Isobel Whitcomb is an environmental and science writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Their work, which has appeared in Sierra Magazine, Scientific American, and Slate, focuses on the spaces where humans intersect with science and nature — the ways we shape our environment, both in actuality and in our imaginations, and the ways that it shapes us in return. Words were their first love; trees, amphibians, fungi, and life of all kinds came next. Today, they split their time between the Ponderosa Pines of Southern Oregon and the moss-draped old growth around Portland.
In what ways does nature inspire or inform your work?
I grew up outdoors. When I think about childhood, the first pictures that come to mind are slick, golden-bellied frogs squirming in my hands, the shock of alpine water, and the pungent smell of mountain fens: of carnivorous plants, wild onions, sweet grasses, and decay. I grew up loving these life-forms as though they were a part of me. Through my writing, I express that love and try to reconcile it with the grief I feel at climate change and extinction — and I try to imagine what it looks like to love the Earth as it is now.
What does it mean to you to be part of a thriving ecosystem?
It means first acknowledging its dynamism. Ecosystems are not static, and that we cannot truly participate in a thriving ecosystem if we are constantly trying to return to something that existed in the past — or that only exists in our imagination. It means both grieving loss and creatively imagining a way forward, in which humans respect the delicate balance of processes that have evolved over millennia, and will continue to evolve.