October 30, 2002
NORTH TO ALASKA:THE GOLDEN BOUGH: Grant Hadwin got a chainsaw and did something terrible. (JOHN VAILLANT, 2002-10-28, The New Yorker)
There was only one giant golden spruce in the world, and, until a man named Grant Hadwin took a chainsaw to it, in 1997, it had stood for more than three hundred years in a steadily shrinking patch of old-growth forest in Port Clements, on the banks of the Yakoun River, in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The Queen Charlottes, a blade-shaped archipelago that lies sixty miles off the northern coast of British Columbia and thirty miles south of the Alaskan coast, are one of a decreasing number of places in the Pacific Northwest where large stands of virgin coastal forest can still be found. Ecotourism is a growth industry here, and the golden spruce was a popular stop on visitors' itineraries. The tree was also sacred to the Haida Indians, two thousand of whom still live on the islands.[...]
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.
Hadwin was located quickly by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and, after being charged and ordered to appear at the courthouse in Masset, which is close to the Queen Charlottes' two remaining Haida communities, he was released on his own recognizance. Hadwin, who was already known to-and suspicious of-the police, was offered no protection and did not request it. "They're making it as nasty as they possibly can," he told a reporter at the time. "They'll want me over there so the natives will have a shot. It would probably be suicide to go over there real quick."
Hadwin could have flown or taken a ferry from the mainland to Masset, but he chose instead to travel to court by kayak, leading people to believe that he was going to attempt a sixty-mile midwinter crossing of the notoriously dangerous Hecate Strait. In fact, Hadwin was last seen paddling north-bound, it seemed, for Alaska.
One would hope the Haida planted him. Posted by Orrin Judd at October 30, 2002 11:12 PM