Since she lives 180 feet above the ground, it's fitting that Julia Butterfly Hill should have a lofty goal. In late 1997, Hill, then 23, climbed up a 1,000-year-old redwood in Northern California's Humboldt County, determined to keep a local lumber business from cutting it down. She expected that her 'tree-sit' would last at most a month. But when Pacific Lumber refused to spare the redwood (now called Luna) and its surrounding grove, Hill decided to settle in for the long haul. Nearly two years later, that's where she remains, living on a pair of tarp-covered platforms.
'I found truth in the presence of ancient beings like this redwood,' Hill says of the first time she saw the 200-foot-tall tree. 'Being in a forest of ancient beings this big washed away my false reality of society and refocused my life. I knew I had to do something.'
Hill, the most visible of a small but impassioned tribe of American tree sitters, is not sure when her vigil will end, but she is hopeful that the ancient tree will not be destroyed. Climbing out onto one of Luna's limbs for a better connection, she spoke via cell phone with associate editor Andy Steiner.
What do you do all day up there? Are you ever
My day is a lot like someone's day in an office. On average, I'm on the phone for 8 to 10 hours doing interviews and talking to rallies and schools. I also write about a hundred letters a week. I used to answer every letter that came to me, but it's just not humanly possible anymore. I do respond to the letters from children. My hope is that I can encourage their connection to the earth.
How are the letters delivered to you? Do you have a
I have a bag attached to a rope that I send down once a week for mail and supplies.
Does your support team ever send up books?
I use what little time I have to read these days staying on top of the reality of the world in which we live. Most of it is research-style reading, things like pamphlets and newspaper articles.
So what did you read before you climbed the tree?
I always loved books that were slightly controversial, not because the author was trying to be controversial, but books that made me question things I took for granted. My all-time favorites include anything by Dr. Seuss, but especially The Lorax; biographies of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and a book called In The Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander. Two of my favorite women writers are Joanna Macy and Starhawk.
How about a computer? Are you hooked up to the Web?I've never even seen the Internet--I don't have a computer in the tree. But from what I can tell, the Web is an amazing tool. I've gotten thousands of messages on our Web site (www.lunatree.org), and we've been able to get the word out about what we're doing here. I have more technology up in this tree than I ever did on the ground, but I try to limit it as much as possible. I use a solar-powered cell phone, a pager, and a radio that's powered by a hand crank.
Where do you get your news?
I listen to alternative and community-driven radio stations. I'm not interested in supporting corporate-driven radio that makes people think they need to run out and buy the products being sold. A local independent station, KMUD, is my primary source of music and information. People come to see me only once a week or so, so news from newspapers generally is a week old by the time it gets to me. What I don't hear on the radio someone on the team usually tells me over the phone.
What kinds of music do you listen to?I listen to artists who make you think, who don't just put some silly dance words to a synthesizer. I like the music of Ben Harper and Sarah McLachlan, and the earth-centered Celtic music of Loreena McKennitt and Enya. I'm also fond of Sinead O'Connor, another musician driven by social justice. But the greatest music to my ears is the wind blowing through the branches, the rain dripping through the leaves of the tree, and the day shifting to night. Being in this tree has allowed me to realize that there's beautiful music all around us if we just take time to listen to it.
How is your time now different from your former life on the
Even before, I was not a 'normal' person in the traditional sense. I was raised traveling around the country in a camping trailer. My father was a nondenominational evangelist preacher. Most of the time, I was either in a church or on the road or in the next church. When I finally went to public high school, I tried to emulate the popular people, but I had a hard time fitting in. I was too much of an individual. I couldn't be popped out of a Jell-O mold.
So you weren't exactly Marcia Brady.
No, but I'm not sure what that would be like, anyhow. I was blessed to have parents who didn't allow me to watch TV.
If you could make one law, what would it be?
That we as a society would govern our lives based on a love for life instead of a love for money.
Where do you get your inspiration?
From the natural environment and other people. Not so long ago, I was visited by Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez--two incredible women who've intertwined their activism and their art. They've got heart. They've got soul. They've got passion. They've got commitment. It's all mixed together. I want to be like them.
Do you ever get lonely up there?
I wish I had time to feel lonely. Every day, people from around the world pop up at the base of the tree, inspired by what they've heard about it. There's also a phone that never stops ringing, and all the letters, and the reporters. I am looking forward to the day when I can, out of no offense to anyone, disappear for a little bit and just have some time for myself.