Editor’s Note: Months ago Daryl Hannah, acclaimed actor and well-known environmental activist, Tweeted about a young woman named Miranda Gibson (@Observertree1). I happened to catch Hannah’s Tweet and checked out Gibson’s site. She was the Australian Julia Butterfly.
This qualified high school teacher — specializing in the study of society and environment and English — put her career on hold to dedicate herself to Tasmania’s Southern forests in hopes of securing greater protection for this threatened ecosystem. She did so by climbing up a tree and taking perch on a platform 60 meters above ground, where she lived for 14 months.
I was honored when Gibson returned my Tweet and agreed to write a first-person exclusive for HoneyColony. Amazing, how the internet can deliver a message to the Tasmanian treetops. Marshall McLuhan truly did see the future; technology has transformed this blue into a global digital village.
Gibson’s response to my email correspondence was prompt, which is why it struck me as odd when, once her story went live on the homepage of HoneyColony and I contacted her to share the good news, I didn’t hear back despite several Tweets and emails.
Thanks to a person on our Facebook page, I learned that a brush fire had forced Miranda down in early March. She was abruptly ripped away from a life in nature that most of us will never experience. If you’re like me and instantly wondered whether the fire was deliberate, it was. Worse yet, this act of arson was also an act of extreme greed and complete disrespect for Mother Nature.
What a precious spirit to be serve as an ambassador to the Tree Nation — to find the courage to go deep inside for a greater cause. You enter the woods and emerge with the forest forever etched across your soul and waking day.
Here is an account from Miranda Gibson from CNN about being back on the ground post-fire and the transition she anticipates as she continues her work.
By Miranda Gibson
As the sun sets, clouds of smoke begin to glow deep orange and pink. I watch as flames leap from the dark silhouettes of trees and embers are flung high into the night sky.
I look over the forest that I have watched day in and day out for almost 15 months. As fire throws an eerie glow across my upper canopy home, I say goodbye.
It was over a year ago that I first climbed a rope 60 meters to the top of an old growth Eucalypt in Tasmania’s Southern Forests and vowed to remain until the forest was protected.
For 449 days, I lived in constant uncertainty about my eventual return to the ground. But I never imagined it would be like this.
In early March, a fire started within two kilometers of my tree-sit. It was so close that any change in the wind direction could have brought the flames to my tree within minutes, and I may not have made it to the ground alive. I had to get down. Early police investigations found the fire was deliberately lit.
That first moment my feet touched earth was incredible and overwhelming. I clung to my climbing rope and didn’t want to let go. After being attached physically to the tree by that rope for so long, it was a big step to take to finally let go and walk through the forest.
The next big step was the car, which, after only moving as far as the tree could sway for all those months, felt like I was suddenly hurtling along at the speed of light. Then there was an even bigger step: the house. Being surrounded by four walls and a roof again was certainly something to get used to.
While I now hold the Australian record for the longest ever tree-sit, it was never about records. I went up that tree and remained there for one reason: to protect Tasmania’s unique, ancient forests that were, and still are, under threat from industrial-scale logging.
In early February, the Australian government made a nomination to include 124,000 hectares of threatened Tasmanian forest into the existing World Heritage Area.
When I heard the news I sat and watched as honey eaters and pardalotes hopped from branch to branch around me, imagining what it would feel like to descend from the tree knowing this forest would never be logged.
Within days the reality began to be exposed around the state logging was continuing unabated in those forests nominated for World Heritage. In response to protests for the logging to stop, Tasmania’s deputy premier Bryan Green said that it was only occurring in a small number of coupes where “existing harvesting operations” were being completed.
Clearly, the fight was far from over. And so, I renewed my determination — I would stay in the tree for as long as it takes. After preparing myself to stay in the upper canopy of that magnificent tree for an indefinite period of time, the abrupt end of my action was a shock and something I am still coming to terms with.
I do not regret one single day being in the treetops. I am proud of what I have achieved in bringing an international spotlight to these spectacular forests. I can’t say it was always easy. There were certainly times when I wondered what on earth I was doing on a tiny platform in the middle of a wild forest, exposed to storms, wind, rain, and snow.
However, through all the challenges the beauty of the forest shone through. I watched the forest change through all four seasons, as the tree exploded with flowers in summer right through to seeing the entire forest carpeted in thick white snow in the middle of winter.
I was lucky enough to have a solar panel and Internet to communicate to the world, allowing me to Skype my way into conferences, festivals, and school groups as well as update a blog about life in the tree.
For all this technology and communication, the isolation of being alone in the treetops was often overwhelming. The tree became my closest companion, along with the birds, skunks, and many beetles that shared my upper canopy home.
While I was in the tree I had thought many times about how much I missed my friends and family and how amazing it would be when I finally reach the earth again and can spend time with them. Now I begin to realize how I was never really alone in that tree.
Being on the ground has its advantages of course, and I have enjoyed my first hot bath and sleeping in a proper bed. But there is a hard side to it too, and I miss the tree and the birds more than I could have imagined. I miss the daily visits from the curious currawongs who would hop around on my platform. I miss watching the trees sway in the wind. I miss the sound of boo-book owls calling gently across the moonlit valley. I miss the constant presence of the tree by my side.
I may be on the ground but I am no less determined to continue this fight. I will be doing everything I can from the ground to keep the pressure up on the industry and the Australian government. Now that the government has recommended these areas for internationally recognized protection, it is even more critical that people around the globe take a stand to ensure these ancient forests survive for the future.