In the heart of Flagstaff, Arizona, where wildfires have long been a seasonal concern, an intriguing discovery about coastal redwoods is reshaping our understanding of these magnificent giants. Driven by the intriguing prospect of nature’s resilience and the intertwining of science with storytelling, local writer and educator Nicole Walker has been captivated by the ability of these ancient trees to utilize decades-old carbon for re-sprouting.

When asked about her inspiration for delving into this particular research, Nicole shared her personal experiences with wildfires, from the Schultz fire to the Pipeline fire of 2022, which have been an unfortunate annual occurrence in the region. Her background with forest conservation groups in Oregon, and her passion for mushroom foraging, which heavily relies on trees, added to her affinity for this topic. She also mentioned her new book, “How to Plant a Billion Trees,” which explores the intricate communication between mycelia and tree roots. This set the stage for her engagement with the remarkable discovery of coastal redwoods’ regrowth.

The coastal redwoods, among the world’s tallest trees, are known for their incredible capacity to survive and regenerate after fire. What has intrigued scientists and Nicole alike is how these trees harness decades-old carbon reserves to rejuvenate their lush green crowns.

As an accomplished author and educator, Nicole recognizes the importance of diverse communication methods in conveying complex scientific concepts. She acknowledges that different readers and students have varying preferences for learning. Some thrive on reading facts and detailed information, while others prefer lectures, discussions, or even lyrical narratives.

In the context of climate science, Nicole recognizes the need to "adapt her writing and teaching style to cater to a broad range of audiences", recognizing that effective science communication demands a multi-pronged approach.

Nicole’s work as an editor for essay collections that meld creative nonfiction with scientific exploration highlights the significance of storytelling in elucidating intricate scientific ideas for a broader audience. The books she has edited offer a spectrum of perspectives on science, showcasing diverse approaches to understanding the world and sharing it with others. By presenting scientific concepts through personal narratives and creative storytelling, we can demystify complex subjects, making them more relatable and engaging for the public.

As a teacher at Northern Arizona University, Nicole encourages her students to explore the intersection of science and writing. She emphasizes the shared characteristics between writers and scientists, such as curiosity, precision, and patience. To aspiring writers interested in merging these fields, her advice is clear:

"Embrace the power of observation, thoughtful reflection, and a blend of methodical and imaginative thinking to excel in both science and writing."

In a Flagstaff Festival of Science event, Nicole organized a session on science writing. Her objective was to inspire writers of all kinds to hone their observational skills, immerse themselves in the latest scientific discoveries, and infuse their personal stories into their work. 

With her extensive experience in both the literary and scientific realms, Nicole envisions a future where artists and scientists work together in harmony. She highlights the shared purpose of observation, reflection, and care for the intricate details of the natural world. 

Walker explains, "I’d like to go back to the understanding of artists and scientists occupying similar purposes, if not necessarily the same means."

In an era with significant environmental challenges, such collaborations are essential for championing the preservation of our planet. By uniting the creativity of storytellers with the rigor of scientists, we can forge a brighter future for the understanding and appreciation of the world around us.

In the realm of science and storytelling, Nicole represents a bridge between these two worlds, showcasing how the power of words and narratives can enrich our comprehension of the natural world. Her work exemplifies the potential for artists and scientists to collaborate, share their perspectives, and inspire a collective appreciation for the wonders of the Earth.

Interview and article by Ashley Alonso