What is the story of Julia Hill, the girl who climbed a 200 foot tree and didn’t come down for 738 days?

Ever tried committing to something longer than a New Year’s resolution? Now, imagine committing to live in a tree for over two years! That’s precisely what Julia Hill, famously known as “Butterfly” Hill, did, and it wasn’t for the breathtaking view or a newfound love of heights.

Julia Hill emerged as an environmental activist icon when she ascended Luna, a towering 200-foot ancient redwood in December 1997, and remained perched there for an astonishing 738 days.

 

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Who exactly is Julia Hill?

Born on February 18, 1974, in Mount Vernon, Missouri, Julia Lorraine Hill grew up in a deeply religious family. Her father’s role as a traveling minister exposed her to diverse cultures and environments from an early age. However, her path to environmental activism wasn’t immediate. It took a near-fatal car accident in 1996, leaving her with severe brain injuries and a long recovery, to trigger a profound shift in perspective. This introspection ignited a deep reverence for life and nature.

“It took 10 months of physical and cognitive therapy to recover from the wreck, and during that time I realized I wanted to find a more powerful purpose for being here on this planet. After I was released from my last doctor, I went on a road trip with friends which led me to California, which led me to the redwoods.”

Julia Hill’s journey into activism gained momentum when she encountered California’s majestic Redwood forests, under siege from relentless logging. These ancient giants, some of Earth’s oldest and largest living organisms, faced extinction due to unsustainable logging practices. Aligned with Earth First!, a radical environmental group, Hill embarked on a daring protest tactic: tree sitting. This involved living in a tree to thwart loggers and protect the forest.

On December 10, 1997, Hill ascended Luna, a thousand-year-old redwood in Humboldt County, California, scheduled for logging by the Pacific Lumber Company. Initially planned for a few weeks, her tree sit evolved into a monumental act of resistance lasting over two years. Her goal: secure protection for Luna and its neighboring trees from the logger’s saws.

Life in Luna’s lofty branches was no picnic. Hill endured brutal weather conditions, from ferocious storms to bone-chilling cold, all from a tiny 6-foot by 8-foot platform suspended over 180 feet above ground. Supplies of food, water, and warm clothing were hoisted up to sustain her, while she used a solar-powered cell phone to communicate with supporters and media.

Throughout her ordeal, Hill faced relentless challenges and intimidation tactics from loggers, including chainsaw revving and blaring music. Yet, her determination only hardened, drawing global attention and solidarity to her cause.

After 738 days, on December 18, 1999, Hill descended from Luna, victorious. In a historic agreement, the Pacific Lumber Company agreed to spare Luna and a 200-foot buffer zone surrounding the tree, in exchange for a $50,000 donation raised by Hill and her supporters.

Post-descent, Julia Hill continued her advocacy, authoring books like “The Legacy of Luna” and co-authoring “One Makes the Difference,” inspiring others to take action for environmental sustainability. She founded the Circle of Life Foundation to further promote these principles through education and outreach.

Here’s the thing about butterflies—they don’t start out as beautiful, winged creatures. They begin as tiny, unremarkable caterpillars. And just like Julia “Butterfly” Hill, they undergo a remarkable transformation to become the awe-inspiring beings we know and love. Julia’s tree-sit was her chrysalis, a time of growth, change, and emergence into something new.

Even today, Julia Hill’s courageous act continues to inspire countless individuals to stand up for their beliefs and work towards a sustainable future for generations to come.