’s Award and the Writer’s Trust Award for non-fiction for The Golden Spruce. His book is simultaneously a naturalist’s dream, and nightmare, as it explores this region’s history along with botanical wonders and amazing human capacities and fragilities.

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