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Julia Butterfly Hill: Saving the Giants

Luna is a giant California redwood tree that’s over 1,000 years old. When loggers threatened to cut Luna down, Julia Butterfly Hill climbed 200 feet into Luna’s branches and stayed there for more than two years to protect the old growth redwoods.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Haley Dapkus with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Marisha Tapera. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!


It is time to rest again, Rebels. To snuggle up, slow down, and let go of all the thoughts and questions left over from your day. Take a deep breath in

(breathe in)

and release. Aaaaah.

Now, feel your whole body melt into the bed, or wherever you are relaxing right now. Let it sink down and get heavy. If you like, you can even close your eyes. Now, imagine that your feet are like the roots of a tree. They are strong and sturdy, pulling water and nutrients from the soft earth up into your legs. Then your belly and chest rise up as the long, graceful trunk, and out of that, your arms stretch like branches up up up into your bright canopy of leaves in the sky. You are so tall, you can wear a puffy cloud as a hat or share secrets with the stars.

Tonight, we are going to hear the story of a brave rebel named Julia Butterfly Hill. Julia is my favorite human on this planet. She lived in my branches for two whole years and held on to me during some of the scariest storms of my life.

Ah, did I mention that I am a tree? The name is Sequoia sempervirens, but you can call me Luna for short. I am what you might call an old-growth redwood, because I have been standing in this forest in northern California for over a thousand years!

I have been here since long before the first telephone, the first airplane, and even the United States of America! I have stood proud through rain, snow, earthquakes, lightning, and thousands of sunsets so beautiful, they made the whole world sparkle. And through it all, I have grown from a little seed to almost two hundred feet tall and forty feet around!

But I would not be here to tell this story if not for Julia and her incredible courage. Let me tell you what I mean…

Picture yourself here, in the sun-speckled forests of Humboldt County, California. We are standing among the old growth redwoods– giants! that are some of the oldest beings on planet earth. Our reddish brown trunks can get so big that it takes ten people holding hands to wrap all the way around us. This is my home. They call it the Headwaters Forest.

From my tallest branches, I can see a fabulous carpet of green-leafed friends, snow-capped peaks, and even the shimmering Pacific Ocean. It smells like soil and moss and cool, fresh breezes. And, if you listen carefully, you can hear the scurrying of black-tailed deer, gray foxes, raccoons and squirrels; accompanied by the swift flapping of ospreys and marbled murrelets. The Northern Spotted Owls are silent, though if you wait and watch, maybe you will spot one of them as well.

But, through all this forest music, there is one sound that chills me to the rings beneath my bark. It is loud and it is angry. It screams until there is a huge crack! Then, though they fight nobly, one of my tree friends falls to the ground with a boom.

You see, there are logging companies who come here and cut down these magnificent trees to make boxes, bags, and toilet paper. It is terrible to see. Trees are so important for this earth! Not only do we provide shade from the sun, but we eat carbon dioxide and clean the atmosphere. Our roots are so strong, they grow into huge networks and help keep the soil in place. We shelter lots of animals like bats and bears, salamanders, banana slugs, and elk. We old growths are irreplaceable.

The logging companies do not appreciate the sacredness of trees, though. They send loggers through here to clear cut, chopping down big patches of trees and spraying the ground with nasty chemicals so nothing can grow back. Now we have huge mudslides when it rains and the forests are getting smaller and lonelier every day. They are destroying the forest ecosystem.

But that all begins to change when my friend Julia comes along.

Julia is a spectacular soul. She is thoughtful and kind, and appreciates every ray of sun and insect wing. In fact, her nickname is Butterfly, because one day when she was seven years old, she and her family were taking a hike and a butterfly landed on her and stayed with her for hours. I believe this name fits her personality perfectly. She is bright and colorful, she flits and floats, and is always happy in nature.

Julia moved a lot as a kid. Her dad was a traveling minister who went from town to town, bringing his family with him in a small trailer. They were poor, but happy. Julia learned early on that one of the most important things humans can do is help take care of others and speak up for those who are in need.

When Julia was 22, she was in a car accident and got hurt very badly. As she was recovering, she had a lot of time to think about what was important to her. When she was strong enough, she headed west to spend time in the forests of northern California. She did not know what was next for her, but when she first saw the majestic redwood trees, she was struck with an incredible sense of wonder.

She knew she had found what she was searching for. “[She] dropped to [her] knees and began to cry, because she was so overwhelmed by the wisdom, energy and spirituality housed in this holiest of temples.”

As I saw her kneeling there, I knew this was someone special.

And once she learned about me, I know she felt our spark of connection too. Let me show you what I mean….

It is a blustery day in December of 1997, and the loggers have taken a break from chopping down trees but we know they will be back. In fact, they have already painted a blue mark on my trunk, which means that I may be next.

All of a sudden, I feel something tugging on my branches. I gaze down and see a small but mighty young woman with straight brown hair and fiery determination in her eyes. It is Julia, climbing up my trunk! She has a skinny little rope and a harness that is stuck together with duct tape. She must be very brave, indeed.

As she reaches fifty feet up, I feel her freeze with fear. Fifty feet is high above the ground! And it is only a quarter of the way to my top branches. I do my best to help Julia catch her breath. I feel her lean her forehead against my shaggy bark and I channel all my light and love to her.

I hear her say softly,

“I’m going to be okay. I just have to climb. Luna will take care of the rest.”

Julia is not the first person to climb up my trunk. In the months before, a group of people who cared deeply about saving us trees built a little platform in my branches so they could sit and try to keep the loggers away. You see, loggers will not cut a tree if there is a human living there. They would get into a lot of trouble for that.

But sitting in a tree is not very comfortable for humans. It becomes windy and cold. The rains can be ferocious. And I know you humans get attached to things like warm beds and running water.

But when Julia climbs up my trunk, she is ready to stay. In fact, she decides she is going to live in my branches until those loggers leave our forest alone!

Julia brings just a few things she needs, like water, oatmeal, soup and vegetables. A sleeping bag and some books. The tree lovers on the ground use ropes to send up supplies when she needs them, and she sends any waste back down.

What a glorious feeling to have Julia settle into my branches. She spends hours gazing at the majestic mountains around us, and the lush ferns below. She draws in deep breaths of cool forest air and hugs my limbs with so much gratitude. She leans her back against my trunk. I feel her wrap me in her peaceful spirit.

But pretty soon, the loggers are back.

Two of my closest tree friends get chopped down. As they crash, I feel the earth trembling. Then, huge helicopters blow through, whipping up loose branches. They blare horns and shine enormous floodlights on Julia, but she hangs on. They try to starve her down, but her ground team sneaks up food. By the team the loggers leave, she is bone-tired. Then, the winter winds pick up. The little platform she now calls home gets tossed around.

I try so hard to give her strength. To whisper with my branches, It is okay! We will get through this together! I can only hope she hears me.

Somehow, we make it. When the storm subsides we are both exhausted. And I am in awe of Julia’s bravery and dedication to keeping me safe.

Over the next TWO YEARS, Julia and I get through plenty more challenges together. Chainsaws, helicopters, windstorms — none of these can stop us. They only make us stronger.

We soon have a lovely routine together. During the day, Julia climbs around in my branches. She likes to climb in bare feet so my sap can help her skin stick to my bark for safety. She collects water from the sky so she can wash up and cook soup in her little pot. She reads books about nature and philosophy, and writes letters to hundreds of people who are rooting for us both, cheering us on.

At night, we listen to the peaceful sounds of the crickets and the frogs and the bobcats, and hold on to each other tight. Julia snuggles up in a sleeping bag, and I sing her lullabies and rock her gently to sleep.

It is not always easy. There are so many ways to feel sad or mad or scared about all the people trying to cut us down. But Julia knows this is her chance to make a real difference in the world.

As Julia says, “When we care enough about something, we don’t let fear stop us. It doesn’t mean that we are not afraid, but it just means that we don’t let fear keep us from doing what we believe in.”

Julia and I believe in the strength and beauty of the earth. Just as we redwoods hold the soil and clean the air, every creature is part of an ecosystem. We are all connected.

Word spreads of Julia’s bravery, and soon the whole country is talking about Julia Butterfly Hill and her beloved redwood, Luna. The public is outraged by the loggers’ plans. And finally, after 738 days living in my branches, Julia’s dedication pays off.

Julia and the loggers sign the Luna Covenant Agreement. This means that not only am I protected, but many of my tree friends are protected, too. December of 1999 is the beginning of a new life, a new hope, and a new reason to reach for the sky.

It is hard to say goodbye to Julia as she rappels down my trunk, but I know she will come to visit me. Every time I sprout a new branch, I feel the love that keeps Julia and I tethered together forever.

So Rebels, as your roots grow stronger and sleepier, I hope you feel how we are all connected. Let the soft symphony of the robins’ song and the butterflies’ wings carry you into gentle dreams. Dreams that can take you into sparkling oceans, snow-capped mountains, and lush forests.

The earth is an incredible place, full of mystery and wonder. And if you promise to take care of it, I promise, it will always take care of you, too.