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
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.
As 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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