Tree sitting has become an increasingly common form of environmental protest in the United States… and in some places, it's even a kind of profession. An e-mail message went out a few weeks ago in a southern California suburb: "Tree sitter urgently needed, bring your own equipment." A man named John Quigley responded to the call to save a 400-year-old oak from a road development. And he's still up there, blocking the bulldozers … because no one wants to knock down a tree with a person perched in it. But tree-sitting is much more common in the old growth forests of Northern California... a hotbed of environmental activism, and home to the tallest trees in the world. There, a kind of mini protest industry has developed, a sub-sub culture of long-term tree house dwellers.
Living in a Redwood tree 40 meters above the ground may seem like lonely work. But it's hardly an isolated activity.
A 27-year-old woman who calls herself "Remedy" has been living by herself in this 1,200-year-old tree for almost eight months. She's visited often by friends and supporters who bring her the supplies she needs for her aerial camp. On this day, they come to the base of the tree with food, water, and cell phone batteries; they take away trash and bathroom waste. It's a complicated transfer that Remedy orchestrates from her perch, using bags and ropes on a pulley system.
The only way to talk to Remedy face to face was to climb up.
Ascending the tree is no easy task. Using only a rope and a safety belt, my heart was pounding as I made the exhausting and terrifying 13-story climb. Finally, midway up the tree, Remedy's platform appears.
Wearing a blue bandana and eyeglasses, Remedy looks like the all-American girl next door, except that she's a little dirtier… and she lives in a tree. She's trying to protect it from the lumber mills, and make a political point. "Tree sitting works. Tree sitting is the only thing that is effective at this point. If the system worked, if changing the laws worked, if going to court and getting court orders worked, then people wouldn't have to sit in trees," she says.
Remedy's home is sparse: a one by two and a half meter wooden platform suspended by ropes and covered with two waterproof cloths. She has two sleeping bags, some books, clothes, a radio, and a cell phone. She uses a ceramic bucket to go to the bathroom, and takes sponge baths to stay reasonably clean.
Four and a half meters below she has a smaller platform, what she calls her guest room. Remedy maneuvers between platforms pulling or lowering herself along the rope.
"My forearms are huge!"
In the past decade, activists have taken to the trees all over California, across the Pacific Northwest, and even in Indiana, America's heartland. Today, there are around 20 tree sitters in Northern California alone. In fact, in this neck of the woods, it's almost becoming over-crowded. A tree sitter, who calls herself Wren, lives just 30 meters away from Remedy.
A small community has grown around the tree sitting movement. While many are associated with the environmental activist group Earth First, they say there's no formal organization to manage the tree sits.
This 22-year-old man, who's taken the name "Lodgepole," installs the platforms for the tree sitters. Suspended from the branches by ropes, it's a risky job. "We do a lot of late night work," he says. "Like we make our platforms and stuff in the towns during the day, but we haul them out there, 'cause we're pretty much always trespassing when we do our direct actions."
Tree sitting is illegal and sometimes dangerous. Two tree sitters have died over the past year, falling to their deaths from high perches in the trees. And the targets of these protests, companies like Pacific Lumber which owns much of the forest around Freshwater, are becoming increasingly frustrated with the tree-sitters.
Company spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkle calls them eco-terrorists. "Once we get an approved harvest plan, we think all of the environmental concerns have been addressed, and we'd like to be able to, you know, conduct our legitimate business without having these interruptions, these illegal interruptions," she says.
Illegal, but effective. Ms. Bullwinkle says although the treesitters can be removed by force, company officials would rather wait until the protestors come down on their own. So, high in her tree, Remedy is immovable. "I'll come down when the tree is safe," she says.
Forty meters up it's peaceful and relatively warm for now. But Remedy and the other tree-sitters are bracing for winter and the long months ahead.