How I Became an Eco-Warrior by Jeff Luers
good article-soon to be published in a book
HOW I BECAME AN ECO-WARRIOR
By Jeffrey "Free" Luers
It is late February in Oregon. Several of us make our way down a logging road
so old and overgrown that it looks like a small trail, with young trees standing
nearly twice as tall as me in its middle. This area was logged once in the
early 1900's when they came only for the giant Red Cedars. Then in the 1960's
they came back for the rest, leaving only pockets of untouched old growth.
Relatively untouched, that is; there are only two giant Red Cedars where we are
We bushwack through unit 36 of the Clark timber sale. "Clark" is a low elevation
old growth forest, some of the last stands of old growth that checker the
Willamette National Forest. There are 10 units in "Clark", the old growth is so
patch worked that these 10 units are spread out over a four square mile area,
for a grand total of 96 acres of old growth.
The ferns grow higher than my waist, vine maple reaches for the sunlight, and
there is a plethora of huckleberry. The 400-600 year old Douglas Fir, Western
Hemlock, and 2 Red Cedar tower over head. Standing before them is a humbling
experience, like standing before a God or Goddess, it is breath taking.
Hundreds and hundreds of years this forest has stood silent witness to the
passing of time.
These trees were here before Christopher "Genocide" Columbus landed thousands of
miles away. They stood as whites encroached further west. The protested
"non-violently" in shocked silence as their fellow forest dwellers and
protectors, the indigenous nations were massacred. They stood proud in defiance
as their peers feel to the axe.
Now it is 1998, I look upon the markings that slate the boundary lines of the
clear cuts to come and I shake my head. New lines must be drawn.
There is a tranquil beauty here. My decision was made before I even stepped
foot in this forest. Now, as I stand here in the presence of something far
greater than myself, I realize there can be only one outcome. By any means
necessary, I will save this forest.
I've never really been camping before, not real camping. I have the skills,
don't ask me how because I grew up in the suburbs of L.A. But I do know how to
build a fire and a shelter. I know how to survive... .that's what I thought
There were three of us who had committed ourselves to staying out there. Two
other street kids and me. One was from N.Y., the other, like me was from L.A.
(How we all found ourselves here is a different story all together.) The three
of us are your run of the mill crusty squatter punks, of which I probably have
the least experience and at 19 also happen to be the oldest.
The weather was hot and beautiful, blue sky and sunshine. The first morning I
woke up early and grabbed my climbing gear. We were trying to be stealth so we
had camped in a small clearing in a plantation forest about a quarter of a mile
away. I hike in through the woods to Unit 36.
I wanted to practice my climbing. I'd been taught the basics and knew how to be
safe. There was already a line in a Doug Fir, set at about 120 feet up give or
take. My job was to get that line set near the top of the tree where we would
put the tree sit. ( If you are wondering, the tree turned out to be around 220
By the second day I had climbed to about 200 feet. I make it sound easy, but
the truth is that I was scared to death. There are a few different methods for
climbing BIG trees, and by BIG I mean trees that at 200 feet still take 2 people
to wrap arms around. I will only describe the one I was using. This method is
called free climbing and when done with safeties it goes like this: You use two
safety lines called leads. When you are climbing branches you anchor one lead
to the branch you are on. The second lead is then anchored to a branch above
you, undo the other one, climb and start over. This process is incredibly easy
when there are enough branches to climb like a ladder.
However an old growth Douglas Fir does not have any branches for the first 60-80
feet. After that the branches don't get close enough to climb like a ladder
until around 190 feet. And these branches can be as thick as my body. They
contain soil and moos up to 6 inches deep and are an ecosystem all alone.
So, in this case what you do is anchor your lead to the branch you are on, then
you balance yourself sitting or standing knowing if you fall you are safetied
in, but that gives little comfort. From your balanced position you throw your
second lead to the next branch. After several attempts you get it over the next
branch that is 15 feet over your head. You secure your lead and climb. Then
you do it again. (Note- this is by no means a detailed instruction. Get proper
instruction before any kind of climbing.)
Life was good the third day. The sun was hot, no clouds and I was on top of the
world or 200 feet closer to it. Now we could get into other trees easy, even if
our methods were still primitive. From this height in the tree I could throw a
stick with heavy fishing line tied to it over a branch of a nearby tree. Then I
would lover the stick to the ground, where my friends would tie the climbing
line to the fishing line. I would pull up the climbing line and anchor it in my
tree. Again I make this sound easy. Of course once you are already up, this is
the easiest method to get into a new tree.
A new line set, I would now wait for the pros to come up from town. Because the
way this works is the line is anchored in my tree, draped over a branch in the
other tree and goes down to the ground where someone climbs up. (Believe it or
not theis is actually a standard set up.)
Now, when I say pros, I mean exactly that. At some pint you get so good at
climbing that you know all the tricks, you can literally swing from tree to
tree. And because of it you become one of the people called to set-up tree sits.
I wasn't there yet, and I was going to wait for backup before going any further.
I was counting on the support of people who had done this before to both teach
me and help me.
That night the three of us punks squatted under the beautiful stary sky. There
is almost nothing better than the company of good friends, a warm campfire and
the light of a billion stars. We shared tales of adventure, hopping trains,
shop lifting and running from the cops or in some cases fighting them. We fell
asleep in the fading light of a dying fire.
We awoke to a rain storm in the middle of the night. ( Yeah go figure rain in
Oregon in February.) Us three city boys were a little shocked by this. Hell in
L.A. it was already spring if not summer. We grabed everything and ran out of
the small field into the forest. We hurriedly scrambled with the only tarp we
had and made a dry, though cramped place to sleep.
The rain had not stopped my morning and showed no signs of letting up anytime
soon. The pros came out though. A lot of them! They brought supplies and
another tarp. First they set up the other tarp at the edge of the clearing so
we could have a place for a fire. while some did this others stashed supplies
and gear in buckets. The task may have been small, but their efficency and
coordination was amazing. These people had worked together and done this
before. In ten minutes, the tarp was up, food and gear stasheda, and a fire
After that I showed them the trail I had made, complete with landmarks. I was
proud of myself, and they were too.
Today we were going to get in that second tree. I climbed up my tree- the one
I'd been climbing the last three days. At the top I shouted down to the others.
theree of them piled their weight on the line going into the other tree, while
I observed how much the branch bent as the line was about four of five feet out
from the tree. Satisfied that everything was secured and safe one of them
started to climb.
I can't describe the moment with the justice it deserves. The rain is coming
down andI'm soaked to the bone. I'm huddled on a branch so high up there is no
protection from the wind or rain and a sticks throw away from my friends
grinning face staring back at me from the first tree I ever set a line in. It
is one of those beautiful moments in life that you remember with absolute
clarity. At that moment I had no doubt that we would save this forest.
We hiked back down to what was now called base camp. I dried off around the
fire. I only had two sets of clothes, and no rain gear. I lived out of my back
pack. I traveled light and fast. I was from the streets and not the woods. I
was sorely unprepared for winter outdoors in Oregon and blissfully unaware.
Everyone went back to town taht day, except for me. the other two kids who had
been with me couldn't take the rain and it would be months fefore I would see my
two friends again.
I stayed to protect what I now considerend my forest, and my home. I checked
the lines everyday. I hiked around, learned the deer trails and made them my
own. I got to know the area like the back of m hand. At the end of each day I
would go back and build a fire, change into my one set of dry clothes and dry
A week had gone by, no one had come back out. I was alone and comfortable with
it. I'd made friends with the forest, the trees and the creatures. Now, when I
hiked around the forest birds didn't treat me like an intruder. I didn't know
it that day, but I was about to experience something amazing...
A freak storm blew in that evening. It had been raining harder than usual and I
headed back to camp early. the temperature was steadly dropping and the wind
whipped as it began to hail. I huddled around the fire drying my wet clothes
when a sudden gust tore the grommets out of the tarp where it was tied. The
tarp flew like a flag tied at only one corner. there was so much rain mixed
with the hail that as I struggled with the tarp my fire was extinguished.
I was able to rescure the tarp. With a little effort I rekindled my fire, again
I set about drying my clothes, now both sets. The hail became a heavy sleet,
the wind picked up. This time it blew down instead of up. Under the weight of
the wind and sleet my tarp collapsed on top of me, again putting out my fire. I
managed to get the tarp up again. I struggled over my dead fire for the second
time. All the wood was wet and it was difficult to get burning. I was able to
get a small fire going, but it was a fraction of the fire I first had. I
shivered as I tried to warm myself by its small flames.
As I shivered around my pathetic fire the temperature dropped even further. the
sleet had turned to full on snow. It was really coming down. Every few minutes
I had to knock it of the tarp. But the storm was determined to have my fire.
the wind had come in so hard and fast that it split the tarp right down the
middle. For the third time my fire went out.
My hands and feet were numb, my clothes wet, and my body shivering
uncontrolably. I knew It would be impossible to hike out and get to a warm, dry
place at this time of night. I was simply to far away from the nearest town.
the first time in my life I wonedered if mabye I wouldn't make it though the
I crawled under my other tarp in the woods. the wind would have a harder time
getting this one, though it still rattled it at times. slowly I set up the
propane cmping stove that was almost out of fule. I fumbled with a lighter for
about five minutes. When your hands are too numb to make a fist, flicking a bic
is a hell of a challenge.
It worked, oh yeah I made it work. I warmed my hands over the low blue flame.
when I could feel all ten fingers again I took off myboots and warmed all ten
toes. I was still shivering but I could feel my hands and feet again.
I wasn't about to try and build a fire again. the tarp I was under was to low
to the ground and would melt with a fire. And I was not at all confident that I
could keep a fire lit without a shelter above it.
Resigned, I decided my best bet was to get out of my wet clothes and get into my
somewhat wet sleeping bag. I broke out my emergency space blanket and covered
my sleeping bag with it. I was still cold inside my sleeping bag but I felt
confident that if my tarp held I would be fine. Andthat I could hike out in the
morning. The wind still rattled the tarp, but I was more worried about the
weight of the snow. which I was regularly shaking off the tarp.
My body never got warm, but i did not stop shivering after a while. I decided
to pack my pipe with some kindness left by a visitor the week before. I was
celebrating life, mine and that of the 39 year old trees around me.
I knew that I needed to stay awake, not so much because I was worried about my
body temperature, but I was worriede about the storm and my tarp. To pass the
time I talked with my favorite tree, the one that my tarp was tied to. I spoke
out loaud to hear my voice, but I was speaking with my heart. Now,, for some
people this may sound crazy, to me I've spoken with trees and animals all my
life. Intrinsic knowledge that all life has the ability to communicate with each
other. I'd never gotten an answer until that night. I've had many since then.
On this night I distinctly heard, or rather felt the tree ask why I was scared.
It was like this sensational feeling like instict. You just feel it and if you
ignore it , it goes away. If you pay attention a whole new world opens up.
Surprised, yet calm. I explained my situation. we acutually talked like this
for a while. It may have been my imagination but in my mind the young tree
sounded like a child. It was astonishing. It came to light that the forest
understood why I was there. that I was there to protect it. I understood that
within this forest I would be safe.
I felt this calm and peace wash over me, like a kind of magik. The snow still
fell and the wind still blew. I knew I would be fine though. i sang a few
songs and chanted until I fell asleep. When I awoke in the morning the snow was
still falling. there was about three inches on the ground. However, there was
no snow on my tarp. Infact there was a perfect circle of forest floor
completely bare of snow around my tarp. i was amazed and humbled. I thanked
the trees and forest for it's protection. I promised I would retun soon. Of
course the forest already knew.
I packed my gear and stashed what I would leave behind. I threw on my pack and
started the 10 mile hike back to an asphalt road. About half way down the snow
turned back to rain with a slight rise in temperature. when I got to HWY 18-
the road that runs through the Williamette. I started the 20 odd mile hike to
the nearest town. fortuneatly, I got a ride after about a mile.
Unfortuneatly, it was in the back of a pick up in the pouring rain.
When I got into Eugene I went to the only place I knew. a local coffee shop
that is friendly to forest defenders. I sat in the corner drinking my free cup
of coffee and shivering again. I was found there by a womyn (who is now one of
my colsest friends_ she didn't know me, but she was friends with the pros, and
she knew who I was. I wasn't really able to talk well, or expalin everything
right then. She knew right away that I had hypothermia. she took me to her
home and took care of me.
Her home became a sort of in town basse camp. The next month would findme going
back and forth between town and the woods while I and friend climbed, measured
and planned. Others built the treesit in town.
I continued to talk to that young tree regularly. I also started talking ot the
trees I climbed and the one I would live in. I soon started calling this tree
"Happy". It just fit.
I began to be able to feel the energy of the forest around me. My senses felt
enhanced. I could smell rain half a day away. I could tell when I wasn't alone
andothers were somewhere in the forest. I learned how to use this energy, how
to communicate with the forest better. I learned to use the magik of the forest
to not be seen by freddies(forest cops) even when I was standing 3 feet in front
of them. (That too is a different story)
This forest was my home. I was prepared to die for it. I was more than
prepared to fight for it.
On April 19th, 1998, I ascended into "Happy", the first treesit at what would
come to be known as Red Cloud Thunder and the Fall Creek Treesit. I was joined
by a veteran sitter, who was going to hang out for a few days to make sure I
"knew the ropes" (quite literally, actually).
On April 20th, we were discovered by the Freddies. They had caught our supply
line on the ground and a tug of war ensued. Ultimately, we were forced to cut
the line. It had begun.
The next day, we watched as giant trees were felled to build the road that would
be used to haul them out. When a tree that big falls, it shrieks all the way
down. It lands with a thud that rattles the earth up to a mile away. I wanted
to rappel and stop them, but my friend wouldn't let me. He said in an unusually
comforting way that this was part of it. Some trees will fall, others will
stand. His kind demeanor could not stop my tears from falling.
He stayed with me almost a week. During that time we sat through miserable cold
and wet rain, wind so strong that the center of gravity in the sit would change
as the tree swayed, even two lightning storms.
A lot of people will glorify tree-sitting as this warm and fuzzy experience. I
did it for two years (on and off). I would sit for months at a time. I sat
through frozen lines covered in icicles, snow, sleet, breaking limbs and lines,
hovering helicopters, and just about anything else you can think of. It is a
beautiful and horrible experience, any person who does it for any length of time
does so out of necessity.
Still, after my friend left and I was the only one in the forest, all alone up
in Happy, I was loving life sitting under a warm spring sun and blue sky. I
felt this sense of belonging I'd never felt. I could feel the magik of the
forest and of Mother Earth in my blood. I finally truly understood what it was
to be a human being and be alive.
I climbed up to my perch, the branch above the sit. I sat cross-legged, my back
against Happy, and I began to meditate. I went into a trance. I forgot that
there was a plywood platform below me. I forgot that I was a single entity. I
felt the roots of Happy like they were my own. I breathed the air like it was a
part of me. I felt connected to everything around me. I reached out to Momma
Earth and I felt her take my hand.
I could feel the flow of life around me. I felt so in tune with the ebb and
flow of the natural cycles. I asked Her what it felt like to have humanity
forget so much, and attack her every day like a cancer. I told her I needed to
know, I needed to feel it.
She granted my request. My body began to pour sweat. I felt the most severe
pain all over, spasms wracked my body. Tears ran down my face. I could feel
every factory dumping toxins into the air, water, and land. I could feel every
stripmine, every clearcut, every doxic dump and nuclear waste site. I felt my
body being suffacated by concrete. I could feel every awful thing our
"civilized" way of life inflicts on the natural world. The feeling only lasted
a second, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
My life changed that day. I made a vow to give my life to the struggle for
freedom and liberation, for all life, human, animal, and earth. We are all
interconnected, we are all made of the same living matter, and we all call this
planet home. I vowed to defend my home, I vowed to stand in defense of Mother
The Fall Creek campaign grew. I came down and others went up. I would still
spend many months in the trees. At that point, though, I felt I was needed on
the ground. We had a huge influx of anarchist street kids up for a punk
gathering in the woods.
I helped organize road blockades, cat and mouse with the bulldozers, and
security patrols. More importantly, I and some others helped keep the spectrum
of tactics open. We would not allow the sometimes dogmatic adherence to
"non-violence" rule the campaign.
I'm not against non-violence, and we used it with great effectiveness at Fall
Creek. But no matter what, we were not going to let this forest fall. The lines
had been drawn.
When the roadworkers buried a kid, who stood his ground, in dirt with a
bulldozer and the Freddies stood by laughing, saying "We didn't see anything",
we had had enough. The next day, armed with clubs and roadblocks, we stood our
ground. When a kid was attacked with a machete, we fought back. When they sent
in climbers to remove sitters, we chased them out. If a Freddy was in the woods
we surrounded him and made him leave. If a Freddy was spying on camp and would
not announce his presence in the woods, we threw rocks and made him show
himself. When the Freddies pulled their pepperspray, we pulled ours.
Over the camp flew a banner: "If trees fall, blood spills." We were denounced
in some circles of activists and applauded in others.
The Freddies quickly realized we would not be bullied. If they pushed us, we
pushed back. A strange level of respect was given to us by the authorities. I
think they realized that with us their power meant nothing and that made them
treat us as equals. (I also think they were afraid to piss us off.)
There are a thousand stories about Fall Creek and Red Cloud Thunder, and about
all the people who lived there or passed through over the years. There were
beautiful moments, like when the security guard hired to protect the big
machines helped carry supplies to the camp, or when the loggers joined us for a
beer to bitch about their boss and company practices. There was conflict,
tragedy, and love. There was some violence and more than one brawl with the
Freddies. There was also a family of devoted friends who together saved a forest
that to us is sacred.
Today Fall Creek still stands. It was ultimately saved by some wonderful people
who worked through the system. They found several red tree voles and nests,
which the Forest Service conveniently hadn't looked for. They thus saved the
forest with the Forest Service's own rules.
However, if it was not for the hundreds of brave women and men who stood their
ground, held the blockades, sat in the trees, brought out supplies, and fought
off Freddies, climbers, and attacking roadworkers or loggers, Fall Creek would
never have stood long enough for it to be saved by the law.
Our Mother Earth is a living being, the giver of life and our home. The places
we defend are ecosystems that support all kinds of life, including ours. The
struggle for the Earth, for animals and humyns, is not one of separate issues.
It is not just one of the oppressed against the oppressors.
It is a struggle for us to remember a different way of life, one forgotten by
our society. Our very lifestyles have to change. We must learn to walk in
harmony and balance with the world around us. We must teach these ways to our
children so that they can build on them and teach them to their children.
We have also inherited the task of ensuring that there will be wild places and
animals left for our children. That the world they grow up in is not one of
pollution. We must fight to ensure that their world is free from oppression in
all its forms. It is not our children's battle and we cannot leave it to them
That means we will have to use many tactics. We will have to use property
destruction and sabotage. In some cases, like Fall Creek, people will be forced
to defend themselves or others. We must support those people who make this
stand, because they are fighting for so much, and they are risking their lives
and freedom to do it.
There comes a point where if you are paying attention, you become aware of all
the wrongs and injustices around you. You have to decide what is important to
you - clean water, freedom? You have to decide if you are willing to be a part
of something larger than yourself. And you have to decide if you are willing to
fight for it. We have already lost too much, we can not lose any more.
If your answer is "yes", then it is time for you to pick up your spear, draw a
line in the ground, and say:
"You have come this far and you shall come no further. I have a voice and I
will use it. I will speak for the voiceless, and if you will not hear my words
then you will feel my actions. I will not let you rape, murder, and oppress any
longer. I am a warrior and I will fight you."
To all the brave womyn and men out there fighting with the ELF and ALF,
fighting for humyn freedom, fighting for a better world with equality and
justice, my heart and gratitude is with you. May you always live free. May you
strike like lightning and disappear with the wind. May all our dreams come
Copyright April 2003, Jeffrey M. Luers
address: Friends of Free, POB 3, Eugene, OR 97440
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