738 days in a Californian Redwood

What does it take to prevent ancient forests being cut down? Emails? Petitions? Placards? Or direct action to offer one’s body as collateral? There are not many who wish to consider this possibility – some would say it’s too extreme, irrational or unreasonable, while forgetting the irrational act itself of the destruction of natural habitat. For Julia Butterfly Hill the decision to live 738 days in a 1000 year old redwood to prevent its destruction was not only a rational decision, but a decision based on her heart and her connection to an ancient form of life on this planet.

Julia Butterfly Hill (www.juliabutterfly.com)

While adopting ‘Butterfly’ as a name in childhood after a butterfly landed on her finger during a day hike and which stayed with her the rest of the journey, she underwent her own metamorphosis after a serious car accident at the age of 22. After a year of intensive therapy she regained the ability to speak and walk again, while contemplating her life “…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 speaking from the platform on the giant redwood (www.findhorn.org)

This change led her to Humboldt County in California where ancient redwood forests were being cut down by the Pacific Lumber Company. Not affiliated to any organisation at the time, however, she was the only one who volunteered to stay up for a week, 180 feet above the ground. On 10th of December 1997 Julia ascended ‘Luna’, the giant redwood and only came down the 18thof December, 1999. She lived on two 6 x 6 foot platforms and used Luna’s trunk for exercise, while hoisting up supplies and surviving 40 mile/hr winds and icy rain from El Nino, logger intimidation, helicopter harassment and a siege by the logging company security guards. The final agreement resulted in the protection of Luna and all trees in a 200 ft buffer zone, while money raised by Earthfirst! went to the logging company which donated the money to Humboldt University for research into sustainable forestry.

Giant redwoods (Crd637 – wikicommons)

While this story is significant and raised awareness to the only 3 % remaining ancient redwood forests, there were also powerful personal insights during this time of seclusion. “Initially I was just angry, but that anger was killing me. After a while I came to realise that I was up there because I love – I love the forest, I love this planet, I love the world.” And while listening to an argument by fellow protestors “I thought to myself, how in the world do we think we can end the clear-cutting on the planet if we’re so effective at clear-cutting each other? I realised in that moment that the outward landscape is a reflection of the inner landscape. It’s the wounds in ourselves that perpetuate the wounds on the planet.” And during one powerful storm her connection with the trees yielded “The trees that are too rigid are the ones that break, it’s the ones that are flexible and go crazy with the wind that make it through the storm. They told me, you need to bend like the trees in the storm. From then on I embraced life because I embraced death.”

Julia spreading her message (Gary Mattingly)

Julia has continued with environmental activism, while writing a book and speaking to audiences around the world. She has been the subject of several documentaries while also inspiring several musicians to write songs about her story and her activism.