How a solitary Douglas fir inspired Harley Rustad to write a book

In Big Lonely Doug, Rustad tells the story of logger Dennis Cronin, who saved a 20-storey tree growing on Vancouver Island, and the ecological crisis the tree came to represent.
Big Lonely Doug is a nonfiction book by Harley Rustad. (Harley Rustad, House of Anansi Press)
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In spite of four decades as a timber worker, when Dennis Cronin came across a 20-storey-tall Douglas fir just outside of Port Renfrew, B.C., the tree's sheer beauty compelled him to save it. Within a year, the forest surrounding the fir would be gone. Following the tree's discovery, Big Lonely Doug would come to represent ecology nationwide. 

In Big Lonely Doug, Harley Rustad traces the story of one of Canada's largest trees and how it raised awareness of deforestation.

Economy versus ecology

"The largest industry in British Columbia — where about one in 17 jobs [are] reliant or dependent or in some way — is the logging industry. So the tension was between how important this industry is for so many people in the province, but also how dire the situation it is for the old growth forests, which are the primary forests on the west coasts and in British Columbia." 

Beauty and devastation

"You saw essentially pure beauty in this tree. When the environmental activists came around, they saw beauty juxtaposed with complete devastation. And in that, they saw an opportunity to turn that image so emotional, so profound into an icon. There's an image of an intact forests that can convey beauty. There's an image of a clear-cut that can convey devastation. But this one picture put those two things together. It was life standing resolute amid complete destruction. It is an image that doesn't need a caption."

A sense of scale

"I hope readers take away a sense of wonder. It's hard to convey to somebody who hasn't seen these trees just how big they are. If you plopped them down into the middle of a downtown, they would compete with skyscrapers. It's pretty staggering. I hope it sparks people to take that first step to go and visit these places."

Harley Rustad's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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