The Bird and the Tree
I have loved Judi Bari for as long as I’ve known
her. We met, fell in love and combined organizing efforts
for redwood preservation in early 1988. I used to refer
to us as the bird and the tree. I was the bird, always
flying about the country, playing music, my nervous
energy constantly sending me toward some new required
destination. Judi was the tree. She remained in Mendocino
County as much as possible, raising her two young children
yet ferociously organizing massive numbers of people
through her numerous, effective mailings, phone calls,
press releases and her feisty, eloquent appearances
As our romance was ending and our campaign for a Redwood
Summer was just getting under way, a pipe bomb exploded
under the seat of Judi’s car as we traveled together
in Oakland on May 24, 1990. We were on an organizing
roadshow in which I sang, played guitar and showed slides
while Judi played fiddle and speechified in her dynamic,
humorous manner that has now become legendary. We had
decided to take to the road a bit to get away from the
dozens of death threats we had been receiving.
Judi was almost killed. The pipe bomb someone placed
under her seat most likely the previous night fractured
her pelvis in 10 places, paralyzed her right leg, pulverized
and dislocated her two lower vertebrae and impaled her
on a car seat spring. She suffered internal damage as
well. Then the FBI and Oakland Police (OPD) showed up
and accused us both of knowingly transporting the bomb.
We were both thrown in jail as the media repeated the
FBI’s lies, tarnishing our reputations as peaceful
activists, as well as that of the whole Earth First!
movement. Someone had tried to cut down the tree. They
For the bird’s part, I emerged relatively unscathed,
with only minor injuries. The bomb blast was deflected
away from me by the hump over the transmission in the
middle of the car.
Since that time, Judi and I have had a rocky but constant
relationship. We are suing the FBI and OPD together.
We’ve continued to organize huge rallies for the
Headwaters Redwood Forest and record numbers have turned
out over the last two years. Few know that Judi goes
to sleep every night suffering excruciating pain from
her nerve endings that want to regenerate but can’t.
She says it’s like electric shocks zapping her
all night long. She hasn't been looking forward to growing
This year, 1996, the demonstrations have been colossal.
Over one hundred activists constantly keep our Humboldt
County, California base camp abuzz. One thousand thirty
three people were arrested on September 15th alone,
and almost two hundred more through the month of October.
Sometime in mid-October I began to receive premonitions
that something bad was going to happen. The same day
that I found out the sheriff’s were literally
tailing me for suspicion of "conspiracy" as
I purchased sleeping bags, wool socks and power bars
for base camp, I struck a barn owl on my way home to
my mountain retreat. A few days later I struck an old,
shaggy deaf dog broadside on Highway 101 at a good clip.
There was no sign of the body when I returned. A day
or two later I found an old deer skull sitting in the
center of my dirt driveway.
The capper occurred the next night when I arrived at
base camp at Williams Grove in Myers Flat, which is
comprised of huge, ancient redwoods. As I shut my car
door at about 10 pm on that windless, warm night, an
old growth redwood crashed to the ground with a thunderous
impact. The camp stood still, then instinctively circled
up and shared its collectively thoughts and prayers.
I told this same story to the circle that night, expressing
my fears that death was on the horizon. I warned everyone
to be careful. Tensions between us, the cops and the
loggers were at a high. I was afraid that one of our
activists might get killed or badly injured. An ancient
redwood falling in your presence is not to be taken
lightly. I then repeated an old, wise expression I had
heard. "The best prophets are those whose prophesies
do not come true." Our peak activity, however,
did not offer much time for serious contemplation. We
went back to our demonstration planning that night.
I struck one or two more animals after that. I walloped
a deer on the head coming around slowly a blind curve
on a steep, 75 degree Mendocino hill. It vanished into
the night, as well. Then on Thursday, October 31, Halloween,
I believe I struck a cat that dashed between my front
and rear tires near Berkeley, where I was staying following
an urban mascarade action in San Francisco. I couldn’t
find that animal either.
Then on November 1st, 1996, I learned the unthinkable.
Judi Bari, the root of all our large-scale protests,
had been diagnosed with breast cancer that had metastasized
to her liver. The prognosis is not good. The tree is
All of what seemed important, the demonstrations, the
people in jail, even the falling trees became irrelevant.
The humanity of our movement, the shortness of our lives,
the fear of facing the future stood before me (and all
of us) like a brick wall we were about to hit at ninety
miles an hour. I cried, and cried, and cried. Mostly
alone. The bird was still on the road. And it was the
music on the car stereo that got to me every time. It
was as though every song was written for Judi. When
facing my friends, I was stoic. I felt mostly shock
or nothing. But those times alone, in flight at night.
That when it gets to me.
And I wonder. Will this bird ever land? And when it
decides to, will there be a tree left standing for it
to call home? And when do we stop and say that the people
are trees too. That we are being cut down by the poisons
and the bombs and our dysfunction and the pain of being
left alone in the world, separated from our tribes,
divided and conquered. And how will we ever get back?
Or forward? My resolve is strengthen, though my heart
is broken. The bird still loves the tree.
Judi is alive and fighting. You can send your donations
to her and her two girls to the Judi Bari Trust Fund,
106 W. Standley Street, Ukiah, CA 95482.