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Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt Tree-Sit In Protest

on April 23, 1999 No comments
July 1, 1998 by Nicholas Wilson

Julia Butterfly spoke with the Monitor by cell phone on the evening of June 15. The wind was strong and the sound of flapping canvas was loud and continuous. Julia said she had to hunker down inside her sleeping bag in order to hear the questions at all.

Monitor: How did you feel about the June 10 rally and drum-in that celebrated your six-month point?Julia: There was so much love that day! I just felt really thankful to be a part of so many people that really, really care. And, even the people who were just there because of (Grateful Dead drummer) Mickey Hart, maybe we planted some seeds in them to care a little bit more and maybe do something to help stop what’s happening.

Monitor: What motivates you to continue your tree-sit? Julia: I feel that what’s happening to our forestland and what’s left of it here is very, very critical. I feel that all of us need to look inside of ourselves and find what we do best, offer it in service to the Universe, and use it to help save the forest.

But, further than that, I feel personally compelled that not only do I have to do everything I possibly can, but then do a little bit more. And the reason for that is that we have less than 3% left of our old-growth forests, and it’s a part of a rainforest. I get my strength from knowing that if I don’t give everything I’ve got, and then a little bit more, then I haven’t given enough to help stop this. It’s at that point where it’s crucial and it’s critical. That’s really where I get my strength to continue on and my feelings that I need to continue on, and that the world’s listening. I’m doing my best to give them the truth.

The media tends to twist things and manipulate things, but the truth is shining through even in the middle of it, because I’m getting responses from people. They’re letting me know that they’re getting the picture even if the media isn’t giving it to them. And so I know that that’s the first step, getting them to open their eyes and their minds and their hearts. And then the next step is encouraging them to action. I just feel that I offered myself to the Universe, and I feel like the Universe called me to be here right now. That it’s still asking me to be here.

Do you have any specific goal in mind? I didn’t at the beginning. I didn’t even know what a tree-sit was when I first came up here. I’ve learned a whole lot in six months. In the beginning I was just fighting to save Luna, because that’s all I saw being able to do. There was even a point where Earth First! didn’t want this tree-sit to continue, because they didn’t feel like they had the resources, and they didn’t feel like it was safe enough. And I said I’m sorry but I won’t come down, and you don’t have to use your resources to help me. I don’t care but I won’t come down. I’m not going to let Luna fall in disgrace. So in the beginning that’s all I saw was being able to save Luna.

But now as more and more people are getting behind this thing I’m realizing that every time a new person joins us, whether it be through letters to Congress or all the different things people can do, that our power to save more than Luna rose. In the beginning, one of the first sound bites I ever learned — because I’ve had to learn to speak in sound bites sometimes — was that the destruction that’s happening to our environment is a direct reflection of the destruction of our lives.

So I had to think about what kind of demands I can make — we can all make — that tie those two things together. What I — we — came up with is:

Number one, no more clearcutting of old-growth forests because we have less than 3% left, and there’s no more room to compromise or deal any more because they’re already done it, they’ve already taken it all. Yeah, we’re saying they can’t have any more, but that’s because they’ve already taken more than their share.

Number two is no more cutting on steep, unstable slopes because it destroys habitat for humans and wildlife alike.

Number three, no more clearcutting. There’s nothing sustainable for the environment or for the economy.

Number four, no use of herbicides, because herbicides do nothing but hurt the land and the people.

Number five is restoration for the forests and for the communities.

My basis for saying no to all of the first four is that all those are fueled by a corporate greed. They don’t have anything to do with need, and they have everything to do with greed. The fifth thing, restoration, deals with the need, not only of the environment but of the economy. That’s where restoration fits in.

How do you feel about passing the six-month mark; does that sort of strike you as a milepost or marker point? Any specific feelings about passing that point? No. People ask me “Are you excited about Mickey Hart and all these people coming to celebrate?” I really had to think about it, and I never came up here for me, you know. I came up here for the forest. What I felt is positive about the six months is what I said earlier; I feel fantastic about all those people who are committed, and for those who possibly aren’t, I know that they had a seed planted.

Really, I never, ever in my wildest imagination thought that I was going to live in a tree for over half a year, and live through all these things that I’m living through, including this crazy wind while I’m talking to you. I’m having to hold my left ear shut real tight while I have the phone pressed tightly against my right ear to even barely be able to hear you.

Are you in a shelter, like a tent? It’s a platform covered in tarps. So it’s kind of like a tent, but it has a lot of cracks and crevices where the wind just picks up the tarps and just flaps them like crazy.

So that’s my take on the six months. When I first came up here I thought I was coming for two weeks to a month. I remember when I was on day 70 or so and a photographer came up and said, “Julia, you know the world record is 90 days. You ought to go for a world record.” He was just sort of joking. And I started laughing hysterically, because at 70 days I thought, “My God! I can’t do this much longer.” And I said, “There’s no way I can make it 100 days! What are you talking about?” You know? No way! And here I am at close to 200.

It’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished — all of us working together — in six months. But it’s amazing how much further we still have to go.

How many people are directly involved in supporting your tree-sit? We have a problem with words, sometimes. So when you say directly … in the last month there are three people that I’m talking on a daily basis to, and they’re people that I can count on to call with any need or idea and they would be right there.

To clarify my question, then, if you were putting together a tree-sit in that sort of location, doing what you’re doing, how many would you need on the team to keep it going? For a month we’ve been doing it with three people. But the thing is to have a really core, intense group, and then other people who have time off and on to come in and help alleviate the stress. But when you get too big of a group — for just a tree-sit it’s not that big of a deal — but when it’s a tree-sit that takes on the proportions that this one has, with the media and everything, it gets too chaotic with too many people. We’re doing a lot things like strategizing, and so if you get too many people you get too many varying opinions and it takes too long to come to a conclusion and make decisions. Also it varies depending on location; whether you have a base camp near the tree-sit or you have to drive or hike miles.

I was just talking to your spokesperson and asked him how many were involved, and he said they were having a meeting. He counted six people there. There are a lot of people involved. There are people way down in Southern Humboldt that are doing their part to make this action happen from miles and miles away.

Bonnie and AFSC

So how did it make you feel to see all those people coming right up to see you on the tenth? I have two things to say. Those things in our Universe that are the most incredible are usually those things which we have no real words to describe. My second answer is that it was really, really windy and cold that day for me up here in the tree. All the love and energy I felt flowing from that group wrapped me like the warmest blanket I’ve ever been in in my life. I was really blessed.

I saw you right up on the tip top, so you were pretty well exposed to the wind there. It’s my favorite place to go though. It’s so empowering and so … I wish I had a way to get every single person in the world on that spot, feeling what I felt, what I feel when I go up there. Because the destruction in our Universe would stop. It would come to a screeching halt. It was one of the most life-altering experiences I’ve ever had the first time I went to the top of Luna. It’s just incredible, incredible. Your mind, the way you think changes. The way you feel changes. Just everything changes.

People were given the opportunity to bring you supplies up the hill when they came. Did they bring you enough to last a while? Oh yes! We were talking about the fact that our supply crew had gotten a lot smaller recently and someone suggested it. I said “I bet it wouldn’t hurt to try.” They brought me enough stuff that I could last up here for months. I would have to ration water a bit more than I’m doing, but I have enough dry good supplies, non perishables, that I could last for quite some time.

So you’re not considering coming down anytime soon? No. I feel so blessed to be where I am, because as the spotlight keeps shining on me, it’s hard but I’m doing my best to take that spotlight and shine it on what’s important to me. So I feel that it’s still important to a lot of different people for me to be up here. I get to tell the world about Elk River and Freshwater and Mattole and Stafford and what’s going on with Alaska right now. They’re the other end of this same forest. And what’s going on in Eugene and Portland. I get to talk about all of those people just because of the fact that I climbed up the tree and refuse to come down, and after a few months they finally started getting interested.

What I’d like to come down to is a world where those demands that I told you earlier, at least in this area were met.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share? A lot of people look at me almost as a mythological creature or something. But the magic and the power of Luna tree-sit lies in each and every one of us. And all we have to do is tap into it and recognize that every one of us has the power within ourselves to make incredible change. The corporate and political power has made us feel like our voice and power has been taken away from us. But the power of the individual, the universal power that lies deep within each and every one of us, can outweigh any other force out there if we just grab hold of it and run. That’s what I’ve really been trying to encourage people to understand is that the Luna tree-sit, the Julia Butterfly, everything that people are connecting with is already inside of them. All they have to do is look inside and find it.

You had a birthday while you were up there haven’t you? Yes, February 18th I turned 24.

What did you do on your birthday? I called my very best friend in the whole world. When I was 14 and she was 13 we made a pact. Her birthday is the 20th of February, and we made a pact that for the rest of our lives we would do our very best to celebrate our birthdays together, no matter where we were in the world. This was the first birthday since then that I’ve not been with her. So I called her back to Arkansas where she was living, and that’s the one thing I did for me for my birthday was touch base with my really wonderful, incredible friend that I had to leave behind when I made my choice to come out here and fight for the forest.

I don’t want to keep you up too late. Are you a night owl or a day person? Well, both, but tonight I’m not going to be sleeping until the wind stops. It makes too much noise to be able to sleep.

You must have had a lot of sleepless nights then. Oh yeah, especially for the two-and-a-half weeks in the wintertime when the weather got really bad and I almost died. There were many, many nights when I didn’t get any sleep.

Tell us a little about that. When was that? End of January, beginning of February, when the really fierce storms hit. I had gusts close to 90 miles per hour up here and it collapsed part of my fort. It was throwing me a few feet in every direction. It ripped major, major branches off from all around me. It ripped the tarps and was blowing sleet in on top of me. I thought I was going to die, because everything was breaking off and getting ripped off and blowing out, and I was getting thrown all over the place.

Do you wear a safety harness? No, because a safety harness this high up wouldn’t do any good, and because my platform is nestled in these branches that grow out of the trunk where it was struck by lightning and blown off.

So the biggest problem was the platform was making it hard for Luna, because the natural way for a tree to deal with the wind is to bend with it, and the platform was making it really hard on her. I had to apologize to her because I was up here to help her not to hurt her. But when your fear is that a branch is going to break, if you’re safety harnessed into one of the branches that breaks, you’re gone. The platform has about eight different spots where it sets. So it would take two or three branches breaking before I would be at a point where I couldn’t hold on any more. So if a branch broke I could immediately get down out of the platform. That would have exposed me to the elements, but I would be able to move freer without being safety harnessed in. So that’s why I didn’t do it. I just held on for dear life. (laughs)

But that was one of the most amazing moments of my life. There was two-and-a-half weeks solid of storms. It never stopped. During the day it would slack off a bit, occasionally. But that night it was the culmination. It was the worst night, when tornadoes came off in off the ocean in Shelter Cove and tore everything apart.

I thought I was going to die, and I grabbed onto Luna, and I was just like “Luna,” — you know I talk to everything in life; I talk to the air, to the water, anything that’s a part of life I talk to. And I grabbed onto Luna and I said “Luna, I’m terrified I’m going to die!” And I said, “I want to be strong for you and I want to be strong for the forest, but I can’t even be strong for me right now. I don’t know what to do. I’m flippin’ out.”

I was telling her, “If I’m going to die, I can’t think of a better way to die than living and fighting for what I believe in, because that’s so much better than the way most people die in our society. But I don’t want to die.” And she spoke to me! It was incredible, because she told me something that no one who was up here could have said better to help me through.

And she said “Julia, think of the trees in a storm.” And as the picture came into my mind, she started talking and she communicated with me. And she said “In a storm trees allow themselves to be blown with the wind, Julia. And those trees and those branches that try to be to strong and stand up straight, they break.” And she said, “Now is not the time for you to be strong or you’re going to break. You allow yourself to be blown with the wind. Let it flow, let it go. And you know that I’m going to do my best to hold us both up here and we’re going to make it through.”

People say, “Julia, you know, that makes you sound crazy.” And I’m like, yeah, but if anyone just stops and thinks about how powerful an image and a statement that was, they can all relate. I know they can. And there’s nothing anyone could have told me up here that’s more perfect to help me through.

After she told me that, that was the final release that I gave to the Universe. I gave my life to the Universe that night. I said, “You use me as a vessel completely to be a part of making this world a better place. And when I die I will die doing what I know is right. From that point it has been just a complete and total change.

Source: © Copyright Albion Monitor

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