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In January 2006 I interviewed Julia Butterfly at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival in Nevada City, California. I walked away from this interview with hope and commitment to change that I still carry today, so this Earth Day, I’d like to revisit Julia Butterfly and her inspiring words.

Over 6.5 million trees were cut down to make 16 billion paper cups used by US consumers in 2006, using 4 billion gallons of water and resulting in 253 million pounds of waste.

Everyday is a day that I can choose not to use a paper cup…

Excerpts from Touching Ground

JBH = Julia Butterfly Hill

PB= Pamela Biery

PB: Can you talk a little bit about what the journey from touching ground to being here today has been like for you? You went into the tree as an anonymous individual and emerged as a definite persona….

JBH: The beauty in all of the attention that came at me is that I was under a microscope, and it often wasn’t pretty…. you know that I didn’t go into that tree thinking that I was going to go on this self-discovery process, I didn’t think about attention coming to me…. I just went up into the tree because it was all I knew to do to help and then this whole other thing got put on me. I had to put myself under the microscope because it was like, well, who am I—not who does everyone else want me to be—what do I need to let go of, how do I just take out all of the stuff that is in the way of me being my true self. The austerity of the tree sit made me uncover parts of myself just because of the physical requirements—the tree sit itself made me get rid of the actual stuff—but I had to get rid of all the metaphorical stuff as well. The hardest work for me has not been living in the tree; the hardest work has been putting myself on stage over and over again. By my nature, I’m the one who knows to go climb the tree to escape the limelight, so choosing to stay public since coming down has been a really clear, committed path. It is more risky for me to get on a stage than to live in a tree. I am not a super human…I am just an ordinary person committed to doing extraordinary things.

It is more risky for me to get on a stage than to live in a tree.

This event I just did with all the young people, so many of the young people came up to me, including quite a few with tears in their eyes, saying “I’ve never seen anyone be so authentic with themselves and this just shows me that I actually have courage to be myself” can you imagine? We live in a world where it actually takes courage to be ourselves—what a concept! You would think being ourselves would be natural! But our world has gotten so disconnected and who we are in our lives is so disconnected, that it actually takes courage to be ourselves…. I want to be a mirror, and I know I’ve been an effective mirror if the response after an event is not only that people are inspired, but that they are inspired to be something, to do something.

PB: So would you say this is part of your own activism, showing people your commitment and understanding?

JBH: Activism must go beyond the self-righteous to-do list. It has to become about what we do with our lives. It is asking to become the outward manifestation of what our heart wants to see in the world. Activism is about having a vision in our minds of what we would love our world to be and then giving that vision life through who we are being in every moment of every day.

For instance, getting disposable anything out of our lives is a place to start. We use a paper cup with the plastic lid for our coffee. Where did the paper cup come from? Who lived in the place where the cup came from? Who works in the factory where those paper cups are made? What kind of chemicals were used in the factory, what is the affluent that is released out of those factories back into the water in the community where people work and live where those factories are located? That’s a paper cup. If we recognize that paper cup is the symbol of our lives, there is nothing in our life that doesn’t have a powerful thread attached to it. Every choice I make recognizing my own power and amazing thread of connection or disconnection can destroy or heal.


Julia Butterfly Hill founded www.circleoflife.org

Pamela Biery is a freelance writer and communications professional whose work has appeared in Sierra magazine online, Sierra Heritage magazine, Sacramento News & Review and many other publications. “Writing provides reflection and definition for my experiences, it inevitably prods me on a bit further than I intended to go.” www.PamelaB.com