On December 10, 1997, Julia “Butterfly” Hill climbed a tree. Her climb and subsequent “tree sit” were eventually to receive worldwide attention and cause a firestorm of controversy. Julia’s feet didn’t touch the ground again for 738 days. The tree she climbed was a redwood almost 200 feet high and nearly 1,000 years old. It had been selected by the “Earth First!” environmental protection group as a token redwood to represent the threatened old-growth forests of California. The tree was named “Luna” because the group found it in the light of the moon while they were trespassing on the land owned by Pacific Lumber Company. They were there to protest the cutting of some of the last of the remaining redwoods, which are down to three percent of their original number. The plan was to have someone sit in the tree to prevent the lumber company from cutting it down. That someone turned out to be Julia Hill.
Julia, whose childhood nickname was “Butterfly,” is the daughter of an itinerant preacher. Julia recalls that her “childhood was very, very hard. I had no idea how to laugh or have fun. When I finally went to school, when I was 15, I had to learn that it was not so terrible to have a friend, and be light-hearted and just be happy.” Eventually her preacher father burned out spiritually, and the family settled down in Arkansas. Julia explains: “After all those years, my dad finally decided that he doubted the existence of God. So he stopped preaching.”
A few years later, Julia suffered serious injury in an automobile accident. After a long and difficult period of recuperation, she decided to re-examine her purpose for living; so she headed west on a journey of self-discovery that eventually led her to“Earth First!”—and to Luna. What was supposed to be a couple weeks of protest on a 6' x 8' tarp-covered, plywood platform 15 stories above the ground turned out to be more than 2 years! During that time she became an icon for environmental protection, giving hundreds of interviews both in person and by cell phone. Her tree-sitting was reported by the major news media all around the world. By the end of her first year, she had even been nominated as one of Good Housekeeping magazine’s most admired women.
Julia endured rain, snow, 90 mph winds, 10° F cold, and legal challenges by the lumber company. The activist explains what compelled her to become the world’s best-known tree hugger: “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.”