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Julia and Luna, the Power of One, and Sacred Activism - Musings and Meditations

Updated: Jun 7



"When you protect an ancient forest, you are protecting so much more than trees. You're protecting a life in a deep, sacred way, a life that embodies a knowledge far deeper than our human ability to understand."




“The one thing that I would tell the world about...is love. That’s all there is to it. Everything that fits under everything else fits under love. 

And that we have to...well we don’t have to, but if we want to heal the wounds in our Earth, and if we want to heal the wounds in each other, if we want to have a beautiful future, we need to do our very very best to make sure that every thought, every word, every action, is done in love.”




"The role of the revolutionary artist is to make the revolution irresistible.”


Julia Butterfly Hill




A short film (three minutes) about Julia Butterfly Hill and her two-year stay high up in a giant redwood tree called Luna. (Further on in this musing you will find a longer documentary (45 minutes) about her historic action).






On December 10, 1997, young Julia Hill (Butterfly is a nickname she was given as a child) climbed a giant old-growth redwood that would later be named Luna. Julia thought this action, intended to save the tree from logging, would only last a few weeks at most. But she did not come back down until Dec. 18, 1999, a full two years and eight days later, when an agreement was reached with Pacific Lumber Company, the company that wanted to cut down the estimated 1,500-year-old redwood tree.


Under that agreement, Luna was protected, as well as a buffer zone of about 70 meters around the tree. In exchange, Julia and her supporters paid $50,000 to Pacific Lumber for economic damages to the company, a sum Pacific Lumber later donated to a university forest management study center.


So for two years straight, Julia lived high up in the tree, on a makeshift platform under a tarp, provided with only the minimum to stay alive: plastic tarp over her head, some clothing, a small cooking stove and one tiny cooking pot, a sleeping bag, and a cell phone that allowed her to keep in touch with the outside world.






Julia Butterfly Hill was only 23 years old and had no major goals or experience as an activist when she agreed to participate in a ‘tree-sitting action’ while attending an environmentally inspired festival. Nevertheless, her 'accidental' activism brought saving trees and protecting old-growth forests to the world's attention and contributed to the decrease in cutting down old-growth forests.

Although her action ‘only’ led to the protection of one tree, the impact of her incredible dedication, courage and endurance extended much further.

After Julia returned to the ground after two full years of living alone on a makeshift platform of a few square meters at a height of 55 meters, she began a life of interviews, lectures and other forms of activism that would eventually inspire tens or hundreds of thousands of activists worldwide. Her action contributed to a dramatic increase in awareness of the importance of the remaining old-growth forests, awareness of the havoc wreaked by the logging industry through terribly short-sighted exploitation methods, and of the obsession with quick profits.

Her two years of action also brought attention to the complete lack of any vision of ecological forest management by the timber industry, and to the dramatic consequences of those practices and of the loss of the last old-growth forests for biodiversity, the water cycle, the erosion of the soil beneath the forests, the degradation of the wider organism of our biosphere, and ultimately our own survival.






Julia has certainly not been the only ‘tree sitter’. Countless other activists have lived in trees for short or long periods of time to protect them from logging.

But Julia's action was exceptional because of its extremely long duration, and the extremely harsh and primitive conditions in which Julia lived continuously for two years on the tiny platform high up in the tree Luna.

It was also certainly not a one-person action: a team of activists and volunteers from Earth First, the organization that organized the tree-sit action, supported Julia all along. Members of Earth First built the platform 55 meters up the tree, and the activists endured violence and threats from the logging company's security forces to continue to provide Julia with food, clothing and other necessities, such as a cell phone with which she continuously gave interviews to media from around the world. It was a collective action, but the courage and endurance with which this young woman endured weather and wind (including severe storms and the most powerful El Nino in California's recorded history) in all seasons, day and night, high in the tree called Luna, captured the imagination of millions. Julia was often exposed to intimidating actions by the timber company such as helicopters flying past at very close range, which nearly caused her to fall from the tree, and physical and psychological threats. Yet she stood her ground (pun not intended) and only came down from the tree when there was assurance that Luna would not be cut down. Eventually, even Pacific Lumber's loggers and security personnel gained respect for this young woman, and the initial outspoken and even life-threatening hostility gave way to a kind of sympathy, albeit with lingering reservations.

You can read more about Julia and her action here and here.




Julia high up in the ancient redwood called Luna.





The title of this musing is taken in part from another post in A Biosphere Project's blog: 'The Power of One


That was a post about how everyone can make a difference in this world. And that remains something we do not realize enough. We underestimate the power of any individual intention and action, and the difference that the dedication of even one person can make.

Julia, of course, is an extraordinary example of this, and not everyone needs to go live in a tree for two years, or, like Greta Thunberg, hold solitary sit-down strikes in front of the Swedish parliament for years. But as Jane Goodall put it, "You cannot experience one day without making an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

Everyone can do SOMETHING, and the sum of individual intentions can dramatically change the world in a very short time. As Peter Yarrow, member of the band Peter, Paul and Mary put it: “Julia is the quintessential example of one human being who says: “I CAN do something”, and who does not hind behind this painful mantra “I’m just one person, what can I do?” The band was one of several that supported Julia's action. The Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt and none other than Joan Baez also supported Julia in the tree and gave benefit concerts for her action.

If just a fraction of the eight billion people on this planet begin to believe in the difference they can make, the world will change at lightning speed. It's up to us - who else?






But Julia's action is special for other reasons as well: it was an action clearly inspired by a sense of the sacred dimension of nature, the sacred dimension of this ancient being Luna, who was already alive around the time the Roman Empire fell.

It was an action with a clear spiritual dimension, and therefore I would call it ‘sacred activism’. It is certainly no coincidence that Julia grew up in the family of an itinerant minister, and although she distanced herself from her parents' beliefs at a young age, she was certainly influenced by them as well. In both films featured in this musing, Julia repeatedly talks about the sacred and spiritual dimension her action had for her, and also about the personal connection she developed with Luna. For her, Luna was not just a tree, but a conscious being with whom she communicated.

Out of the recognition of the sacred and the mystery grew the love that Julia considers essential to her worldview, the love that also gave her the strength to muster that degree of endurance and courage for what in the eyes of many people is ‘just one tree’.






The notion of the sacred in nature as well as in ourselves encounters a great deal of resistance in our modern secularized world. If we have to protect nature or forests, it is, according to the common sense view, because of the CO2 cycle, because of 'ecosystem services', the idea that nature serves us and that we must therefore protect it out of rational self-interest. Everything else is ‘woo-woo stuff’ that is ‘unrealistic’ and good for over-age hippies and New Age adepts.

In my opinion, that is a perspective that does not help us, nor does it lead to anything. It leads to nothing because it is fundamentally a nihilistic and egocentric perspective. I believe (with other and greater minds than my own) that we would do good to return to seeing and recognizing nature as well as ourselves (which are one and the same being) as fundamentally sacred, imbued with consciousness and an unfathomable mystery that is the basis of the reason for and meaning of our existence.






But that is for another musing, this post has already become as long as Luna is high, but then again I am a huge fan of Julia as well as of the 1500 year old Luna.

Below is a longer documentary (about 45 minutes long) about Julia's action.

You will notice it has a title and introductory text in a strange, exotic language (it is Dutch), but no worries, it is entirely English spoken (with Dutch subtitles).

Julia takes center stage, of course, but also the other activists of Earth First, the loggers and representatives of Pacific Lumber, and other local residents, both supporters and opponents of Julia in the tree. Warmly recommended!


Thanks for reading and watching, and have a wonderful day,


Until the next installment,


All the best to you,

Filip



Documentary about the two year stay of Julia Butterfly Hill in the ancient Redwood called Luna

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