The Legacy of Luna – Book Review

Life in a tree can be surprisingly busy.

The Legacy of Luna tells the story of an ancient redwood tree and a woman who interpreted the words “We don’t need you.” as a call to action.

Before reading The Legacy of Luna, I had heard of Julia Butterfly Hill and I knew that she had lived in a tree. I did not know that she is a woman of courage, faith, and ingenuity with an apparently strong streak of stubbornness.

Several years ago, in honor of Women’s History Month, I began a tradition of reading at least one book by or about a woman environmentalist and writing a post about it in March. This year, I selected The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Butterfly Hill.

“I’ve always felt that as long as I was able, I was supposed to give all I’ve got to ensure a healthy and loving legacy for those still to come, and especially for those with no voice. That is what I’ve done in this tree.” —Julia Butterfly Hill

Book Review

Before you embark upon reading The Legacy of Luna, I suggest donning warm clothes and a windbreaker because you are going to be sitting way up in a huge windswept tree with Julia Butterfly Hill as she tells her story. I am only partially kidding. Reading the book it a bit like being miniaturized, strapped firmly to Hill’s shoulder, and then following her about. You are there.

The prologue recounts the story of Stafford, a small town in Northern California that was devastated by a mudslide during a deluge of rain. A lumber corporation that put profits above everything else had left a steep mountainside exposed by clearcutting all the forest trees. With nothing to hold the soil in place, it slid down the mountain destroying homes in its wake.

Stafford is near where a majestic redwood tree called Luna has resided for over a thousand years.

The rest of the book chronicles the 738 days between December 10, 1997, and December 18, 1999, that Hill spent living in Luna. Her initial goal was to save Luna from the chainsaws of Pacific Lumber Company. Along the way, she became rather famous for living in a tree, which gave her an unusual platform (pun intended) from which to conduct public outreach about saving forests not only in California but also across the United States and around the world.

I still do not understand the title of the first chapter called “Fighting Fear with a Fork.” Here Hill recounts a bit of her history and the back-story of how she came to live in Luna. Her faith-based upbringing, a terrible car accident, and an impromptu trip to the West Coast led her, at age twenty-three, to be in the right place at the right time when someone asked, “Can anybody sit in Luna?” Hill immediately volunteered.

The Legacy of Luna Book CoverAs you continue reading, you will learn how Luna got her name, what it is like to climb 180 feet up a giant redwood tree, the horror of seeing forest clearcutting from a bird’s eye view, the practicalities involved in living in a tree, and why Hill got a cell phone.

You will have an opportunity to listen in while Hill perches on a tree branch conversing with loggers who want to cut down Luna and security personnel hell-bent on preventing her from receiving food and supplies. As you follow Hill’s story you will learn about clearcutting, logging company tactics, government agency inaction, dealing with the media, and what it feels like to become the spokesperson for a movement, unintentionally.

The book ends rather abruptly. Hill reaches an agreement with Pacific Lumber Company to preserve Luna and a 20-foot buffer zone in perpetuity and then climbs down out of the tree.

The Bottom Line

Julia Lorraine Hill became Julia Butterfly Hill in 1998. When someone asked her for her forest name (used to protect an activist’s identity), she chose Butterfly because a butterfly had landed and lingered on her finger when she was seven.

Growing up Hill’s family had a lot of faith and not much money. She and her brothers learned about being responsible at a young age and her parents imparted the importance of helping others. Her upbringing and faith likely influenced her decision to help a defenseless tree and then sustained her during the most difficult days of her tree-sit (the longest in history).

Of course, I do not know what it was like for Hill after more than two years of living in a tree, mostly by herself. But, I can imagine that it might have been overwhelming for her to re-enter society and try to resume her life on the ground while being surrounded by what must have been a media circus.

The Legacy of Luna was published in 2000 just a few short months after Hill came down out of Luna. Reading it made me feel like Julia Butterfly Hill was sitting in my living room pouring out her story as fast she could so she would not forget any of the important parts.

This book illustrates what can be accomplished by a community of people working for something they believe in, something they love. Hill could not have survived in Luna without the dedicated volunteers she talks about in the book and the people around that world that supported her. She became the voice of Luna because she was the one living in the tree.

I recommend The Legacy of Luna to everyone, especially logging company CEOs and government representatives responsible for safeguarding public lands.

Featured Image at Top: Coast Redwood Trees in Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park, California – Photo California State Parks (this is not the forest where Luna lives but it is beautiful, too)

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Environmentally Friendly Christmas Tree Tradition

It is time for a new Christmas tree tradition for the 21st century.

Regardless of whether you are a real Christmas tree aficionado or an artificial tree enthusiast, you can make your Christmas tree tradition more eco-friendly.

Celebrating the holidays with a decorated Christmas tree in your home is a well-established custom in the United States dating back to the late 19th century. Our family is one of the 95 million American families who will be displaying a Christmas tree in their home this year.

Christmas trees have been a highlight of the holiday season for me ever since I was a little kid, but after living in a Monterey pine forest for a few years I began worrying about the environmental impact of Christmas trees, both real and artificial.

In 2014, I decided to conduct some research to try to determine if a real or artificial tree was a better choice from an environmental perspective. If you are interested you can read about my findings in the post, Which is Greener a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? Nothing I learned induced me to switch from a real tree to an artificial tree or to give up Christmas trees altogether, but I committed myself to making our Christmas tree tradition more environmentally friendly.

You, too, can green your Christmas tree tradition. Below are some eco-friendly tips for real and artificial trees and a suggestion for a new tradition.

Green Tips for Artificial Christmas Trees

  • If you are serious about greening your Christmas tree tradition, avoid buying a trendy tree that you will be sick of in a few years and will want to replace. Buy a tree that you can see yourself enjoying for at least ten years and hopefully more.
  • It is hard to judge looks or quality online so go to a store with artificial Christmas trees on display.
  • Select a tree that looks well built and resilient enough to survive putting up and taking down year after year.
  • If you are buying a tree with lights already installed, opt for energy-efficient LED Christmas lights. If not, recycle your incandescent lights (even minis) and replace them with LED lights.
  • After the holidays, carefully pack up your tree and put it in a safe storage space. Artificial trees cannot be recycled so your goal should be to keep it out of a landfill as long as possible.

Green Tips for Real Christmas Trees

One non-environmental factor that makes real Christmas trees attractive to me is that they grow on farms in the United States providing jobs for Americans, while most artificial tree manufacturing occurs overseas.

  • Buy a sturdy tree stand built to last for decades and store it in a place where you can find it next year.
  • Organic Christmas trees are still rare in many areas, but if you can find one buy it.
  • Do not have your tree flocked. First, why buy a real tree if you are just going to cover it with synthetic material and second, flocked trees cannot be recycled.
  • If you still have incandescent Christmas tree lights, recycle them and purchase LED lights.
  • After the holidays, make sure you recycle your tree. Many towns offer curbside pick up or places where you can drop off your tree. The trees are chipped to create mulch and you may be able to pick up free mulch for your own yard or garden. Another option is to cut up the tree to fit in your green recycling bin if you have one.

Start a New Christmas Tree Tradition – Buy One, Plant Two

In 2014, after looking into the environmental impact of real and artificial Christmas trees, I decided to begin a new holiday tradition, a tree for a tree and encouraged readers to join me. I proposed that each year we buy a real or artificial Christmas tree or put up an existing artificial tree, we plant a new tree or get someone to plant one on our behalf in our yard, a park, or a forest.

That year, we planted a tiny cypress tree seedling that we had rescued from a street median. Three years later, the cypress tree is about 9 feet tall and flourishing.

Last year, I raised the ante on my tree planting to buy one, plant two. We selected two Big Sur Coast Redwood tree seedlings at the local nursery and planted them in our yard.

The redwood trees are still alive but they only grew about an inch. In hindsight, it seems like perhaps they needed more shade, water, and fog. Nevertheless, the trees have made it to the one-year mark so I am hopeful that they are established enough to live here for a couple hundred years.

This year I decided to obtain some expert advice about what type of trees to plant. At the December meeting of the California Native Plant Society in San Luis Obispo, CA, I cornered two botanists (in a nice way) and asked them for recommendations.

As a non-botanist, I was grateful that they did not start bandying about scientific names and took my question seriously. They both mentioned Toyon as one of their first two suggestions.

Interestingly, to me at least, the Saturday before the meeting, my spouse and I had gone on a native plant walk (it was a grueling uphill hike) and Toyon was the first plant pointed out on the trail.

Decorated Real Christmas Tree December 2017My spouse and I conferred about the botanists’ suggestions and determined that Toyon was the right choice for this year.

Our local nursery in Cambria only had two Toyons in stock. One was short and bushy and the other was several feet tall with a scattering of leaves. We opted to purchase both of them and then selected a Christmas tree, which is now beautifying our living room.

In the interest of giving the Toyons the best possible start on life in our yard, I decided to do a little research before we planted them. I learned that scientific name for Toyon is Heteromeles arbutifolia (I dare you to try saying that aloud) and it is called Christmas Berry and California Holly, which apparently inspired the name for the city of Hollywood. I read that Toyons are shrubs which can grow up to 30 feet tall and are supposedly easy to grow and deer resistant.

After mulling over several locations, we selected a spot that gets a little shade from a nearby Monterey pine tree. We planted the Toyons near each other, spread some mulch, and gave them some water. The deer that visit our yard do not strictly adhere to deer resistant plant guidelines so as a safety precaution we encircled our Toyons with fencing, which we will remove once the Toyons get big enough to hold their own with the deer.

Readers, I hope you will join me and expand your Christmas tree tradition to include planting two trees. If you do not have a yard to plant trees in, then consider making a donation (cash or labor) to a local tree planting program. Type “tree planting program” and the name of your town into your Internet search window to find local and regional opportunities for tree planting at parks, open spaces, nature preserves, schools, and nearby state or national parks.

Imagine if every one of the 95 million families displaying a Christmas tree this year each planted two trees. Soon, 190 million trees would be providing shade, filtering water, generating oxygen, furnishing wildlife habitat, and just being beautiful. Now, that is what I call a green gift.

Merry Christmas!

Featured Image at Top: Red Christmas Ornament with White Snowflakes Hanging on a Christmas Tree Branch – Photo Credit iStock/JurgaR

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