â€œThrough lifeâ€™s trials and hardships
we arise beautiful and free.â€
â€” Julia Butterfly Hill
Julia Butterfly Hill has been 180 feet, more and less, atop the giant redwood she calls Luna, for 100 days as of March 20th. Near the mud cliffs at the headwaters of the Stafford mudslide that destroyed seven homes, sheâ€™s shattered tree-sit records while going where no Earth First! media campaign has gone beforeâ€”German cable TV, radio talk shows and Arkansas newspapers, even the LA, New York and London Timeses have trespassed up to see her. An outsider to EF! before November, sheâ€™s become a skilled interviewee, while striving spiritually even in her words. It took me an hour of rope-slithering to attain her tarp-topped eyrie overlooking the opening Eel River valley and the Pacific coast up to Humboldt Bay. She casually free-climbed into Lunaâ€™s canopy above the sit to take down a noisily flapping banner when my guide, an experienced climber, decided not to. I didnâ€™t have to ask many questions. My first one, after we had the fresh sandwiches I brought up, was, â€œJulia, what are you doing up here?â€ She replied,
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. And so I thought the way to do that was to begin a spiritual journey.
I was planning on leaving the country, but some friends of mine were going west, and I hopped in the van with them. And then I realized they werenâ€™t headed in the direction I needed to be headed spiritually, and I split away from them. I ended up on the Lost Coast.
Some social geography: the Lost Coast is the longest stretch of unroaded coastline in the lower 48 states, beginning where Californiaâ€™s Highway 1 ends. Great redwood valleys lie inland from the steep crests of the Lost Coast. Between the scrub mountaintops and the redwood bottoms are the marijuana farms of southern Humboldt and northern Mendocino counties, with Garberville, 200 miles north of San Francisco, at the epicenter. Julia goes to two cultural institutions in the area: Reggae on the River, a summer music festival for 3000 free volunteers and 10,000 out-of-town ticket-buyers, on a high-water cobble bar of the Eel River; and EPIC, the Environmental Protection Information Center, a grassroots group that uses Headwaters litigation to push for environmental law enforcement on corporate land. Headwaters is the rallying cry for an epic conservation fight that began in 1985, when a Texas businessman bought the biggest timber company in Humboldt county, with junk bonds from Michael Milken. The deal was behind 6 counts of Milkenâ€™s indictment for a host of financial frauds. But he plea-bargained guilty to 6 other counts, so the high-interest bonds got serviced, by multiplying the cut of old-growth redwoods. Much of the increased cut comes out of Headwaters Forest, home to roughly ten percent of the wild salmon left in California, and other endangered species.
During one of my times going into Garberville to resupply, I met a volunteer from EPIC, a schoolteacher. He said come and visit the office, see what weâ€™re all about. So I went to EPIC and I found out about Headwaters.
And on the Lost Coast meanwhile I also befriended somebody that had a last position to be filled for Reggae on the River, volunteer securityâ€”you know how thereâ€™s heads of heads, then sub-heads, then eons of peons is what I called usâ€”and I got lucky and blessed enough to be one of those eons of peons.
So I had a month to wait for Reggae on the River, I was all up and down the Lost Coast. I just followed a bunch of streams up into the mountains. It was great because I was still having problems with my body a little bit from the wreck, the part of me where my brain tells my body what to do, even though I had seven months of intense therapy to overcome it. It was fun climbing around, looking to see where I could climb and hoist myself up, it was really good therapy for my brain aside from the healing aspects of Mother Nature, which no doctor can ever come close to. So I was by Big Flat one night, I had seen a beautiful spot up in a valley close to it and I felt pulled back there for some reason, after Reggae, and I just asked for guidance.
At the same time I was thinking and praying, I found out about Headwaters Forest. The first time I entered into a redwood forestâ€”it was Grizzly Creekâ€”I dropped to my knees and began crying because the spirit of the forest just gripped me. The knowledge, the spirituality, the power that has no words, that power that makes your hair stand on end, see? the power that gives you goosebumps even to remember. When I entered what I call the majestic cathedral of the redwoods, the spirituality of the holiest of holy temples which are these forests, dropped me to my knees because trying to rationalize what happens in these forests intelligently doesnâ€™t work. The intelligent side of rationalizing these forests is talking about what the destructionâ€™s doing to them.
I was praying because I was thinking maybe I shouldnâ€™t leave the country right now, maybe I was led here for a purpose, and I felt complete peace about that fact. And I prayed and prayed and prayed and I kept feeling peace about the fact that yes, I should come back here. I should do anything I could. At that time I had so little knowledge, just a little Iâ€™d learned from EPIC and Reggae, but thatâ€™s just a drop in the bucket compared to what most of these people know. But I just felt so compelled by whatâ€™s inside of me, and how that connected with whatâ€™s inside these forests, that I knew I couldnâ€™t leave and not at least try.
So I went back to Arkansas, settled a lawsuit about my wreck, sold everything I owned, bought camping gear, and used the rest of my money to finance my way back out here.
Then I called for specific directions for base camp. It took me two hours to get through, and the person said â€œBase camp is closing, we donâ€™t need you.â€ When I heard those words my heart just went boonk, I was like oh my God, because I felt so pulled to be here. I found this crystal (a 4-inch-long quartz hexagon with a bright blue blunt point, sheâ€™s wearing it on her neck) the night I decided to be here. Itâ€™s an amethystine crystal. My birthstoneâ€™s amethyst, and the night that I prayed and decided to come here and do what I could do I found this crystal, by Big Flat where I was pulled to. That was the biggest sign a person could have.
So when the first words I hear coming here are â€œBase camp is closing, we donâ€™t need you,â€ I was just like oh my god, where did I go wrongâ€”I was so like no, this is where I was supposed to be (she mists up at the memory, even now), so that guy gave me another number to call, they said the same thing and I said I know that, told my story, so they gave me another number. They said yeah, base camps closing. I heard that statement seven or eight times that day. I told them, I know base camp is closing, this is something Iâ€™m very very aware of, what I need you to understand is, before I turn around and head out of the country I want to know if thereâ€™s anything at all I can do here. Anything at all, I donâ€™t care about base camp. I want to be of service.
He said, well, thereâ€™s a rally in Eureka. So I took the bus and wandered around and couldnâ€™t find the rally. I didnâ€™t even know what the rally was about. I knew it had something to do with Headwaters. I didnâ€™t know the focus was pepper spray, at that time I didnâ€™t know anything about pepper spray. I knew this much about Headwaters (she almost pinches two fingers together) and this much about pepper spray (her two fingers make a zero). So when I found my way, I just kind of watched in front of Riggsâ€™ office.
The Headwaters Earth First! campaign doggedly razzed pro-timber Congressman Frank Riggs. Local law enforcement for a decade as doggedly buzz-sawed protesters out of heavy metal sleeves both welded and cushioned, for hasty self-handcuffing to such objects as logging trucks and Rep. Riggsâ€™ office furniture. Police hoped to discourage such lock-downs by swabbing immobilized protestersâ€™ eyelids with pepper-sprayed Q-Tips. It didnâ€™t work.
I got in the march to the courthouse, and everybody was smiling, having such a good time, and I thought that was great but I was so overwhelmed by what I felt about these trees, as we were all laughing and hiking down the road another tree was being cut, another tree was being cut.
And they unfurled this banner that said Not one more Ancient Tree, all 60,000 acres or whatever, and I started crying again, becauseâ€”I never used to be a crybaby kind of girl, I grew up with two brothers traveling around the United States, they were my only buddies, so I never cried. But once I tapped into this spiritual energy of these forests, it was, Well youâ€™re gonna cry whether you want to or not.
I was really disappointed, they had 300 people, but the only time they all chanted the same thing and made their voices heard was when that banner unfurled. When we got to the courthouse it was chaos. So all this primal energy was kind of floating off here and there.
So towards the end of the courthouse rally they were letting people speak and I kept feeling this urge, but I was an outsider. I hate the spotlight. I now understand thatâ€™s where Iâ€™m supposed to be now, but I really donâ€™t like it. Because I was raised in an atmosphere where you donâ€™t speak until youâ€™re spoken to, all my dealings were with adults and I had to deal with them on an adult level, always in terms of church so my life history was very small, just in that little category. (Her family lived in a 32-foot camping trailer driven by her father, then an itinerant preacher, until she went to high school in Arkansas, where her Dadâ€™s now a journalist. Her mother has married another minister. Both parents fervently support her.) But I did feel compelled, so finally I got up, with my backpack, all worn out, having hitchhiked for days and walked all over Eureka, bedraggled, and I just talked about how I was really glad to see all this joy and happiness in people, expressing hope about the positive possibilities of their future.
Then I began crying and I said but I have to speak out about the other side. I donâ€™t want to bum anybody out, but you know the reason pepper sprayâ€™s an issue is, weâ€™re fighting for something extremely important to us. Right now while weâ€™re having fun thereâ€™s trees out there dying, falling to the ground, and itâ€™s killing me.
Although Iâ€™m horrified about what theyâ€™ve done with the pepper sprayâ€”I learned a little about it from the speakersâ€”I said theyâ€™re using violence against people protecting a tree. A tree! I said Iâ€™d be glad to give myself over to a spray in each eye every second if every time they squirted me with it, a tree was saved. And I said I guess thatâ€™s all I have to say. And I walked off. So everybody comes saying, Who are you? So I tell my story and once again, base campâ€™s closed, four more times.
So a beautiful brother named Shakespeare overheard me, and he said you know what sister? You seem like the kind of person that should be involved with us. He said I donâ€™t know much, but I know if youâ€™re gonna get plugged in itâ€™s gonna happen at base camp.
Earth First!â€™s tent city was on a meadow sloping down to a curve of the Eel River, where in the name of Headwaters Forest scores of actions and eternal passions of civil disobedience and protest had hatched, fledged and flown, since a rally drew thousands of people to the site in mid-September. This struggle for the largest half-dozen groves of unprotected ancient redwoods remaining, and the life dependent on them, has endured and embittered over a decade. Hundreds of young people of all ages had mustered through base camp over the past two months. Just across a pasture by Highway 101 was the spew of the Stafford mudslide, flat, milk-chocolatey, knee- to waist-deep on what was left of seven homes. A neighbor out jogging that early morning shouted awake all the families in time. The slide started along a Pacific Lumber logging road, 1700 vertical feet back in the woods, across a steep clearcut.
Base camp was closing down, it was in chaos. For three days I tried to get plugged in. Not saying anything bad about the group, everybody had been giving 110 percent for months and I was fresh to the site, but the people who were left werenâ€™t core, the holidays were coming and there were sits to decide the fate of, too much was happening at once. If I was lucky enough that theyâ€™d talk to me at all, most of the time someoneâ€™d say something to brush me off. Eventually Almond was walking around going â€œI need somebody to sit in Luna, can anybody sit in Luna?â€, and I was like, â€œI will!â€
Julia hunkers down in Luna...
Photo by Shaun Walker / OtterMedia.com
I didnâ€™t know anything about sitting in a tree, but I came to do something, and this was something. So he gave me this skeptical lookâ€”heâ€™d never seen me beforeâ€”and he said I need somebody to commit for a long period of time, I need somebody for at least 5 days. And I said Okay! No problem. And eventually, because nobody else volunteered, he decided he had to use somebody, and he had me and Shakespeare and another guy by the name of Blue.
I hiked up to Luna and Shakespeare said, â€œThis is a prussik knot, this is how you move it and thatâ€™s all there is to it.â€ And that was my training in tree-climbing.
You ascend by sliding a prussik slip knot up a rope and hanging on it while sliding another knot up the same rope, back and forth you pry loose, then slide up slip knots, one tethered to a pelvis harness, the other to a foot strap. It took me 45 minutes to make Lunaâ€™s lower canopy, where I climbed with lobster-claw safety lines and pounding heart another 30 feet up through foot-fat branches to the sit. The tree-sit is mostly old plywood and tarps making a flat dry cave, the platform is lashed and bolted where the great redwood lost its upper half centuries ago, so grew thick branches reaching out and up around the missing center. Here above the ridgetop, ocean winds outside the tarps are cutting and cold. They first hiked the ever-steeper mile up to Luna from base camp by a full moon, hence the treeâ€™s name.
I climbed Luna for the first time, stayed up for 6 days, climbed down to take a shower and clean my clothes, and a core guy just happened to be there with the only car around. I said are you by any chance going to Eureka or Arcata? It was like yeah, why? He didnâ€™t know me, I was just another of those scraggly faces, covered in mud, sopping wetâ€”so I thought he was gonna drop me off at a Laundromat and tell me where I could take a shower. Well, he took me to the jail support house instead, which was a very big blessing. (Jail support helps arrestees who are often released unfed, late at night.) Because I got to take a shower and clean my clothes and sleep under a roof all at the same time, I was like Whoa! I wasnâ€™t here expecting to rely on anybody.
The next day Almond said, You donâ€™t happen to want to go back up, do you? He needed someone to replace the group that was coming down, that I had been with. And I felt completely rejuvenated, my clothes were clean, my body was clean, I was ready to go. Went back up for five days, then I got very ill, and barely made it back down the mountain. I almost passed out four times, I was so sick.
The end of November was wetter than December was up here. It was cold and wet. Poured and poured. I spent two and a half weeks on the ground, designing posters and tabling, and learning about our cause. During that time Luna came under attack.
We didnâ€™t have transportation then, and no one could go up for more than a couple of days. It was really haphazard. But all I knew was Luna. I had this great affinity for Luna, the only thing that had accepted me out of this whole movement so far was this tree, I had to get back up there. While I was sick, Almond and I had become close friends, and he being base-liner for the tree, he was flipping out too. So Almond and I hiked up with two weeks of supplies one night, and the next morning the tree came under attack by Climber Dan (a Pacific Lumber tree faller who regularly climbs up to and takes out tree-sits, which are designed to thwart him).
They started out by chopping the base of Luna with an ax, to distract attention while Climber Dan came up another tree that was attached to Luna by a walkway. So weâ€™re flipping out, Almond gets the video camera and goes down, and on the way he sees Climber Dan going up. So he gets out on the walkway. When he saw Dan was gonna cut the walkway no matter what, he said will you please give me a moment to get off this line, because I donâ€™t have any safetys on, I canâ€™t control my fall. Dan said no, I got it all figured out, chop! he cuts the line and Almond slid down and luckily was able to catch a branch or he would have slammed into the tree. And Nature Boy was attached to the end of the line, which was trucker rope not made for two humans to hang from. Climber Dan has gone from being careless to insane. He cut a tree down with Sawyer in it, too.
To Dan itâ€™s more of a game, we put up obstacles and he figures out how to get them down. He doesnâ€™t consider that itâ€™s lives on the line. His actions are just a magnifying glass of Maxxamâ€™s practices. The whole companyâ€™s taking risks, with the environment and peoplesâ€™ lives. Itâ€™s coming from the top, from Hurwitz (the junk-bond financier whose Maxxam Corporation bought Pacific Lumber and almost tripled its rate of logging), and filtering down.
That was our first day up here. We came under attack, people have come and gone however they can, and I donâ€™t have a harness. Iâ€™m flipping out. I was comfortable up here without a harness after two sits, but not down there where the action was. All I could think to do was, Almond gave me a list of radio station phone numbers, I had a cell phone, and I started calling, to make people aware what was happening right now. I said â€œWeâ€™re under attack! Climber Danâ€™s cutting the rope! Gaaah!â€ That was my intro to this crazy media that I had no idea would happen.
Meanwhile, they were cutting all around us to scare us out of the tree, it was way windy, and one tree they lost control of, I was videotaping it to show the destruction, and my low-battery light was flashing, so I couldnâ€™t see until all of a sudden wa-whoom! it brushed by me. All we heard from down below was, oh shit. I almost fell 150 feet and they say oh shit. That was how it started, my first couple of days. Then the next couple of weeks were a lot worse.
People who ask me my hardest times up here expect me to talk about the storms that collapsed my fort and pummeled me with hail and sleet, but no. The hardest time was being up here for two and a half weeks and seeing them slaughter this hillside and one by one by one watching those trees crash in the ground and splinter and roll down the hill crushing baby trees underneath, and not being able to do anything.
When youâ€™re somebody that cares about the forest, and you see it destroyed at such an alarming rate without a thought about what theyâ€™re doingâ€”actually they think about it, and to them, the bigger the tree, itâ€™s like a buck with more points on the antlers. Thereâ€™s no respect. The bigger the tree, when it crashes into the ground the louder their cheer is. The big ones? They totally enjoy it.
You hear the incessant buzzing of the chain saws hour after hour until your ears are ringing with it, and then you hear the creaking and the groaning as itâ€™s about to fall and then it sounds like thunder as it crashes through all the trees it has to hit on the way down and then itâ€™s a loud bwaaam-boom! You can feel the earth trembling all the way up through Luna. And right as it smashes into the ground, everything is quiet. Itâ€™s almost as if, when I was talking to Luna about it, itâ€™s as if Natureâ€™s saying its last respects. You donâ€™t hear a sound. Itâ€™s just a second. And then for the big ones theyâ€™re like â€œWooo! yeah, good one, whatever your name is.â€ When theyâ€™d lose control of them in the winds they almost got off on that too, because it was that element of adrenaline kicking in.
That was a hard time for Almond and me, day in and day out, feeling powerless. Most treesitters have experienced that. There were some gorgeous trees they cut in too-high winds, that broke into splintered shards they canâ€™t do anything with. Thatâ€™s an integral part of holding this hillside up thatâ€™s gone now, for nothing. That was hard.
Even when I went to sleep my ears would hear the thudding. You canâ€™t get away from it, you canâ€™t separate yourself from it. But then Christmas came, and I was blessed with a gorgeous day and a gorgeous night, no logging, no high wind, it was clear, it was warmâ€”for weeks it had been nothing but sleet and hail up here. But over the Christmas and New Yearâ€™s break, they told me they were done cutting for the winter, and Iâ€™d found out from my first media work that the media just isnâ€™t interested in the important stuff. I thought breaking the record might open a door, so thatâ€™s when the sensationalistic human-interest side came in. After that it grew out of my control, one thing after another: helicopters buzzing me and breaking FAA regulations, incredible storms, and everything else. But I donâ€™t lose sight of the important things.
Actually, I got really frustrated one day after seeing some media, the pathetic fluff, and I started crying and hugging Luna, I apologized to her and asked for her forgiveness to spread to the rest of the forest for my letting her down, I was so sad, and I asked the wind to ask forgiveness of Earth First!, that I wasnâ€™t doing what I could. Now Iâ€™ve learned once again that the great spirits knew what I needed and couldnâ€™t send me too much at once because I was still a babe learning to walk, as far as our movement and history goes. I still had a whole lot more to learn. If I had gotten the kind of media I have now then, I would have been floundering.
Iâ€™ve really been growing from this. Iâ€™ve never been in the spotlight, or a spokesperson, or someone who answers with a cell phone to a beeper four times a day. But itâ€™s great. Iâ€™ve had some radio talk shows that try to ream me, and I get done and Iâ€™m shaking and exhausted, and then I got a letter from somebody who says, â€œJulia, your intelligence and your commitment to your cause showed through their stupidity.â€ I knew when I received that letter that things were starting to change.
Iâ€™ve been getting letters from all over. I befriended one of the security guards that placed me under siege, and heâ€™s totally quit the company now and trying to find another line of workâ€”we were shouting back and forth, and he was about the only one who treated me like a human being the whole time, the rest of them, they were blowing bugles and air horns at night to keep me awake, floodlights trained on the tree, the generators going grrrrr, so it was pretty hard-core for awhile, and then El NiÃ±o was kicking in hard-core. If I slept at all it would be two hours, I was exhausted, dealing with them cussing me out day and night. There were two or three that were nice. The others were calling me every name in the book and being as degrading as they could possibly be.
I had no support for a few days in there. We tried to pull off a supply runâ€”after Iâ€™d been up here awhile I started acting like a chipmunk, hoarding away bits of food they sent up, so I was okay on food but almost out of propane, which was okay. The day we pulled off the supply run when we were under siege, 20 people hiked up the hill.
We tried to pull off the supply run before that, but my cell phone was almost dead, I was talking to Almond who I can never get a straight answer out of, three minutes wasnâ€™t enough time to make a plan, and the phone failed. Shakespeare was up with me, and due to appear in court in a few days, so we came up with a plan to use him as a bargaining chip, as well as for taking a plan to ground support. We said, if I hear he gets out okay, Iâ€™ll consider coming down. If we both just came down weâ€™d probably get arrested. So that provided a safe way for him to get down the hill, and to communicate, with codes. My age, which was 23, was our supply code.
Julia climbing Luna...
Photo by Shaun Walker / OtterMedia.com
I was actually out on a branch talking to the security guy I befriended when I saw these little colored dots coming up the hill. I thought supply had failed again. Remember, I was operating under extreme sleep deprivation, and the night before the supply run, all my tarp seams had split open and I had to roll up in them like a tortilla because it was sleeting and hailing in through all the cracksâ€”so I was beyond any rationality, and Iâ€™m out there talking to the guy just going thank God thereâ€™s somebody on this hillside that doesnâ€™t cuss me out (she mists a little again), this fire that burns so passionately in me was just a tiny little ember fighting to hold on right then. So I get the page on the beeper, 23â€”a supply run! But then security guys come and say they caught three people trying to hike up the hill to you, one of them says sheâ€™s your grandmother.
They said we canâ€™t let your grandmother climb up here, it would kill her. That was Rosemary, whoâ€™s 73 and has climbed all the way up this tree! Another of them sounded like Almond, who was my only connection at that time, the only person who trusted me and wanted me to be a part of the group. And he needed someone to sit in the tree!
So I said, oh man, the second supply run has failed. I didnâ€™t know they had a whole rally going on down there, a street thing as well as 22 people climbing up. They said your grandma was coming up this hill to tell you to come down.
I said if one of them says heâ€™s Doug Firâ€”thatâ€™s the media name Almond was usingâ€”bring him up the mountain and if he says for me to come down, Iâ€™ll come down.
A whole barrage of cussing came. It was the jerks who had come to tell me about stopping the people down there. Amidst many colorful words, came the sentence â€œWeâ€™re not letting anyone else trespass up this mountain.â€ I said Iâ€™m asking you to escort him, get him on your ATV and bring him up the mountain, and if he tells me to, Iâ€™ll come down. More cussing, I was getting pummeled by all this, and I didnâ€™t know what to do.
I started crying, wishing I was anywhere but here, but I told them Iâ€™m sorry, much as Iâ€™d like to come down because Iâ€™m wet and cold and exhausted, I am not coming down until someone I trust tells me to. Then I didnâ€™t hear anything for a long time, and I see these little colored specks. The first thing that comes through my mind is, thereâ€™s a group of them coming up to make sure I come down safely, and to pay last respects to Luna. I still didnâ€™t realize the supply run was gonna happen. I wasnâ€™t thinking anymore.
So what should I do? Oh yeah, thereâ€™s been this banner up here forever, so I grabbed it, wrestled with it and I said hey, I think Iâ€™m coming down and I have to get ready, so you guys be careful, I have to throw something heavy down that might break a branch.
I threw the banner down, and it kind of worked, unfurling 35 feet saying
Earth Jobs First, andâ€”one of the things Iâ€™d been doing
all along when they were cussing me, Iâ€™d sing to them. Thereâ€™s
a song that says
Love in any language
straight from the heart
pulls us all together,
Once we learn to speak it
all the world will hear
love in any language
is fluently spoken here.
Though the rhetoric of government
may keep us apart,
thereâ€™s no misinterpreting
the language of the heart.
Every time theyâ€™d cuss at me Iâ€™d start singing that song to them. When I saw the people getting close I belted it out real loud and obnoxious to cover up the noise they were making, and I knew it wouldnâ€™t alert the guards because Iâ€™d been singing it to them for days. And then they got up to the top and I realized no, this was gonna be a supply run, and they started yelling â€œ23! 23!â€
Iâ€™d had the bag halfway down for the supply run when I got the page. There were three security guards, but there was 20 people.
Ground support veteran Pat Mulligan, who guided me here, has climbed up and takes the thread of the story, â€œWhen we showed up, they just got bedazzled by all this stuff going on, some of us trying to hug them, all kinds of stuff, and as soon as we appeared, the bag came down, and Bramble ran for it, she got the bag away from the security guard before he could turn around and grab for it, it was just like a competition, and then I ran over and clipped the bag onto it and threw it out away over that steep hillside, and yelled 23! again.â€ Grinning, Julia goes on,
So Iâ€™d know to pull it up. It was fantastic! Such solidarity and love. What an incredible day. Luna, her energy was just raging. She was worn out too, because as much as weâ€™re saving her life being here, through the winter storms weâ€™ve also put an incredible strain on her, weâ€™re putting an imbalance on the natural way that trees deal with things. She was worn out, sheâ€™d just put in a long night holding me up, she doesnâ€™t want to let me fall, but itâ€™s really hard for her to hold on to me in gusts that are 70, 80 miles per hour. The tarps whip, the hammock sways, and when a gust gets up underneath the platform, thatâ€™s when I get flung, it lifts up off the ropes itâ€™s hanging on, lifts up three, four feet and dumps me in the corner.
Lunaâ€™s energy started rushing. Everybody down there was hugging her, everybodyâ€™s feet were touching the ground where her roots were tapped into, and the forest even felt it. For weeks and weeks I could feel the forests bending over with the weight of everything happening, sagging, and that day I could feel the forest reaching for the sun. Oh yeah, just when they came up the hill the hail stopped, too, and we had a rainbow.
Oh, I needed that day so bad! Even if we hadnâ€™t been able to pull off the supply runâ€”and we pulled off not one but twoâ€”just seeing those people down there was all I needed. I didnâ€™t have anything but that teeny tiny ember left. When I saw them all coming up the hill and I started feeling their love and seeing their love itâ€”poof!â€”burst back into flame again, which was good, because that night a storm was much worse than any, it broke a branch from above, and collapsed part of my fort. That gaping wound in front where you come in was ripped off where I used to hang from, and three branches from behind me, big ones, were completely ripped off and tossed in the wind. That was an intense night.
I thought I was going to die. I was flipping out. I grabbed Luna, this is where I always grab her (a wrist-wide branch with green needles comes up through the platform) because its an easy place for me to touch her and get centered with her, and I grabbed her and hugged her and said Luna, I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s happening here, Iâ€™m gonna die, I canâ€™t be strong right now, and I donâ€™t want to go down because I made a pact with you that my feet wouldnâ€™t touch the ground until I knew it was time to go down for awhile, because I wanted to understand her and whatâ€™s happening in this hillside; so I grab her, and at this point I donâ€™t know if I can make it down without getting blown off anyway, and Iâ€™m losing it and Iâ€™m frightened out of my mind, Luna Iâ€™m losing it, Iâ€™m going crazy.
And she spoke to me. She said, â€œJulia, think of the trees.â€ I said of course Iâ€™m thinking of the trees, thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m up here. She said no Julia, think of the trees in the storm. I began thinking and she said thatâ€™s right, in a storm trees donâ€™t try and stand up straight and tall and erect, they allow themselves to be blown with the wind. If they donâ€™t, they snap and fall. Think of the trees, and allow yourself to be blown with the wind. She said, Julia, allow yourself to go crazy, do what it takes, allow yourself to blow with the wind, and know that Iâ€™m going to hold us up. Iâ€™ll hold us up and weâ€™ll make it through.
No one was up here with me. If they had they couldnâ€™t have told me anything as spectacular as that. So I just went crazy, I howled, I laughed, I whooped and hollered, cried, screamed, raged, I did whatever came into my mind, allowing myself to just blow with the wind. And I made it.
That night the fort collapsed halfway in and I was so cold, but it wasnâ€™t leaking too bad except on the edges, and the next day I pushed the tarp up and peeked my head out and thereâ€™s that big branch gone and Iâ€™m like oh my God! I was so glad I didnâ€™t know that happened last night!
That was one of the neatest moments I had with Luna, and Iâ€™ve had many. I desperately needed something to help me get through that storm, and she gave it to me. She told me what to do.
My accident, by closing off physical channels, opened up spiritual channels. For instance, the last day of Reggae on the River, Burning Spear? I was probably one of the only sober people in the audienceâ€”because I have damage in my brain now, I canâ€™t do those drugs that affect motor skills and short-term memory because that got so scrambled for me already. Drugs take me back to where I was right after the wreck, so I canâ€™t do them. I know part of what I saw was a result of so many people who had their minds open on a different spiritual level. But what I sawâ€”it gives me goosebumps every time I talk about it, it goes up and down my spine itâ€™s so weirdâ€”heâ€™s up on stage singing, heâ€™s such a powerful man.
Iâ€™ve heard of seeing peopleâ€™s auras for years, I tried and I never witnessed this myself, but what I saw that day was peopleâ€™s auras and energies coming out of them in colors, and swirling, mostly red and blue and gold of various shades, all this color coming in front of me and fed into this man onstage as heâ€™s singing and itâ€™s coming in right here in his chest, absorbingâ€”look, see my goosebumps?â€”and at one point in his song he went like this (She swept her arm from over her head fast in front of her) he said â€œJah!â€ And all that color came flying out of him back into the crowd, vrooom! and everywhere I looked peopleâ€™s jaws had dropped, tears were streaming out of peopleâ€™s eyes, I saw men on their knees bawling. And I saw what made them do that. No one else I talked to saw that color thing, but I talked to a guy from San Francisco weeks later in Oregon, he overheard me and said are you talking about Reggae on the River? He said you know what? I went there for the same reason a lot of people go there: good drugs and good women. He said, I left and I began writing poetry. He said I prayed the last night of Reggae, Iâ€™m ashamed of why I went there, Iâ€™ve never had an experience like that in my life. He admitted that to me, then I told him my story about what I saw.
I swear to God, everywhere I looked people were agape, tears were streaming from peopleâ€™s faces, and I saw what did it to them. When it came out of him, there were colors mixed in but it was almost like white light, you know how encompassing of colors begets white light, and when you break white light you have the prismic effect. And all of them were so open to receive what he was doing, thatâ€™s why I think the colors were flowing up to him, because everybody was opened up to that man, going Yes! fill me with that spirit, that beauty he has, the music has. They were all giving their energy to him. Most times people are fighting for energy, that makes arguments and fights, people trying to control energy. But that night everybody was open and wanting what this man was giving, so their energies flowed to him and he sent it back.
But fluff BS stuff is what grabs attention. The mainstream mediaâ€™s robotic, cow-farm-fed beliefs that exist in the newspapers, all theyâ€™re concerned about is what does the platform look like, how can she stay up there so long without taking a shower. But whatâ€™s happened as a result of those articles is people who are interested in meatier subjects are getting involved. Now Iâ€™m talking to people all over the country, radio interviews, and Iâ€™m getting to have more control.
Lately, when they ask me like how do you use the bathroom, I say thatâ€™s one of the hardest things Iâ€™ve had to get used to up here, but itâ€™s a small price to pay for what I believe in. What I use is a funnel and a bucket, but thatâ€™s more than what the seven homeowners below me have left. They donâ€™t have a home left, let alone a bathroom. So I give them what they want, but I tie it into what Iâ€™m doing.
One time I was really despondent and I told a reporter look, thereâ€™s just a few sentences that I really want you to get into this story, or Iâ€™d rather it not go out.
One, I want the world to know that the destruction happening to our environment is a direct reflection of the destruction of our lives. The perfect example of that is the seven families below me who used to have a home. Their lives are destroyed as a result of the destruction of our environment.
Two, they claim environmentalists are trying to take away hard-working guysâ€™ jobs so that their children starve. But I say if you think about it, weâ€™re only starting this cycle thatâ€™ll get worse. The cycle is using our hard-earned money to buy back what Nature gives us for free. To pay for clean water full of chemicals, water that was clean before we polluted it. To buy back clean food, streams with fish for dinner and so on.
And I said I want people to know that everything weâ€™re doing up here and talking about down there is about the destruction thatâ€™s destroying our lives. Itâ€™s not about humans vs the environment or environmentalists against the workers. Itâ€™s that without a clean, beautiful environment, thereâ€™s not gonna be anything left for us. We canâ€™t exist without it. So Iâ€™m hoping that got through.
The great spirits knew that if I was able to make it through those original tests getting here, I was gonna be able to make it through this other stuff. To me those first few days and weeks of being turned away was just testing my faith and my ability to stick with it. The last couple of months have been a true test of faith and ability to stick with it. That was the trial run, to see if I made it into the finals. I made it.
Itâ€™s been amazing. I didnâ€™t know it was gonna happen like this. If Iâ€™d known what I know now, I probably would have run screaming in the opposite direction going â€œNooo! I canâ€™t do that!â€ Instead, the powers that control the universe have only sent me what I can handle, a little at a time. Of course, every time I think Iâ€™ve got it under control, something else happens that I definitely donâ€™t have under control, but itâ€™s been one thing leading to the next.
And now my reason for staying up here is thereâ€™s people down there who no longer have a home. That should have been enough to make the world listen. Our forests are disappearing at an alarming rate, weâ€™re down to less than three percent of our old growth. That should be enough. Weâ€™re about to lose our coho salmon and spotted owl and marbled murrelet. That should be enough. All these things should have been enough to open up peoplesâ€™ ears a long time ago, but itâ€™s not. Sensationalism is. Human interest stories are. Iâ€™ve turned into a sensationalistic human-interest story.
And because of that Iâ€™ve grabbed a spotlight that should have been here long ago. As long as I can shine that spotlight on why weâ€™re here, Iâ€™m gonna stay. After the two weeks turned into three, I thought I might as well stay a month just to see what itâ€™s like, then I found out I was getting close to breaking the national record. Thatâ€™s when I decided to stay up here a little longer. Breaking the record might help us get our voice heard. Actually, back then I thought being a treesitter wouldnâ€™t be enough for me, because Iâ€™m a very active, gotta-be-making-a-dent person.
Dan Fortson hiked up here one day all by himself, and I didnâ€™t know this guy, but he knows a half-dozen names and shouts up Iâ€™ve got hot tea and a letter Iâ€™ve written you. Because a second-generation logger friend of his came to him, they were talking about the weather and whoâ€™s homes were damaged and all that, and he said his logger friend had this look in his eye like he wanted to say something. So Dan said whatâ€™s on your mind, and the logger said, you know that girl up in the tree? Is she still up there? And Dan told him what heâ€™d heard Iâ€™d been through, and the logger said, â€œSheâ€™s got guts. I gotta give her that. And sheâ€™s got heart, too.â€
Dan wrote in his letter, â€œJulia, I know that probably doesnâ€™t
mean much to you, but coming from a logging family, thatâ€™s like
a standing ovation.â€ (She laughed happily) He came up
to visit again, and he brought his Dalmatian.
It was dusk by now, my guide Pat was flashlight-less and fidgety, so I reluctantly swung 200 feet over empty space, and rappelled on my tippy-toes down Lunaâ€™s trunk. Up there her bark was shaggy, like the long scraps that fall off logging trucks on the Redwood Highway. My arms and legs and fingers ached from how hard it was to get up here, and my heart pounded just how scary it was to be so high in the air. But I felt like a pilgrim with bloody knees, I felt great, grateful for my audience with a hero. Danâ€™s friend got her right. I felt, to use Juliaâ€™s word, very blessed to get more.
her tree-sit, Julia Butterfly has won the Leonard Peltier Protector
of the Woods Award and the Garberville Veterans for Peace Medal of
Valor, from which the cover art was taken. A gathering of support
for her took place on March 20, her 100th day in Luna and the first
day of Spring, at the Stafford mudslide, two miles from the main
Maxxam/Pacific Lumber mill, 240 miles north of San Francisco. A hundred
and forty of us hiked to Luna past token resistance from security
to celebrate the equinox with Julia, while honoring her. Please pass
on her story to someone who loves.
December of 1998 marks the 1-year anniversary of Juliaâ€™s ascent to the platform high atop the 1000 year-old tree. Her feet have not touched the ground since December 10, 1997. Still high within Luna remains Julia Butterfly. Still food and supplies are delivered day-by-day, mile-by-mile, up into a tree which would not exist had it not been for the dedication of a small group of determined activists and the support of a community. The spirit of Luna lives on, inspiring each of us to find the strength within ourselves to do everything that we can to create a world where all being are treated with love and respect.
Butterflyâ€™s tale was written and annotated by Charley Custer, a writer and poet from Chicago whoâ€™s lived in Humboldt county off and on for 15 years. Heâ€™s on the board of directors of EPIC.