For 361 days, I lived high in the branches of an ancient redwood in Humboldt County before being forcibly removed by employees of the Pacific Lumber Co., who intended -- and still intend -- to cut the tree down.
During all that time my feet never touched the ground. I slept on a 4-by-8 platform, 130 feet up, that was made of recycled plywood covered by layers of tarps to protect me from rain and high coastal winds. In the summer I hardly needed cover, preferring to sleep with the tarps open so I could watch the moon traverse the sky and the branches dance under the stars. In the winter I endured several record-breaking storms -- winds that knocked out power over a wide area, rain that left me soaked for days and Humboldt’s first-ever tornado warning.
In January, I celebrated my 28th birthday in the tree.
My support crew, made up of local residents, activists and the occasional passerby, brought me food, water and supplies to keep me alive and connected to the outside world. They recharged the batteries I needed to power my cell phone, brought me mail and helped with laundry. Tree-sits are a communal action. The tree-sitters are just the most visible component.
I also received calls and letters of support from people across the country, many of whom were appalled to find out that the ancient redwoods -- the largest and oldest living beings on the planet, and the densest biomass on Earth -- are still being logged.
During my year in the tree, I lived among many other forms of life, including birds, salamanders, moss and lichens and a huckleberry bush flourishing at 200 feet. Although weeks would go by without my seeing another person face to face, I was surrounded by life. If I had any doubts before climbing into that tree that the natural world was conscious and alive, I do not have them anymore.
The other side of this exhilarating experience was the ongoing destruction of the forest.
Logging generally started before dawn and was carried on six days a week, with occasional Sunday and holiday operations. One of the many things I learned by sitting vigilantly in the forest for a year is that the cutting never stops. I could sit on my platform, surrounded by state and national newspapers that had been sent up in a bag attached to the end of a rope and I could read the headlines promising regulation of redwood logging. But chainsaws continued to wake me at dawn, and the sight and sound of falling trees punctuated the urgency of the situation. I could see how people were duped into thinking that governmental agencies cared for the quality of our air and water.
No matter how many lawsuits are filed, or how many scientists warn of permanent damage because of liquidation logging, or how many judges order Pacific Lumber -- which is now owned by Maxxam Corp. of Houston -- to halt its logging operations, the cutting accelerates. In fact, after an order was issued Aug. 19 to halt all logging operations, the cut was increased to 2 million board feet a day -- the equivalent of more than 200 logging trucks full of lumber. The company just shrugged, claiming it and its team of lawyers and PR people didn’t understand the orders, while the California Department of Forestry, whose workers’ salaries are paid by the taxpayers, said it would “defer” to the Texas-based corporation.
When three large men came to remove me from the tree this month, I locked myself to the trunk, 180 feet above the ground. The public road was closed by the company to prevent supporters from witnessing what was about to happen. The men climbed up after me and cut me out. Then they lowered me to the ground, where I was handcuffed and taken to jail. Although the majority of the tree-sitters were men, four of the five taken down that week were women. The trees were left standing, except for one, and other activists took our places in the canopy. Nearly 30 tree-sits continue in the county.
A second extraction team went back into the tree I had protected and removed the woman who stood at the top, 20 stories above the forest floor, where the trunk was no bigger than an average person’s arm. The giant redwood was again left standing, but this time viciously and spitefully butchered and left without limbs, in part so that no one could climb it again. But when the loggers came back the following morning to cut the ancient tree down, they found it occupied once more. With the tree still alive and holding up the steep hillside it has called home for more than 1,000 years, the struggle for life continues.