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Woman recounts living in tree

March 16, 2001

Woman recounts living in tree



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Julia Butterfly HillJulia Butterfly Hill says the world is practically run by a cold system of charts and graphs.

Feelings?

Out of the question, she says.

"Well excuse me for taking it personally that my water is poisoned," Hill told an overflowing crowd of about 300 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center Thursday night.

Hill is not afraid to let her feelings show when she sees a threat to the environment.

After she witnessed clear-cutting operations in ancient redwood forests in Humboldt County, Calif., she climbed into a 1,000-foot redwood tree and lived there for two years to protest the logging operations.

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After college, Hill had worked in the business world, helping her dad open a restaurant and doing consulting work. But when she learned about the plight of the redwood forest, she said her entire life changed.

On her first visit to the forest, she stood at the base of the massive giants, stretched her arms over their surface and gazed skyward. Some of the redwoods are so big it takes 20 to 30 people holding hands to surround one, Hill said.

"There's something about them you can't quite describe," Hill said.

So when logging operations began, it was Hill's feelings that caused her to hang in for her long protest. When large metal spikes were driven into the base of the trees, Hill said she felt the shock rattle up the roots of her tree and into her.

"Those are the eco-terrorists," Hill said to the applause of the crowd.

Hill used a 6-foot-by 6-foot piece of wood to fashion her camp in the treetop.

She collected the water she needed for survival from rain and fog, cooked her food on a single-burner stove and slept in a sleeping bag. People would sneak into the logging area and send food up to her.

Two solar panels were later donated to Hill, and she used them to power a telephone so she could do between six to eight hours of environmental outreach work daily.

Hill faced all sorts of challenges. In an attempt to force her from the tree, security guards were placed at the bottom to cut off her supplies, she said. Helicopters buzzed the treetops near her and trees around her were cut down.

She finally ended her protest, but only when an agreement was reached to save the redwoods in the area.

"My life was changed forever when I heard this woman speak," said Shepherd College Professor Patrick Drohan, who introduced Hill.

The message Hill brought to local residents was to let their emotions work for what is right in the Tri-State area.

To get the crowd in the right mindset, she asked them to stand up and reach to the ceiling, waving like trees in the wind. It may feel strange, but that's okay, because we are "so conditioned not to be weird," the tall, barefooted Hill said as she walked back and forth across the stage.

"It's okay if you're embarrassed," she said.

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