On 10 December, 1997, a 23 year old woman climbed 180 feet up a tree... and didn't climb down again until 18 December, 1999.
I gave my word to this tree, the forest, and to all the people that my feet would not touch the ground until I had done everything in my power to make the world aware of this problem and to stop the destruction.
Julia Butterfly Hill lived on a six-by-eight foot platform roughly 18 stories high for two years, sheltered from the elements in a tent made from tarpaulin. She did this amazing thing to protect a thousand year old giant redwood tree named Luna from the Pacific Lumber1 logging company. It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that her story is about ropes and buckets and getting by without a shower. It's not; it's about love and caring and being awake to what it is to be a human being in a living environment. What sets Julia Butterfly Hill apart from most of her fellow human beings is that she has a powerful sense of being alive and in touch with the earth that gave her life.
The daughter of an itinerant preacher, Julia worked as a bartender in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA. Her interest in ecology was ordinary, extending no further than to the token amount of recycling people engage in once a week when they put the garbage out. Her modest ambitions were just as unremarkable: to pay the bills, to put some money aside, and, perhaps one day, to have enough to be able to buy a little land and raise some kids. A nearly fatal car accident changed all that.
It began in August of 1996 with a wreck that shoved a steering wheel into my skull and changed the course of my life forever. Almost a year later I was able to walk and talk and be normal again. At that time I decided everything I had taken for granted had been almost taken away from me, and I had to start focusing my attention and my life on the real and important things.
For a time, she planned to leave the United States and find meaning in her life in other parts of the world. Then, on a whim, she joined some friends on a trek to California. She soon realised that her goals were not the same as those of her companions and left them to explore life on her own.
The flight of a butterfly only seems arbitrary; and so it was with Julia that, after a time, she found herself in the majestic forest of the Lost Coast, where a different breed of Americans, reinventing themselves in a primeval wonderland of giant trees and marijuana farms, were fighting a war of survival against invading corporations and a mercenary government. Here was a place and an ideal worth living for. She would join the protest and fight to save this paradise under siege.
Julia returned to Arkansas long enough to settle her accounts with the old life and returned to take up the cause. Unfortunately, she arrived just in time to be told that she wasn't needed. Headwaters basecamp was closing and the door to her new life appeared to have slammed shut.
Desperately trying to make herself a part of a movement that seemed to be dissolving like the mountain mist, Julia found herself involved in a rally protesting the use of pepper spray by local police, who swab the eyes of demonstrators picketing logging operations2. This, by chance, brought her into contact with a group who were staging a rotating 'tree-sit'. They needed volunteers. Julia learned how to tie knots and how to climb; then she was introduced to Luna.
What started as nothing more than a way to become a part of a group soon turned into a personal relationship with a magnificent tree. And what started out as nothing more than a short shift by a novice volunteer evolved into a monumental statement of compassion.
Julia continues her fight to protect the natural environment on the lecture circuit and through sales of her book The Legacy of Luna. She speaks to labour organizations, school children, politicians, and regular folk... anyone who cares enough about the world they live in to listen. The Circle of Life Foundation, which she founded while sitting in Luna's branches, promotes her philosophy of personal responsibility for the environment by striving to...
... inspire, support, and network individuals, organizations and communities, so together we can create environmental and social solutions to the problems facing humanity and the planet.
The Trees, the People, and Butterfly
The convoluted hillsides of the Pacific coast of North America were once thick with some of the most magnificent trees on Earth, towering hundreds of feet above the forest floor like a vast natural cathedral. The life they sheltered was among the richest and most varied to be found anywhere. The human inhabitants were so well provided for by their forest home that they were able to devote more time to leisure and artistic expression than any people ever have - or are ever likely to have - anywhere. Nowhere else on the planet has supported such a number of people, who lived so well with what they had at hand. In little over a century, almost all of this has been destroyed.
In the beginning, human beings lacked the power to do serious damage to this magnificent environment. It took teams of men days to cut down a single tree, and their means of transporting the fallen giants was limited by the endurance of muscle power. Now the forests are given over to corporate giants, who stride across international borders and scythe the hillsides bare with the tools of modern industry... and the appetite of modern greed.
Whole forests are swept away, with all the plant and animal life they contain. Everything goes. The very soil that gave the great trees life, without the protection of their mighty branches, is swept away, filling the pristine rivers and streams with mud and silt, destroying the salmon that nourished whole cultures.
The corporate monsters soothe whatever doubts and concerns our governments have with the mantra, 'Jobs... jobs... creating jobs'; but those jobs disappear with the trees, taking with them the 'jobs' of the people who were defined by the forest, whose identities depended on it. For them, their livelihood, their art, their spirituality, their very existence is at stake. For they cannot delude themselves that a monoculture tree farm by a silted stream is the same as a living forest and a teeming salmon run.
Their loss is perhaps the greatest; but, in part, it's shared by all. The value of a forest is not the view of it from your window or the resources it contains. Its real value lies in knowing it is there; that there is a part of our planet that is the same now as it was when we first arrived; that we haven't sullied everything. The survival of the forests is a talisman against a future we all dread, though we are not all conscious of it. A future that, as long as the forests live, we can hope may never come.
The amazing thing that Julia Butterfly Hill did was sit in a tree for two years. The remarkable thing is that, eventually, a giant corporation made a small concession to her and the viewpoint she represents. The truly sad thing is that she had to sit in a tree for two years to make people care.
Those things of real worth in life are worth going to any length in love and respect to safeguard.
- Julia Butterfly Hill