This Old Tree with Doug Still
Luna Endures: A Redwood’s Survival Tale (Transcript)
Season 1, Episode 6
Published on November 26, 2022
Doug Still: 0:00
Luna is a 200 foot tall redwood tree that stands like a tower on a ridge deep in a privately owned forest in Northern California. Her bark is two feet thick, and she has a gnarly, multipronged top that speaks of maturity and complexity. Luna is known as a she, that's just the way it happened. Except for an occasional ground fire, she'd lived in peace for over a thousand years. But the 1990's brought a rapid change. The trees around Luna began falling, almost all of them. Logging had occurred before, but not like this. The sound of chainsaws, helicopters and crashing trees filled the air. But soon after the men in orange hard hats came to Luna's Ridge, other people followed. Instead of carrying saws, they carried backpacks, tools, and ropes. They climbed Luna, built a platform, and sat in her branches. They often came at night under the moonlight. One of them ended up staying at the top of the tree for two whole years, a blip and Luna's lifespan but a crucial one. The loggers went away.
You may remember hearing about the remarkable Julia Butterfly Hill, her two year "tree sit," and the activist efforts of Earth First to save this wonderful tree and shed light on the indiscriminate clear cutting of redwood forests. But soon after an agreement to save the tree was reached, and the national news cleared out, another crisis arose that threatened Luna's existence. It brought in new heroes, and ushered in a new era of collaboration. Stuart Moscowitz of the nonprofit sanctuary forest joins me today to tell this whole story, and describe his own special relationship with Luna, along with guest Dennis Yniguez, a consulting arborist who was part of the team that saved Luna a second time. I'm your host Doug Still, and welcome to This Old Tree.
This Old Tree theme song - Dee Lee: 1:57
This old tree, standing here for more than four centuries. I wonder what you'd say if you could talk to me about what it's like to be, this old tree.
Doug Still: 2:15
Stuart Moskowitz is a board member of Sanctuary Forest, a nonprofit land and water trust in Humboldt County, California. Its mission is to work with surrounding communities to conserve and restore forests and watersheds, and they provide educational opportunities such as public hikes, scholarships and holding public meetings. Since 1999, Stuart has been the lead monitor of the "Luna Covenant," an agreement made between the Pacific Lumber Company and Julia Butterfly Hill to preserve this magnificent redwood tree and the conservation easement created around it. For 23 years, Stuart has been balancing his career teaching mathematics at Cal Poly Humboldt State University, and caring for Luna. Stuart, a warm welcome to you.
Stuart Moskowitz: 3:02
Thank you, Doug. I appreciate you putting these podcasts together very much. Thank you for including Luna.
Doug Still: 3:09
But before we get into Luna's story, I was hoping you could describe her for our listeners. You've made the trek through the forest to visit the tree probably hundreds of times. Could you tell us what you see when you arrive? What does it feel like to stand below her? Could you take us there with a description?
Stuart Moskowitz: 3:27
Well, Luna is deep inside private land holdings currently owned by the Humboldt Redwood company. To get to Luna, because of the agreement that was made, Sanctuary Forest has the right to go and monitor Luna at any time. And so I will notify the Humboldt Redwood company that I'm going to go to Luna. I have a key that I can open a gate and then we drive about 20 minutes. Now of course, when Julia was sitting in the tree, her ground support team had to do all of this discreetly because they were trespassing. But now we have permission. So we drive about 15 or 20 minutes up the mountain. We then have to hike another 15 or 20 minutes about, oh ,three quarters of a mile from the end of the road. We walk across the top of a very dramatic mudslide. That was part of the reason that Luna was chosen for a tree sit. And then we get to a grove that has not been touched for 23 years because it's part of the protected zone. So Luna is surrounded by lush new growth. There are a few other big trees but not very many. You have to take a lot of advanced preparation just to be able to get there and to get the permission to get there.
Doug Still: 5:03
How long does it take?
Stuart Moskowitz: 5:05
Oh, well, we ended up, you know, it's always a full day trip by the time we're up there and back. It's very steep and very rugged. Sometimes we obviously have to go slow. Sometimes I'll take my walking poles because it is that steep. Nothing technical, but it really makes you appreciate the steepness of just how risky it is to log on steep slopes, because that's what caused the landslide, these steep slopes.
Doug Still: 5:38
Right. And so when you get there, what do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear?
Stuart Moskowitz: 5:44
It's a very quiet place. It's a very damp place. There's very little sunshine that reaches the base of Luna. It's a rather protected little spot. When you get there, Luna has two big goose pens, which are big burnt out cavities that are called goose pens because in old days, occasionally, someone might put a fence across the entrance to this cavity and could keep their livestock inside it. And often, the first thing I will do is take off my pack and just climb inside this goose pen and sit down with my back against Luna, and just sit there quietly,
Doug Still: 6:32
What are the tree's dimensions?
Stuart Moskowitz: 6:34
Luna stands about approximately 200 feet tall, and her diameter is probably about 12 feet across, which gives her a circumference of close to 40 feet. Because it's so steep, when you're on the uphill side, you're up above that flair. But even when you're up 10 feet higher than the downhill side, the girth is quite dramatic. Now, of course, the largest redwoods can be 20 to 25 feet in diameter with occasionally circumferences that are 70, 80, and even even more. So Luna is not the tallest. The tallest ones are 380 feet. So Luna is not the tallest, and it's not the biggest. But it's definitely the biggest upon this particular ridge.
Doug Still: 7:27
Yeah, it must be pretty impressive when you're coming up the hill to look up, the exaggerated height from that view.
Stuart Moskowitz: 7:35
Well, it was more dramatic twenty years ago when we started doing it, when there were all these fresh clear cuts that they had been logging. And there hasn't been much logging on that hillside. So a lot of it has grown up and we don't get to see Luna much anymore from a distance.
Doug Still: 7:52
That's a good thing it sounds like.
Stuart Moskowitz: 7:54
We can still find Luna from way down below or down in the valley. I can still look up on the ridge and pick out Luna from a distance. But I don't like to point it out too much, because we still know that there are people that are unhappy with Luna being a protected tree up there. And we'll get into that story here in just a little bit.
Doug Still: 8:14
But that protection from other trees from wind and just the elements, I think that's positive development.
Stuart Moskowitz: 8:21
Absolutely. Absolutely. And the winds have been documented - when Julia was up in Luna, the winds are recorded as high as 90 miles an hour. [Wow] So yeah, that buffer zone of other trees is critical.
Doug Still: 8:36
How old is Luna? And how do we estimate that?
Stuart Moskowitz: 8:40
The estimate is about a thousand years old. The only way to definitively tell the age of a tree is to use an increment borer, which is a tool that you will, it basically, you screw this tool into the tree and you remove a very small cylindrical bit of wood and you can count the rings.
Doug Still: 9:06
It's drilling the tree.
Stuart Moskowitz: 9:07
But it's actually drilling the tree. They say it doesn't damage the tree. That's always questionable. Luna has never been bored. One thing that I have learned from the biologists and the arborists that have assisted us is that a redwood tree doesn't get its distinctive old growth look for at least 500 years or more. When a big, big redwood tree still has a shape like a Christmas tree - the symmetry of what many people imagine in a big conifer - that typically means a younger tree. It can take hundreds of years for the asymmetry to exist, where a redwood will have multiple tops. There will be damage to the top and then other tops will come up. Some of the oldest and biggest redwoods will have 30 or 40 or 50 tops, so again an asymmetrical look. And Luna very, very distinctly stands out when you can get back away from that ridge and look on that ridge. Luna really is the only one with that asymmetrical top. So there's not many old growth trees left up on that ridge anymore.
Doug Still: 10:21
Where does the tree exist in relation to the Headwaters Grove? And what type of forest surrounds the tree?
Stuart Moskowitz: 10:27
So as I said, Luna is deep in private holdings, the Humboldt Redwood company is the current owner. It's about 250 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Humboldt Redwood company owns about 200,000 acres of land. So that covers many hundreds of square miles of land. The Headwaters Forest was, 25 years ago, the largest intact old growth stand that was still in private hands, and that made the headwaters Grove a target, and a goal of activists to get it protected. It's probably, as the crow flies, only about 10 or 15 miles away from where Luna sits on another ridge. As I said, Luna is not sitting in an old growth forest. Luna was probably left behind the first time the loggers came through because of her asymmetries. Luna has two tops, and is not as pristine as what the loggers might want. So it possibly got left behind for that reason. So headwaters is about a 7,000 acre grove that was protected about 25 years ago, and that the timeframe is the same as when Julia Butterfly was sitting up at the top of Luna. So Luna sits way up high on a ridge and it's surrounded by cutover, redwood and Douglas fir coniferous forest.
Doug Still: 11:57
So when they're logging this area, they're using both Douglas fir and the redwoods, right? What do they use Redwood lumber for?
Stuart Moskowitz: 12:06
Redwood lumber is known for being incredibly disease resistant, incredibly fire resistant. My understanding is that redwood is the only wood in California, where building codes allow, you know it's the only wood that can be in contact with the earth, can be in contact with dirt because of its resistance to rot. So redwood is very valuable in that regard. It's got a beautiful color. Historically, in the late 1800's, they thought of it as a resource that would never be depleted. So many of the oldest houses around here are built from the ground up with redwood or completely framed with
Doug Still: 12:52
I wonder if its ability to withstand rot is one reason why redwoods live so long.
Stuart Moskowitz: 12:58
I'm sure that must have a lot to do with it. And the bark can be two feet thick. And that can withstand fire tremendously. Of course, it's not perfect, and that's why you do see burn scars.
Doug Still: 13:15
It depends on how severe the fire is.
Stuart Moskowitz: 13:17
Of course, and the longer we go suppressing fire. You know, there's been a lot of news lately about the size of the fires in California, because when the fuel on the ground builds up, and there's a lot more fuel to burn on the ground, that makes the fires that much hotter. But because we are in a coastal zone, we haven't gotten those large fires that have burned through California in these last few years, and they pretty much have not affected us as much here on the coastal plateau.
Doug Still: 13:56
What kind of wildlife do you see living on the tree or near the tree?
Stuart Moskowitz: 14:00
Certainly there are deer. There are black bear. There is mountain lion. They're the largest animals that are in those woods. We also have elk that are in these forests and on the prairies. Fox, squirrels, chipmunk. We have martins. We have raccoons that are all around but don't see them very much. What is quite remarkable is that 200 feet up in the air Julia wrote about seeing animals up at the top of the tree that we would only expect to see on the ground. You don't expect to see ground squirrels up high in the air and certain amphibians would be there. But that's something that has been studied in recent years, that redwood canopies can have their own entire ecosystem, all in one tree.
Doug Still: 14:58
Who are the indigenous peoples that were here before people of European descent.
Stuart Moskowitz: 15:03
The land that Luna sits on was historically the Mattole people. The Mattole Watershed, the Mattole River, it runs close by. But I have to say that this part of California, this part of the Pacific Northwest, has more tribes than any other part of the continent, and so there's a lot of overlap. So if you look at a map you'll see the Mattole right there where Luna sits. But the Wiyot people, the Wailaki people, the Yuroks, I mean, there were many tribes that would work together and interact through there.
Doug Still: 15:44
So working up to the time of the tree sit, which was 1997, who owned the land there, and had it been logged much prior to that?
Stuart Moskowitz: 15:54
The Pacific lumber Company goes back to the late 1800s. It was one family and I'm trying to, I'm trying to remind myself of the name of that - it was the Murphy family that owned it in the late 1800s. They were the ones that built up the vast acreage that they had, and they logged it I will say sustainably. They logged it at a rate where they probably could have kept logging it perhaps forever, with 200,000 acres. And then in the 1980s, they went public. Maybe it was in the 1970s that they actually went public. And I want to mention The Last Stand by David Harris will tell this story quite well, of how Wall Street took over the redwoods. When Pacific Lumber Company went public, there were entrepreneurs elsewhere that saw a publicly owned company with a vast amount of real estate holdings. And so at the same time that in the 1980s when the junk bond disaster was happening, and people like Michael Milken, were using junk bonds to buy up tremendous amounts of I'll say various companies, there was the Maxxam Corporation owned by Charles Hurwitz, that saw this undervalued, publicly owned company, and he started buying their stock. And as soon as he was able to get a majority share, he tripled the rate of cut that was happening on these forests. So we never saw large clear cuts before the 1980s. But then when Maxxam took over, and with a huge debt that they had incurred in order to make the takeover happen, they had to increase the rate of cut. And clear cuts started showing up. And that's what started attracting activists and protesters to come to these forests, which is why you will often hear that the redwoods were sort of the center of the timber wars back in the 70's and 80's and 90's.
Doug Still: 18:11
You mentioned that mudslide. Was that in 1997 or 96, sort of right around there, when they were clearcutting the hillsides of the mountains?
Stuart Moskowitz: 18:21
Yes, it was New Year's Day 1997. Everything pointed to that it was the rate of cut, it was the increased clear cutting that caused this mudslide which buried seven houses at the bottom of the mountain right in full view of US Highway 101. So it became a public relations nightmare for the Pacific Lumber Company having this, you know, this pile of mud right there by the highway. You know, it's not just the cutting of the trees that increases the risk of landslides. Probably it's the building of roads and landings that have even more impact on the integrity of the hillside.
Doug Still: 19:03
And that's when Luna, in all her glory, got noticed.
Stuart Moskowitz: 19:07
That was New Year's Day, 1997, and yes. They continue to log up on that hillside in the vicinity of the mudslide, and that's what attracted Earth First to target that hillside for a tree sit and Luna was the largest tree. And so different activists, they rotated sitting in Luna for several months in early 1997. And it was towards the end of 1997 when Julia Butterfly Hill, a young woman who was recovering from an automobile accident, 23 years old and looking for something to change her. You know, she felt a calling to come out to do something in the redwood forests. She really didn't know much about it, but she attended a meeting that was, you know, that the sitters and the activists were holding. They took a lot of planning and a lot of ground support in order to keep these tree sitters supplied. And no tree sitter ever stayed up for more than a couple days at a time.
Doug Still: 20:17
Right. But that system was in place already.
Stuart Moskowitz: 20:20
That's right. I believe that the platform that was put 180 feet up in Luna, and installed during the dark of night, which is where the name Luna came from, meaning moon, as the platform was built in the moonlight. Julia volunteered to take a turn up at the top of Luna. She had never climbed a tree before, but they showed her how to climb and she got herself up to the top. And I think what made Julia different from the other tree sitters is that she is articulate, and could speak to the cause well. And once she started talking, and people started listening, she stayed. Of course, she never dreamed she would stay for two years. Sort of the assumption was that these tree sitters were dirty and grubby and filthy hippies, you know, that that were sort of the dregs. I mean, you know, they were not treated well. But Julia didn't fit that stereotype at all. And because she was 200 feet up in a tree, her voice - people paid more attention to her voice. And I have used the phrase that Luna acted as sort of like a microphone and a receiver. I don't know, if people would have listened to Julia, they certainly didn't listen to other activists on the ground. But the fact that she was risking her life 200 feet up, and month after month after month, got people to start listening to her. So Luna provided that platform.
Doug Still: 22:03
I remember the story from the late 90's on the East Coast. And I think when I mention it to most people, they know about it and remember that. Would you say that it was one of the most successful environmental direct actions that has occurred?
Stuart Moskowitz: 22:21
Yes, and it makes me - thank you for reminding me of my daughter saying to me, "But Dad, it's just one tree. What's the big deal, Dad, you know, she saved one tree." But I think it's more what that one tree symbolized and the fact that that one tree gave Julia a voice that was heard, and continues. Luna continues to be a symbol for that movement.
Doug Still: 22:52
When did you first hear about the tree sit? And when did, how did you get involved initially?
Stuart Moskowitz: 22:58
My first direct contact was on the one year anniversary of the tree sit. So it would have been November of 1998 that there was a rally held right there on the mudslide, right there where these houses were still buried. There was a rally that brought several 100 people. There were celebrities that came, there were activists that were there, there was a lot of speaking, there was music, and then there was an invitation to collectively trespass and hike up the ridge to go visit Luna. So I hiked up the ridge with about 300 other people.
But I also was a relatively new board member with the Sanctuary Forest Land Trust. And we had an attorney on our board at the time. His name is Herb Schwartz, who was part of the team that was doing the negotiating between Julia and the Pacific Lumber Company. Julia said she was going to stay in Luna until Pacific Lumber Company agreed not to cut it down. And she was going to stay there. So as as two years starts to come around, and the company realizes that she means it, she's not coming down, I think the fact that they've got this young woman in her early 20's, sitting 200 feet up in the tree on their land, risking her life, they finally said okay, after two years that they would negotiate and let's get her down before she gets killed up there.
So Herb was part of the team that drew up the agreement, wrote the agreement that Julia and the Pacific Lumber Company signed to protect Luna. And a nonprofit land trust is required to be that third party to act as not so much an enforcer, but a monitor of this agreement. So Sanctuary Forest was invited to take on the role of being the primary monitor of this Luna easement, this "Luna Covenant" that was created.
Doug Still: 25:10
What are the contents of the agreement?
Stuart Moskowitz: 25:12
Basically, on a map, they drew a 200 foot radius circle around Luna and said that nothing can be done inside this 200 feet. That 200 feet provided a buffer zone for any surrounding timber harvest activity that would be done, keep that activity away from Luna. It also gave Luna a place to fall and land in a protected area, you know, if and when Luna were to fall. So this document defines the land. It also defines who can access Luna, and essentially only the Sanctuary Forest monitors and Julia have the right to enter the property.
Doug Still: 25:55
And that was signed December of '99?
Stuart Moskowitz: 25:59
'99, that's right. When Julia signed it, fortunately Herb Schwartz, the attorney, happened to be a certified notary. And so he climbed his first redwood tree to go and get her, to witness Julia signing the document. When she had Herb's notarized signature, then Julia came down to the ground after that.
Doug Still: 26:24
Then probably starting in January of 2000 you started monitoring the tree. You're the lead monitor? [Right] Then you encountered a crisis.
Stuart Moskowitz: 26:33
But then we had a crisis.
This Old Tree song - Dee Lee: 26:38
Stuart Moskowitz: 26:39
It was Thanksgiving weekend of 2000, when one of our board members gets a phone call from one of the activists who had been part of Julia's ground team. And he had continued to go up to Luna on his own even after even later. And he discovered fresh sawdust in a chainsaw cut in, you know, Luna had been cut with a chainsaw. And so he immediately called us, and that would have been, you know, we had an emergency board meeting on that Sunday after Thanksgiving. And Monday morning, several board members, and we had a county sheriff, we had a private investigator. A crime had been committed, this was direct vandalism. We went into the corporate offices of the Pacific Lumber Company to tell them that, you know, a crime had been committed, that the easement had been violated, and we needed to get up there right away to assess the damage.
And so, oh goodness, there must have been 15 or 20 of us that went up that day. We had foresters from the Pacific Lumber Company, we had our own foresters, we had the law enforcement. We also had some people from the California Department of Forestry as well. So we had the environmentalists and the loggers and the government agents all up there to assess the damage.
Doug Still: 28:08
And what was your response when you first saw the damage?
Stuart Moskowitz: 28:11
It was horrifying. It was horrifying. It looked like they did not try to cut Luna down. They went more than half way around but just did a horizontal cut. If you're going to cut down a tree, you go in on one side and you will remove a wedge and then you'll come around on the backside to do a back cut on the opposite side from the wedge. Well, no wedge was ever taken out, no back cut was ever put in.
Doug Still: 28:38
So it wasn't about cutting down the tree. It was about killing the tree
Stuart Moskowitz: 28:42
It was about killing the tree, it was about killing the movement we think? About hurting Jullia and hurting the activists in an indirect way.
Doug Still: 28:54
So you put together - you and Sanctuary Forest put together a team to assess the damage and, you know, treat the tree.
Stuart Moskowitz: 29:02
So we called Save the Redwoods Lee which is based out of San Francisco, four and a half hour drive south. We called Save the Redwoods League and said, explained to them what we had on our hands, and asked them if they had any expert arborist that knew how to work on large redwood trees. And that night, the President of the American Society of Consulting Arborists and one of the Save the Redwoods League's leading arborists, his name is Dennis Yniguez - left his Berkeley home and drove all night Monday night and showed up Tuesday morning and went with us to Luna Tuesday morning.
Dennis Yniguez: 29:44
This was not just girdling the tree. This was a plunge cut with a chainsaw that probably had a 36 inch bar.
Doug Still: 29:53
Here's Dennis Yniguez today, the owner of Tree Decisions out of Berkeley, California. He's a Registered Consulting Arborist, or RCA, of the American Society of Consulting Arborists, of which I'm also a member. What were your first thoughts after seeing the cut in person?
Dennis Yniguez: 30:11
Well, it was a huge cut. A few of us showed up the next day on site, and we had a contractor's tape and snipped off the end of it so it would fit into a narrow saw curve, and we could measure the depth of the cut. It was about 32 inches deep, and Luna at that height of the cut, which is oh, I don't know, two and a half feet above the ground, Luna's 11 feet thick. And the cut was about 60% of the way through the cross section of the tree. And there were two cavities in Luna, an uphill and a downhill cavity, before the cut was made. [Right] It's very common for these old growth trees to have openings in them. They're fire resistant, but sometimes a very intense fire at their base will manage to get through the bark and burn the tree. And Luna had two cavities that are significant, you can stand inside both of them.
So somebody had apparently done a plunge cut right in the middle of the tree and just, just went from left to right as far as they could around the tree without felling it. They cut enough so that the saw curve was facing the direction of prevailing winds. And the next big storm would have had a 200 foot lever. It is 180 to 210 feet, whatever the height is, or was at that time. And it would have had a huge leverage to push over Luna. The circumferential percentage of living cambium from the roots to the crown was probably about 25%.
Doug Still: 31:53
Could you explain for our listeners what the tree's cambium layer is and why it's so vital?
Dennis Yniguez: 31:59
It's absolutely vital. The cambium is like an envelope or a sheath around the circumference of the tree beneath the bark. And it's living cells that are meristematic, meaning they can produce several different kinds of cells. And they produce cells on the outside called the phloem. And the phloem distributes the carbohydrates, the sugars that are made by the needles of the tree and photosynthesis. And on the inside of the cambium, it produces xylem, which is the wood of the tree that conducts water and minerals, dissolved minerals, in an upward flow from the roots to the top of the tree. It's absolutely essential. It's the living part of the tree. The middle of a huge tree like that is mostly nonliving tissue.
Doug Still: 32:52
Yeah, I think of it like a cylinder just below the bark.
Stuart Moskowitz: 32:56
Thank you! In one sentence, you've said it.
Doug Still: 32:59
And they had cut through the bark and through the cambium layer.
Stuart Moskowitz: 33:03
Oh, yeah. And it was severed from top to bottom. So the structural stability was gone in 60% of that tree.
Doug Still: 33:12
Had you worked with redwood trees before, and what makes them challenging?
Dennis Yniguez: 33:17
Oh, redwood trees are yes, I worked with them before and quite a bit. Redwood trees are amazing. They are one of the most resilient trees that I've ever heard about or worked with. They have the ability to uptake moisture, in a way - it's called Interlocked Sap Ascent, and water from all around the tree arises in a zigzag pattern beneath the bark, so that by the time the water is only about 10 feet above ground, it may well have gone almost all the way around to the other side of the tree. So water is raised in a diffuse pattern. There's no one to one relationship between a severed root and the branches above that root. [Interesting] Yeah, so redwoods can nourish the entire crown and uptake moisture and distribute it in a diffuse manner, which is a huge survival tactic.
They also can do direct foliar absorption of water from the fog. They can take it right out of the fog, right through specialized needles. And they also have leaves that do what's called guttation, which means drip, fog drip. And a lot of that is taken up again by the roots, they can pull the water either directly from the fog. They can have fog drip and then it comes up through the roots. So this direct foliar absorption is one thing that probably had a lot to do with Luna being able to withstand.
Doug Still: 34:56
I was gonna ask if this sort of diffuse water absorption system, or distribution system - it helped the tree in this case, didn't it?
Dennis Yniguez: 35:06
Oh, yeah, I mean, it must have. And also, redwoods have a habit, which they've evolved over 150 million years, to be grafted to neighboring trees. And so it is entirely possible that other redwoods around Luna were connected to the surviving root system of Luna. And we don't know, but the trees around Luna may have been playing a part in assisting Luna's survival.
Doug Still: 35:33
Right, although a lot of the trees had been removed through the logging, but there was some left.
Dennis Yniguez: 35:39
Doug Still: 35:40
So you were concerned about the tree's stability with the prevailing winds. So you prescribed installing brackets.
Dennis Yniguez: 35:49
Yes, I don't want to take all the credit for that. We had a team of people, and I'll tell you. There was a state forester that was working with Pacific Lumber Company, the company that Julia was protesting against, and there was a private forester, also, who was called to be on the team to go up and inspect the damage. And there were a few other folks too. There was an engineer from Arcata. And the brackets that went on the tree are made of half inch thick plate steel. And I think the bolts that are used from top to bottom above and below the cut are one inch thick, possibly thicker, possibly one and a quarter, I don't remember. And there are five pairs of brackets on the area that was cut.
We went out after Pacific Lumber Company had kept four of their machinists working overtime to build these brackets. The same day they were designed, they were built. And we hiked in about six o'clock that night, and some people went in by truck, some hiked in and carried in the brackets and carried in some of the gear. And Pacific Lumber Company had designated a driver to park on a landing on a flat above Luna where some of the logging trucks had been. And they went up a logging road and took in a generator and hundreds of feet of electric cable, and ran about 300 feet of cable down from a generator down to Luna. So a team of about I think there were six or seven of us worked, oh, for something over four hours. And we had klieg lights and powerful drills and lag bolts and the brackets, and we were able to put those in the tree before the storm came. And the storm broke that night. At 11:45 or so, we were finished, we were walking up and out of the hill and back to some vehicles, and the storm broke. And nobody knew if Luna was going to make it.
Doug Still: 38:03
Sounds like quite a team.
Dennis Yniguez: 38:05
Doug, it was great. And one of the people in the team was from Pacific Lumber. So this event brought everybody together to work and try to make sure this tree didn't go over.
Doug Still: 38:19
Ironically, the cut heightened the cooperation between all parties.
Stuart Moskowitz: 38:23
It led to heightened cooperation. And if anything, I think the cut probably had the exact opposite effect of what the intent of the cut was. Instead of demoralizing the movement, it actually energized the movement.
Dennis Yniguez: 38:37
It was an adventure, I'll tell you, because we forgot what's called "a splitter" when we walked down. The splitter is a device that can take the electrical current from a cable, and it goes into a "Y" so that you can put two devices on the cable and have them be powered with electricity. So we had to choose between the drill and the lights. So we'd light up the tree and place the drill. And then we'd turn off the lights and plug in the drill, and we kind of did that. A few people had flashlights. But it was an adventure. Great fun. Great team. I should tell you the brackets are not the only thing holding Luna up.
Doug Still: 39:13
So in addition to the brackets, there was also a cabling system installed. Could you describe that?
Stuart Moskowitz: 39:20
Sure. So the brackets were put up on Tuesday, you know, installed by Tuesday night. But we knew that those brackets which were bolted into Luna right at the base, nobody really expected that to hold up over time. So at that point, with the news out of what was going on, I started getting emails and phone calls from arborists, from engineers, from biologists, from chemists from around the world. Architects telling us what we had to do to save Luna. Sending us these diagrams with these cabling systems, you know, we gotta put some guy wires up on Luna up high, you know, and tether, her. All different kinds of ways to do it.
It was Tuesday that those brackets were put in place. Julia was out of state when it all happened. She came back to Humboldt County, and on Wednesday, came with us up to Luna. A very, very emotional trip up to Luna for sure. And then had a press conference back in Eureka that afternoon to explain to the world what had happened. And I remember at that press conference that a man came up to me, introduced himself. "My name is Steve Salzman," and he's an engineer, and he wants to help in any way he can.
Dennis Yniguez: 40:42
An engineer, Steve Salzman, designed a cable system along with Steve Sillett, who's a Humboldt professor and Jim Spickler, who was a colleague and is now doing a lot of work up in Humboldt County and actually different places around the world. They designed a cable system and anchored it at about 100 or 110 feet with three cables that are anchored into the base of other smaller redwoods in specific locations around the tree. And they went up. I was not with them when they went up to put the half inch cable around the tree. As you know, as an arborist, you can't girdle the tree with cables, as the tree will continue to have radial growth and it'll end up choking itself off. So they use vertical wooden slats. And they wrapped a cable about four times around these vertical slats. And that prevented the cambium from being fully compressed. And it's a technique that they've used in eco-forestry. And there's a gentleman named Paul Donohue and his wife, Teresa Wood, who came up with that idea. And with Steve Sillett and Jim Spickler, they managed to install this anchorage point up at 100 feet. And the way they ran a line from that anchor point was to use crossbows and shoot lines down. Steve Salzman was the engineer who went out and identified the base of the trees that they'd be anchored to it, and they'd shoot across a line with a crossbow down from that anchor point. So they got a straight cable run when it was time to pull the cables up.
Doug Still: 42:32
How has the tree responded to the brackets and the cabling system? Is the bark growing around the brackets or have adjustments been made?
Dennis Yniguez: 42:42
Oh it's doing great. Luna is amazing. It was pretty sketchy for a while, I mean, for the first year, year and a half, Luna looked pretty good. And then we knew that there would be die back in the top, regardless of all its resilience and survival mechanisms. That's a huge, a huge blow to the system to have 60% of the cross section completely severed. So over time now, Luna has closed off a lot of the curve that was cut, and has built what look like huge burls over some of the area of the cuts. And it's kind of holding steady on top. It has, oh, I don't want to put a percentage on it because I really don't know, but maybe 15% die back over on the top of the tree? But Luna's making it. We all knew Luna would make it. It's amazing. I don't know of it ever happening before. I don't know of a situation like this.
Doug Still: 43:48
Who was Cherokee Bear Medicine Healer, Byron Jordan, and what did he propose?
Stuart Moskowitz: 43:53
So the brackets got put in place first. And then the cable system took another two months. And that took care of the structural first aid for Luna. But we still had biological first aid, and emotional and spiritual first aid as everybody around was wanting to approach this from, you know, from all these different angles. And I had all of this advice from people about how to heal Luna. You know, from the biologists, from the chemists from the herbalists. And Julia said, "Whatever you do," she said, "I'm not invested in the specifics, but please, whatever you do for Luna, make sure it comes from the earth. Nothing synthetic."
Dennis Yniguez: 44:43
It was important to Julia to really try to find a way to use a balm, or use some kind of poultice, or some solution on the tree where the cuts were made. And that was her intuitive feeling. And I can't begin to speak about the depth of her connection with the tree after living with a single tree for two years up in the canopy, but when she has an intuitive feeling about what's right for the tree, I just really want to listen to what her feeling is about it, and to respect that.
Stuart Moskowitz: 45:26
And she gave me the name of Byron Jordan, a Cherokee Bear Medicine Healer - earth medicine healer. He lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the time. And so she gave me Byron's phone number. Byron had reached out to Julia and offered his help. And you know, if he could be helpful, he wanted to help. And so Julia gave me his phone number. And we had some very interesting phone calls where he explained to me that the best thing to put into this cut would be clay, from a source as close as we could get to Luna. He said, clay is a natural healing agent. He said, clay has been packed on wounds by indigenous people since time immemorial. He said Jesus healed a blind man with clay. He said, he's, you know, and so if you can pack that with clay, that's what you should do. And then Byron also offered, he said, "The only thing better than clay is bear saliva." He said, "bear," he said, "saliva, is a powerful healing agent. He said "All, no matter the species, animals will lick their wounds to clean themselves." He said that bear saliva, he said, "there's probably a bear up there licking that cut right now." He said to me, he says, "so if you can get some bear saliva and mix it with the clay, that would be perfect." I was sort of hesitating at that point. And he did offer, he said "It's hard to get," he said.
Doug Still: 46:58
I imagine so!
Dennis Yniguez: 46:59
So how are you going to get bear spit? Well, it turns out, I wasn't up in Humboldt County when this discussion was going on about what to do. And they divided up the responsibilities into a kind of a treasure hunt for who would come up with what mixtures for this tree. And for some reason, I got nominated to get the bear spit. So I don't know why. I got a call one evening, maybe nine o'clock, and they said, we're going to do this poultice. And I happened to know the director of the zoo over in San Francisco, the director of the botanical part of the zoo. And I called him at 10 o'clock and said, Tom, can you get me any bear spit? And he didn't find that to be an unusual request, because he had received a good number of requests for the urine of lions and tigers and all that.
Doug Still: 47:54
That wasn't the first type of request he received like that.
Dennis Yniguez: 47:58
Not really, well, I don't know if it was the first one for bear spit, but they get unusual requests from people who want to keep deer out of their yard and all that. They want the urine of predators. So anyway, he said, "Well, we don't have any black bears here at the zoo, but I know where you can locate a black bear." And it turns out there was a black bear named Rosemary who had been orphaned in a fire. And she was in the zoo up in Humboldt County, and so I wasn't there. But I heard that a small team of people went to visit Rosemary, and they brought chocolate chip cookies and celery, and they fed her chocolate chip cookies. Reached through the cage bars, fed her chocolate chip cookies, and then she starts salivating and they put a piece of celery in her mouth, and then they were able to withdraw some bear spit. And that was mixed in with the clay. It sounds out of this world. It sounds so foreign.
Doug Still: 49:03
I'd spit out the celery after having chocolate chip cookies too!
Dennis Yniguez: 49:06
Stuart Moskowitz: 49:09
I think part of the whole mystique of this whole story is that, I'm a mathematics professor, you know? Taking care of a tree especially like this is not part of training. [Doug laughs] I'm a scientist, you know? And here I am using bear saliva and clay to heal a tree. You know, how did it, how did this all happen? And one side of me says, "Stuart, you don't believe any of this." But then, it's happening. You know, it's happening, and I'm in the middle of it.
Doug Still: 49:41
What is the "Essence of Luna?
Stuart Moskowitz: 49:43
[laughs] So, one of the things that Julia did over the course of the two years was she made a tincture. While she was 200 feet up, she collected bark and lichens and various little plants and sticks. And she, and she steeped it and made a tea out of it, and she made a base for what she eventually called the "Essence of Luna." And she gave me a little bottle with a dropper and asked me to give some of this back to Luna every time I visit Luna. It's sort of similar to other homeopathic remedies where, you know, if you or any of the listeners are familiar with the Bach flower remedies. The Rescue Remedy is something you know - it reminded me a lot of Rescue Remedy, to give back after a trauma.
Doug Still: 50:44
You are quoted in one of the Sanctuary Forest reports as saying, "Luna is responding with the wisdom of more than 100 million years of evolution in order to regain her balance." So as an expert, how does it help to be humble?
Dennis Yniguez: 50:59
Oh, my God, I don't know much about humility. [both laugh] I think it's a constant effort. It's a constant effort, everybody has a tendency to want to elevate themselves.
Doug Still: 51:17
It sounds like you were responding to the people who had an emotional attachment and emotional investment in this tree. And you were also responding to the tree itself, and your knowledge of the species.
Dennis Yniguez: 51:33
You know, it was a great gift to be able to be involved in this project. And what's so beautiful about it is that it really brought people together. And it's been almost 23 years since Julia came down from the tree, and our politics have gotten more divisive, and a lot has happened in the world. And it's easy to see the kind of lower nature that sometimes comes out in folks. And to see the best in people come together for a really great purpose, that was inspiring. You've you've heard from Stuart, who is the guardian angel of Luna, he's been rock solid for 23 years, going up regularly to Luna. And it's amazing how the love of Luna and the love and appreciation of Jiulia continues after all this time.
Doug Still: 52:33
The story of Luna is so well known that Luna is sort of like a tree celebrity, in a way. People know that name. They know the tree, they know the story, or a lot of people do. And you spoke about the power of that. But are there any drawbacks to that sometimes? And what's the balance between sharing Luna with the public and protecting the tree?
Stuart Moskowitz: 52:57
Well, the timber wars, many of the loggers, much of the timber industry blamed the environmentalists for not being able to log trees the way they used to. And so yes, we're very protective about keeping Luna's location a secret. And one of the things I can appreciate about Sanctuary Forest, is that we're not like Earth First. We don't take direct action. We are not out there sitting in trees, or blocking roads, or vandalizing equipment. We believe - and we don't believe that logging should stop. We recognize that, you know, that lumber is a very important building material and that's not going away. And so we take an approach of working, trying to work cooperatively, trying to work side by side to come to some agreement. And that's one reason why I really appreciate that we've been able to develop this relationship with Pacific Lumber Company and now even more so with the Humboldt Redwood Company.
Doug Still: 54:11
Do you think Luna could live another 1000 years?
Stuart Moskowitz: 54:15
Redwoods don't die of old age. I think we've come to realize that. That they can live on and on and on. And so with that in mind, I would say yes. And what Luna has demonstrated - in some ways Luna has become an outdoor laboratory, because it's not often that you can study something that's been vandalized like this, that's been cut like this. And she's demonstrated how strong she is, that she can keep going.
Doug Still: 54:44
There's clearly a bond between you and Luna that is unique and special. And I'm sure Julia and any of the other people who've cared for Luna and been a part of the story have similar experiences, but in their own way. And I bet some of our listeners today are thinking right now about a tree in their lives, that means something special to them on an emotional level, and I put myself among them. Are we eccentric? Normal? Or somewhere in between?
Stuart Moskowitz: 55:12
[Laughs] Oh, wow. How about all of the above? You know, like I said, my background, I'm trained as a mathematician, as a scientist. This is not what I was raised to believe in. But these last 23 years of my life I've been exposed to and I have experienced things that I never dreamed I would have ever experienced. Is that eccentric? Probably a little bit. Yes, probably. Probably some. But it's real. It's happening. You're right, I have become attached to this tree. Partially because of Luna herself. And you know, it's just, Oh my goodness, it feels so comforting to be there, you know, to sit in one of these goose pens and lean back against Luna. It's a very special feeling. But Luna has enriched my life. The people that I have met over the years - you included, Doug, you know, I mean, the people that have interviewed me, the people that I have taken to Luna. Seeing such diverse perspectives come together to work side by side. In that regard, there's no way to discount the effect that Luna has had.
Doug Still: 56:35
Thanks so much. I really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for coming on the show.
Stuart Moskowitz: 56:40
Thank you for doing this, Doug. You know, I appreciate it because this is part of what keeps the story alive. So I'm delighted that here we'll have another opportunity to share the story.
Doug Still: 56:53
I hope you've enjoyed hearing the story about Luna the redwood tree, especially from the perspective of Stuart Moscowitz, the lead monitor of the Luna Covenant from Sanctuary Forest. It took a special person in Julia Butterfly Hill to sit in Luna's crown for two years, and a dedicated crew of supporters to help. But it's just as meaningful for someone to devote 23 years to taking care of this beautiful redwood and what she symbolizes. You can donate to Sanctuary Forest and help them continue to do all the good work that they're doing, by going to their website at sanctuaryforest.org. I'll put the link in the show notes. Thanks again to Stuart, and much appreciation to Dennis Yniguez for coming on the show to share his expertise and experience in this wonderful story.
Before we end, we do have a Tree Story Short for you. Here's Carol Kingsbury telling us about an historic elm tree she knew growing up in Dedham, Massachusetts.
Carol Kingsbury: 57:52
When I was a kid, I had a 1958 sky blue Schwinn bicycle that I wrote all over Dedham, Mass. When I would ride down East Street on my way to Dedham Center for a root beer float, I would pass by this huge, very old tree. One day I stopped to look when I noticed a plaque in front of it, which said Avery Oak. Its trunk was the biggest I had ever seen, and there were scarred places where major branches had once been. I knew Dedham was one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts because the Fairbanks House was just down the street, and it is the oldest wood frame structure still standing in America. But here was this living thing that had been there for hundreds of years. Wow, I thought. The people who built that house went by this tree every day. Even at that young age, I had a glimpse into the relativity of time, and an appreciation of all that this tree had witnessed. I remember being sad when I read in the paper that a thunderstorm had finally taken it down in 1972. The article said that they wanted to take the tree to build the USS Constitution, something about the twists and turns of the woods being perfect. Folklore has it that Mrs. Avery is the one who said "absolutely not!" Good girl.
Doug Still: 59:27
And I'm going to end it there. I'm Doug still, and thank you, tree lovers, for joining me today on This Old Tree. If you like to show, one way to show your support is to hit the "subscribe" button on your podcast app, and that way we're easy to find the next time you want to listen. You can get links and information about our guests in the show notes, especially a list of books and documentaries done on Luna and Julia Butterfly Hill. You can see photos and other related tree stuff if you follow This Old Tree on Instagram or Facebook, and now on Mastodon. Also, if you'd like to submit a one to three minute Tree Story Short about an important tree in your life, you can record it on the voice memo app on your phone and email it to me. I'd love to hear from you. Here's arborist and songwriter Dee Lee to take us out. Thank you for joining me.
This Old Tree song - Dee Lee: 1:00:14
This old tree, standing here for more than four centuries. I wonder what you'd say if you could talk to me about what it's like to be, this old tree. Shadow and shade, kids down the block are selling lemonade. Send them down to cool…