On December 10, 1997 Julia Hill climbed a 1500-year-old redwood tree named Luna and she didn’t come down for another 738 days.
Julia Butterfly Hill, American environmental activist, lived in the canopy of a giant 1500-year-old redwood tree named Luna for 738 days, from December 1997 to December 1999. She did so to protest the logging activities of the Pacific Lumber company. Her efforts paid off when the Pacific Lumber Company agreed to spare the tree, along with a 200-foot buffer zone around it.
Her protest broke the world record for tree sitting. This protest was an attempt to halt deforestation, drawing media attention to Pacific Lumber’s disregard for the environment. Julia’s campaign also helped to raise awareness of the vital role that forests play in stabilizing hillsides and preserving the environment.
At the age of 23, Julia had ascended the giant redwood tree after agreeing to participate in a ‘tree sit’ action while attending an environmentally inspired festival.
In fact, Julia was an accidental activist, without any prior experience or grand ambitions. She simply couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to harm an ancient tree or destroy the last remaining redwoods, which had stood tall 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 a recovery period in her early twenties, Julia had a revelation that her life had been out of balance.
Julia Butterfly Hill car accident
After her family settled in Jonesboro, Arkansas, during her middle school years, Julia’s life took a dramatic turn in August 1996 when she suffered a near-fatal car crash at the age of 22. At the time, Hill was acting as the designated driver for a friend who had been drinking. Her friend’s car was hit from behind by a drunk driver. The impact caused the steering wheel to penetrate her skull, leaving her with severe injuries. It took almost a year of intensive therapy for Julia to recover her ability to walk and speak normally.
“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.”
After recovering from her accident, Julia took a road trip to California and attended a reggae fundraiser to save the forests. It was there that she learned about a group of “front-liners” who had been rotating tree sitters in and out of giant redwoods in Humboldt County every couple of days to prevent Pacific Lumber Co. loggers from clear-cutting the area. The trees were on a windswept ridge overlooking the community of Stafford, south of Scotia. On New Year’s Eve 1996, a landslide in Stafford caused by clearcut logging by Pacific Lumber Company on steep slopes above the community resulted in most of the community being buried up to 17 feet (5.2 m) in mud and tree debris; eight homes were completely destroyed. Organizers wanted someone to stay in the tree for one week.
“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”, said Hill.
Upon discovering that only 3% of the ancient redwood ecosystem remained, Julia visited an old growth forest and was captivated by the redwoods’ wisdom, energy and spirituality. She felt like she wanted to make a difference.
How did Julia Butterfly Hill survive in a tree
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. With the help of the rest of the Earth First! team, she was hoisted on a wooden plank up into the branches.
During her time in the redwood tree, Julia faced numerous challenges, including enduring a harsh El Nino storm, being harassed by helicopters, and facing threats from 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.”
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.
How did Julia Butterfly Hill eat
Initially, she planned on staying in the redwood for only one week. She brought food and water with her.
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.
Food and supplies were delivered by volunteers who hiked 2 1/2 miles up the mountain.
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.
In 1999, an agreement was reached between Julia and Pacific Lumber Company: Luna and all trees within a 200-foot buffer zone would be preserved, and in exchange, Julia would vacate the tree. As part of the resolution, the $50,000 raised by Julia and fellow activists was donated to Humboldt State University for research into sustainable forestry. 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.
She marks her life simply: before tree, during tree and after tree.
She has written a bestseller, “The Legacy of Luna,” and a handbook called “One Makes the Difference.” She also defends the rights of nature, advocates for social justice, and co-founded several environmental organizations. Her activism has inspired books, films, and music. Julia’s “What’s Your Tree?” project encourages people to find a passion that guides their lives, and inspires them to make a difference.