Julia Butterfly Hill
Julia Butterfly Hill lived is one of the most kick-ass women I’ve ever heard of. She lived in a tree for over TWO YEARS to save what was left of the ancient California Redwoods from loggers (it’s hard to cut down a tree when there are people living in the branches).
A lot of people want to do good, but most of us look at problems like deforestation and think, That’s too big for me to stop. But not Julia. She climbed up that tree because someone needed to stand up to the loggers, and then she didn’t leave until she’d struck a deal with them to save a good chunk of the old-growth forests.
I first heard of Julia when I was a kid in the late ’90s, back when she was still in the tree. But then her story faded from my mind, until she made a visit to Ohio Northern University, where I was studying writing. She was even more inspiring than I had imagined. She told us that she never intended to be the voice for the trees; she just did what her heart told her was right and somehow ended up in the branches of a Redwood, leading a movement. She is incredibly smart—to save the trees, she had to give herself an education on forestry and economics and public policy so she could speak to the media and draft a contract that the loggers would accept. And maybe she’s a little crazy, to risk her life and live in a freaking tree, but if she is, it’s a selfless type of insanity.
When I walked into that speech, I was three years into college and still didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. But after listening to her, I knew that I needed to find my own passion and use it to do something good. There are so many awful things happening in the world, and I didn’t want to contribute to them. I’m not brave enough to put myself between a tree and a logger’s chainsaw, but I could sit in an office and work behind the scenes! Thanks to Julia’s inspiration, I chose a career in the nonprofit world, and now write for Oceana, a group fighting to save the oceans. Thank you, Butterfly, for reminding me that everyone—anyone—can make a difference.