by Rosemary Edmiston
"Time really generated a lot of interest," Robert Parker says.
Since March, Parker's daily existence has revolved around Julia Lorraine Hill, a 24-year-old woman from Arkansas who on Dec. 10 climbed an old-growth redwood tree near Stafford and hasn't come down since.
A few miles from Parker's house in another quiet neighborhood, Earth First! activists scale several stately redwood trees at the edge of the forest behind a sympathetic couple's home. They've fastened a "web" to four trees and have equipment on hand to train a steady stream of journalists in climbing technique.
In fact, a whole team of people on the ground perform daily tasks for Hill. Without the supporters, her publicity-generating tree sit would be impossible. They are as supportive of Hill's efforts as they are in awe of her dedication.
"How can she do it?" one supporter rhetorically asked. "I don't know. No clue. Can't imagine. Really can't."
But what is clear is that this latest effort by the forest activists has paid off quite possibly to a degree Earth First! has never seen.
"She's captured the hearts and imagination of the world right now with the message she's putting out. She's captured it in a way that's definitely gone beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations," Parker said. "The media has been a vehicle for Julia to get the message out to the world."
And work the media she has.
Known by her forest name Butterfly, Hill's tree occupation on Pacific Lumber Co. land which reaches six months June 10 was not only featured in Time but has also been spread across the pages of Newsweek, the London Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, The Press Democrat, The Seattle Times, Jane and People magazines, as well as numerous out-of-state newspapers not considered national such as the Cleveland, Ohio, Plain-Dealer.
She has also been interviewed by television crews, including German TV, and has been a guest on endless radio talk show programs. And recently she participated via cellular phone in an on-line debate with Pacific Lumber spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkel, as well as debating PL President John Campbell on CNN. Documentary filmmaker Doug Wolens director of "Weed," which showed last month in Arcata and features Amsterdam's annual Cannabis Cup spent six days with Hill.
World News Tonight had yet to air a piece it did on the tree climber, and the Today Show and CNBC have expressed interest in the story, Parker said.
Yet with all that publicity, it's not always Hill's message that has made headlines, but rather that she is indeed a beautiful young woman who has lived alone for days, weeks and now months 180 feet up in a 15-foot-wide redwood because she wants to protect old growth trees and the habitat that relies on them.
While some people have no problem calling Hill crazy, her ground crew shares something resembling reverence for the increasingly famous activist.
"She is one of the most amazing natural spokespeople that I've ever seen," said Parker.
"She's the most clear, strong woman I ever met in my entire life," said Sawyer, a 20-year-old Oakland native who prefers to go by his surname.
The admiration is mutual.
"I've been so blessed by the ground support," Hill says from the tree via cellular phone. "They have gone above and beyond the call of duty time and time again. I have an unconditional love for the Earth and that includes them."
Her core group of supporters numbers about four and includes Parker, whom she talks to daily.
A former San Francisco-based photographer who became engrossed in the logging battles of the Pacific Northwest after talking at length with the late Earth First! leader Judi Bari, Parker is often the first point of contact for reporters interested in Hill's story. He calls his business, if you will, Luna Media Services after the name activists gave the ancient redwood Hill occupies.
A calendar on his wall outlines Hill's surprisingly busy life. Notes logged on days of the week read like a busy politician's schedule: CNN, Channel 3 to Luna; training days, ABC Nightly News, ABC live online, CNBC debate, Time, WUSA TV Washington, German TV arrives and two days blocked off that read in large type "Just for Julia."
"She's overwhelmed, literally overwhelmed up there," says Parker, 34. "She's just been swamped for three weeks. Every single day somebody was up there."
So for two days, he said, Julia had no visitors so that she could rest and stay focused on the cause. Since that barrage of media attention, Hill said, the number of visitors to Luna has slowed. In late May she said she was doing one or two radio or newspaper interviews a day.
Hill also receives constant correspondence. A week's worth of mail in May included a letter from her mother, a large envelope decorated with tiny colorful stars from Ruth Webb Elementary School in Washington, D.C., a bulky package from KHUM in Ferndale and dozens of letters from Alaska, Washington, Maine, California and Arkansas (her best friend was writing again).
Hill's mother, a Florida resident, is on a letter-writing mission in support of her daughter. She has even written the Clintons, Hill said.
"My parents raised me to have convictions and stand by them and not step down, no matter what," said Hill, whose demeanor seems years older than 24.
Hill's father, a former minister who recently graduated from college with a degree in photojournalism, also supports her efforts, she said.
A resident of one of Earth First's four or five commune-type homes in Humboldt County, Sawyer splits his time supporting the Luna tree sit and protesting in Bell Creek, another logging site targeted by Earth First!
He is among a small team of agile activists who train reporters and photographers before they attempt to climb the 180 feet to Hill's 5-foot-by-8-foot perch. But in some cases, no amount of training will get the journalists to ascend Luna.
The New York Times photographer handed her camera over to Sawyer, who climbed the tree, took an impressive shot of the 5-foot-10-inch Hill and earned a photo credit in the national newspaper of record. (Sawyer is also pictured in another Times shot perched at the top of the tree, his hand clenched in a fist and raised to the sky in the symbolic Earth First! gesture.)
In the San Francisco Examiner a credit under another image of Hill reads "Photo by `Zeppo' with direction by Kim Komenich." A caption explains that the photographer offered guidance to the tree-climbing Zeppo, described as a kindred spirit visiting Butterfly from Finland.
Hill can sympathize with her visitors.
"It's a very intense climb up the hill, which wears you out completely, and then to try to climb another 180 feet straight up is just a big task."
The journalists who do climb Luna find themselves under the care of people like Sawyer and "Spruce," a 23-year-old Nevada City transplant who came to Humboldt County nine months ago on vacation and stayed. (Like other activists, he identifies himself by a forest name.)
"A lot of times it's a rush situation," said Sawyer of journalists' visits. "They'll come in (to town) the night before and they need to go up the next day. And you have to get them through very certain things so that they can get themselves up and down safely. We have climbers there on the spot in case they need to be rescued."
Wiry and tall, Spruce trains and rescues people.
"They get part way up and they don't know how to get down and they freak out and forget what we showed them. So I've got to go up and help them down," he said.
One of her core ground support members, Hill refers to Spruce as "Superman" and "Speedy Gonzales."
Ironically, it was a 100-foot drop from a redwood tree in Santa Cruz that led Sawyer to join the Earth First! movement. He was in the tree drawing artwork when a branch gave way.
"I had a broken back but I hadn't hit my head and I was totally, for the most part, OK," he said. "I really felt like the tree had saved my life. And when I came home my Mom told me that the redwoods in the north were getting hammered by industrial logging companies. It was the first I'd ever heard of it.
"The first time anyone hears about these things they say `The redwoods are still getting cut? I can't believe it.'"
Today, Sawyer is an accomplished climber who can shimmy up a massive redwood without aid of ropes or equipment. Yet the Eagle scout admits being fearful at times when bringing supplies to Hill.
"The tree doesn't sway, it shudders," he said of Luna, making a whipping sound with his mouth. "It frightens me and I don't know how she can deal with a helicopter 30 feet above the tree with 150 mph wind coming straight down on the platform with nets strung over it to keep things from falling off and just sitting there holding on, barefoot, for dear life."
Pacific Lumber Co. denies a helicopter ever buzzed the tree, but Hill says she has it on videotape.
The helicopter was actually about 50 feet away and 75 feet above her, she estimated. "I'm not positive (of the distance) because I was very involved in the moment," she said with a slight laugh. "I believe they were trying to rip the tarps down as well as scare me down."
Hill joined the Stafford tree-sit two months after an activist known only as Dan climbed the tree and stayed in a lightning strike hollow for three days. Fellow activists brought in a plywood platform and hauled it up the tree, securing it at 180 feet, higher, said Sawyer, than Pacific Lumber Co.'s climbers like to go.
It was during a full moon cycle, thus the name Luna.
Dozens of people took turns occupying the tree and were beginning to tire of the protest when Hill arrived on the scene.
"It was fabulous, it was perfect timing. It just blew the whole country away. She's like no one else in the entire world," Sawyer said.
Aside from initial attempts to get her to descend the tree, Pacific Lumber has largely left Hill alone.
But if one of the harshest winters in years hasn't forced her down, it's not likely helicopters will do the trick.
"When we ask Julia when she's going to come down, she says she's going to wait for the tree to tell her. She's going to wait for the right situation," Sawyer said.
The right situation, said Hill, is when Pacific Lumber agrees to a complete moratorium on cutting old growth trees, stops logging on steep slopes and quits using herbicides.
"Every one of the things that I'm demanding is very reasonable because what they are doing is destroying lives," she said. "What I'm demanding is something for everyone. It's not just me sitting up in a tree and being self-righteous."
Said Sawyer, "She's got incredible will power and she wants to do what's best for the movement. No one's going to listen to a giant tree in the forest. No one's going to listen to one woman on the ground saying the trees are going down. But you put that incredible woman in this incredible tree and it's a human issue story that we'll use to get the word out."
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