Canada's western frontier is rich in lore and legend, a tapestry of oversized characters and tales that challenge belief. But one of the oddest stories of all is true: the story of a golden spruce, one of the rarest trees on Earth, and the logger-environmentalist who cut it down, in a bizarre protest, and then vanished. The logger's name is Grant Hadwin, and the tree - more than 50 metres of luminous, unearthly timber - stood next to a river on the Queen Charlotte Islands until 1997. The story of the man, the tree and their odd relationship is told in a new book, The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant. Hadwin was handsome and resourceful, drank vodka by the case, outwitted marauding grizzlies and swam in icy Yukon waters. He was a forest technician by trade; his job was to survey the coast on behalf of the big logging companies, and tell them where to cut. But, over the years, he developed an environmental conscience. He was appalled at the industry's ruthless devastation of British Columbia's old-growth forests. So, he quit, and in the early 1990s friends and family began to notice erratic behaviour. He picked fights and avoided people. He even visited Siberia, whose uncharted forests are as impressive as those of British Columbia. He considered moving there. And he began to advocate a 'gentler approach' to logging. Somewhere along the way, Hadwin heard about the golden spruce, a freak of nature, revered by the Haida Indians for nearly three centuries. There are only a handful of such trees on Earth, their golden branches caused by a deficiency of chlorophyll. And none was as impressive as this one. Its mystery was enhanced by the presence of an albino raven; for the Haida of nearby Port Clements, the tree had great spiritual value. But on January 20, 1997, Hadwin packed his chainsaw and, under the cover of darkness, cut into the tree's trunk. He left just enough of the core so that it would stand until the next strong winds, which came two days later. 'I didn't enjoy butchering this magnificent old plant, but you apparently need a message and wake-up call,' he said in a letter to the media. Hadwin said it was wrong that society placed so much value on 'one mutant tree' and ignored the rest of the forest. It was a futile gesture, and infuriated everyone. He was arrested and ordered to appear in court. But Hadwin had other ideas. He packed a sea-going kayak with all his belongings and was last seen paddling north, up the dangerous Hecate Strait, towards Alaska. The kayak was later found on the rocks of a small island. There was no body. Scientists took cuttings of the spruce, and hope it will have progeny. As for Hadwin, he lives on in legend, if not fact.