Dragon fly, wren, fireweed, lupine, sequoia, butterfly…
Are these names of forest-dependant species? Yes, in a manner of speaking…They are the arboreal dwellers of the Homo sapien variety who are standing-and sitting-strong to defend the remaining old growth trees. And then there are the names they have given their host trees: Luna, Mariah, Moment, Marvelous, Mesmerize, Jezebel, Jerry… A tree named Jerry?! Its not for me to second-guess the inter-species relationships that develop. Those bonds are deep and give strength to those riding out 50-mph winds and torrential rains under flimsy tarps on a 4-ft. by 6-ft. platform.
The tactic of tree-sitting has blossomed in recent months on California’s north coast. Most tree-sits rotate people through, and while Pacific Lumber Company (PL) employed climbers have dismantled some, a few have been up for extended periods of time. Remedy celebrated her 28th birthday in the tree Jerry on Jan. 3, about 2 weeks prior to her 10-month anniversary. Wren, a young woman from New Jersey, climbed into her perch within shouting distance of Remedy last May, and Mystique, who climbed a tree in September still remains aloft.
Those three women are in the Freshwater watershed, home to the majority of the tree-sits. There are also sits in the Mattole, on Gypsy Mountain (where activist David Gypsy Chain was killed by an angry logger in 1998) and in nearby Grizzly Creek where PL is logging in occupied marbled murrelet habitat.
PL climbers recently dismantled a tree-sit in the company’s “Demonstration Forest” where old growth trees are being logged nearly across the road from the Avenue of the Giants. Tree-dwellers are holding strong there since early November, riding through assaults from PL employees, confiscation of gear, and on Nov. 16, the physical extraction of two young forest defenders from high in trees. PL’s climber Eric strapped harnesses on the two while they were naked, used pain compliance holds and lowered them down to the waiting cameras of other PL workers. After spending three weeks in jail with an outrageous $100,000 bail, 19-year-old “Abstract” Jane Marsh, along with her colleague Jaime who likewise spent 3 weeks incarcerated, filed a complaint against the climbers and Pacific Lumber. Prominent political attorney Tony Serra has taken their case.
The art of arboreal living has deep roots, as it were, both in the eco-direct action movement and otherwise. The aboriginal tree people of New Guinea called Mava live in tree houses 75 feet up and developed a sophisticated yodeling-like language to call from tree to tree. The Efe, an African pygmy tribe climb trees to gather fruit, and often gather in the canopy in numbers approaching two dozen, using vines to bridge their way between trees. Malaysia’s Dayak people are expert tree climbers and similarly employ direct action to defend their forests against destructive development.
Earth First! pioneered the tactic in the ancient Douglas fir forest of central Oregon’s Millennium Grove in 1985, when a rock climber, arriving on the scene to see what he could do to help, adapted the gear and techniques of his sport to tree climbing.
Tree-sits are rarely about one tree, and bring a powerful symbolism to any forest campaign, as well as mainstream support, fascination, magic and heart. There is no more powerful way to exhibit a commitment to the forest than to embrace it as it holds you in its branches while its family falls around it. The level of risk and personal sacrifice is a statement of the urgency of an issue that needs no verbal articulation. There are also great rewards. Life in the canopy brings one close to a world most of us never have the privilege of observing. There are species, like tree voles, that rarely venture to the ground-a whole community of flora and fauna that is endemic to the forest canopy.
But what the sitters also bear witness to, all too often, is huge trees crashing to the forest floor, shaking their own tree, and low-flying helicopters creating wind storms high in the branches as they haul trees out on long cables. Tree-sitting is a tactic that is not an end unto itself, but an awesome act of commitment and courage that brings us all closer to our goals. Support your local tree-sitter!
Tree sits always need material support (gear, food, batteries), money for cell phone bills and ground support. For information, call North Coast Earth First! at 707-825-6598 or visit www.tree-sit.org.