“The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife” – Giid tll’juus – Balance (Haida Gwaii Guiding Principles)
For several days we stayed in Port Clements, a small former logging village located in Masset Inlet, about 60km north of Skidegate. Place became famous when, in January 1997, a forestry engineer Grant Hadwin, cut in the base of 50m tall golden spruce with his chainsaw, in a weird form of a protest against unsustainable logging practices on Haida Gwaii. Tree fell in a storm few days later. But the story goes much deeper into the Haida nation legends:
Kiid K’iiyas Golden Spruce Creation Story
A young man’s disrespect caused a terrible winter storm. The two survivors – a young boy and his chinaay (grandfather) left in search of a new home. His chinaay said to him “Don’t look back! If you look back, you will go into the next world. People will be able to stop and admire you, but they won’t be able to talk to you. When you get too old and fall down, you’ll grow up again. You’ll be standing there till the end of the world. Don’t look back”.
Having walked a long way, the boy looked back. Then his feet grew into the ground. His chinaay tried to help to no avail, and the boy urged his chinaay to go on without him. As he left, he said to the boy “It’s alright my son. Even the last generation will look at you and remember your story”.
The boy became Kiid K’iiyas – the Golden Spruce.
*Source: HaidaNation.ca, April 2016
Golden spruce is actually a sitka spruce with rare genetic mutation that generates golden yellow needles, instead of usual green. Golden spruce from story, sacred to Haida nation, lasted for 300 years near the bank of Yakoun river before it was downed. Grant Hadwin was arrested and charged but disappeared after being released on a bail. He was last seen paddling to Masset to stand a trial. He said he feared for his life, so instead of travelling by ferry or a plane, he decided to go there alone in his kayak. And Hecate sound in a winter is uncompromising. He disappeared, but a sense of grief and loss remained…
Golden Spruce trail is located about 4km from the centre of Port Clements. It is easy and very well maintained, about 400m long, ending at Yakoun River. We made some photographs, looked for birds and then discovered a small trail that goes further into the forest, following Yakoun river. We thought we might actually find a spot where a spruce have been.
calm waters of Yakoun river
It was a silent hike; forest is dense and not much of a sunlight can go through, except at occasional clearings. I was thinking about the story, how sad it was for grandfather to leave his grandson to his faith. But as with many Haida legends and myths, part of the story is meant to be educational, for future generations to learn about history and “right ways” of life.
Dark-eyed Junco watching us from dark forest shadow
After several kilometers, trail abruptly stopped at some clearing and we couldn’t find if it goes anywhere further. I looked around: on some magazine that I was reading the day before, it said that Golden Spruce was in a place often visited by families, where they could have enjoyed its shade on a hot summer days. We thought there would be a downed log – even it happened 25 years ago, there would still be a log, that was a 300 years old, 50m tall tree. It can’t just disappear. But there was nothing around there. So when we decided to return, I heard a child laughing somewhere in front of us. “Some hikers coming”, I told San. But after half an hour there was still no one on a trail. My thoughts drifted back toward a young kid who once became a tree…
there are some big old growth trees along Golden Spruce trail
Later, we found that Golden Spruce from the legend actually grew not too far from the end of maintained part of trail, its location even marked on a map at the trailhead. I should have looked closer.
approximate location where Golden Spruce once stood
Another interesting story is about white raven who once lived in Port Clements. Science says that white feathers and pale reddish eyes of that raven was a result of a rare genetic disorder.
white raven from Port Clements, photo by Port Clements Museum
Raven is the most powerful bird on Haida Gwaii; at the beginning of time, he found people hiding in a big clamshell; he called them to join him and that’s how first Haida came to world. Story says that it was white but… he stole Sun, Moon, stars, water and fire from a powerful chief; smoke from fire blew over his white feathers and made them black. That’s why all the ravens are black now…
The white raven from Port Clements was friendly bird, known to everyone, who became a mascot of a village. Just a few months after Golden Spruce was downed, it died when it was electrocuted while flying into a telephone wire two months before its 2nd birthday; it happened near Golden Spruce Hotel…
sunset in Masset Inlet