Renowned for spending 738 days at the top of a 180ft tall giant redwood tree, with the sounds of the buzz of chainsaws and the gun crack echo of neighbouring trees as they fell to the ground as her constant companion. How did Julia Butterfly Hill survive without being consumed with rage or grief? This question was on the lips of many of those who attended her talk at the Universal Hall in early July.
“Love” says Julia Butterfly Hill. Her mantra, inspired by Ghandi’s principle of Ahimsa, is “to live so fully and presently in love that there is no room for anything else to exist in or around me.”
Julia had the packed audience enthralled with tales of her time in Luna, the tree where she lived on two tiny platforms for more than two years. This action catapulted Julia into the public eye and brought with it fame that, for a self-confessed hermit, has at times been challenging. However, she handles the spotlight with grace and humour and uses it to communicate her passion and love for the natural world compellingly. “Initially I was just angry, but that anger was killing me. After a while I came to realise that I was up there because I love – I love the forest, I love this planet, I love the world.”
As I listened to Julia speak it struck me that the most interesting thing about her is not just that she sat in a tree for over two years – rather it is her unique perspective on life and human behaviour that she developed as a result of that unusual chapter of her life.
She relates her biggest ‘aha moment’ that came during a call on her solar-powered phone with the large group of friends and fellow protestors without whose support her record-breaking tree-sit would not have been possible. During that call as they discussed different ideas for the next stage of their protest, Julia recalls how she heard peoples’ tone of voice change and they started to belittle each other. For Julia who’d been isolated for so long it felt like an assault. After hanging up the phone she climbed around Luna for comfort and that’s when she had her big epiphany: “I thought to myself, how in the world do we think we can end the clear-cutting on the planet if we’re so effective at clear-cutting each other? I realised in that moment that the outward landscape is a reflection of the inner landscape. It’s the wounds in ourselves that perpetuate the wounds on the planet.”
She told entertaining and incredible tales of surviving hurricanes, being ‘buzzed’ by the loggers’ helicopter, and of the support and messages she received from the trees themselves. During El Nino as the tree and her home were being tossed around like rags, the trees reminded her ‘to be like the trees’. “The trees that are too rigid are the ones that break,” Julia reflects, “it’s the ones that are flexible and go crazy with the wind that make it through the storm. They told me, you need to bend like the trees in the storm. From then on I embraced life because I embraced death.”
Since coming down from the tree Julia has dedicated her life to Spiritual Activism – her unique blend of spirituality and activism. “I sat in the tree for more than just the trees. Every issue, every challenge in our world is a symptom of a disease – the disease of disconnect. When we’re disconnected from the earth we can destroy it and not realise we’re destroying ourselves. So for me, to live so fully and presently in love that there is no room for anything else to exist calls me to be bigger than I know myself to be. I constantly ask myself, what would Love choose in this moment, have me say, have me think?”
For Julia our inner work is crucial, but at the same time, on every level we can ask ourselves – how am I embodying my vision for a respectful, healthy, just, vibrant world?
“How do we bring that knowingness that everything is connected to every choice we make? How do we realise that even the choice to do nothing has an impact?” For Julia it’s a recognition that no choice happens in a vacuum. “Every single time we make a choice we are co-creating our world – every second of every day. When we understand that, we begin to shift the kind of difference we make in the world, and instead of asking can I make a difference, we can ask what kind of difference can I make with my life?”
Every moment of every day we’re giving our life to something – what do we want to give it to?
Julia’s gift of her presence and her generosity of sharing herself with this community was greatly appreciated by all who heard her talk. Julia also donated all proceeds from her talk to support the Moontree Project in Park Garden, a gesture greatly appreciated by the Park Garden team.
Thanks and appreciation to Julia, and also to her good friend Milena and Rona Ribeiro of Park Garden, who together arranged Julia’s visit to Findhorn.
If you were unable to attend this inspiring talk, a DVD is available now that also includes video footage from the early days of her tree sit. All profits will go to benefit Moontree and provide bursaries for Julia’s What’s Your Tree? workshop at Findhorn in 2012. To order a copy of the DVD please send an email to and we will send you a PayPal invoice.