Don't cry, butterfly: big trees make great decks

Posted: Dec 02, 2000 12:00 AM
After vandals used a chain saw to leave a substantial slice along the base of Luna, a 1,000-year-old redwood tree in Humboldt County, tree hugger Paul Bassis told The Chronicle that the chain-saw job was "not an act of vandalism, it's a hate crime. It's a hate crime against nature." Cross your fingers that Dems won't work for yet another federal law to prosecute this new category of hate-crime victim -- politically correct plants. Or conifers of a certain age. Yet in a sense, Bassis is right. There must have been a lot of hate emanating from the hands that held that chain saw. Controversy has surrounded the old tree since the campaign that turned the redwood into a four-letter word. For two years, environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill lived in the tree as she crusaded to keep Pacific Lumber Co. from harvesting it. Her effort paid off. Pacific Lumber agreed not to fell Luna, and Hill didn't face charges for trespassing on private property. Rose Comstock, a timber specialist who grew up in Humboldt County, saw how the episode rubbed many locals the wrong way. "Trespassers, folks who chain themselves to gates, chain themselves to trees and prevent people from going to work in a legitimate area cause a great deal of anger and resentment," she observed. Especially because timber workers see protesters (who are trying to kill their jobs) break the law without being prosecuted. This in an area where many people make a living off their private property, so some folks don't take kindly to a trespasser who feels she has a right to dictate what other people can do on their own land. It is easy to admire Hill for her conviction, her willingness to sacrifice for her cause and her pluck. You've got to tip your hat when one determined young woman beats a large corporation. She provides a clear contrast to vandals who acted anonymously and furtively. Their failure to come forward makes the actions of Hill seem that much more noble. That said, Hill's civil disobedience -- bereft, as it was, of civil penalty --has shown that breaking the law with impunity can pay off, that working within the system is for suckers. Thus, trespassing begets vandalism. Lawlessness excites more lawlessness. Pity the local law enforcement community. Authorities can and should go after the tree-cutting culprits. If they catch them, however, how do officials explain to the public that they're going to prosecute the tree cutters for trespassing once, when they didn't prosecute the tree squatter for trespassing for two years? And what's the rest of their crime? They cut a tree. It's a beautiful tree. It's an old tree. But the fact that Hill gave it a name doesn't change the fact that it's a living piece of wood which someday -- after a strong wind or a fierce rainstorm -- will be a dead hunk of timber and sawdust. Or if there's a forest fire, ashes. A tree. Read: redwood deck. "I feel this ... as surely as if the chain saw was going through me," Hill told The Chronicle. It's a special person who can feel as one with an entity that has no brain. There are people in this world -- emancipated foster children struggling to make it through college, high school students who can't read, Third World children who die from tainted water -- far more worthy of concern. You'd think this flipping tree was Gandhi, not a material Americans use every day, to live in, to house their books, to become their books, or to make it nice and toasty by throwing another log on the fire.