Out on a Limb

updated 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL JUST loves her new space. True, it's small. But hey, it gets lots of light. That's because it's, like, in a tree—a giant redwood that's 1,000 years old and soon to be felled by Pacific Lumber Co., owner of Headwaters Forest near Stafford, Calif. That is, if they can get Hill out of it. A member of the green group Earth First!, she climbed the redwood Dec. 10 and has lived there ever since, huddled on an eight-foot-square platform 180 feet up, undiscouraged even by El Niño, which one night battered her nest with 90-mph winds. "I thought, 'This is it, I'm going to die,' " says Hill, 24. Then she spoke with the tree. "She said, 'Bend, flow and let go, and I'll take care of you.' I felt such peace."

Tree-sitting is a favored tactic of Earth First!ers, who have fought for a dozen years to save Headwaters, one of the world's last unprotected redwood forests. But Hill holds their record for most time aloft. She subsists on rainwater and veggies cooked on a propane stove, and speaks by cell phone to friends and a growing number of fans. Which does not include Pacific Lumber's Mary Bullwinkel. "She's being made into a hero, but what about the legal rights of property owners?" asks Bullwinkel. Nevertheless, Pacific Lumber plans no action against Hill—and Hill, a Jonesboro, Ark., preacher's daughter, has no plans to descend. Aside from the elements, her greatest problem is loneliness. Fellow activists visit for brief stretches, but her most loyal companion is a mouse. "I feed him," she says. "But selectively, because I don't want him eating all the good stuff."

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