Activist spends year in tree perch in stand for ancient redwoods
By SUSAN BROILI
The Chapel Hill Herald, vol. 11, no. 216, January 7, 1999
CHAPEL HILL - When Julia "Butterfly" Hill says she's in the clouds, she means it literally.
"I'm in a cloud right now. All I can see is rain," the 24-year-old woman said. She was speaking on her cell phone Wednesday from her perch in the giant redwood tree she has called home for the past year and counting.
Since Dec. 10, 1997, Hill has lived 180 feet up in the 1,000-year-old redwood tree. She has taken a stand to save that tree and other ancient, giant trees logging companies have allegedly been cutting, even though the practice is prohibited by California state law.
Hill's tree, in Humboldt County, stands 200 feet tall, with a diameter of 15-feet. It also has a name: "Luna," bestowed by environmental activists who built the platform in the tree during a full moon, Hill said.
Hill is conducting phone interviews as part of the Redwood Tour that brought fellow activist "Redwood Mary" to The Chapel Hill Herald office on Wednesday.
All of the activists - who belong to Earth First and other organizations - adopt forest names, said Redwood Mary, whose real name is Mary Rose Kaczorowski. She has family in the Triangle - hence the inclusion of Chapel Hill on the-East Coast tour that includes her native New Jersey and locations in New York.
Kaczorowski said she first learned of the illegal cutting of the redwoods in 1991 when she flew from San Francisco to Humboldt County to attend a summer arts program at California State University. From the air, she saw a devastated landscape devoid of. trees and other vegetation.
"It looked like somebody had exploded a bomb. It just got me right in the heart," Kaczorowski said.
What also got to her later, when she went to an area where the giant trees were being felled, was the sight of a pair of birds, food in their mouths, looking for their nest that had been in one of the trees just cut.
What activists like Kaczorowski and HUI aim to save are the old-growth redwood trees - some as old as 2,000 years - that remain in the 3 percent of woodlands left in what used to be a forest of more than 1 million acres that stretched from Oregon to Southern California.
While laws protect the trees, the laws are not being enforced, Kaczorowski charged. She blamed the California Department of Forestry, which she said is composed of too many representatives from the logging industry.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that the politics of consumption has driven an entire ecosystem to the brink of collapse," she said. "The worst of our environmental destruction has been the result of our vain persistence to ignore our interconnectedness with nature.... We are losing keystone species and habitats."
Clear-cutting of these trees has endangered such birds as the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet that only nests in old-growth redwoods, she said.
The cutting has led to erosion that has clogged streams with silt and endangered the Coho salmon, Kaczorowski added.
"We have a chance to make a difference, but we must take action," she said.
That's just what Hill did when she took up lodging in the redwood.
"On her first visit to the redwood forest in 1997, she fell down on her knees and cried," Kaczorowski said of Hill, an artist and a poet.
Hill went back to her Arkansas home and, with money from selling her possessions and from an insurance settlement after an accident, re- turned to California to save the trees, Kaczorowski said.
Hill's biggest concern is that she is becoming a media celebrity and people are more fascinated with her life in the tree and are missing her message, Kaczorowski said.
"It's really a sacrifice," Kaczorowski said.
On a clear day, Hill can see the town of Stafford, where last year, due to clear-cutting, activists say, a mudslide destroyed seven homes.
She describes the past year as intense, difficult and even horrifying. But the time has - also increased her spiritual awareness and affirmed that what she is doing is right.
Horrifying times have come from what she terms "harassment" by loggers employed by the Pacific Logging Co.
Her first morning in the tree, she awoke to the sound of chain saws cutting large, "normal-size" tree "sprouts" from the tree in which she resided.
"It sounded like screeching howls from hell," Hill said. She felt the vibration all the way up to her platform. "I was just panicked. I had no harness. I didn't know what to do. I focused my energy in getting on the phone and calling people to tell them what had happened," Hill said.
Other "harassment" has included cutting a tree near her that hit her tree, a helicopter hovering over her tree, loud air horns blown intermittedly at night and a 10-day attempt to starve her down by posting guards at the base of the tree to prevent food being delivered to her, Hill said.
Hill started rationing water and food, had fasted before and was prepared to do so again, but a winter storm drove the loggers from the area, she said.
She says she is not afraid even though she knows tree-sitters who have had trees cut out from under them.
"I don't believe in living out of fear. To not take a stand for life is to allow life to be destroyed," Hill said. "I also know that this company [Pacific Lumber Co.] is capable of anything."
Activist David "Gypsy" Chain died on Sept. 17, 1998, after a logger from Pacific Lumber Co. allegedly felled an old Douglas fir and the tree fell on Chain, Kaczorowski said.
Instead of thinking what may happen, Hill focuses on spreading the message about the trees and on day-to-day life in the tree. She lives on a tarp-covered, 6-foot-by-8-foot wooden platform with her supplies on another 4-foot-by-8-foot platform.
She sleeps in a sleeping bag and eats a vegetarian diet of mostly raw fruit and vegetables. She lowers a bag on a string for replenishment of food and other items supplied by other activists.
She has grown quite attached to "Luna."
While many redwoods have a beautiful, tall, straight symmetry, "Luna," standing at the top of a ridge, has been pummeled by wind, carved out by fires, broken off by lightning.
"She has all these beautiful curves," Hill said.
Fire has left caves in the trunk, including one just underneath Hill's platform.
As far as she knows, nothing lives in these caves, but her tree is home to numerous flying squirrels, mice, hummingbirds, blue jays, ravens, turkey vultures and other birds in season.
"I've seen black bears in the valley," Hill said.
seen spotted owls a, marbled merrelets because these birds need a whole forest to provide enough protection, Hill said.
When asked about the temperature Hill said that since she has no thermometer, she gauges coldness by the layers of clothing she wears - with the coldest being eight layers.
On Wednesday, she was wearing three layers of pants and shirts topped by a jacket and hat.
"It would probably be cold to a lot of people. To me, this is a mild day," Hill said.
She has seen sleet, hail and, a couple of weeks ago, even snow - something that doesn't happen often in the temperate rain forest where redwoods grow.
She wears wool and fleece wear made from recycled plastic bottles donated by Patagonia, Hill said.
What she is not wearing is anything made by The Gap or Old Navy, companies owned by the Fisher family that also owns Mendocino Redwood Co. - one of the logging companies activists allege are illegally cutting the old-growth trees.
Under the name Sansome Partners, L.P., the Fishers purchased 238,000 acres of woodlands in Mendocino and Humboldt counties in July 1998, Kaczorowski said.
In a letter to Kaczorowski dated Oct. 8, 1998, John Fisher wrote that the company viewed as its greatest challenge "to be a successful company while being good stewards of the land" and that "we would never have entered this business if we did not believe that the two goals could be achieved together."
Time to think
While in the tree, Hill said she has had time to think about "what has gone wrong with our consciousness, accepted as everyday business practice."
"We're going to take it to the consumer and ask people if this is the way they want their money spent," Kaczorowski said of the Mendocino Redwood Company's alleged clear-cutting that includes the old redwoods.
She and others picketed The Gap stores in California in November 1998 and plan to keep doing so, she said.
Hill vows not to quit her tree until her message has been heard.
"There is a fire inside of me that will never go out. It comes always from a center of love because that's the way to heal the wounds on earth. The wounds exist on earth because they exist in us first," Hill said.
For her and Kaczorowski, love is the way to go - "because when you love something you cherish it and protect it," Hill said.
"It's not can we make a difference, we do make a difference," Hill said. She tells people that even the smallest sacrifice, such as reusing envelopes, running errands with friends, can add up to a big change.
And, some people, like Hill, sit in trees.
Hill doesn't plan to come down anytime soon.
"I'm taking it day by day and prayer by prayer," Hill said. "I told myself I would not allow my feet to touch ground again until I could do everything I could to make the world aware and bring about change.
"I still feel like there's more for me to do not only to protect this tree, but to protect everything this tree symbolizes," Hill said.
"All we're really asking is to protect the earth that gives us life," Hill said. "Up here, away from distractions, has led me to realize how simple this is. Live, love and show respect for life and all its forms."
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