Dec 10, 1999 - 10:11 PM
An Ecocelebrity - Preacher's Daughter Marks
Second Year in Tree
By Michelle Locke
Associated Press Writer
STAFFORD, Calif. (AP) - Two years ago, a 23-year-old
preacher's daughter climbed 180 feet into the branches
of an old growth redwood, determined to save it from a
woodsman's chain saw.
Since then, Julia Hill, known to her friends as Julia
Butterfly, has changed her life. She has also tried to
change the way people look at California's old forests
through an Internet campaign and interviews with reporters
around the world.
This month, one more thing may be changing: She may be
coming down from the tree she calls Luna.
"My feet will not touch the ground until there is a
signature on paper saying that they've protected the
area but ... I'm cautiously hopeful," she said.
It wasn't clear when - or if - Hill's treetop vigil will
end. In the past, she and the Pacific Lumber Co., owners
of the property where Luna stands, have been close to a
resolution only to have the deal stall.
Neither side will discuss specifics, but the proposed
agreement reportedly would have Hill and her supporters
paying $50,000 to the company in return for a logging ban
at the treesitting site. The money would then be donated
to Humboldt State University for forestry research.
Pacific Lumber also wants signed statements from Hill that
the company hopes will discourage copycats.
"We want her to be safe but we are not going to agree to
anything that encourages treesitting, promotes treesitting,
allows for the commercialization of treesitting or is
unfair to our employees," said company spokesman Josh Reiss.
In March, Pacific Lumber and federal and state governments
signed a $480 million deal to purchase an old-growth grove
in the nearby Headwaters Forest and turn it into a public
Hill stayed put, disappointed that the deal does not go
far enough to protect the forest and concerned that Luna
is not in the protected area.
What she's missed most is the earth beneath her feet.
"I can't imagine how incredible and magical it's going
to feel just to be able to touch the solid earth again,"
On a cool fall day, the forest Hill calls home soars
above the mists, thousands of dark green spires brushing
against a pale gray sky. To the west, the Pacific hugs
the sandy shoulders of the remote Lost Coast, 280 miles
north of San Francisco.
Also visible is the red-brown scar of a mudslide that
destroyed seven homes in the small community of Stafford.
Activists blame the slide on clear-cut logging. The
company says it was a natural occurrence.
At Luna's base, the only sound is the rushing murmur of
the wind. About 15 feet across and more than 18 stories
high, the tree is a vast, brown stretch of bark, one
side of its trunk blackened and gouged, probably by fire.
Suddenly, the silence is broken as a supporter who goes
by the name of "Spruce" lets out an eerie call, a signal
that visitors have arrived.
Hill yodels back, then lowers a battered black bag
containing a walkie-talkie over which she cheerily
announces, "My phone's ringing. I'm going to grab it
real quick and be right with you."
Hill doesn't have a lot of the comforts of home on her
6-by-8-foot platform. She cooks vegan meals - those
with no animal products - on a propane stove, uses a
bucket for a bathroom, takes sponge baths and is "never
completely warm" on wintry days. But she's got a cell
phone to keep in touch with the outside world; supporters
bring in batteries and food and take out her replies to
the 300 or so people who write every week.
In spare moments she reads, writes and listens to a
community radio station by way of a hand-cranked radio.
For exercise, she climbs the tree and, failing that,
does sit-ups and push-ups. Dealing with wild winter
storms and the dank, foggy cold - takes "laughter,
love, prayer - and layers of clothing.
"Right now, I'm wearing three pants, three shirts, two
jackets, two scarfs, a hat and gloves," she said
Wednesday as temperatures hovered in the 40s.
She's been interviewed scores of times. She's been
visited actor Woody Harrelson and singers Bonnie Raitt
and Joan Baez. She's written a book, "The Legacy of
Luna," due out in April.
"I laugh hysterically every time someone thinks I'm
bored or lonely, because I am busier than I have ever
been in my entire life," she said.
Hill has her detractors - a full-page ad in Thursday's
Times-Standard of Eureka taken out by a self-described
spokesman for The True Redwood Friends urged Pacific
Lumber: "Do not let her win. Do not give in to
But she also has supporters like 28-year-old Anne
Fitzpatrick, who made the uphill trek to the tree
despite having had most of one lung removed in March.
"She really inspires me," said Fitzpatrick, who often
logs on to Hill's Web site. "I sit in my living room
... and I think, 'She's in the tree right now, right
at this moment. She's cold and I'm here.'"
What happens if Hill decides to come in from the cold?
Before she was a treesitter, Hill was learning the
restaurant business in Fayetteville, Ark. That life
ended with a near-fatal car wreck that sent her on a
pilgrimage west to the woods.
She's not sure what she might do next, but expects it
will have something to do with protecting the environment.
"I climbed up into this tree and in the eyes of the
world, I was a nobody," she said. "Without my meaning to,
I've become this figurehead, this spokesperson and
that's opened up a lot of doors and possibilities."
© Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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