The Butterfly Has Landed

But her high-octane campaign to save old-growth forests continues to soar

Mar 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

On December 18, Julia "Butterfly" Hill attempted a final climb to the top of the 200-foot redwood called Luna in which she had lived for 738 days, but burst into tears before reaching her goal. Minutes later, she rappelled to the ground and was embraced by friends. "I ran, I danced, I played," says Hill, who hadn't touched terra firma since she began her protest against the Pacific Lumber Company's plans to convert the 1,000-year-old forest giant into $150,000 worth of patio furniture. "It was like being on the moon for two years."

Her descent capped off the longest tree-sitting protest in American environmental history, which concluded after Pacific Lumber pledged to protect the tree and a surrounding 200-foot buffer zone, while Hill and her supporters agreed to pay Pacific Lumber $50,000 in fines (PLC will donate the money to a local university). A former barmaid and the daughter of an itinerant preacher from Arkansas, Hill, 25, weathered a number of ordeals during her first year as loggers disrupted her sleep with air horns and 80-mile-per-hour El Niño winds battered her perch. But by last Thanksgiving, when we paid her a quick visit, she had virtually merged with the tree. Her toes were curled in an almost simian manner; her feet were coated with sap, which she said helped her stick to the branches; and she claimed to have established a rapport of sorts with Luna, divining the tree's moods and professing to find solace in its arboreal vibrations.

Written off by some as a pantheistic eco-nut, Hill demonstrated an impressive savoir faire for waging an effective media campaign. She kept a digital camera and a pager with her in the tree and used a solar-powered cell phone to conduct interviews and lobby politicians such as Senator Diane Feinstein. Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, and Woody Harrelson stopped by to visit. And last year, in addition to being featured in Time, Newsweek, and Rolling Stone, she was voted one of the "20 Most Fascinating Women in Politics" by George.

Having surrendered her perch, Hill is now forbidden to wander freely on Pacifc Lumber's land—an injunction that she says leaves her somewhat nonplussed because, in the flurry of her departure, "I didn't have a chance to be with Luna and to say good-bye." But upcoming events should leave her little time to grieve. Her book, The Legacy of Luna, will be published next month by Harper San Francisco. And in the meantime, Hill says she wants to promote compromises between environmentalists and businesses similar to the one that preserved Luna. "A corporation and an activist are on opposite ends: They're driven by a love of money, and I'm driven by a love of life," she says. "So the fact that we came to an agreement is magical." And perhaps it is.


Power Stroke
"Add up every phone bill from my entire life and it won't equal November's," says 36-year-old Tori Murden, referring to the tally of $3-per-minute emergency satellite calls she made in efforts to outsmart Hurricane Lenny during her successful bid last December to become the first woman to row solo and unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean. Despite her $6,000 debt to AT&T, the six-foot-tall Kentuckian and former lawyer is ecstatic over her 81-day, seven-hour-and-46-minute crossing of the south Atlantic from Los Gigantes, Tenerife, to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Having scooped the record, Murden insists she has no immediate plans to jump back into the morgue-drawer-size cockpit of American Pearl, her homemade 23-foot, Kevlar-reinforced plywood boat. But she readily admits that the allure of long-distance ocean rowing may eventually pull her back. "It's like eating a great big meal," says Murden. "You swear you're never going to do it again, and then pretty soon you start getting hungry." —STEPHANIE GREGORY