A young woman named Julia Butterfly Hill climbed a 200-foot redwood in December 1997. She didn't come down for 738 days. The tree, dubbed Luna, grows in the coastal hills of Northern California, on land owned by the Maxxam Corporation. In 1985 Maxxam acquired the previous landlord, Pacific Lumber, then proceeded to "liquidate its assets" to pay off the debt--in other words, clear-cut the old-growth redwood forest. Environmentalists charged the company with harvesting timber at a nonsustainable level. Earth First! in particular devised tree sit-ins to protest the logging. When Hill arrived on the scene after traveling cross-country on a whim, loggers were preparing to clear-cut the hillside where Luna had been growing for 1,000 years. The Legacy of Luna, part diary, part treatise, and part New Age spiritual journey, is the story of Julia Butterfly Hill's two-year arboreal odyssey.
The daughter of an itinerant preacher, Hill writes of her chance meeting with California logging protesters, the blur of events leading to her ascent of the redwood, and the daily privations of living in the tallest treehouse on earth. She weathers everything from El Niño rainstorms to shock-jock media storms. More frightening are her interactions with the loggers below, who escalate the game of chicken by cutting dangerously close to Luna (eventually succeeding at killing another activist with such tactics). "'You'd better get ready for a bad hair day!'" one logger shouts up, grimly anticipating the illegal helicopter hazing she would soon get. Celebrity environmentalists like Joan Baez and Woody Harrelson stop by, too. The notoriety has, on balance, been good to Hill and her cause. George magazine named her one of the "Ten Most Fascinating People in Politics," Good Housekeeping readers nominated her one of the "Most Admired Women" in 1998, and she was featured in People's "Most Intriguing People of the Year" issue. As a result, more Americans know about controversial forestry practices; it remains to be seen, however, whether public outrage is enough to save California's unprotected and ever-shrinking groves of redwoods. While an agreement allowed Hill to descend from her aerie and Luna to escape the saw, most of the surrounding old-growth forest in the region has been felled or will fall shortly. Still, Hill is optimistic: "Luna is only one tree. We will save her, but we will lose others. The more we stand up and demand change, though, the more things will improve." --Langdon Cook