Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)

I’m not sure that there is an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for time spent sitting in a tree, but if there is, Julia Butterfly Hill would hold it.  Hill occupied a redwood tree in California for 738 days before returning to solid ground!

Hill was born on February 18, 1974, in Mount Vernon, Missouri.  She was the daughter of an itinerant minister and spent her youth traveling the country.  Her family lived in a camping trailer, their camping sites providing Hill with the opportunity to enjoy nature as an everyday experience.  A family story says that on a hike when she was a girl, a butterfly landed on her finger and stayed there for the entire hike.  That was the inspiration for Hill incorporating “Butterfly” into her name.

When she was 22, a drunk driver rammed into her car, and her steering wheel penetrated her skull.  After a year of physical therapy, she was able to walk and talk again normally.  But that event changed her:  “The steering wheel in my head, both figuratively and literally, steering me in a new direction in my life….”  (the parallel with John Muir, who was temporarily blinded by an industrial accident and then gave up a traditional life, is uncanny.)

Hill headed west, with no particular destination.  But when she first saw the redwood forest, her fate was sealed (another page right out of John Muir’s life):

“When I entered the majestic cathedral of the redwood forest for the first time, my spirit knew it had found what it was searching for. I dropped to my knees and began to cry because I was so overwhelmed by the wisdom, energy and spirituality housed in this holiest of temples.”

            She learned about a group of tree-sitters that were protesting the harvest of redwood trees by the Pacific Lumber Company in Humboldt County of northern California.  She joined with them and climbed into a 1000-year-old redwood named Luna.  She stayed up for six days, but that was just a prelude for what was to come.

Julia Butterfly Hill (photo by Carl-John Veraja)

On December 10, 1997, she climbed 150 feet into the canopy of Luna—and she stayed.  She stayed through personal illness, harassment by company helicopters and security guards, and one of the coldest, wettest, windiest winters on record (John Muir also lashed himself to a tree in a violent storm, just to enjoy the experience).  Hill stayed for more than two years, never leaving her six-foot-square platform.  After 738 days in the tree, she descended, when the Pacific Lumber Company agreed to leave Luna standing, preserve a three-acre buffer around the tree and provide a fund for researchers to study old growth forests.

Hill wrote a best-selling book about her ordeal, The Legacy of Luna, which has been translated into eleven languages.  She created 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.”

Luna remains alive and upright today, guarded by the community conservation group Sanctuary Forest.  A chainsaw attack in 2000 cut a three-foot deep gash in Luna that went part way around the trunk.  With extensive interventions to support the mechanical and biological integrity of the tree, however, Luna continues to appear healthy and growing.

References:

Ecotopia.org.  A Brief Biography.  Ecology Hall of Fame.  Available at:  http://ecotopia.org/ecology-hall-of-fame/julia-butterfly-hill/biography/.  Accessed February 12, 2018.

Julia Butterfly Hill.  About Julia.  Available at:  http://www.juliabutterfly.com/-julia.html.  Accessed February 12, 2018.

Lallanilla, Marac.  2017.  The Life of Julia Hill.  The Spruce, April 4, 2017.  Available at:  https://www.thespruce.com/the-life-of-julia-hill-1708797.  Accessed February 12, 2018.

Sanctuary Forest.  Luna Ancient Redwood Tree.  Available at:  http://www.sanctuaryforest.org/programs/land-conservation/luna/.  Accessed February 12, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

October 1
Yosemite National Park Created (1890)
October 2
San Diego Zoo Founded (1916)
October 3
James Herriot, English Veterinarian, Born (1916)
October 4
Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Ecology
October 5
Catherine Cooper Hopley, British Herpetologist, Born (1817)
October 6
Mad Hatter’s Day
October 7
Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, Born (1888)
October 8
World Octopus Day
October 9
Vajont Dam Disaster (1963)
October 10
Dnieper Dam Began Operation (1932)
October 11
Big Cypress and Big Thicket National Preserves Created (1974)
October 12
William Laurance, Tropical Conservationist, Born (1957)
October 13
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
October 14
Timpanogos Cave National Monument Created (1922)
October 15
Isabella Bird, Pioneering Eco-traveler, Born (1831)
October 16
World Food Day
October 17
Oliver Rackham born (1939)
October 18
Clean Water Act established (1972)
October 19
Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)
October 20
OPEC Oil Embargo (1973)
October 21
“Ding” Darling born (1876)
October 22
Wombat Day
October 23
Cumberland Island National Seashore established (1972)
October 24
Antoni von Leeuwenhoek born (1632)
October 25
Secretary of the Interior Convicted in Teapot Dome Scandal (1929)
October 26
Erie Canal Opens (1825)
October 27
Golden Gate and Gateway National Recreation Areas Created (1972)
October 28
Henry Mosby, Wild Turkey Biologist, Born (1913)
October 28
First Ticker-tape Parade Held (1886)
October 29
Stanley Park, Vancouver, Dedicated (1889)
October 30
UNESCO Designates 9 Natural World Heritage Sites (1981)
October 31
Lincoln Highway Dedicated (1913)
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