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THE LEGACY OF LUNA; The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods By Julia Butterfly Hill; HarperSanFrancisco: 256 pp., $25

EARTH RISING; American Environmentalism in the 21st Century By Philip Shabecoff; Island Press: 240 pp., $24.95

THE NATURE OF ECONOMIES By Jane Jacobs; Random House: 192 pp., $21.95

March 26, 2000|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE LEGACY OF LUNA; The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods By Julia Butterfly Hill; HarperSanFrancisco: 256 pp., $25

Spring 1997 comes to the redwoods. Julia Butterfly Hill has survived the first of two winters on a platform 18 stories up during her tree sit to save Luna, a lone redwood owned by Pacific Lumber and blue-marked for cutting. "I awoke to nature's morning breath, sweet as honey," she writes, "and watched the sun rise."

These are my favorite moments in "The Legacy of Luna," in which Hill describes not the politics, not the media attention but the love she has for this tree, the way the tree speaks to her, right from the beginning, the way she hates to wear shoes when climbing around, even in winter, because she can't feel Luna's life force. What a thing that is. A 25-year-old kid, who grew up in a camping trailer, surprises everyone, most of all herself, by not just surviving in a tree for two years but by being in love with it, embodying love.

How did she get there? "I was working purely on instinct," she writes. In 1996 she was in a car accident that left her brain damaged for a year. At the end of the year, she went for the first time to see the redwoods. Weeks later, she was sitting in Luna. Her love grew; her determination grew. Her popularity grew. In that order. There are terrifying storms, helicopters that buzz the tree, intimidating loggers (including several who claimed that Hill, who happens to be beautiful, had climbed into Luna because she couldn't find the right guy).

Hill comes back at all of these threats with love. Finally, in December 1999, she reached an agreement with Pacific Lumber/Maxxam to protect Luna and create a 20-foot buffer around her. "I feel," she wrote the night before she came down, "like I'm being separated from a part of myself. . . . I will do my best to live the rest of my life in honor of her and this experience." This book is a passionate start.

EARTH RISING; American Environmentalism in the 21st Century By Philip Shabecoff; Island Press: 240 pp., $24.95

Philip Shabecoff has been the voice of reason and wisdom on the environmental movement since he covered it through the turbulent '70s and '80s for the New York Times. "Earth Rising" is a succinct description of the history of American environmentalism and a vision of its future.

At the end of the century, he writes, "critics [of the environmental movement] complained that an excess of pragmatism was compromising essential goals." Shabecoff, in his no-nonsense way, outlines the biggest threats ahead: climate change, declining biodiversity, acidification, ozone depletion and endocrine disrupters (toxics).

Political threats to solving these problems include rampant partisanship in which environmental goals are sacrificed for money or votes, and backlash--the wise-use movement (claims from real people that their livelihoods and property rights are threatened by enviros). The movement, Shabecoff writes, must press corporations to give full public accounting of their environmental practices; lobby for tax structures that support environmental citizenship; and insist upon campaign finance reform. We need, he writes, to create a "society that has the capacity and the will to end the ecological folly and convey us safely through the new century."

THE NATURE OF ECONOMIES By Jane Jacobs; Random House: 192 pp., $21.95

Literary nonfiction (which is what Jane Jacobs, in her classic "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" and now "The Nature of Economies," writes) requires a more rapid digestive process than fiction. You can't leave it sitting around on your bedside table for months: You lose the thread. Especially in this book, through which a reader is supposed to leap from idea to idea, arriving at the conclusion that we are on the brink of a new economic science, one that more closely resembles the natural world, with its patterns of growth, competition, evolution and unpredictability.

It will be, one of Jacobs' deliberators muses, "a symbiosis of nonsupernatural economics with nonmisanthropic ecology." Economies, another character reminds the group in this ongoing conversation, "are to fill material needs, which you could also say of the foraging deer and the scavenging of buzzards."

Like all economics, the book depends on certain assumptions, namely that "human beings exist wholly within nature as a legitimate part of the natural order in every respect." Also the understanding that economy and ecology have the same Greek root: eco, meaning house. It's a thought-provoking book with an unfortunate rubric, a conversation among friends. Their ghostly personalities only get in the way, giving the book an artificial feel. The ideas are lively and human enough to stand on their own.

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