By Sharon Callahan
Julia Butterfly Hill kept a tree-top vigil on a tarp-covered platform to stop Maxxam/Pacific Lumber Company from completing a timber harvest plan that was to doom the 1,000-year-old redwood tree she called Luna. During the two years she spent perched in Luna, Julia conducted over a thousand interviews via cell phone. She is the first tree-sitter to have journalists visit for a face to face interview. She was named one of the 20 Most Fascinating Women in Politics by George Magazine in a list that included Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Senator Diane Feinstein. Julia recently completed a book detailing her experience titled
"The Legacy of Luna."
Julia is a delightful, intelligent, mature and completely unconditionally loving individual. She is passionate about environmental issues and has a wonderful sense of humor.
Julia answers the phone laughing………
S: Knowing that you've been on the phone all morning doing interviews it is wonderful that you are laughing.
J: Yes, well, you know there's no way a person can live in a tree for two years without a darned good sense of humor.
S: What you have just said ties in with my questions. I work mainly with animals and certainly perceive that animals and trees and plants and all beings are alive and have souls. But what I see that’s so sad, is the increased the polarization of viewpoints which really doesn’t seem to solve anything. People’s viewpoints getting stronger and stronger.
S: So, my question is how do we heal that? How do we heal that separation and the polarity of viewpoints? And I think humor is one.
J: Absolutely. And love and prayer. And I don’t say they’re necessarily in that order it depends on the circumstance. But, I tell you what, I’ve had people trying to kill me who end up apologizing and in some cases, while I was in the tree, resupplying me…
J: …because we all have opinions and opinions are important. To me, when I see someone who’s passionate even if their passion is hate directed at meat least they’re passionate.
S: They’re alive.
J: That’s right. I’m much more worried about those who have gone numb than I am about those who are misdirecting their passion, because then, as you said, at least they’re alive, at least they’re engaged.
J: So I think for me, one of the biggest things is, I tell people, “Life truly is a circle.” And when you look at it, each person on that circle has just a little different of a viewpoint. And it’s very easy when someone is on the other side of the circle from you to feel like there’s a grand chasm in between, but we’re all on the same circle and we’re all looking to the same point which is the center.
S: That’s right.
J: And that’s our common ground. I tell people, “You know, think about 12 people sitting in a circle around a still life in the center of a room drawing it. Each person is drawing the exact same still life, but each person’s picture is going to be just a little bit different.” And so, if we can learn to understand our differences in that way, to me, it’s a much more holistic way to help us find that common ground, to help us find our center.
S: Yes. And Julia, you know, when you were talking about people going numb that triggers another question. You know, in the arena, working in the arena of animals, a lot of people comment to me that the whole world situation with animals and plants and the environment it’s so overwhelming to them that they feel paralyzed. What would you say to someone like that?
J: I get that constantly in the work that I do. And because I really feel I’m just a storyteller I think we all are, we’re all just sharing stories and so, I share a story when David Gypsy Chain, the 24-year old activist from Austin, Texas who was killed when a logger cut a tree down on top of him…and, for me, that was my final straw that broke my back and broke my heart and broke my spirit because…I could understand people not feeling connected to Nature because there are so many things working to disconnect us. But to be that driven by a paycheck and that driven by hate to chop a tree down on top of someone and kill them killed me.
S: Of course.
J: And so much of me wanted to climb down out of that tree, go disappear into the woods and never be heard from again. But I prayed because, to me, for me to do that would be the same thing as death. And I prayed and I said, “How do I get out of this situation. To climb down and disappear, is it best? To stay up here in this amount of pain that I feel, is it best? What do I do? And the saying came to me that sometimes we get so caught up in what we’re struggling against that we forget what we stand for.
S: Yes, exactly.
J: And it is that struggling with what we’re against that makes us go hopeless. It is that feeling of All-that-pushes-down on top of us. And I was told, in continuation from that, “Julia, what you ultimately stand for amidst all these issues in the world, those are the symptoms of a disease, of dis-ease in our society.” And that what I stand for, what I believe in is the love and hope for the healing of humanity. And through the healing of humanity, we will at the same time heal with Nature because we are One. And that even if no other person has hope or love in their heart, that if I do then there’s hope for the world. Even if I’m the only person left alive on this planet that has hope, then there is still hope.
S: That’s right. I write about this kind of thing too, and I think of it as a kind of separation anxiety. You know, they talk about animals having separation anxiety, but I think we all have separation anxiety because we’ve lost our connection with God. It’s really the basic thing, isn’t it?
J: That’s it. I call that Dis-ease Separation Syndrome.
J: That’s exactly what I call it.
S: How can we increase human consciousness that trees and plants and animals are conscious living beings and that they actually perceive and respond to the universe in their own way?
J: I first believe that it starts with our daily actions. Unfortunately, I see a phenomenal amount of hypocrisy within the movement of social consciousness towards animals, towards the environment and even towards other human beings. I go to activist conferences all the time, spiritual conferences, animal rights conferences, conferences and a majority of the time, I see an overwhelming amount of people carrying around paper cups…and going out to eat and bringing home food to the conference in a styro-foam container or in a plastic container. Those things that we consume, those things that we utilize in our life affect animals, affect human beings, affect the planet and affect the future. And so I feel, I really believe that our message is only as strong as the messenger.
S: I agree.
J: There’s no way to live on this earth without making an impact. You know, all species have impact. But we have ways of reducing our impact, even in a world that makes us, makes it hard to reduce our impact, there are so many simple ways that truly have a profound impact.
S: And it should be empowering, shouldn’t it, to know that there are things that we can do? But still, it seems people come back with the response, “Well, what’s one less Styrofoam cup?”
J: Well, I give them a story of an experiment that I do with elementary school children. We take half the class and have them reuse every scrap of paper that we possibly can. We have the other half of the class just automatically throw it away like they always do with that thought of “what is this one scrap of paper make…the difference, what does it matter?” Then at the end of the month we have them, though, keep the papers in separate bins that the janitors are told not to throw away and at the end of the month we compare sides. And in taking all the different groups that I’ve done this with and kind of giving it an average the half of the class that reuses every scrap of paper averages out, have less than one bag of trash; the half of the class that does not averages out to have nearly seven bags.
S: That’s quite amazing, isn’t it?
J: Paper, and that’s only paper for one month. And then I tell them, “Now, multiply that by the nine months of your school year and look at the impact you have as one class.” Now if all the students in this one classand they get really ignited by ityou go out there and get your whole school to do nothing else this year but do this work of reducing your in-school paper usage. Think about the impact. And I get them to do research on the Web and find outnot only are they saving forests, but they’re saving energy and saving water.
S: Yes, exactly.
J: And so, those small impacts are not so small. And more importantly, though, it’s about looking at doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
S: Not looking at the result…
J: That’s right.
S: …but just staying in the moment with it.
J: We are so attached as humans to results, to outcome which is fine because I’ve got all kinds of proof that it makes a difference but that one with the elementary school kids is my favorite. But the reality iS: how can we promote and advocate for social change if we’re being a part of the problem? Even if it is one piece at a time, one piece at a time we’re being a part of the problem or we’re being part of the solution. Every choice makes the difference.
S: I’m so glad you’re doing things with school children. I was thinking of Jane Goodall’s Roots-and-Shoots Program. And it just occurred to me that that’s a fantastic arena for you as well - working with the children.
J: I love it. I really do. I want to do more. For the last while, I’ve been having to kind of distribute my energy in a lot of different directions. But children are definitely a huge priority and I will be able to work more and more with them as time goes on.
S: And I think to take some of the inner city kids to places where they can really experience old-growth trees. I mean,
there are kids that just have never seen them.
J: Right. I’ve actually been working on a project that came from an experience I had about five years ago where some friends of mine would play percussion on the steps of this arts center of this place we lived every weekend. And people would come by because they were so good. And then, someone would hand them a soda can with sand. And another person would get handed a film canister with popcorn seeds, corn seeds. And all of a sudden, people who came to just view now became participants. And I see that in inner-cities getting them to appreciate the beauty is one thing, but getting them to understand the importance is another because they’re short-term survival is so overwhelmingly critical. They don’t connect with long-term sustainability. So, my concept is to begin the projects by saving trash that can be turned into percussions from in-school and then making percussion instruments together, and seeing how when we use our diversity we create beautiful music. And I see that not only do we look at the earth as trash now, but we’re even looking at each other as trash. And I want to shift that consciousness where we don’t look at the earth or each other ever again as trash. And then, through that, then take them out into Nature when they get that understanding of working together in symbiotic relationship and honoring that there’s no such thing as trash. Then taking that energy out into the forest; I think then they’ll connect so much more powerfully and deeply with why they should care.
S: That’s really beautiful, Julia. I had a question for you about Luna. I wondered if you would say something about Luna as an individual. Because I have a lot of experience living in Shasta with incredible old, wise, elder trees and to me they absolutely are individuals.
J: Luna as an individual showed me how much we as individuals are individual and at the same time are part of a family. Because, Luna is from a root system that’s thousands and probably millions of years old. And it’s that root system that connects her to a family that allows her to stand, kept her alive. And so Luna as an individual, to me, taught me about the power of one magnified when we bring one with one with one when one person joins another, when one tree joins another. And as that individual that she is, but part of a much greater whole, to me, I felt like I was living in one of the most phenomenal acupuncture needles in the world. Because her roots are tapping into the energy of Mother Earth, her branches tapping into the energy of Father Sky. And it was like living with a being that embodies perfect balance, perfect holistic understanding of her power and beauty as an individual and yet her deep connection to her family of life.
S: And we have that root system too, don’t we, as human beings?
J: Absolutely, we’ve just forgotten them.
S: I love that image. So often people write or talk about our connection at the level of the collective unconscious or soul level, but the idea that we’re all connected through a root system to the Earth, to me, is far more powerful.
J: Yes, to me it lies in the heart. When we say, “Let’s get to the heart of the matter,” we want to get to the center, we want to get to the core. That is a root connection. The heart that is the heart of the matter.
S: That’s beautiful. There’s a nice title for a book.
S: One more question which is very, very timely. I live on a street in downtown Mount Shasta and tomorrow we’re having a tree-walk. The street I live on, Chestnut Street, has a number of old-trees some of them 50 or more years old that are not native trees, they were planted but they’re considering cutting them all down because they’re repaving the street and feel that the roots are going to interfere with the new asphalt they’re putting in. And I’m just devastated at the thought. How would you approach that? We’re going out with a group of arborists and it’s one of those things that goes back to what I was saying about everybody having fixed and rigid positions.
J: It’s hard…My first thought would be to really draw in the community to think outside of the box, to think creatively. I’m glad that you’re doing the tree-walk, that you’re bringing in arborists. One thing that I learned in my activism was that, to me, I so clearly saw the importance of heart and spirit, and I saw it not being articulated out into the world. But one thing I learned very quickly is that our world has been entrenched in the mind and forgetting to recognize that our heart has a thought process, too, that is deeply profound. But we’ve been taught to just live in this mind. The only problem is our minds are more easily swayed by other people’s opinions than our hearts. But I found the vital need in myself, and I taught myself, I went through a phenomenal education in that tree learning the facts, learning the science and I think that in coming up with solutions to the problems in the world, when we find the solutions that involve mind, heart, spirit, soul, body…then we have a solution that works.
In thr mind, there is a fact, root systems interfere with asphalt. That is a problem. Instead of focusing on cutting all the trees down as a solution to that problem, let’s think outside of the box and find another way including whoever lives on this street, you know, people deciding to join together. Come up with a creative solution and say, “Sorry, we want these trees. They affect how much we spend in our utilities even.” And hold them accountable. Say, “See here, you’re going to cost us money and you’re saying that these trees will cost you money. Well, we’re both sharing an issue here. Let’s find the solution and let’s get creative about it.”
S: And these are trees they’re Alder and Elm trees which are in some ways considered kind of a weed tree but, to me, at 50 or more years old they’re elders of the community. And the tree in front of our house, for instance, a great big enormous Alder tree was cut to the ground in the 1940s and it actually grew back.
J: Wow, how great!
S: It’s two-stories high and the children, that lived in the house that we’re now living in, went to school every day and walked back and forth under that tree. To me the trees are as much members of the community as any of us.
J: Well, the one thing I see into this would and it’s not new and it will probably never go away is that ultimately the issues we care about come to a point where we’re willing to put our life where our beliefs are. Not just our bodies, but our lives. Our lives becoming a part of the issue we care about and the issue we care about becoming a part of our lives. And every great change that’s ever happened in history has happened by grand acts of people standing up and saying, “I draw the line here.”
S: That’s it. That’s it. Would you recommend a tree sit?
J: It works.
S: I’m ready.
J: In Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I used to live, they have an ordinance, actually, in the city to protect trees. They have a canopy ordinance, a green-space ordinance and a heritage tree ordinance. All of which find different ways to protect trees in that area. This is in the Ozarks in Arkansas. It’s very beautiful. But a very corrupt mayor that they had and some county supervisors that were corrupt allowed for this ordinance to be swayed for a corporate business place that was coming in. And the people in the communities tried attending all the meetings, speaking out, they were overwhelmingly outnumbering these meetings with people against the cutting down of the trees. And yet of course, the board, with the help of the mayor, swayed it in favor of the corporation. So on the final day when the last thing had failed, this grandmother said, “That’s it. I’m going to be like Julia Butterfly.” And she went and got up…climbed up into the tree and sat up there for about three weeks.
They unfortunately lost some of those trees anyway. But the good thing that happened was, because she did that, it brought all of this attention to the fact that theses ordinances were being violated by the people who were supposed to uphold them. And as a result, they just called me the other day and said that they voted that mayor out, with a huge margin, voted him out of Fayetteville and got in a mayor who has done a phenomenal amount of work on behalf of environmental and social issues, who is already changing the board in doing sweeping innovations to clean it all out and make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
S: That’s beautiful.
J: The woman was afraid of heights. And she only went up about 30 feet. But especially because she was a grandmother, they didn’t want to touch her. And because she was very sweet and said, “This is about my children. This is about their future, my grandchildren’s future. And you can’t come in here and destroy that. I don’t care what your excuse is.” It had a profound effect on the community. People had been numb for a long time and that’s when the powers of destruction move in. All of a sudden, there are people who are awakened again and active. And they have all of these community groups that sprung up as a result. The grassroots movement is blooming there it’s really, really beautiful to see what happened. Even though they lost those trees, they gained so much.
S: It kind of goes back to waking up, doesn’t it? Waking ourselves up and waking up our passion which, in turn, wakes other people up.
J: That’s it, exactly. Which goes back to that thing about: we have to live it in our daily lives.
J: So, I carry things like a mug around with me everywhere I go. My legal team, who I work with for various things, they’re all carrying their own mugs now. When I did my book tour, every publicist, person that worked with me on the tour ended up getting a mug. I didn’t even so much have to preach it, although I did tell them about, “Think about it,” you know? But by carrying it, they said, “Well, Julia’s living this hectic of a life and she carries her own mug and her own containers and her own utensils and her own bag everywhere she goes. Then I can do it, too.”
S: That’s fantastic. That’s just fantastic. It was a delight to talk with you…
J: You as well.
S: …along with millions of others, I love you very much.
J: Thank you, I love you, too.