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A Leap into the Forest
You might know how this feels: Being clear about your values, but not finding the courage to take that final leap off the cliff into living them fully. Years ago, I found myself sitting around a flickering campfire in the middle of a logging road in a national forest in Oregon.
This special area, home to protected spotted owls, had been off-limits to logging until arsonists burned 9,000 acres. The Forest Service then decided to allow clear cutting right after the 104th Congress suspended all environmental laws regulating so-called salvage logging.
Fellow forest activists and I seized the only road into the first planned timber sale in the forest. While we held back the chainsaws there, nearby thousands of acres of beautiful, old-growth forests, until recently under judicial protection, were falling daily all around us.
Sitting by that fire in late fall, I asked myself, how can the depth of my actions meet the atrocity of destruction of so many ancient, magnificent places?
The answer that kept coming to me, an answer that activists across the globe have employed often, was a public hunger strike. Despite my fear, I found the courage and leapt! The next day I pitched a small tent on the steps of the federal courthouse and office of the U.S. Forest Service in Eugene, Oregon. The whole point of leaping off a cliff is you don’t have any idea what will happen when you do. I certainly couldn’t know how this one decision would change my life.
I moved from an amazing wilderness forest surrounded by my friends to living, often alone, in my tent, on public display on a stretch of pavement near a busy downtown intersection. I allowed myself juice to prolong the vigil and to gain attention for our campaign. It worked. Our battle to save ancient forests quickly elevated.
At first, I was mostly visited by friends, but as word got out newspaper and TV reporters showed up. High school students joined for a week of fasting. Native elders came to show their support with prayer offerings. In those pre-Internet days, my urban campsite transformed into a campaign headquarters, communication hub, debate stage, fund-raising vehicle, and symbolic marker of the moral high ground.
For over two months, each morning and night, I sat meditating in rush hour traffic, surrounded by the growing accretion of signs and banners.
I’ll never forget one Saturday morning when a woman looking all the part of soccer mom, approached me. “When I first drove by you every morning, I thought this whole thing was kind of stupid,” she told me, eye-to-eye. “But it has been weeks now and I have to ask, why are you here?” Instantly and honestly I told her, “To talk to you.” A few tears between us later, and the forest gained a new ally.
The fast continued until I took a surreal trip to DC to lobby Congress for our forests. Back in Oregon on day 75, lightheaded, and feeling in a dream state, I awoke to fifty tents joining me on the plaza, and broke bread with a couple hundred forest defenders and supporters.
That summer, the payoff came! After 333 days of blocking the road to Warner Creek, the White House relented on their plans to log and as a result, today, that ancient forest still stands.
Without knowing the outcome or potential impact, I leapt into the unknown world of walking my talk, and living fully in line with what I believed. To my surprise and joy, the world leapt right back and met me as fully as I have ever felt. Since that day there was no going back. For years I blocked roads, sat in trees, and shut down the destruction with my body. Years later, this path led me to law school, and now working at Guardians to shut down the sale of fossil fuels on our national forests and BLM lands: our carbon, from our public land.
I feel blessed everyday to work for exactly what I believe in, and to be a Guardian supported by our generous, active members. Thank you all for making our work possible. Let’s keep finding the courage to leap together!
From the Earth, for the Earth,
Climate and Energy Campaign Director