Julia Butterfly Hill, American environmental activist, lived in a giant 1500 year old redwood tree named Luna for 738 days to protest logging actions of the Pacific Lumber company.
She lived in the tree from December 10, 1997 to December 1999, only terminating her revolutionary action when an agreement was made with Pacific Lumber Company to spare the tree and a 200 foot buffer zone surrounding the tree.
Her protest – which broke world records for tree sitting – sought to prevent deforestation, drawing media attention to PL’s disregard for the environment, and educate the public about the role forests play in stabilizing hillsides.
Julia had ascended the giant redwood tree as a 23-year-old, after agreeing to participate in a ‘tree sit’ action while attending an environmentally inspired festival.
In fact, she was an accidental activist with no experience or grand goals, only someone who couldn’t believe that anyone would take a chainsaw to an ancient tree or destroy the last remaining redwoods that had been standing for up to 2000 years.
And she tells people she would never have thought it was possible for her to achieve such a feat before she actually did it.
Following a serious car accident and recovery period in her early twenties Julia had a revelation that her life had been out of balance.
“I had been obsessed by my career, success and material things. The crash woke me up to the importance of the moment and doing whatever I could to make a positive impact on the future.”
Julia took a trip west to a Reggae festival/fundraiser to save an old growth forest where she linked up with a group of “tree sitters” on the northern CA coast protesting the clear-cut logging of redwoods by the Pacific Lumber Company.
After learning that only 3% of ancient redwood ecosystem remained, she visited an old growth forest and was awed by the redwoods’ wisdom, energy and spirituality. She felt she wanted to make a difference.
An introvert and nature-lover, Julia thought living in a tree for a week or two was something she could easily do.
“Earth First! was doing tree-sits to call attention to the urgent need to protect ancient trees, and they needed someone to stay in a redwood tree so the loggers couldn’t cut it down; because nobody else volunteered, they had to pick me. On December 10, 1997, I put on the harness and ascended Luna, 180 feet up. What I thought would be three or four weeks in the tree turned into two years and eight days. I returned to the ground only after the company agreed to protect Luna and the surrounding grove.”
Julia’s spent over two years on two 6 x 6 foot platforms in the tree’s massive canopy. She had a solar powered phone which she used to attract international media attention. Food and supplies were delivered by volunteers who hiked 2 1/2 miles up the mountain. Julia had to endure one of the harshest El Nino storms, was harassed by helicopters and threatened by loggers who were felling trees around her. She even received death threats. She was wet and cold most of the time and sometimes the “discomfort and fear left her sobbing in the fetal position.”
“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 treehugging, granola eating, dirty, dreadlocked hippie environmentalist.”
She said she received strength from the wisdom of the tree. The bond that developed between Julia and Luna was undoubtedly profound. She loved the tree.
Initially, she planned on staying in the redwood for only one week. She brought food and water with her, and with the help of the rest of the Earth First! team, she was hoisted on a wooden plank up into the branches.
Everyone thought Julia would return to the forest floor after the week ended. But that wasn’t what happened. After seven days, Julia decided to climb all the way up to the top of the tree and built herself a makeshift shelter there.
No one, not even her friends from Earth First!, knew what was going through her mind when she posted up in top of the redwood.
But all that mattered to Julia was that, as long as she was in the tree, logging in that area halted.
Weeks turned into months, and Julia was still living up on the tree she nicknamed “Luna.” She said she learned a great deal about herself while being there, one of the biggest takeaways being how to survive on her own.
Julia endured torrential rains that battered her plywood perch, as well as freezing temperatures and snowstorms. At times, she thought she wouldn’t make it out alive, but she finally managed to withstand everything nature threw at her.
Julia approached her entire protest with a Zen-like attitude, developing a new outlook on humanity and existence: those who choose to bend with the wind, much like the branches of a tree, are always better off than those who stand rigid and thus risk breaking.
Finally, after 738 entire days, Julia left her home atop Luna and returned to civilization with an amazing new outlook on existence. She was definitely another person.
Julia’s protest was a huge win for environmental activism, and activism in general. After leaving the redwood, she traveled around the world speaking about the significance of social and environmental activism. Her book titled The Legacy of Luna chronicles her two years of living in the tree.