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The Woman Who Lived In A Tree For 2 Years And Became An Icon

Por: María Isabel14 de septiembre de 2021

Julia "Butterfly" Hill, the sequoia woman, camped on an ancient tree for two years to prevent it from being cut down.

In The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino tells the fictional story of Cosimo, a 12-year-old aristocratic boy who climbs a tree as a gesture of rebellion against his father's authority and promises to stay there until his death. In real life, rebellions can serve to inspire others and change the state of affairs. This is the case of the woman who lived in a sequoia tree to save it from being cut down.

The story of Julia "Butterfly" Hill, a 23-year-old woman, was inevitably linked to that of "Luna," a 1,000-year-old sequoia, in the Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park in California, USA, that, in late 1997, a logging company threatened to cut down.

"Butterfly," as Julia was nicknamed for her love of butterflies, was part of the environmental organization Earth First. The environmentalists decided to put their bodies between the trees and the logging company's machines to prevent ecocide. In an extreme act, Julia and other of her companions chose some trees to climb and set up small camps in the heights as a measure to attract media attention. But what was to be a 2-week camping trip for "Butterfly" turned into a stationary expedition of more than two years.

Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing you can do - Slavoj Zizek 

The woman who adopted a majestic redwood tree

Julia Lorraine Hill was born on February 18, 1974, in Arkansas, and was home-schooled until she was 12 years old. A car accident at the age of 22 forced a long rehabilitation, in which she strengthened her mind as well as her body. During this difficult time, she became accustomed to observing and walking near sequoias, which inspired her to regain control of her own body. In her autobiography, Julia recounts: 

I went into the forest, and for the first time experienced what it meant to be alive. I understood that I was part of it. Soon after, I learned that Pacific Lumber Maxxam Corporation was logging these forests, and my confusion was total. I contacted the Earth First association, which held sit-ins in the trees to prevent logging. That's how I met "Luna."  

Earth First's idea was that another member of the association would take over from Julia after a couple of weeks. But the relief never came. A team supplied her with food to survive at high altitudes employing a pulley system. Julia says that she charged her cell phone using solar panels in her camp at 50 meters above sea level, on a 3-square-meter tarp organized to cover hygiene, food, and rest needs.

Roots in the sky

In an interview, Julia said that the Pacific Lumber Company did everything possible to sabotage her expedition: they burned trees around her, flew helicopters over her, and shot water jets at her, not to mention the harsh living conditions at high altitude, which caused frequent blisters and injuries.

But the real test came in the winter of 1998 when a powerful storm hit the park for two weeks. It was then that Julia, the sequoia woman, claims to have heard "Luna's voice," reminding her that "rigid branches break, only flexible branches survive." Following this mysterious intuition, Julia clung to the young and flexible branches managing to save her life.

Her effort was not in vain: on December 18, 1999, Julia descended from "Luna" after the logging company agreed to respect the redwoods and include environmental stewardship policies in all subsequent expeditions. The logging company received $50,000 in lost profits from the activists, which they later donated to preserve the area.

Coming down from "Luna," Julia told the press, "I understand that to some people I'm just a dirty tree-hugging hippie. But I can't imagine anyone wanting to put a chainsaw on something like that."

Julia's 738 days at altitude inspired many movements for the earth, and since then, she has been involved in environmental projects through her non-profit organization Circle of Life.  Julia and "Luna's" story inspires us to hold on to love the planet, as well as to take a stand for our ideals no matter what conditions we find ourselves in. What's your tree?

Text and photos courtesy of Ecoosfera
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

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