Harley Rustad, Big Lonely Doug

Okay, sure, but counterpoint, how many books have you read where it's all about one tree?

Harley Rustad's Big Lonely Doug was for me a smooth and rewarding read, but a complicated one. Apart from my colleague who's taught a graduate course in literary studies entitled "Forest Fetish," I might be the most narrowly targeted target market in the history of publishing. Among MANY other related things, I've read and loved graphic novels about logging, environmental history books about catastrophic logging practices, a 1940s romance novel about loggers, and a 1916 social justice novel about corporate logging (and a 1924 social justice novel by the same author about the place of logging in corporate capitalism).

Who else reads this book, other than me, or wants to? I'm not sure. Places like my location this evening, Salmon Arm, need respect from us as well as protection from our actions, but large-scale actions aren't in evidence.
Scene from the Salmon Arm wharf, May 3/19
But I sure wish that people would pick up Big Lonely Doug, even if only to intensify the revolution.
Seen on the Salmon Arm dock, yo!
Where am I going with this?

The Beer and Books book club is reading Big Lonely Doug this month, and we're trying to coordinate a road trip (our first!) to visit the tree at the centre of Rustad's book, near Port Renfrew. They tolerate me and my occasional eruptions of nihilist eco-grief, and the guys are keen on the trip, even those who can't come along. There's even a map, and only once has the club voted against a book with a map near its dust-jacket.

Genuinely, I don't know how they'll vote.

Long story short: in Big Lonely Doug, Rustad tells the interlocking stories of forester Dennis Cronin (and the history of Vancouver Island logging), the environmental group Ancient Forest Alliance (and its move from awareness to advocacy), and the world's second-largest known example of the Douglas fir. The tree is at the centre of the book, it's the tree's book, but in Rustad's hands it's inextricable from this one person (as sometime avatar of resource-extractive corporate interests) and from this other group of humans (implacably opposed to the same interests). This means the book offers lots of prompts that might hook readers from different interests, so there's every reason to think that it'll prove appealing or provoking to all those readers.

For me, the key section comes in chapter 12, where Rusted notes that "a new ecosystem has emerged from the forests of Vancouver Island" (p.233), an ecosystem that involves not just the traditionally eco- but also Indigenous rights, timber workers, and all the rest of us. It's not a new claim, and who knows if it'll be any more successful this time around, but by the I got there, I bought it and was in.

This week in my talk at the BC Studies conference in Kamloops, as dark as most of it was, I ended positively (Prezi slides here!). In the end, I said that after reflecting on my environmental humanities teaching last term, plus Fridays For Future, plus Extinction Rebellion, I thought we were engaged in building a new culture together. I did't credit Rusted for any of that, but in coming back to Big Lonely Doug for this review, it's clear to me that I could have.

Here's hoping Beer and Books doesn't prove me wrong.



Popular Posts