Ladies Home Journal

Controversy: One woman's fight for the forests

Remedy, as she now calls herself, never thought she was the kind of person who would change her name and go live in a tree.  But the 28-year-old former bookstore clerk from Olympia, Washington, last touched ground on March 21, 2002, and she has no intention of doing it again anytime soon.

Tree-sitting has become a popular action among environmentalists protesting the deforestation of Northern California’s old-growth redwoods.   The theory is that the lumber company won’t cut down a tree if someone is living in it. 

But forget any comparisons to the Swiss Family Robinson’s forest idyll.  Instead of an arboreal duplex, the basic perch is a four-by-eight platform of plywood lashed to branches that, in Remedy’s tree, are 130 feet above the ground.  A tarp keeps out the rain.  All food, water and supplies have to be hauled up by hand -- “My forearms look like a sailor’s,” Remedy laughs – and hygienic provisions are primitive.

Tree-sitting is dangerous work, too.  A tree-sitter in Oregon died last year when she fell without wearing her safety harness.  Another sitter was killed when a tree being logged crashed into the tree he was occupying and knocked him to the ground.  It’s also illegal, so both the sitters and their support teams on the ground are subject to arrest for trespassing.  In order to force the sitters to the ground, lumber companies cut neighboring trees, prevent their support teams from supplying food and water, and, in some cases send up climbers to destroy their platforms.

In a contest that pits voiceless forests against faceless corporations, the most potent weapon the protesters have is publicity.  There’s an active network of people filing lawsuits, commissioning studies on the damage caused by clear-cut logging and keeping the topic alive on Internet sites.  But the fight ultimately comes down to one person shielding one tree – and that’s where Remedy comes in. 

Although she had always been concerned about the environment, Remedy didn’t become aware of the issues in modern forestry until she moved to Washington State, where logging is a major industry, in 1996.  Over the next few years, her interest grew – as did her concern.  “I knew our whole situation on Planet Earth was at a critical stage,” she recalls.  “The divorce of humans from nature is a primal wound that’s at the root of our abuse of the environment and each other.  My concern over those issues were what made me volunteer for the forest movement in the first place.”

Remedy spent her vacation volunteering for the movement in Humboldt County, the epicenter of the anti-logging activity on the West Coast.  She was due to go back to work on September 11, 2001.  “That put everything in perspective,” she says.  “I didn’t have any excuses not to help better our situation on earth.  I didn’t have any children, any debt, any student loans, any credit cards.  I had an able body and the capacity to give myself fully.  My integrity entitled me to get involved 110 percent and the forest movement is what called.”  She briefly returned to Olympia to clean out her apartment, sold or gave away most of her belongings and moved to Humboldt County.

She had been doing public outreach and ground support when she found Jerry, a 1,200-year-old redwood with a recently constructed tree-sit on a road in the Freshwater Creek watershed just east of the town of Eureka. (Forest defense etiquette dictates that the first person to climb the tree gets to name it and the shaggy moss drooping from the branches reminded the first climber of rock musician Jerry Garcia.) 

It was love at first sight, she laughs.  Two weeks later, on the first day of spring, she clipped into her safety harness and climbed up for good.

Adjusting to life in a vertical world didn’t come easily.  “My first couple of nights, I could feel every inch away from the ground.” Remedy recalls. “I was terrified.”  But as Jerry creaked and swayed through a stormy night, she had a dream.  “I dreamed I was on the ground and had to get back to the tree. I ran so fast toward it that I didn’t even climb it, I just jumped into its embrace.”

Now she’s comfortable enough to sleep without her harness; in fact, she rarely wears it when she’s on the platform.  However, other aspects of tree-sitting took more getting used to.

Going to the bathroom, for instance.  One can’t just hang out over the platform and let fly because it would create a mess down below, so all waste has to be packed out.  Remedy urinates into a one-gallon plastic jug fitted with a large funnel.  For solid waste, she uses a five-gallon bucket topped with a removable toilet seat.  “Occasionally, people feel for me and send up toilet paper,” she says, but most of the time she makes do with a garbage bag full of forest duff – pine needles, dried moss and leaves that the support team scoops up from the forest floor.  A layer of duff also helps deodorize the waste bucket. 

Bathing is restricted to sponge baths from a teakettle of water heated over a one-burner propane stove.  As for her hair, she has a simple solution:  dreadlocks.  “I have such straight, thin hair I never thought it could get like that, but since Jerry became my hairdresser with sap and pieces of bark, it knotted up.” 

Although Remedy feels she has the right personality to do a long-term tree-sit – “I like having a lot of alone time” – loneliness is rarely an issue.  Supporters drop by daily to chat, take her laundry and provide food, water and stove fuel.  Celebrities like Joan Baez stand by Jerry’s massive trunk and serenade her.  She’s plugged into the outside world by cell phone, pager and radio, powered by a solar panel.  Another protester is sitting in a neighboring tree, and an aerial village of six more tree-sits are further down the road, all connected by a high-altitude web of ropes.  “I can go to 19 different trees without touching ground,” Remedy says.

Much of the time, though, she stays put in Jerry.  She reads, crochets and meditates in a fern-filled crotch of the massive trunk that she calls her nest. “I pray for global peace and healing for the planet.  I feel that’s part of my job,” she says.  “It’s important to know not just what you’re fighting against but what you’re fighting for.”  She’s fighting for nothing less than quality of life.  “Canopy removal causes intense flooding and landslides, and affects water quality.  If we destroy the environment, we’re not going to be living happy, healthy lives.” 

That’s why she chose “Remedy” as her forest name.  (Few tree-sitters use their real names because they’re breaking the law by trespassing on land owned by the lumber companies.)  “I wanted a name that had purpose,” she explains.  “I wanted it to be an affirmation of what I’m trying to do.”  The phrase “Remedy the situation” popped into her head, and now even her parents and grandparents call her that.

Remedy is often compared to Julia “Butterfly” Hill, who spent nearly two years perched in the branches of Luna.  Hill came down after raising $50,000, the amount of revenue Pacific Lumber Company would have reaped from cutting the tree, and used it to ransom Luna from the threat of future logging.  (The Legacy of Luna, a memoir of her experience, was published in 2000; Hill is now a full-time activist.), Remedy isn’t satisfied with that approach.  “You can’t save one tree and cut the forest around it,” Remedy muses.  “That doesn’t solve the issue.  It puts a Band-Aid on a bullet hole.  Unfortunately, it takes everything to save one tree.  Even with me here, Pacific Lumber will cut down neighboring trees.  We don’t know how to stop deforestation.”

But despite that bleak admission, Remedy doesn’t think she’s wasting her time in a futile cause.  “There are so many problems in the world and so many people not facing them,” she says.  “Part of the point of a tree-sit is to help people pay attention.  Not everyone can sit in a tree, but they can find their heart and do what they can.”