A Brief Biography
Julia “Butterfly” Hill was born just plain Julia on February 18, 1974. Her young life nearly ended in 1996. She recovered and, much like John Muir after his near-blinding at almost the same age, she set off to travel.
She planned to visit the Far East, in search of enlightenment. But her route to the East lead her to the West Coast of the U.S. where other young people were trying to prevent the destruction of one of the last remnants of the great redwood forest that once stretched 650 kilometers (400 miles) from southern Oregon to the Big Sur coast, south of Monterey Bay, California.
Photo of Julia Butterfly Hill by Shaun Walker, copyright 1999.
On December 10, 1997, Julia climbed high into a thousand-year-old redwood tree and set up house on a little platform high above the ground. Her aim was to prevent the destruction of the tree by making it impossible to destroy the tree without killing her.
Julia attracted little individual attention at first, which was fine with her. She wanted to keep the spotlight on the destruction of the forest, part of the remnant of about 3 percent of the original old growth redwood forest.
But after a month, her name had started picking up a fair bit of attention on it’s own. She broke what was supposedly the American record for tree-sitting. Then, in the midst of one of the wettest, stormiest winters in living memory, she broke the 42-day world record for tree-sitting.
By the time she passed the 100-day mark, the world was increasingly aware that an exceptionally well-motivated person was not simply “sitting” in a tree, she was ‘living” there and plainly intended to continue living there until her tree and it’s forest were permanently protected from destruction.
Julia was one of hundreds of activists working to save the Headwaters Forest through a variety of non-violent tactics. Most of them were involved in what they termed “cat and mouse” action. They would move into an area of the forest where logging crews were active and confront the loggers directly, pleading with them to put down their tools and spare the forest. Others, meanwhile, were continually moving through the forest, making it difficult for the loggers to know whether it might be safe to cut a tree or if, by doing so, they might kill one of the protesters.
On September 17, 1998, when Julia was already an international celebrity for her residence in Luna, fellow protester David “Gypsy” Chain was killed in such an incident. Timber company spokespeople said the loggers didn’t know protesters were in the area at the time of Chain’s death. Fellow activists contradicted that claim. So far, nobody has been charged with any crime in connection with David Chain’s death. His mother has filed a wrongful death suit.
As the months went by, celebrities with ties to the environmental movement came to visit her, politicians talked with her on her mobile phone, and the world’s media made camped at the base of the tree to see what was going on and document her life and her mission.
In her tree, she knew fear, and cold. Lumber company employees harassed her and tried to scare her down. Conservative commentators belittled her action. Meanwhile, timber company officials were negotiating with state and Federal departments to come up with a lasting solution to what was increasingly being seen as a crisis.
Through it all, Julia remained high above ground, becoming ever-closer to the kind of spiritual union that her father had sought in his days as a preacher. She found her spiritual union high in the branches of the tree the whole world now knows as Luna.
On December 18, 1999, seven hundred and thirty-eight days after she climbed into Luna’s arms, she climbed down. She had struck a deal with Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation to spare Luna and create a three-acre buffer zone.
Meanwhile, she has founded the Circle of Life Foundation to, “inspire, support and network individuals, organizations, and communities so together we can create environmental and social solutions that are rooted deeply in love and respect for the interconnectedness of all life.”
Keep up the good work!