Julia Butterfly Hill: Living With Meaning

In 1997, a young woman impulsively climbed a tree in protest of excessive logging of old-growth timber. By the time she climbed back down over two years later, she had become an international face of the Environmental movement.

In this week's podcast, Chris speaks with Julia Butterfly Hill about her journey: what led her to climb that tree and how she dealt with the flood of fame and notoriety that followed. More than anything else, Julia views the experience as an example of the ability to make a difference that lies within each of us.

In a society in which many feel increasingly dis-empowered by increasing wealth inequality, multiplying regulations, eroding civil liberty and growing corporatization, financialization and centralization -- Julia's message is that each of us has more agency, and more ability to shape our destiny, than we often realize. And it's her strong hope that as the escalating costs of society's misdirections mount, ordinary people will become increasingly courageous in exerting their extraordinary power. For in the end, that's what's going to ultimately effect change at the top -- as well as happiness within each of us:  

I have to acknowledge that there was a movement of tree-sitting before me. So I did not just come into a zone of nothing. I do believe that the garden had been prepared for my action to flourish. If I had done it 20 years earlier or 20 years later, I do not really know what the results would be. I'm clear, though, that because a moment had been working and building and working and building: that was a part of my success. I believe part of the success, too, is that most people remember a childhood moment where they had a tree fort or wanted one, so it taps into that part of us. And also, I think there is something about the hero’s journey too.

I really do see so much in people. The desire to have something worthy of giving our lives to; because we give our lives to so much that really is not worthy of it. And I think even if people are not completely conscious of that, their spirits, their hearts, their souls feel it. And that is why we turn to self-medicating and numbing ourselves with shopping, over-consumption, movies, television, drugs, alcohol, and all these things we do. Because there is something deep within us, even if we do not recognize it and cannot name it, that wants to have something worth giving our lives to. So something powerful about that arc of what takes the ordinary and makes it become extraordinary.

I tell people the only thing extraordinary means is "extra ordinary". Extraordinary people are ordinary people who come up against something that calls out their greatness. And they choose to say yes to that calling, even if they do not know where it is going to lead them or how it is going to end. But they cannot choose to walk away. I call it the 'choiceless' choice. We could choose to not say anything. We could choose to walk away. But to do that would kill off a piece of ourselves. So even though we could say 'no', we have to say 'yes'. And there is something about having something deeply meaningful to say 'yes' to give our lives to.

The final thing that I think also resonated for people is there are so many people who care deeply about this planet, its beauty. I mean, that's part of the discussion. Let's set aside even science, the environment, jobs or anything. Pretty much, we live on this absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful planet. And everything that is unsustainable is also really ugly. Even from an artist’s view, you cannot argue that the Tar Sands extraction in Canada is pretty. I don't know a single person who would go Oh, that's nice! When you see a beautiful ancient forest and then it looks like a bomb has been dropped off in it -- there's no one that can say That's pretty!.

So there's a movement of people -- regardless of exactly our view and our bend on economics, science, policy, whatever -- that appreciates beauty and wants to see that beauty protected, and recognizes the value of living on a healthy and beautiful planet. And our voices are not heard in the mainstream. And I feel like my action, in many ways, became the voice for the voiceless all over the world because it did make it into the mainstream conversation.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Julia (53m:44s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/julia-butterfly-hill-living-with-meaning/

Thank you for raising the subject of Quality.

"No-one says that the tar sands operation is pretty."
Pirsig demonstrated to my satisfaction that Quality exists independent of the subject or the object, independent of the Observer or the Observed.

Quality is a Thing in it's own right. Our Planet is not beautiful because we like it. It IS beautiful.

Once the implications of this philosophy take root, all of civilization will change. We will become greater than we are.

Time to shake off the Left Brain dominance and it's prescriptive rules, and embrace that which has Quality.

My favorite podcast ever. Very articulate woman and wise. Thank you Julia. We are all connected.
"To be awake in the world today means you are going to have some intense feelings."

A profound  and illuminating interview. She touched my soul. Tears welled up a few times.
Her spiritualness  touches the depths of our struggle to just be human without all the artifices. The unexplainable explained. An energy flow…that can't be measured but can be felt.  She exudes of this. 

The sciences that charts, calculates, separates, reduces, analyzes  all of life into objects of soulless matter without understanding the sacredness of the all has been great for progress but it has had a devastating  effect on our home  Mother Earth. It's our inability to see beyond our self interests that has created the mess we're in.   The sacredness is  interdependency, interconnectedness …the awe and wonder of our world if we could just sit and feel with all our being.

I will  listen to this podcast again because she gives me hope for myself, my loved ones and maybe our world.

Thanks Chris 

Please have her back when she finds her next trek on her journey.

Aloha! No karmic dumps please …

There is a term here in Hawaii heard quite often, especially here on the Big Island … "off the grid"! You can use that term in a purist sense whereby you use solar or wind power or you can apply it to a lifestyle whereby you reject the norm … the static societal norm. A growing proportion of Hawaii's population is "off the grid" in more ways than one!

We can chose to upsize our life or downsize it on a complexity level. We all have choices, but do we have the courage of abandonment? Or do we chose conformity?

I grow orchids in a jungle …

Mahalo Julia!


Thank you Chris and Julia for a very inspiring interview during which many little drops of wisdom  were revealed. It is very easy to fall into a headspace of nothing I do matters. I felt the two of you provided a very inspiring antidote to this malaise
Much appreciated


Julie Butterfly Hill said: ……… “people always come up to me and "say thank you Julia for showing us that one person can make the difference." And I started thinking about it and I realized, because no choice happens in a vacuum, it is not only spiritually impossible, it is scientifically impossible to make no difference. And we need to deeply get that.
It is actually impossible as a person on the planet today to make no difference, to have no impact. And so the question: "Can I make a difference?" It is a myth, it is a lie, it perpetuates a disease of disconnect. It makes sure that we are good consumers. It makes sure that we feel disempowered. When we get that every single choice makes a difference, because it is impossible to make no difference, we actually realize that seven billion of us and growing are activists. We are all actively changing the world, even if we do not see the impact of that choice."

. Thank you.  Thank you, Chris and Adam for bringing this podcast to us.
I love the charts.  I love the graphs.  I love davefairtex’s explanations of gold prices and the economy, that I only one quarter understand. Beneath all the exchange of practical knowledge, the science and reason, which I do not object to or believe for one second is unimportant, there is something more going on here.  On a deeper level, you can call it spiritual, or group conscience, or karma, or fate, there is something more going on here.
Every time each of us makes a decision for the future.  To survive, to become sustainable, to try to make our way through the present society’s chaos and disconnection from reality, we are dramatically affecting that future.  We cannot know how.  We may not live long enough to see the results.  Every time we make a decision to do something, to affect the future and act upon it, we are in fact changing that future.  Some of us may become heroes as a result.  Some of us will make changes that will never be acknowledged or even understood.  It is spiritually and scientifically impossible not to make a difference. Each one of us, and each of our efforts are important.
I am writing this as the group is finishing its first day of the Rowe meeting.  I hope all is well and that good things are being planted as you meet together.

I loved this interview.

Julia was a pleasant surprise.  I admit that I expected to hear some of the overused rhetoric common among the environmental crowd.  I guess I should have considered that spending two years living in a tree would give you plenty of time to have fresh ideas.
Julia presented a different way to look at some of todays problems that I found interesting.

She was also fun to listen to and a bit out of the ordinary for a Peak Prosperity interview.

Excellent - excellent - excellent!!!  Thank you for a wonderful interview Julia and Chris. Words will not suffice here.

JT - You, and many other members of this site, sure do have a knack for writing and expressing themselves.  Thank you.   Our words, thoughts, and actions are not without consequences, positive or negative, sooner or later.  It's really very simple yet many seem to make it so complicated or just don't "get it"."One must create, one must do something positive in one's life because God is a generative power. Not creating anything leaves a person 'sterile' (i.e., unable to accomplish anything)" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism#cite_ref-46)

interesting interview.

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants & hold the world in arms grown strong with love. & there may be many things we forget in the days to come, but this will not be one of them.

When I turned 50, my sister, with whom I've shared hundreds of precious hours in the bush opening our awareness to reality as deeply as we know how, gave me a card by Brian Andreas.

It instructs me again and again exactly what I'm really here for, and still makes me weep, as does this interview. I am stunned by Julia's depth and breadth of insight and love. I am simply famished for interactions on this level, where our minds and souls actually meet reality in companionship with each other and our beautiful, beloved, imperiled planet.

The comments about beauty have left me feeling mutinous. For how long have I known this and still let myself be pushed around by my civilization's insistence that beauty does not matter? With mutiny then in my heart, I offer an excerpt from a longer piece called "Refuge" that I wrote earlier this year (sorry, the spacing will not copy):


How does one shed allegiance to something as intimate as one’s own insane civilization?



Besieged, beset, the garden in space is yet luminous.

My mind is full of its light.

My soul will not recover from this place.

My heart never can stop singing about it.



The unspoken fundamentals of my civilization whisper and roar:

"Separate from, master, destroy, ignore, distract, grow without end."

Heaven is somewhere else.



The heart’s eye beholds our refuge and other directives arise:

"Merge, cooperate, mend, love, celebrate, learn limits and decrease to capacity."

I don’t see another garden anywhere.



I've made it a point to look up that Simpson's episode.

quote=Arthur Robey
Quality is a Thing in it's own right. Our Planet is not beautiful because we like it. It IS beautiful.
I too really loved this interview because it was with someone who dares to speak the truth as she sees it, and shares what's in her heart.
So much of the grief I feel from time to time, when I allow myself, is simply at the loss of our natural world.  
It's not just the obvious things like butterflies and jaguars, but the loss of richness of various ecosystems in ways i can feel but cannot really know because I am not familiar with all the little things that have shifted or are missing. 
Sure I note the lack of different frog voices in the dusk, but I cannot know what insects are missing from the usual background buzz.
There are fewer bird voices each migration but I have not tracked them closely enough to know who it is that's missing, only that the complexity is falling.  
The simple truth of the matter is that it is a pure fiction to think that we can simplify the world by losing species and richness without also diminishing ourselves.  We cannot poison the world without poisoning ourselves.
As within, so without.
There really is no barrier, we are like the frogs…what's 'out there' passes right through our skins, both physically and metaphorically.
As we lose beauty in the world, we lose our souls and Julia stood up to fight for that.
Not because of what that tree was 'worth' but simply because it was.
So … what do we stand for?
What's worth fighting for?  How do we transform our ache into action, and what would that action look like?
Part of that for me is to plant things that the bees and the butterflies love, and to grow for more than I need because that's one thing a human can do that is ecosystem positive - we can carefully observe, understand and then accelerate nature's abundance.  
Not just because it is a resilient thing to do for me and my family and neighborhood, but because it is an act of creation and creativity that is worthy of my time and talents.
At all moments, I am thinking 20 years ahead on my property and angling for beauty that I may or may not be alive to fully realize.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. (Supposedly from Audrey Hepburn, the actress.) 
My immigrant grandparents worked hard in mills, commercial laundries, as cooks and domestics.  Yet, exhausted and aged before their time, in the humid heat of New England summers, before there was air conditioning, after a hard day at work, they gardened.  Absolutely practical, they grew vegetables.  Totally frivolous, they bent already aching backs and plied arthritic hands, to cultivate, weed and prune flowers.

We are part of this planet. If we allow ourselves to look at reality, an appreciation and love of the natural is deeply rooted in all of us. Julia expressed that exceedingly well.


It truly is arrogance to think we "own" our land.  We are but caretakers on this planet and we will, each of us, at some point cease to exist.  Whether the planet is better off or worse off because we walked on it becomes our legacy and we should be judged by that.  If only people would sit quietly and listen to nature, the birds, wind, water and use our senses to connect to our planet we might not be so cavalier.  Much can be learned from nature and from being alone in a natural setting. It seems Ms. Hill learned a great deal from her communion with nature and her tree.
Truly an excellent podcast.

AK Granny

I 'read' through the interview rather than listened. And I cut and pasted quite a bit of it to be able to reread when I need motivation and encouragement (which is everyday!). Your interview spoke to me in more ways than one. Just brilliant. 
Thank you both. 


I've long been a fan of Julia Butterfly Hill. When I made a Women's History Month display at the library where I work, I created a little poster about her.
That thing about calling a friend and asking if they "have a minute" (or however you put it) I think that is great. And of course, men should be able to do that too - they should be able to call friends, whether male or female - and just talk, vent, or whatever. 

Another great point: way too much consumerism and consumption in our society - and we Americans, especially Americans are guilty of it… it upsets me so much that people don't know or don't care that our consumption is hurtful to the natural world. 

Thanks Chris for picking a great guest. Thanks Julia and I hope you find your next thing and tell us about it.  

It was such a pleasure to have Julia stay with us for a few days while she was in town for a talk with Vermont Wilderness School, where I have been volunteering my time for a decade.  She fit into our family rhythms with grace and ease and I loved our roaming conversations, which touched on many of the points that emerged in this podcast.
One of my favorites was the re-take on the phrase "everything happens for a reason".  To shift this to "everything happens, and I make reason of it" is pure brilliance.  This statement reminds us that we have complete agency over how we choose to experience the events in our lives.  

I look forward to staying connected with Julia, and hearing about the unfolding of the next phase of her life. I am SO glad that the Peak Prosperity audience found her wisdom valuable.