In the face of greedy men with chainsaws in their hands, not even the enduring giant Redwoods stand a chance. But Julia Hill, a young American environmentalist showed the entire world the battle for the preservation of Mother Nature’s wonders is not yet lost, after she spent an astounding 738 days high up in a 60 meter Redwood she named Luna, in a desperate attempt to save the ancient tree and the forest around it.
When she was 22, Julia Hill was involved in a freak car accident which left her with a fractured skull and unable to speak for a year. Once a career and money driven woman, she rethought her entire life and set out to explore the world. In 1997, one year after her accident, she finally found what she was looking for – a group of activists protesting against the destruction of a redwood forest in Northern California, which stretched for hundreds of kilometers. She was enchanted by the ancient trees and decided to join their cause. Courageous and determined, Julia volunteered to climb one of the tallest trees in the forest – a 1,500 year old redwood, hoping to stop the Maxxam Corporation, the operator of Pacific Lumber, from chopping it down. Inexperienced, she managed to stay in the tree only for a few days at a time, which didn’t really impress the loggers or the media. Julia wanted to draw the atention of international media to the horrible deforestation that was taking place – a process called “clearcutting” which implied cutting trees of all ages and sizes and then burning the entire area in preparation for replanting new ones. She knew the only way to get people’s attention was to break the record for tree sitting which was 42 days. And that’s exactly what she did – after 100 days, Julia was all over the news giving interviews and educating people on the importance of saving these trees that have been here long before us.
As time went by, Julia – nicknamed “Butterfly”, was approached by celebrities who supported the cause, politicians who wanted to talk to her on her mobile phone and reporters who wanted to document her battle against the powerful corporation. She didn’t expect and didn’t want to be in the spotlight but accepted that it was her mission to pass on the message and share her knowledge about the ancient redwoods. The journey she embarked on was extremely difficult as she had to endure harsh weather conditions with constant wind, cold and rainy periods. Moreover, the staff from Pacific Lumber was making her stay with Luna even less bearable. It had been reported on many occasions that many protesters had been harassed and even harmed by the big companies’ workers who used pepper spray and other forceful methods to ward them off. Hill was no exception but Luna’s 60 meter height served as protection against the pestering loggers. Nonetheless, she was constantly tormented by the sound of snapping and falling trees. Fighting the loggers and loneliness at the same time, she soon got very attached to her only companion, Luna whom she now considered her friend. When talking about her experience with her tree friend, Hill said that it was like “living with an ancient being.”
During Julia’s famous tree sit, Pacific Lumber was very persistent, but not as persistent and determined as Hill who endured every obstacle coming her way for over two years. After 738 days, Julia finally put her feet on solid ground. “I was leaving the best teacher and friend I’ve ever had. Also, the person I’d been when I’d gone up and the person I was when I came down were so profoundly different that I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to live in the world again. I hadn’t touched the ground for two years and eight days. When I set foot on the earth, there was a lot of emotion. There was extreme joy, because we’d protected the tree and the grove around it, which a lot of people had said was impossible. But there was also sadness. I had become so much a part of that tree, and it had become so much a part of me, that I wasn’t sure I would fit in with other people,” Julia said in an interview. “Though I left the tree, it’s still so much a part of who I am that I can just close my eyes and be in its branches all over again.”
Defeated, the Maxxam Corporation settled for $50,000 in compensation. According to thextraordinary.org, the money was donated to a school which conducted research for sustainable logging. Thanks to her efforts and success in saving Luna, Julia “Butterfly” Hill is now a renowned environmental activist and is still working towards achieving one goal, to “inspire, support and network individuals, organizations, and communities so together we can create environmental and social solutions that are rooted deeply in love and respect for the interconnectedness of all life.” She is also a motivational speaker, co-founder of the “Circle of Life Foundation” and has been the inspiration of poems and songs such as “Can’t Stop” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Julia “Butterfly” Hill’s now famous tree sit lasted from December 10, 1997 to December 18, 1999.