Julia Butterfly and The Stand that Changed the World

by | Jul 1, 2012

By Erin Everett

In 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill took a stand. She climbed a thousand-year-old redwood to stop the clear-cutting of an ancient forest.

She didn’t know it then, but she wouldn’t be leaving those branches for the next 738 days.

Julia with Luna

Why would a young woman risk life and limb and endure isolation, hunger, and the rain and freezing temperatures of the coldest winter in northern California? Why would she continue on even when an angry logger killed her friend and fellow activist by dropping a tree on him? Why would she stay as the lumber company harassed her with helicopters and bullhorns, when she had to watch chainsaws felling ancient trees all around her day in and day out? She writes,

“When I entered the great majestic cathedral of the redwood forest for the first time, my spirit knew it had found what it was searching for. I dropped to my knees and began to cry, because I was so overwhelmed by the wisdom, energy, and spirituality housed in this holiest of temples.”

When she felt her own relationship with these ancient trees, she knew she had to take a stand for what was deeply important. Julia’s stand not only saved Luna and helped the plight of the ancient redwoods, but it also brought the sacred and interconnected nature of all life to the the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of us. As we watched her, we were touched not only by her dedication, but also by her relationship with Luna. Julia brought the tree alive in our awareness. We began to recognize this tree and her brothers and sisters in the forest of ancient redwoods as living, aware beings worth protecting. We were able to see them not as a resource for human use, but as friends, as our relations.

Her stand was for nature, but it was for much more than that.

“That day, when I climbed up that tree and got it, that clear-cuts are the inner landscape… We are all one, we are connected whether we like it or not. What you do to the planet, you do to the people, to the animals, to the future generations, and on and on. When I got that, my choices began to change. I could not make choices in a numb, disconnected way anymore.”

Her stand changed her, but it also changed everyone who bore witness to it. Ever since the first moment I saw an image of Julia in Luna in 1997, my life has been inspired by her courage and selflessness. And I’m one of many. I asked Danna Smith, Executive Director of the Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit group working to protect forests in the South, how Julia’s stand impacted the world of activism:

“Her actions allowed a dialogue to come out that’s very rarely talked about in terms of connection with nature as it relates to protection of forests. She was on mainstream TV talking about how the trees talked to her. It was pretty profound. It gave lots of people the safe space to have those feelings and connections with nature and talk about it. It was pretty bold of her to be talking about that as a core part of why we should be protecting forests around the world. That type of thing wasn’t encouraged for activists before Julia took her stand.

It was really bold of her to be authentic in why she was doing what she was doing. It wasn’t an economic reason or a reason to benefit the humans in some kind of ‘practical’ way; it was about her connection to nature. It was really inspiring and it was really hard for the companies cutting the trees to figure out how to deal with that. It’s critical for those types of big spiritual messages to get out there. She was sending out a big spiritual message to humanity not just about the redwoods but about human beings’ relationship with nature.”

More recently, Julia, in an interview, said,

“So often activism is based on what we are against, what we don’t like, what we don’t want. And yet we manifest what we focus on. And so we are manifesting yet ever more of what we don’t want, what we don’t like, what we want to change. So for me, activism is about a spiritual practice as a way of life.”

(Interview from Benjamin Tong, “The Taoist and the Activist”)

She also says about her sacred activism,

“And I realized I didn’t climb the tree because I was angry at the corporations and the government; I climbed the tree because when I fell in love with the redwoods, I fell in love with the world. So it is my feeling of ‘connection’ that drives me, instead of my anger and feelings of being disconnected.”

(via Benjamin Tong)

Back in June 2012, Sacred Fire connected with Julia Hill to share together about sacred activism. We united in our alignment with the value of standing up for the sacred and interconnected nature of all life, and the common devotion to following our Hearts, this “feeling of connection” that she refers to.

By participating in Sacred Fire’s socio-spiritual movement, every time we sit around the fire or we make special offerings to “make the fire sacred,” every time we show up for each other—in conflict, in sharing, or in laughter—every time we turn our lives upside-down to volunteer to support an event that brings Fire and Heart forward in this time of coldness and isolation, we’re moved by a similar spirit to the one that moved Julia. That spirit of connection and Heart not only changed Julia’s life, but it also changed the lives of many who were inspired by her courageous connection to the sacred, living world that Luna represented. Attending a fire, devoting your life to becoming a Sacred Fire Firekeeper, showing up with your neighbors around the fire-side again and again like so many of us do: it’s changing our lives.

Sacred Fire’s many Firekeepers feel transformed. Like UK-based Firekeeper Carole Fofana, who says,

“[In becoming a Firekeeper,] I make a commitment that I’m now in service to the world…Within that, it means that I have hope for humanity….When I light a fire every single month, it reminds me I’m in service for the betterment of that hope and love of humanity.”

Whether it’s Julia in the ancient Redwood, or Sacred Fire’s Firekeepers like Carole…

…or you, making time to return to the Fire, humanity’s original meeting-place, we’re all standing for something crucial at the core of human experience.

If you attend Sacred Fire fires and events, have you ever considered your participation to be sacred activism?

If you haven’t yet become part of Sacred Fire’s socio-spiritual movement of people gathering around the fire in 9 countries, consider joining us.

In today’s changing times, we find it important to sit together in sacred space like our ancestors did: they gathered for heat, light, and warmth, but they also gathered for that mysterious dance between human beings and nature, between human beings and Fire. Learn more…

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Thank you to Barry Shainbaum, who kindly donated his photo of Julia. It is taken from his book Hope & Heroes. www.barryshainbaum.com





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