The Legacy of Luna
“The root word of courage Is cour, which means heart, and that’s where true courage comes from.”
An interview with Julia Butterfly Hill
Julia Butterfly Hill spent over two years living eighteen stories high, on a tiny wooden platform, In a thousand year old redwood tree In Northern California. She did this because of her deep passion to help save the endangered ancient redwood trees of Northern California., and her concern for the fragile ecosystem of our planet, but especially because of the tremendous love that she felt for that tree In particular- Luna. It she came down from Luna then loggers would have Immediately cut her down. So for Julia and Luna, as well as many others, this was a life or death matter.
For over two years Julia endured ferocious storms, and many attempts by the Maxxam Pacific Lumber company to get her down from Luna. They harassed her with helicopters, and blew obnoxious bull horns night and day to prevent her from sleeping. They tried to cut off her food and water supply. They did everything they possibly could to get her down from the tree, but Julia wouldn’t budge. In the end Julia prevailed. The Pacific Lumber Company agreed not to chop down the tree, and her courageous action brought a Hurry of media attention onto her and the plight of the ancient redwoods. Julia has generated a great deal of media attention, which she has used wholeheartedly to spread her message of ecological awareness. Like the Lorax In the Dr. Seuss children’s classic, Julia truly “speaks for the trees.”
Julia chronicled her courageous story In her book The Legacy of Luna (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000). which has a gripping page-turning quality to It. For many people Julias book has been deeply Inspirational. Julia helped to establish The Circle of Life Foundation, “to promote efforts to protect and restore the earth.” The foundation Is sponsored by the Earth Island Institute, which “develops and supports projects that counteract threats to the biological and cultural diversity that sustains the environment. ” Many people regard Julia as a hero, even a saint. Her strength and selfless devotion has been an Inspiration to many. Even Good Housekeeping magazine called her one of the “Most Admired Women of 1998”
I Interviewed Julia on August 22, 2000. We spoke about what she learned from her challenges, the language of Nature, Interspecies communication, and the changes In consciousness that she experienced from her two years high In the branches of Luna. In talking with her one senses immediately that she’s an extraordinary person. Julia Is extremely articulate, deeply passionate, and connected to a wellspring of wisdom, which stems from her Intimate connection with the natural world. She often sounds as though she is giving voice to Nature herself.
–David Jay Brown
David: What would you say Is the most Important thing that you learned from the two years that you spent living In Luna?
Julia: Honestly, I don’t know If I could pinpoint just one thing that was the most Important. I learned many lessons, all of which were intertwined. One of the Important things I learned Is that It Is vital to take the time to be still and open. We live In a world which Is always trying to tell us to do It bigger, better, faster, now-regardless of how It effects the planet, our bodies, or future generations. We live In a society that also tries to shame and bully us Into only believing what politicians, consumer advertisers, or religious leaders tell us to do, think, buy, and believe-yet all of these are human-made constructs. We are made fun of, we are ridiculed, and we are attacked for being open to something other than human-made constructs and beliefs. This Is why the element of being still, and the willingness to be open, are so Important. It adds another layer to empowering ourselves as true leaders, and true people of this planet.
I also learned that It Is absolutely vital that we have our feelings, Including our anger. We should be very very angry at what the government and the corporations are doing to our world. It Is our shared planet. It’s not only for a group of selected rich people. It Is our children, and their children, whose lives are being devastated by the choices that are being made today. So we should absolutely be outraged at what’s happening. At the same time we shouldn’t do what we do out of anger. We should do what we do out of our love. That’s what I did while sitting In the tree. I didn’t climb into a tree and live for two years out of my anger at Pacific Lumber Maxxam, and our corrupt government here In California and the United States, but rather, I did what I did out of my love for the forest, the animals, and the people who call these forests home.
David: How did the experience change you?
Julia: The experience changed me on every single level-mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. During my first three months In the tree, the first thing that Luna said was that I was broken on all of those levels. I was under assault by Mother Nature and human nature. I was completely broken down. Ultimately, the process of being broken down allowed me to be rebuilt Into a higher being-into a stronger, more conscious, more compassionate, and more passionate person. So on every single level I was transformed. Of course, I continue to transform every moment of every day.
David: How did being up In Luna for over two years affect your general state of consciousness and your dream life?
Julia: Nothing really changed very much with my dream life. I don’t typically remember my dreams. A lot people have this misconception that I must have been up there OMIng, contemplating my navel and the meaning of the universe, when, In actuality, I was busier than I’ve ever have been In my life. I spent about six to eight hours a day on my solar powered radio phone, doing outreach to the media-to schools, organizations, churches, festivals, rallies, you name It. I worked a lot.
But what It did on that consciousness-changing level Is that It taught me to learn from creation, to recognize that all of life Is sacred, that there Is spirit in all things, and to be open to that spirit to guide and teach me. So, how that changed me was that, Instead of my sitting up there thinking It was all about me, a group of people that I worked with, the government, and the corporations, I began to learn that It’s about all of life. I learned that In this Interrelation of all beings Is lessons, responsibility, and power.
David: I’m curious about the Interspecies communication that you experienced. What do you think tree consciousness Is like, and what were your communications with Luna like?
Julia: Because I’m a human being, the only way I have of relating these experiences Is through human relationships and human understandings. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly how to communicate In tree language, In bird language, or In the language of storms, air, or water. So I always hesitate, because I don’t want to humanize a tree. At the same time, It’s the only way I can relate It to people-because I am only a human being.
All of life communicates with us every single day, and we, as a people, have, In many different ways, chose over time not to listen anymore. But In this experience I had to listen. It was listen, learn and transform, or die. Or give up and come downwhich would have been a death for me as well. So I started to learn and to listen-and to listen and to learn. It was a very symbiotic relationship for Luna and 1. 1 was there to keep that over one thousand year old redwood tree standing, and that tree was there to help take care of me In the process.
There Is so much that tree taught me. I think a lot of It was even learned through osmosis, and that when people hear me talk, they’re not really hearing Julia Butterfly Hill speak. They’re hearing my voice, and the human ways I have of trying to relate the lessons I’ve learned, but the lessons I learned, I learned from Luna. I learned from the birds, the storms, the bears, through my prayers, and that collective consciousness that all sacred beings share. So the communication came In many forms. It came In the sap from the tree. It came during one of the storms where I almost died. It taught me the power of the tree, that bends In flow with the wind, and that was the way I was going to make It through the storms In the tree. And that was the way I was going to make It through the storms of life-which I now apply, In the whirlwind of my life on the ground.
David: Where did you turn for courage when things looked bleak during your two years In Luna?
Julia: I love language. I love words. I think that words have a meaning and a purpose, and we kind of throw words around In our world today without really stopping to think of the meaning. The root word of courage Is cour, which means heart, and that’s where true courage comes from. To Joye In the wor)d Is the most courageous act that a person can do-not to go to war. War doesn’t take courage. War takes fear. War takes bullies. War takes oppressors. But to stand up, and come from a place of love, peace, joy, and beauty, In committed action, Is true courage.
So, for me, the courage came when I would look deep Into my heart and remember why I was there. It doesn’t mean I drew courage from myself. It means that when I look within my heart, what I saw was my love for the forest, and my love for the species who are going extinct as these trees are going extinct. I saw my love for the children who receive whatever planet we leave behind, who are forced to live with the consequences of our actions. It was In that love for life that I found my courage to continue, and there were many times when I was In so much pain that I wanted to give up.
David: You mentioned that Luna communicated with you through her sap. I’m curious about the times when your neighboring trees were being chopped down, and Luna began an outpouring of sap, which you felt as her emotional release.
Julia: When I was climbing around on the tree In the beginning I would get a little bit of sap on me. That’s how these trees communicate. That’s also how they grow, and deal with things like lightning strikes, and seasonal changes. But one day when they were cutting down some of the trees very close, and hitting Luna with the trees they were cutting down, I grabbed onto Luna and began to cry, because I felt ashamed that I was a part of a race, a culture, a tribe that lost Its roots so long ago. And that, after perpetuating Its own genocide a couple of thousand years ago, It Is now perpetuating that genocide everywhere It turns.
That shame was eating me alive. I was so sad and overwhelmed with the grief of sitting through an active logging plan, watching these sacred beings being lost forever. And when I grabbed on to Luna and then I sat up, I realized that I was covered In sap-not just a little bit sticking to my feet and hands, which was normal, but all over my body. I climbed around on that tree, and noticed that the sap was pouring out of Luna-not just poking out the pores, but literally pouring out of the tree. And It hit me that that was Luna’s communicating the grief of the loss of her family. That grief Is like sap. It’s not something that you can wash away easily. It’s something that clings to us, shapes us, and Is a part of who we grow Into being.
It Is Interesting to note that later a scientist who heard me talking about that sent me all these articles, from very well known scientific journals, about actual experiments that prove what we already know deep within us-if we open to It, and take the time to be still and listen. Yes Indeed, life-forms communicate. The plants and trees communicate. They respond to violence and sadness, just as they respond to love, nurturing care, and beautiful music. So there’s actual scientific proof to back up what I learned about the sacred sentient beings.
David: What did you miss the most during your two year stay In Luna?
Julia: In the beginning I missed everything that we take for granted. I missed being able to walk and run, to ride a bike, and go swimming. I missed going out to eat and to parties with friends. I missed being able to go to a store If I had no food, or being able to go Into a house, where It’s warm and stable, In the midst of one of the worst winters In the recorded history of California. I missed all those things that so many of us take for granted In life.
Of course not everyone takes these things for granted. There’s many people In this country, and around the world, who suffer deeply on a daily level, who know not to take those things for granted. But I was one of the billions of people around the world who take these kind of things for granted, until I couldn’t have them anymore. However, over time, when I did almost die In the tree, I really came to realize just how precious life truly Is. Every breath that enters my body Is an absolute gift. Every moment of every day Is a gem, which we face by the choices that we make.
I decided at that time that I would no longer waste time missing anything anymore. Instead of doing that I would find It within myself to appreciate the moment, and to appreciate things, no matter how small they were. As a result, It came to the point when I was sitting In the tree freezing, and my teeth chattering so hard I thought they were going to shatter, that I even found Joy In that. I stopped to think about everything that has to happen In the entire universe, those things we know, and those things we’ll never know.
I thought about what has to happen In the hemisphere of this earth, with the water, the forests, and the trees. Then I thought about what has to happen within my own my own body to respond to that freezing cold, that would make my teeth chatter that hard. And just that thought of breaking It all down, and realizing how magical, and how powerful all those Interactions and Interrelations are, helped me to begin to laugh, and to overcome something that I thought was going to freeze me to death. This was one of the many very transformative lessons for me.
David: What would you say gave you the most hope during the two years?
Julia: The earth. The earth Is here for billions and billions of years. It teaches us so much. It’s taught us lessons of how to do It right. It’s taught us lessons of how we’re doing It wrong. It continues to provide us with Incredible gifts, even when we do so much to disrespect and destroy those gifts. To see that constant presence everyday Is an Incredible amount of hope for me, as well as seeing people transform.
My Interactions with people who started out threatening to kill me, being horrible and mean-or calling In on talk radio stations and revving their chain sawswere difficult. I did my best to come from a place of love, and honor them for the anger, frustration, and hurt that they’re feeling. Yet I would ask them to honor those same feelings that I have, as a result of the destruction of the sacred that I feel Is happening In the world. Seeing people change and apologize for wanting to kill me, knowing that they wouldn’t look at an “environmentalist” the same way again-it’s those Interactions, where people change from hateful, mean and vicious, to understanding that we’re all truly planetary partners here. That give me hope.
David: What are you doing these days?
Julia: I’m working like madl (laughter) I am trying right now to use this spotlight, and this energy that’s swirling around me, as a result of the part that I played In this successful action, to share It with all the many people who deserve that spotlight and energy too. There’s so many people In this country, and around the world, who are doing good work, who deserve recognition and honor, who need community support, who need grassroots involvement, who need political leaders to feel the pressure of their actions.
So right now I feel that’s one of the most effective things I can do with my time, Is to share that spotlight and energy with the Issues that are facing our communities across the country. I’m also continuing to be outspoken against money In our world, as far as money being placed above life. I’m not a proponent of going back to the caveman era, so to speak. I am a proponent that value on life should be placed above our value of money, so that our money only goes to service life, Instead of the other way around, which Is how we live now.
I was In Washington D.C. with the Days of Action against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, because the facts are glaring that those two entities are not helping poor communities worldwide. They’re only helping the rich to stay rich, and the powerful to stay In power at the oppression and destruction of the people of the country and of the planet. I was recently In Los Angeles speaking out against the Democratic National Convention, because I see that as long as Big Money Is In politics, we will continue to have socalled leaders who value Big Money over the needs of our communities, our children, our elderly, our families, our planet, and our future. So I’m continuing to do a kind of juggling act, and try to see where I can be the most effective and most helpful with the limited resource of me. And that’s taken me all across this country, and Is about to take me to Germany and Italy for a month.
David: Do you still have time to write poetry?
Julia: Yes, I do, although only occasionally. But poetry Is my way of remaining In touch with those things that compel me, and those things that are a deep part of who I am. So I’m very blessed to have that as part of my way of communicating.
David: Tell me about the Circle of Life Foundation, and what people can do to help save the ancient redwoods?
Julia: Sure. Right now there’s many different things going on In the state of California. There’s many different legislative bills that are being Introduced, and many different Initiatives that are continuing to grow. I helped to establish the Circle of Life Foundation, whose roots are In the protection of the last of the ancient redwoods, and the old growth worldwide, but our branches are definitely reaching out to all the many Issues environmentally, socially, and personally, that are effecting our lives.
In talking with a friend, we came up with this great understanding that we are all truly environmentalists. This Is because there Is an ecological environment, a social environment, and a personal environment that we all Interact with on a daily basis, no matter who we are, what our background Is, or where we live. So the Circle of Life was established to try and help promote the good, the Important, and the solutions to the problems that are facing those three environments In our lives. We are hoping to continue to be a resource for people so that they can call and plug In no matter who they are-whether they’re a teacher or a student, a musician or an artist of any kind, or just someone who considers themselves an everyday American that cares about their Impact and wants to make a difference.
David: How can people get In touch?
Julia: People can call the office at (707) 923-9522. Our address Is P.O. Box 1940, Redway, California, 95560, and our Web site Is: www.circleoflifefoundation.org