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‘I was instantly struck by the power that this one image held and how much emotion was wrapped up in this picture of a single giant tree alone in a clear cut’

By Harley Rustad      

Big Lonely Doug, by Harley Rustad, has been shortlisted along with four others for the Writers' Trust of Canada's 2018 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. The winner will be announced in Ottawa on May 15 at the Politics and the Pen.

A calm wind ruffled the branches of some of the largest trees in the world. It twisted and turned through the forest, picking up scents of cedar and spruce—even a faint tinge of salt, this close to the Pacific Ocean. Late afternoon sun had burned off any lingering mist, leaving a clear blue sky, writes Harley Rustad. 
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A calm wind ruffled the branches of some of the largest trees in the world. It twisted and turned through the forest, picking up scents of cedar and spruce—even a faint tinge of salt, this close to the Pacific Ocean. Late afternoon sun had burned off any lingering mist, leaving a clear blue sky. 

Nearly every branch on nearly every tree held cones that dangled like ornaments. On one tree, a Douglas fir growing in a valley on Vancouver Island, a cone shook and bounced in the breeze. It began to open. The warm season had caused the cone’s colour to gradually turn from green and sticky with sap to brown and papery dry, its thumbnail-shaped scales to separate, and the species’ telltale trident-like bracts to curl—the final stage in the cone’s year-and-a-half cycle to maturation. 

Author Harley Rustad, who’s also the features editor at The Walrus.This story is important because we are a country that, on the surface, places great value in our natural resources. We are known for our big nature, but I hope that this book asks a simple but challenging question: how much do we really value our natural environments? Photograph courtesy Harley Rustad

As the temperature fluctuated between the early autumn’s hot days and cool nights, the cone responded accordingly, opening and closing so slightly it would be nearly imperceptible to the eye. One degree of seasonal difference could spell disaster for the precious seeds held within the cone: too hot and they might dry out; too cold and wet and they might rot.

As the sun began to drop behind the forested hills, and when the moisture in the air was just right, a seed dislodged from between the scales and began tumbling earthwards alongside the great trunk of its parent tree. Its feathery tail twirled slightly in the freefall towards a dense undergrowth of salal, sword fern, and huckleberry—a fall where the randomness of nature would determine its fate. 

The vast majority of the 50,000 seeds that fell from each tree that year would die. They would be eaten by birds or squirrels or would simply not be lucky enough to find the optimal conditions to sprout. But this one survived. This one landed softly on a patch of moist, green moss growing on the rotting bark of a tree that had been blown over by a fierce wind a century before. Feeding o nutrients in the log, the seed pushed through the moss and into the light. The seedling, barely an inch tall, spread its first pair of glossy green needles. 

In time, the seedling would enter an exalted arboreal pantheon, which included some of Canada’s biggest trees: western red cedars so wide that it would take ten people holding hands in a chain to encircle their bases; Sitka spruces so tall that their tops would rival towers of a city core; and Douglas firs so old they would outlive more than a dozen human generations. In the wet valleys would grow the epitomes of their respective species—great, hulking masses of nature. 

These trees would come to attract the attention of loggers, who would put axe and saw to trunk to harvest the warm wood that could be cut and manipulated for innumerable uses. These trees would be surrounded by protestors fighting for their protection, seeing more value in keeping them alive than in their immediate utility. And these trees would attract visitors who wanted little more than to feel awe and wonder in the shadow of one of nature’s giants. 

The seedling grew into a sapling—and then it grew into a tree. 

This excerpt is taken from Big Lonely Doug, copyright © 2018 by Harley Rustad. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press, Toronto. www.houseofanansi.com

Two questions for Harley Rustad

Why did you want to write this book? “Being from British Columbia, I grew up hiking and exploring the West Coast’s forests and was exposed from a young age to the issues around environmental conservation, the timber industry, and the conflict over protecting old-growth forests. A few years ago, when I came across a photograph of Big Lonely Doug, I was instantly struck by the power that this one image held and how much emotion was wrapped up in this picture of a single giant tree alone in a clear cut. For me, the story of a logger—someone you wouldn’t expect—saving one of our country’s biggest trees was the perfect way in to tell the story of modern conservation movements in B.C. and the different perspectives on how we value our resources.”

Why is this book important and who should read it? “This story is important because we are a country that, on the surface, places great value in our natural resources. We are known for our big nature, but I hope that this book asks a simple but challenging question: how much do we really value our natural environments? Enough to protect them or enough to exploit them? I think it’s an important question for readers who are interested in how we manage and protect our environments, for those who are interested in ecotourism and ecology, and also for those who care about the future of our resources and an industry that has been, and continues to be, so important for British Columbia.”

The Writers’ Trust of Canada’s 2018 Shortlist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

Homes: A Refugee Story, by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung, Freehand Books, 2018.

Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand against Big Hydro, by Sarah Cox, On Point Press, 2018.

Boys: What it Means to Become a Man, by Rachel Giese, Patrick Crean Editions, 2018.

Pipe Dreams: The Fight for Canada’s Energy Future, by Jacques Poitras, Viking Canada, 2018.

Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees, by Harley Rusted, House of Anansi Press, 2018.

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