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June 2000
The View From Up Here: Listening to and Learning From Trees

By Nate Madsen


I’ve lived in Homboldt County, Northern California, for about 10 years and have witnessed the destruction of the forest all around. I have always been disgusted by the clear cutting of forests, the devastation of the last few old growth trees, and the spraying of toxic herbicides on our forest floor. But what is a person to do? Big timber corporations like Maxxam/Pacific Lumber liquidate our forests. When I heard tree sitter Julia Butterfly Hill (see interview in Satya February, 1999) speak in 1997-98 about what one individual can do and how we all make a difference in this world, I asked myself what kind of a difference I wanted to make. Finally, when I was on my way home from work on October 13, 1998, I felt that I couldn’t take it any more and I climbed up into this magnificent tree, whom I named Mariah, and have dedicated my life to her ever since.

What really drove me to action was when this particular grove of giant redwoods in the Freshwater Creek forest was marked for destruction. I would visit this grove daily and imagine a time when the landscape was once all great forests. This was my safe haven—a place of peace in an otherwise chaotic rat race. When I saw the slash of orange paint across these beautiful creatures indicating their imminent destruction, I knew I had to do something. It was very hard to drop everything that I had invested my time and energy in: I was living my life-long dream of sustainable farming, and was working on starting a small business as well as holding a regular job. My intention is to remain dedicated to this tree until she is safe, but what that means on a specific time frame, I’m unsure.

When I first heard the call of the tree it was some thing like "come help!" But as time progresses I realize it is something more along the lines of "come listen and help." We as a people have forgotten our place in creation and these trees are reaching out, reminding us of what is really important in life. We need to be more loving and giving and that is what these trees are trying to teach us.

What it’s Like to Live in a Tree
To live in a tree is to return to creation with an open heart and mind ready for whatever might come next. It has been an experience that will push me to grow for the remainder of my days to come. It is to offer oneself to the creation in which we all find our origins. We are all components of this great living planet and have a purpose to fulfill. We need to remember what it means to be a part of creation. We need to rebalance our give-and-take relationship with this planet; the example set by these great trees may help us to do just that.

As for the details of tree sitting life, it can be more rewarding than anything I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing and yet it can be as challenging and trying as any life choice can be. I’ve been soaked by the rain and dried by the sun. I’ve met great new friends: the Ravens, Mousy, and this great companion and teacher Mariah. I’ve also learned patience from the mischievous flying squirrels who terrorize my peace in the night. It is one thing for the squirrels to search for crumbs, but another entirely when they jump on my shoulder and try to grab my sandwich as I take a bite. The intensity of 80 mph winds in the middle of the night is indescribable—only those who have had such an experience can know the thrill and fright one feels. Each day is a surprise and a gift; nothing is taken for granted—no running water (not to mention hot water!) and warm and dry conditions are temporary no matter what.

With all convenience gone, one relates to creation on its own terms. The air we all share is precious and the water we drink is a gift, not a given. The glory of a sunrise is not to be missed and the peace of a sunset brings completion to the most basic of cycles, our day. These things are lost in the hustle and bustle of most daily routines, and I’m grateful that I took the time to listen to the song of creation: the wind blowing through the needles of Mariah, the pitter patter of rain, the whoosh of a bird’s wing.

Some tough times have come to pass: gun shots, chain saws and threats in the middle of the night from loggers, harassment and insults—not all people care about these great trees like I and many others do. But those who take the time to talk have been real blessings. I’ve had many occasions where people stop to harass me and after a short discussion we part as friends. I’ve even had loggers leave saying things like "peace brother" or "we love you." It is amazing what a little understanding and patience can do, and the patience and understanding these trees can teach is unwavering. If these trees can have such patience that they still reach out to us people after all the damage we have done to them then there is still hope.

Protester or Protector?

I see myself as a tree protector, not a timber protester. It is one thing to look into the world and acknowledge a problem that needs addressing; it’s another entirely to see one’s own hand in the problem and then decide to make a difference. I protect this tree in the Freshwater Creek watershed, where 50 percent of the trees have been cut in the last decade. Most of that cutting has been clear cut or the equivalent. Maxxam/Pacific Lumber has plans to cut the remaining 50 percent in the following decade.

In the years since 1995 we have seen the salmon population plummet and that was from an already depressed level. Fish counts in Freshwater Creek have gone from 536 in 1995 to 35 in 1996 to five in 1997. This dramatic decline in fish population is in direct correlation to logging activities that dislodge sediment from hillsides and deposit it in streams where fish find breathing difficult and where gravel beds to spawn in are then buried by the sediment.

One major issue is the clear cut hole in the Headwaters Forest, the world’s last large remnants of unprotected redwood forest. A half-billion dollar deal was arranged between Maxxam/Pacific Lumber and our representatives in the state and federal governments. This was supposed to be a deal that preserved the largest unprotected old growth groves that were threatened. This deal has many down sides, but it is a small relief that people will never have to tree sit in that grove...or will they? Part of the deal levies other old growth groves to be cut, starting now. But here is the kicker: there is a 704-acre clear cut area within the Headwaters Forest and plans to log it proceed.

I see three basic steps—"The Big Three" as I call them—that could greatly change forestry by preserving the health of our forest ecology while still providing material and jobs for timber workers. First, end clear cutting. Clear cutting denudes hillsides and exposes our precious topsoil (the basic element of life) to extreme erosion. After a clear cut there is no habitat remaining and no jobs either. Who’s going to work in a clear cut? Not a timber worker—there are no trees. Second, end the cutting of what little old growth remains. Ninety-seven percent of all old growth is already gone. The rest belongs to future generations and we need to leave it for them.

Third, end the use of toxins in the watersheds. Herbicides propelled by diesel are used by lumber companies and are spewed on to the land to the tune of 40,000 gallons per year over 12,000 acres (1997 figures) without any regulation other than after-the-fact reporting. These toxins pollute water courses that plants, animals and people all rely on. These three steps would go a long way to a more respectful, long-term job oriented industry. The problem in the woods may or may not be fixable with regulations, but these steps would be a great start.

Regarding the public announcement by the Home Depot hardware store chain that they will stop selling products made with old growth wood, I will commend Home Depot as soon as they do what they say. Until then (2002 or 2003), they are as much of a problem—or more even. It is one thing to do something in ignorance, but Home Depot has acknowledged the problem and have yet to take the steps to remedy it. I see great hope in the world today, not because of a token gesture by Home Depot, but rather in the hearts, minds and creativity of the people of this planet who are realizing that we all need to share and love.

Reconnecting With Creation
On the bright side, I see many great things happening in the world today. I see a revolution of awareness worldwide. We are reconnecting with creation and learning to live in a symbiotic fashion. The purpose of life is to forward life. Life is a compilation of choices and as we make choices that benefit the whole of life, the individual benefits greatly. The spirit of life flows through us all: tree, bird, people, moss, fish alike. We all hold a little part of the life force in our hearts and minds and as we realize our connection to life, we feel our place. As we give ourselves to the totality of creation and live in service of life rather than as a selfish taker, our experience of life is enhanced and we all benefit in a great way.

The people of the world want to see change and we want it now. That is the first step. The next step is to actively change our lifestyle to benefit life as a whole. We are very imaginative beings and with the encouragement of our creativity we can be a great asset to the biotic community, rather than performing our current role of undertaker.

Technology and the Future
Is technology inherently bad? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. I think it is more what we do with these tools that can be judged as bad or good. Without technology, none of this information would get past my little brain, and although that may change the world a little bit, we need more sharing than that. Technology pollutes, consumes greater and greater amounts of energy and has a limitless growth potential. These are all unacceptable, but can we have what we want and be in harmony with creation as well? For example, here in the tree I use only solar power, but I have to store the energy some place and since fuel cells are unaffordable and difficult to get, I have to use batteries. Hopefully my compromise is out weighed by the good I have done by protecting trees and encouraging others to do their part. One thing I’m sure of is that together we have a greater impact than alone, and without the technology I’d be all alone.

I think we are creative and imaginative enough to have our tools and do away with pollution all together. However, it is going to take some serious rethinking. Zero pollution technology is available but the economic forces that drive our decision-making processes hold us back from exploring our full potential. This is a delicate balance to strike. If my theory is not correct we could end up in a worse position than we are in today, but if we check our motives and push ourselves to accept nothing short of what is best for the planet, we can do it.

The tree has never been left unattended although with the support of many people, I have accepted some time down to keep things in perspective and to do work for the trees, like attending meetings and lobbying in Sacramento. However, since I was attacked on April 10, 2000 I have vowed not to come down until this is resolved or my stamina gives out. A tree climber apparently employed by the Maxxam/Pacific lumber corporation climbed up Mariah, cutting branches and trying to get me to come down, endangering both of our lives. It became clear that if the company was willing to threaten and endanger my life then I need to be the one who is here to protect this tree. Not to say others are not capable, but it is my commitment to this tree that initially saved her and it is my responsibility to see this through. What the Maxxam/Pacific lumber corporation has chosen to do is called reckless endangerment and I could never forgive myself if their actions lead to anyone getting hurt.

I offer my life to this tree, but at the same time I hold my life dear and value others as well. So at this point my commitment is to this tree and I reaffirm that commitment daily until the day Mariah is safe.

I see forestry issues in the light of a much broader condition. The human species is on a rampage and there is evidence of this all around. This is not about people saving trees, but trees saving people. It is our hearts that need love and our minds that need to care. The trees know what it means to live in a loving, giving way. It is up to us to learn from them and change our lifestyle so one day we can all get along. With the people and planet in harmony, forestry issues will be non-issues because then the trees will be our friends and not our martyrs.

Nate Madsen is currently protesting the destruction of forests by tree sitting in Mariah, a redwood located in a grove in Northern California. He just received a B.S. in Physical Science from Humboldt State University. Visit Nate’s website to learn how you can help.

For more information on forestry and activist campaigns, visit the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) at, the Headwaters Forest website at, the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment at and Julia Butterfly Hill’s website:


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