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It often happens that people who face death tend to feel very different about their lives afterward. Some people may lose hope, and others feel a renewed passion for life in which they want to make a difference. The latter is what happened to Julia "Butterfly" Hill when she survived a near-fatal car wreck one night in August 1996. The daughter of an itinerant preacher, Julia and her family spent many years traveling the country -- living simply and sharing the message of Jesus Christ. By the time she was in high school they had settled down in Arkansas, and she felt like your average teenager -- hanging out, having fun, and looking forward to living on her own soon. Then the car wreck happened.After undergoing a year of intensive alternative therapy, she had mostly recovered. "When your life is threatened, nothing is ever the same. I realized that I had always been looking ahead and planning instead of making sure that every moment counted for something. I also saw that had I not come through the way I did, I would have been very disappointed with my empty life." She decided to go on a trip out West with her next-door neighbors for some spiritual nourishment and guidance. When they got to Humboldt County, California, to check out the redwood forest, she was enraptured. A passion and love for the ancient beauty around her - what was now left of it - inspired and guided her. She prayed. She was ready for the answer, and that answer came to lead her to live in a tree, named Luna, for more than two years.
She had no idea when she climbed up Luna that first time that she would eventually become a long-term resident. She went up because they needed someone to tree-sit for a few days. "Tree-sits have three purposes: to protect the tree and hopefully a few around it, to slow down the logging while the people who work within the legal system do their work, and to bring about broad-based public awareness." After seeing how much work it took to coordinate someone being up there all the time, Julia volunteered to stay up for a month -- it turned out to be more than two years.During that time she endured many hardships. In learning her way around the vast branches of her new home she broke toes and suffered from acute frostbite. She dealt with jeers and mortal threats from Pacific Lumber loggers around the clock. She was also living in Luna when one of the worst storms to hit California, El Niño, came for a visit. "The wind howled. It sounded like wild banshees,rrahhh, while the tarps added to the crazy cacophony of noise, flap, flap, flap, babp, bap, flap, bap! Had I remained tensed for the sixteen hours that the storm raged, I would have snapped. Instead, I grabbed onto Luna, hugging the branch that comes up through the platform, and prayed to her." The answer came to her to let go. So she did. And she found that in doing this -- in bending and swaying with the storm like a tree -- she not only survived, but her heart received a much-needed transfusion of strength, power, courage, and love.
It was on her 24th birthday that the media caught wind of her story. The tree-sit got attention in both Newsweek and People magazines. Julia found herself becoming a public spokesperson. People repeatedly asked her if all that she was doing was worth saving a tree. Wasn't the hillside she was fighting for already a lost cause? "I never understood why they all focused on the negative. Even if Luna had been the only tree left, yes, she would have worth it to me." As time passed she received support from the likes of Mickey Hart, Bonnie Raitt, Woody Harrelson, and Joan Baez. All came to visit her. She also began developing a more personal relationship with John Campbell, the president of Pacific Lumber.This new dialogue began the push in developing an acceptable agreement for all parties concerning Luna and the surrounding hillside. Oddly enough, it was a striking Kaiser Aluminum steelworker, John Goodman, who helped close the deal. Their discussions entered a public forum, and the support was overwhelming. "On December 18, 1999, a preservation agreement and deed of covenant to protect Luna and create a 20-foot buffer zone into perpetuity was documented and recorded." Julia climbed down from Luna.
Although it was a joyous occasion, Julia was also filled with sorrow -- and some fear. She was going back to the world of cars, money, and more media. She was leaving a best friend, Luna. But what she wasn't leaving behind was her heart. By listening to her heart, she had made a difference. She realized that no matter where she was, if she lived from her heart she would always be home.