A Few of Our Partners Revisit Projects From Years Past and Share Where They Stand Today
from Trees Foundation’s Branching Out, Winter 1998/99
Butterfly’s Occupation Reaches One Year
As winter storms began to descend upon Humboldt County and the longest night of the year approached, a lone vigil continued, high atop an ancient redwood that has come to be known to the world as Luna. A vigil, slowly yet determinedly moving past full circle, touched by each of the seasons in turn—is now again visited by winter’s snows and cold. A vigil that has left many wondering how long; how much longer will our sister endure.
Julia Butterfly Hill awoke to the morning sun of December 10, 1998, having lived in her platform among Luna’s branches for exactly one year. While the community on the ground below prepared for the celebrations marking this event, and protests to follow over the course of the next few days, Julia made a simple affirmation: “My feet will not touch the ground until I feel I have done everything in my power to make the world aware of this problem and to stop the destruction,” quietly stated the woman who would soon find herself at the center of a world-wide media spotlight. And her feet did not touch the ground.
Hundreds gathered at the Mateel Community Center on the evening of December 10 to celebrate and share in the music of Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, KVHW, and Alice DiMicele, while Julia listened in from Luna through a live broadcast of the concert on KMUD community radio. Joining those in attendance, as she has so many times before in both spirit and via cell phone, she sent an inspiring message to the crowd before joining Hart, Planet Drum, along with Weir as a part of the performance. Julia’s poem “Offerings to Luna” had been set to music by the former Grateful Dead members. Their sound crew linked Julia to the show through a microphone and monitor. It was a moment that none of those who experienced it will ever forget as Butterfly’s beautiful and haunting poem was delivered from the top of an ancient tree 30 miles away. The performance was repeated again on New Year’s Eve in Oakland—this time before 8,000 people gathered at the Henry J. Kaiser auditorium to celebrate the turn of the year.
Media attention to the Luna tree-sit and the fate of the Headwaters Forest grew to a tremendous level, with Julia and the action’s media and ground-support persons getting little sleep and keeping up a frenzied pace in the days surrounding the anniversary. Hour after hour was filled with dozens of radio and print interviews conducted over the phone from the tree. Ground-support hiked up TV crews, photographers, and writers from sometimes two different outlets at a time to climb into Luna’s heights and interview Julia, on a daily basis for three solid weeks. During this time Luna Media Services scrambled to coordinate the effort and facilitate (with the assistance of Headwaters Action Video Collective), international distribution of a video news release. In the end, people on literally every continent (except Antarctica) became aware of the situation in our forests through the front pages of newspapers, magazines, television features, and radio interviews.
Community activity on the ground peaked on December 12, in what was to become one of the largest trespass actions onto Pacific Lumber land to ever occur. At noon that day, more than 800 people gathered in the small North Coast town of Stafford; site of the New Years Day 1997 mudslide that originated in a Pacific Lumber clear-cut and destroyed seven homes in the town below. The rally was a day of celebration for the one-year occupation of Luna, and a protest of the highly contested Pacific Lumber Habitat Conservation Plan—a plan that if approved will certainly guarantee that Stafford will not be the last town to experience the effects of PL’s forest mis-management. The plan would also sacrifice thousands of acres of trees as magnificent as Luna, which is located directly adjacent to the devastating slide’s origin. Highlighting the rally was the award of an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities to Julia by the New College, one of the nation’s leading alternative institutions of higher learning; speeches by a number of residents and activists from local communities, and musical entertainment provided by both Darryl Cherney and Jim Page. Throughout the day people began slowly trickling up the road leading into the PL holdings above Stafford and onto the steep trail that leads to Luna. By rally’s end that trickle turned into a flood as more than 400 people risked arrest to visit Julia, celebrate together, and pack in two months’ worth of supplies to sustain the tree-sit. Ground support and Julia worked well into the night, long after the crowd had departed, hauling food and equipment into the tree. Pacific Lumber’s response to the local press regarding the rally and mass trespass: “No comment.”
The busy days for those involved in the Luna tree-sit have now moved away from a focus on the anniversary and its related efforts, but still remain as filled with activity as ever. On the evening of the winter Solstice, Luna was illuminated with dozens of flashing lights, all donated by supporters and clearly visible from US Highway 101, again garnering international media attention.
“On this, the longest and darkest night of the year, Luna will shine as a beacon of hope for our forests, communities and our children,” said Julia “This tree will stand bright and tall, reminding each of us that in this time of sharing we must come together to find solutions.”
That message to the world from high atop an ancient tree in Humboldt County continues to spread. Luna remains a beacon of hope, standing tall, yet her future is uncertain as we move closer to the Millennium. The time of celebration has begun and must continue to evolve toward a focus on the plight of our ancient forests. Julia Butterfly Hill continues to play her part in this endeavor—giving protection to Luna and filling her days strategizing, organizing, and calling out to people far and wide. But her, and our, actions are not limited to one tree or one individual. The Luna tree-sit is about all of us doing everything that we can to protect wild places everywhere, to become responsible inhabitants of this planet, and to support all efforts to this end. Each of us has our own personal ‘tree’ to sit in, and individually and as a community we must take action to protect that ‘tree.’ In our acknowledgement of this, Julia Butterfly will have achieved her greatest victory—and the spirit of Luna will permanently inhabit our hearts and the forest.
By Stuart Moskowitz, Sanctuary Forest Board of Directors
In December 1999, Julia Butterfly Hill entered into an agreement with Pacific Lumber Company creating a conservation easement protecting Luna forever. It ended Julia’s two-year treesit, where Luna served as her microphone for speaking to the world about sustainable forestry. In 2008, the easement transferred to the Humboldt Redwood Company.
Sanctuary Forest, a land trust, monitors this easement. My name is Stuart. I serve on Sanctuary Forest’s board of directors. Twenty-two years ago, I volunteered to take the lead monitoring this easement. This Luna story took a dark turn in November 2000 when a vandal chainsawed halfway through her trunk. Experts predicted that Luna would die from the top down within 2 to 5 years. While some dieback did occur at the very top, Luna has thrived and grown.
Luna continues to serve as a microphone. Photographers, authors, researchers, and filmmakers, among others, still hear her call from around the world. Four detailed updates can be found at the bottom of this webpage: https://sanctuaryforest.org/programs/land-conservation/luna/. The last one was written in 2015. This short fifth update focuses on the people who, since 2015, have kept Luna’s story alive through books, movies, theatre, lectures, and more.
The German weekly, Die Zeit, in 2016 sent science editor Fritz Habekuss to Luna. His story, Die Frau Im Baum (The Woman in the Tree) was published the following year. www.zeit.de/2018/01/julia-hill-mammutbaum-baumbesetzung-abholzung-kalifornien
In October 2016, Camera Lucida Productions sent a film crew from France. They filmed Luna for five days for a documentary titled Survivors, the story of two ancient trees and their caretakers. Interestingly, Luna was paired with a 500-year-old Japanese potted Bonsai. The film aired on European Public Television but has not been released in the United States. A 3-minute trailer, with beautiful drone footage, can be seen at https://sanctuaryforest.org/programs/land-conservation/luna/
In 2017, National Geographic featured Luna in a story not about big or tall or old trees, but about wise trees. It’s written and photographed by Len Jenshel and Diane Cook. A book called Wise Trees, published by Abrams Press, soon followed. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/remarkable-trees-earth-day-pictures.
Lauraine LeBlanc told her story For The Love Of Luna in the Mad River Union in November 2017. https://madriverunion.com/for-the-love-of-luna/
2017 also welcomed the children’s book Julia Räddar Skogen (Julia Saves the Forest), written by the Swedish author Niklos Hill. Telling the story to children keeps it alive for future leaders! This is the second children’s book; Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw wrote Luna And Me in 2015.
Children telling the story strengthen the movement even more. Zoe Macknicki, age 12, accompanied me to Luna in November 2017. Zoe was researching Luna for her History Day project, which won prizes at local and state 2018 competitions; she was awarded “Best Junior Exhibit on California History.”
Nobody tells the story better than Julia herself. In November 2017, she did two interviews on KHSU radio with Geraldine Goldberg as part of a series called “Through the Eyes of Women.” Both interviews can be heard at http://khsu.org/post/julia-butterfly-20-years-later-part-ii
Elizabeth Mozer, a theatre arts professor at Binghamton State University of New York, includes the Luna story in her current project, a play called Natural Causes. It focuses on people risking their lives for environmental causes, especially tree sitters. Elizabeth visited Luna in June 2019.
In 2020, George Ella Lyon wrote Voices Of Justice: Poems About People Working For A Better World. Beautifully illustrated by Jennifer Potter, it introduces children to some of the biggest voices advocating making the world a better place. Julia Butterfly Hill’s message appears alongside Nelson Mandela, Jane Goodall, Greta Thunberg, and others. Putting Julia in the company of these immensely respected activists elevates all their messages and makes Luna’s microphone even stronger.
California State Park interpretive rangers told their version, Lunchtime At Luna, live via Facebook feed, in October 2020. Watch it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcHsso5672c
A graphic novel version is currently in the works at https://risingeartheducation.org/graphic-novels-1
I suppose, as caretaker of the easement, I have a story, too. Besides writing these “Luna Updates” these past five years, I’ve given many presentations. I’ve presented in classrooms, museums, libraries, and the Eureka Zoo. I’ve told the story for the Global Organization of Tree Climbers, and I talked remotely to more than 130 treetop camps in 25 countries around the world via Zoom and Instagram for their 2020 Big Canopy Campout. The link to my PowerPoint presentation is at https://sanctuaryforest.org/big-canopy-campout-2020-interview-with-stuart-moskowitz/.
The story continues. The cables and brackets supporting the tree have been weathering for 21 years; maintenance will be needed. Sanctuary Forest and Humboldt Redwood Company anticipate working together on a strategy that’s best for Luna. These cooperative efforts bring environmentalists and loggers together, creating space for other topics, too. Working cooperatively helps bridge our differences.
In closing , the 2020 photo of the chainsaw cut, below, shows Luna growing over the cut. Luna is healing herself!
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