The Power of One: Julia Butterfly Hill Asks, ‘What’s Your Tree?’
Sep 30, 2013 12:34PM
● By Judith Fertig
For 738 days, Julia Butterfly Hill lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree called Luna to increase awareness of threats to our ancient forests. Her courageous act of civil disobedience gained international attention for California’s redwoods, together with related ecological and social justice issues. When she claimed victory for Luna on December 18, 1999, she was recognized worldwide as both a heroine and powerful voice for the environment.
Today, Butterfly Hill’s commitment to such causes continues to inspire people worldwide. She has helped found and launch a host of nonprofit organizations and currently serves as ambassador for the Pollination Project, which awards $1,000 a day to individuals making a positive difference. The impassioned activist is the inspiration for the What’s Your Tree initiative and also leads workshops at eco-villages such as Findhorn, in Scotland, and Damanhur, in Italy. She lives in Belize, where she describes her life as, “Before tree, during tree and after tree.”
What prompted your life shift from being the daughter of a traveling preacher to an environmental activist?
Before Tree, when I was 22, I was rear-ended by a drunk driver and spent 10 months recovering. As I got better physically, I realized that my whole life had been out of balance. I had been working nonstop since graduating from high school—obsessed by my career, worldly success and material things. This pivotal experience woke me to the importance of the moment and doing whatever I can to make a positive impact on the future.
How did you come to climb up a 1,000-plus-year-old redwood tree and stay there for two years?
After I recovered from the accident, I went on a road trip to California. There, I volunteered at a reggae festival. That year, the event was dedicated to the protection of ancient forests. I listened and learned from the speakers and activists passionate about educating people on the destructive logging practices of the Maxxam-controlled Pacific Lumber Company.
Returning to my place in Arkansas, I sold everything I owned and returned to California to see how I could help. 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.
On December 10, 1997, I put on the harness and ascended Luna, 180 feet up. What I thought would be three or four weeks in the tree turned into two years and eight days. I returned to the ground only after the company agreed to protect Luna and the surrounding grove.
What are some of the legacies of your incredible feat?
The Luna experience brought international attention to the plight of the last dwindling stands of ancient redwoods. After Tree, I was asked to speak about the issue all over the world. My best-selling book, The Legacy of Luna, has been translated into 11 languages. A follow-up environmental handbook is titled One Makes the Difference. It all inspires concerned citizens to take action in their own communities.
Now, as a yoga enthusiast, vegan, peacemaker and antidisposable activist, how do you stay true to yourself and model the changes you champion?
I am committed to living with as much integrity, joy and love as I can. If we want to see something in the world, then we have to live it. Like I learn in yoga, I aim to stretch into my life and breathe and see what opens up, trusting that clarity and growth will emerge in the process.
On a personal ecology level, I love swimming in the sea and the sound of the waves rolling over the reef. I love being at home, mixing fresh masa to make tamales and listening to the birds singing as they sway from the palm branches and bougainvillea. These are the moments that make my soul sing.
How has believing in one person’s power to change the world led you to ask, “What’s Your Tree?”
Service is core to my being. It gives purpose and joy to my life. The What’s Your Tree project helps people connect with a place of deep purpose that helps guide their lives, choices and actions.
Judith Fertig blogs at AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com from Overland Park, KS.