top of page
Search

Metamorphosis: The Story of a Woman and a Tree

The Transformation of Julia Butterfly Hill


Julia perched on top of Luna, the 1,500 year-old Redwood tree.


“In industrialized society we’ve been conditioned to want the flash, the glitz, the surface.” This from 49-year-old environmental activist Julia Hill, who dwelled in the branches of a 1,500 year-old Californian Redwood tree for two whole years. At the time, the Pacific Lumber Company had announced its new clean-cutting initiative to log almost all greenery in the historic Humboldt County. Activists flamed over the ecological devastation, claiming the ecosystem would suffer permanent devastation. Newly integrated into the Earth First! movement, Julia resolved to “tree sit” as an act of civil disobedience, two weeks that decayed into two years. In the end, Luna, the 61-meter-tall gentle giant, was spared from the onslaught, but lodged a question into our minds like a bullet. When a 23-year-old woman is forced to make a nest to save her tree from the chainsaws, is it she who has succeeded or society that has failed?


In the days of her infancy, a butterfly perched on Julia’s shoulder during a hike and nestled with her throughout the day. Recalling the memory with sweetness, Julia claims she chose Butterfly as a “forest name” years later, when she resolved to become an environmentalist after a near-fatal car crash. Naturally, the practice of tree-sitting is a clean analogy. Refusing to surrender Luna, Hill perched inside her canopy in the face of constant adversity. Like her, these insects are more than just a pretty face. A single monarch butterfly travels over 2,000 miles from Canada to Mexico during a single migration period, 10,000 miles above sea level. Gracing the trees with their lighthearted air, they too are not afraid to rest on the branches. But beyond the pouring rain and harsh food shortages, Julia stood by Luna in the coldest recorded winter of the nineties. “Twenty-four hours in a day; sixty minutes in an hour; sixty seconds in a minute. It was the moment-by-moment process that transformed me,” she told The Moon. She was also harassed by the megaphones and helicopters of Pacific Lumber Company representatives, told to use all means necessary to diffuse her disobedience. Perched up there, it’s hard to imagine the mental and physical strain Julia was subjected to, her body sticking to the tree’s like a blooming organ, or a caterpillar awaiting its metamorphosis.


Though Julia’s act of rebellion preceded the internet, it’s cemented its roots in the age of mass media. In an oversaturated social sphere, much of today’s activism feels like screaming into a void. Algorithms are designed to keep users engaged and on the app for longer and longer periods of time. Therefore, a meme or celebrity photograph will usually be promoted over a petition or link to a news article. At best, this promotes digestible, accessible news. At worst, it enlivens ignorance and misinformation. Sealed off in a constant loop, many of us are unaware that our attentions are being shaved, that we’re phased by important content. The combination of these factors creates a glass ceiling that real activism must break in order to change lives. In other words, reaching other people has never been this easy, which means it’s never been this hard. Consider our generation’s important activists: Greta Thunberg, ​​Haven Coleman - we speak their names today because they tore holes in the system instead of working within it. In this light, Julia’s activism is more than an inspiration: it is a template for action.


Anyone can write an essay and even more people can make an Instagram post. What’s special about Julia’s activism is her insistence on compromising her own life for the cause. The Luna situation wasn’t the only time she’s put herself on the line. In 2002 she was arrested and deported while protesting against deforestation in Ecuador, and resisted taxation starting 2003. The idea of suspending and even inconveniencing oneself to promote or protect a community goes to show not only the commitment and strength of Julia, but the point to which human beings are driven to defend the environments they want to see preserved. This is especially significant because, living in a hyperindividualist and atomized society, life itself is a commodity. When comfort and luxury become currencies, breaking free of our conformity and surrendering one’s time remind other people of their own humanity. In inspiring them to seize that power, we become linchpins in the drive to protect our species’s future.


Another reason that acts like Julia’s are special, is because they work to untangle our everyday socialization. Mark Fisher coined the term “capitalist realism,” defined by the slogan “It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” This atmosphere infiltrates and pollutes the collective subconscious, the way we view the world and ourselves. Activism is not immune from capitalist realism, with many still blaming citizens instead of corporations for mass carbon dioxide emissions. Opening our eyes to the root causes of environmental collapse means influencing others to join our side, spreading the revolution like a flame. In her endeavor, Julia was consistently supported by supplies from Earth First! and other radical coalitions. Why is this significant? One of the symptoms of hyperindividualism is believing we must do everything ourselves, killing the vital bonds that string us together in times of need. The fact that Julia’s struggle was supported by like-minded people proves that daring actions are rewarded, not only by turning heads but by providing assistance. Though she may have been the face of the operation, activists don’t exist without supporters.


Lastly, It’s important to point out that by the time Julia’s and Luna’s story began, 97% of the forest had been cut down. “There were moments when all I could do was focus on my breathing,” she says, “because everything else was falling apart.” But Luna still stands strong today, Julia a severed testament to her resilience. Fate was lined up against her from the moment she began her undertaking, but Julia’s success continues to project a butterfly-shaped light, a Bat-Signal to a better time. It's never too late to start. The hurricane is coming, one butterfly wing flap at a time.


Bibliography

  1. Goodman, L. (2019, April 27). The butterfly effect | An interview with Julia Butterfly Hill — The MOON magazine. Medium. https://moonmagazineeditor.medium.com/the-butterfly-effect-an-interview-with-julia-butterfly-hill-the-moon-magazine-c61ca40d6a0b .

  2. Klein, Elana. “A Woman Lived up a 180-Foot, 1,000-Year-Old Tree for 2 Years to Save a Forest from Loggers. Meet Julia “Butterfly” Hill.” Insider, 4 Summer 2023, www.insider.com/julia-butterfly-hill-lived-in-tree-2-years-redwood-forest-photos-2023-3#julia-butterfly-hill-is-famous-for-living-in-a-tree-for-738-days-1.

  3. TreeSisters. “She Lived in a Tree for 738 Days ~ the Amazing Story of Julia Butterfly Hill.” TreeSisters, 2 July 2017, www.treesisters.org/post/story-julia-butterfly-hill.

118 views

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page