Many of us know the story of the brave, two year tree-sit carried out by Julia Butterfly Hill from 1997-1999 which saved the life of an old growth redwood named Luna and brought much attention to the issue of clear cutting of old growth forests and the repercussions of the loss of the ancient trees. Some of us do not. This book is worth the read for everyone.
“Tree-sitting is a last resort. When you see someone in a tree trying to protect it, you know that every level of our society has failed. The consumers have failed, the companies have failed, and the government has failed. Friends of the forests have gone to the courts, activists have tried to make consumers aware, but with no results. Corporations have neglected their responsibility as landowners, while the government has refused to enforce its laws. Everything has failed, so people go into the trees”(23).
I was aware of Julia and her tree-sit as it was happening and she so inspired my daughter that she painted the image of Julia at the top of this page, but I had not read the book until recently. Reading it revealed the full picture of Julia’s courage and commitment and the reality of her time spent in the 1000 year old, 180 foot tall tree even as loggers continued to fell the forest around her.
Let me say it another way: A woman lived in a tree for two years in order to save its life. This book tells that story.
Julia Butterfly Hill did not head out to California with the intention of sitting or rather living in a tree for two years. She traveled from Arkansas to California at the age of 24 after a car accident had forced her to take radical review of her life and values. She wished to travel as part of that change. Upon seeing the ancient redwoods for the first time she was overcome with their presence, and majesty. Learning that they were being cut down, Julia was swept into a hike up to the trees in danger with absolutely no prior association with any activist group. Subsequently she volunteered to sit in the tree named “Luna” for a couple days when they desperately needed someone for the job. Little did she know she would remain there for two years, vowing not to come down until she knew Luna’s life was safe from the chainsaws.
Her descriptions of her first climb of the tree, her first few nights sleeping in the tree, educating herself while she was up there about what was happening to the trees and the politics of tree-sits, then trying in any way she could to eloquently bring attention to the issues at hand when the limelight landed on her are very compelling.
“In the beginning, my legs missed walking. I could feel them wanting to stretch out and stride. But eventually they want to climb instead …I started climbing around Luna to get to know her. I could do it only a little bit at a time because the weather was too cold and wet and my fingers and feet would go numb. But I kept at it, without harness, rope or shoes, and learned how to disperse my weight between both hands and and legs and I never put too much weight on any one branch…I explored the canopy, the upper half of Luna. There’s a whole forest in her, and it’s absolutely magical. Ferns, salmonberry, and huckleberry grow in Luna’s pockets where duff has collected over the years. There are many fungi and mosses and lichens; usnia hangs down like Spanish moss; scalloped, whitish gray lichen and teeny, tiny mushrooms shaped like satellite dishes nestle in her folds; green, furry moss dark in the center and neon at its edges, coats her sides. Especially in the fog, Luna is a fairy tale waiting to happen”(121-122).
Her tale continues with vivid descriptions of surviving winter storms that froze her feet, windstorms that threatened to topple her over the side of her platform, loggers taunting her and threatening her, and her earnest and thoughtful attempts to learn how to speak to them so they would hear her:
“I knew that if I continued to debate politics and science—and stayed in the mind instead of the heart and the spirit—it would always be about one side versus the other. We all understand love, however; we all understand respect, we all understand dignity, and we all understand compassion up to a certain point. But how could I convince the loggers to transfer those feelings that they might have for a human being to the forest? And how could I get them to let go of their stereotypes of me? Because in their mind, I was a tree-hugging, granola-eating, dirty, dreadlocked hippie environmentalist. They always managed to say this word with such disgust and disdain!”(70).
The challenges and the triumphs of her time living in Luna and the truth of what is happening to our ancient forests and trees is all part of the tapestry of this book. Julia educates us on what happens when a forest is clear cut, the politics of the kinds of negotiations that are made that tend to benefit the corporations and the politicians but not the trees. We get to hear the process of her negotiations with Pacific Lumber to save Luna, how she was prepared to stay even longer if she had to and how her spirituality helped her survive her time in the tree.
“I knew that if I didn’t find a way to deal with my anger and hate, they would overwhelm me and I would be swallowed up in the fear, sadness, and frustration. I knew that to hate and strike out was to be a part of the same violence I was trying to stop. And so I prayed” (66).
Julia Butterfly is a warrior woman who was in the right place at the right time to take action and make a change. She spoke for the trees and the ancient forests and people listened. She did this at her own expense and at great risk and peril.
“The good days in Luna were fantastic, to the point where laughter split my lips, over and over and over without control. The bad days were so bad that nothing but tears fell out of my eyes and heart. The bad days involved fierce wind, rain, sleet and hail, chain saws going in the distance, the yarder with its incessant beeping, beeping, picking up logs and helicopters raping the hillside”(202).
Julia’s actions beg the question: if more of us acted in this way on our beliefs and desire for change, would we live in a different world?
When Julia came down from the tree she was nothing short of a celebrity. Individual people and groups called on her from every corner of the world. She tried as best she could to show up to all this need, but ended up completely exhausted and is now taking a much needed break.
On her website she writes:
“I came down to a hurting world– constantly wanting and needing my help with everything they cared about. From their child’s book report, to trying to save local trees and community gardens, to ending animal cruelty for food, to creating the department of peace in response to endless wars. The issues and challenges were endless. And therefore the needs, wants, and calls on my time, person, and resources were, also, never ending.
I gave generously for over 15 years because of my deep love for all that connects us.
But the toll and price on me was too much.
People forgot there was only one of me and tens upon tens of thousands of everyone wanting, needing, asking, hoping, and demanding.”(https://www.juliabutterflyhill.com/)
Get some rest Julia. You have done enough.
“Luna is only one tree. We will save her, but we will lose others. The more we stand up and demand change, though, the more things will improve. I ask myself sometimes whether the destruction has gone too far, whether we can really do anything to save our forests and our planet. And yet I know that I can’t give up. We must do the right thing because it is the right thing to do regardless of the outcome. I have to take it one struggle at a time. And just as I’ve done with Luna, when that struggle comes my way, I’ve got to fight for it for all I’m worth.
Yes, one person can make a difference Each one of us does”(238).
Julia Butterfly Hill is a #NastyWomanWriter and Activist
©Theresa C. Dintino 2019
Hill, Julia Butterfly. The Legacy of Luna: The story of a tree, a woman, and the struggles to save the redwoods, HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.
Julia Butterfly Hill’s personal website: (https://www.juliabutterflyhill.com/)
Featured image of Julia Butterfly Hill at top of page painted by Mia Szarvas.