From a higher level
Many of Julia Butterfly Hill's stories begin: "When I was in the tree " In her case, the preface means a lot. The environmental activist who spent over two years living near the peak of a California redwood tree told some of those stories at Bowdoin this week as part of Earth Week.
"I come by long-windedness naturally," Hill told
an attentive audience in Morrell Lounge Wednesday night. The crowd didn't
seem to mind. Earth Week-themed banners were draped all around the Union,
Maine environmental groups had set up tables and posters by the mailboxes,
and Bowdoin Earth Day t-shirts were selling briskly. People in paint-stained
Carhartts and nubby wool sweaters took swigs out of well-worn Nalgene
Hill's talk was organized by students in a Women's Studies/Environmental
Studies class, "Gender, Ecology, and Activism". Professor Rachel
Groner said that arranging the lecture was simple- "We just called
her publicist." Barbara Condliffe '04, who watched Hill's speech
from a table as she sold Earth Day t-shirts, said the talk was "great."
The class had been selling the shirts since Friday, she said, but sales
picked up the night of Hill's talk.
Hill has honed her skills on college audiences, and her
talk was practiced, although she spoke casually, without notes, for over
an hour. The story of how a business major running a restaurant with her
father became a green icon almost overnight is one she must have told
over and over. In her account, the environmental bug bit suddenly, during
a visit to California redwoods in 1996. "I'd never felt anything
like that in my life," she said, describing how she literally hugged
the trees and devoted herself full-time to environmental causes.
It was in one of those redwoods, nicknamed 'Luna' by the
environmental group EarthFirst! whose members pioneered American tree-sitting
as a form of protest against logging, that Hill spent two years, from
December 1997 to late 1999. Comparing the height of her 4x6 platform above
the ground to 'two stories above Coles Tower", Hill described a life
of collecting water from fogs and rain, giving interviews and talks by
phone (powered by two solar panels), and exercising by climbing the tree
trunk above her several times a day. "I lived in my campaign office,"
The tree-sit was motivated, Hill said, by the logging company's
callousness toward nearby homeowners whose houses had wiped out by a mudslide
from clear-cut land. She described the tactics the company used to get
her down from the tree, including constant air horns, close buzzes by
helicopters, and trees being felled around her that hit the trunk and
shook it- "trying to scare me down or knock me off."
The EarthFirst! organizers had asked Hill to spend five
or six days in the tree. After 738 days without touching soil, Hill descended
after the lumber company agreed to leave Luna, and trees in a 200-foot
radius, alone. "I knew I could continue the activism on the ground,"
Hill's speaking contract mandates that local environmental groups be allowed to set up booths at her speeches, and several tables set up in Moulton Union sold "enviro pos art" or pushed for protection of Maine lands and waterways. The Maine Green Party was there as well, hoping to register voters.