It’s been more than 20 years since environmental activist Julia “Butterfly” Hill climbed down from a giant thousand-year-old California redwood tree named Luna.
Ms. Hill caught the attention of the world when she became a spokesperson for Luna. In total, she spent 738 days in the Humboldt County redwood (December 10, 1997 to December 18, 1999). She lived on a six-foot platform nearly 200 feet above the ground.
Like other environmental activists, Ms. Hill was protesting the Pacific Lumber Company’s deforestation plans. She descended only after reaching an agreement with the lumber company that protected Luna and 200 feet surrounding the tree. A year later, the tree survived a chainsaw attack and is currently under the stewardship of the nonprofit, Sanctuary Forest.
“I came down to a hurting world – constantly wanting and needing my help with everything they cared about. From their child’s book report, to trying to save local trees and community gardens, to ending animal cruelty for food, to creating the department of peace in response to endless wars. The issues and challenges were endless,” Hill writes on her website.
The strain was too demanding, she says.
“On December 18th, 1999, I returned to Terra Firma after over 2 years living aloft in the branches of my best friend, and best teacher, Luna,” she notes. “I gave generously for over 15 years because of my deep love for all that connects us. But the toll and price on me was too much.”
A Butterfly Metamorphosis
These days, Ms. Hill doesn’t go by “Butterfly.” She’s “Julia,” a life coach and sometimes food blogger making her way in the world just like the rest of us. “I am no longer available for anything at all relating to me being ‘Julia Butterfly Hill,'” she says on her website. “That part of who I am is complete within me.”
The world now has many “Julia’s” like teen climate activist Greta Thunberg who founded the youth movement Fridays for Future. The 17-year-old Swede was named TIME Magazine’s person of the year in 2019. There’s Extinction Rebellion and Direct Action Everywhere. There’s no shortage of celebrities fighting for change, too — from Lizzo to Woody Harrelson.
But what would Julia “Butterfly” Hill do now as the world faces unprecedented crises from the current global pandemic to the catastrophic reign of climate change? What could she do? How would she handle the social justice issues of a generation as Black Lives Matter protests continue to escalate across a politically charged America?
“If you see an injustice in the world, and you have the opportunity to say something and do something and you choose to do nothing, your inactions are as much of a part of the injustice in the world as the actions of others,” she told KHSU’s Geraldine Goldberg in 2017, revisiting the 20 years since she left Luna. Goldberg covered Hill during her two-year residency, doing a master’s thesis on it. “I knew I had to say ‘yes’ even though I didn’t know what I was saying yes to,” she said.
Hill recounts the label “ecoterrorist,” used repeatedly by Pacific Lumber (and other industrial giants) against her and others working to save Luna. “And here we were, completely peaceful every step of the way,” she told Goldberg. “And they were the ones who had been violent, over and over and over again.” Hill says Pacific Lumber representatives were the ones caught on video camera being violent, not the people supporting her efforts to save the old-growth forest.
A Forest of Teachers
To this day, Hill still calls Luna the best teacher and best friend she will ever have. She says her relationship with Luna was visceral. People would as her about how she could move so quickly and comfortably at 180 feet off the ground.
“It wasn’t that I became comfortable,” she said, “it’s that I began to trust communication with Luna.” That communication with Luna, and all life around her, tuned her into something even greater.
“One day, through my prayers, an overwhelming amount of love started flowing into me, filling up the dark hole that threatened to consume me,” she wrote in her 2000 memoir Legacy of Luna. “I suddenly realized that what I was feeling was the love of the Earth, the love of Creation. Every day we, as a species, do so much to destroy Creation’s ability to give us life. But that Creation continues to do everything in its power to give us life anyway. And that’s true love.”
So just what exactly would Julia “Butterfly” Hill do now when billions of trees and animals and humans face the greatest threats they’ve ever known? She’d likely start by planting a seed, a seed of hope. “If you’re the only person left, as long as your hope is committed in action, then hope is alive in the world.”
For more information, visit Julia’s website.