Julia Butterfly: 20 Years Later (Part II)

Nov 25, 2017

Julia "Butterfly" Hill
Credit Courtesy Shaun Walker

It was almost 40 degrees on a Wednesday night.  In the woods above Stafford, California an unknown activist from Arkansas hoisted the last of her supplies up into an ancient redwood under an almost-full moon. 

738 days later, Julia "Butterfly" Hill descended as an environmental icon. 


Julia had no idea what she was getting herself into. All she knew was that she wanted to help save the redwoods. With the assistance and encouragement of forest activists Geronimo, Shakespeare  and Almond she climbed into Luna and made herself at home. 

Throughout her tree sit, Julia was supported by a core of activists, among them were Spruce, Rising Ground, and Shunka. This ground crew brought Julia food, mail, batteries, new tarps and anything else to make her stay in Luna as easy as possible. They carried out her waste, used batteries and the many letters to her supporters.

 

That first winter, 1997-1998 , was one of the most brutal ever, with record-breaking winds, rain, snow, and cold. Julia was not prepared for that winter, but managed to get through it. She prayed a lot, and she learned from Luna. One life-saving lesson Julia learned from Luna was not to fight the wind, but to go with it, to go with Luna as she swayed back and forth.

 

In addition to the weather, Julia also had to deal with the workers of the Maxxam Corporation. They wanted Julia out of that tree and did everything in their power to accomplish that… which they never did. Loggers yelled threats, shined spotlights on her all night, buzzed Luna with helicopters, and many more threats. Through all of this Julia remained and Luna stood tall.

Media became a crucial element to the success of Julia’s tree sit. Word of her survival reached beyond the Redwood Curtain in February 1998 on Julia’s birthday. By then she had spent two months in Luna, and people were becoming interested in what she was doing. Initially, interviewers were more interested in “the how” of living in a tree, specifically how did she “go to the bathroom.” After explaining her bucket system to the world, Julia could finally get to “the why” of the tree sit: saving the last 3% of old growth redwoods and stopping the logging practice of clear-cuttingforests.

I am Geraldine Goldberg, a former staff member at KHSU and currently a volunteer. At the time Julia was in Luna I was a host on the KHSU afternoon Magazine. When I heard about Julia, I knew I wanted to talk to her. What started out as a 5 minute chat in early March, 1998, became a weekly feature for the rest of the time Julia was in Luna. Every Tuesday afternoon just after one, I would call her and we would discuss what was going on in the forest and in her life. We talked live each week, and I recorded the conversations. There are about 100 in all.

I had all of mine and Julia’s conversations transcribed and I used the transcriptions to write my Master’s thesis in Sociology. The thesis is in the HSU library, and a librarian told me it has been very popular.

Today, Luna still stands tall despite being savagely attacked by a chainsaw in 2000. The good folks at Sanctuary Forest are taking good care of her.

To find out more about Julia and to read some of her writings check out juliabutterfly.com.

[This article originally appeared here.]