Going to the Forest

The changes that 2023 brought

At the end of 2023, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what changed and what I learned in 2023, and set an intention for 2024. I’m writing this in a temporary location, so I may not be able to add a voiceover in time.

Gratuitous picture of some water. 📷 John Lovie

What changed in 2023?

For the last ten years, I served on many state, county, and local boards and committees on water-related issues from drinking water to salmon and Puget Sound recovery. Over the years, I found myself increasingly at odds with some of the regulatory and policy frameworks these committees were working under.

Ecosystem and salmon recovery programs were built on the exclusionary wilderness myth and didn’t address the harms of animal agriculture at souce. Sea level rise adaptation projects protected private property but excluded the natural world and the public.

The Safe Drinking Water Act excludes small water systems and one- and two-party wells, while local planning policies encourage creating more of them. Some who should know better still believe that private control, or even ownership, of a common pool resource such as drinking water can be something other than a really, really bad idea.

The Clean Water Act excludes protections for groundwater (and now wetlands too, thank you Supreme Court.) Toxics cleanup programs are failing to deal with slow-motion train wrecks like PFAS in drinking water. And, sorely needed environmental justice initiatives too often focus on urban issues to the exclusion of rural residents.

I needed the freedom to offer critiques of these frameworks.

Going to the forest

There was something else. In those roles, I’d been able to offer some leadership, to host spaces for conversation, but COVID accelerated a trend in which I’d found my role shifting. There were fewer live meetings, more Zoom. There were fewer group meetings and more one-on-one interactions, more listening, reading, and writing.

Two awards at the beginning of the year underscored for me that it was time to “go to the forest”, as Rose Marcario, former CEO of Patagonia, put it in this interview in Tricycle Magazine.

The idea is that during this stage of your life, you hand over your day-to-day responsibilities to the next generation and become an adviser and a teacher.

That just felt right. I slowly quit all my boards and committees, the last of them formally at the end of 2023, and started to write. I’m not giving up on water, drinking water, sea level rise, or ecosystem recovery. I’m just doing my part in a different way as a free agent.

What I learned in 2023

I was concerned whether I’d still be able to offer leadership this way; still host spaces for conversation.

My chosen area of focus in 2023 with my leadership community of practice was to “Notice and name (what’s happening now? In me/others/the environment?)” The community volunteered that I should expand it to “Notice and name and then write about it.” I try to notice, name, and write through the lens of water. If you noticed that a paragraph above contained the word “exclude” multiple times, well, I noticed it too. I’d noticed these things, but I hadn’t named them until I read a passage shared by a friend1. “You always gotta ask yourself, who is being excluded here?” Noticing, naming, and writing through the lens of water helps me see who is being excluded.

Intention for 2024

I intend to write more about all these issues in 2024; drinking water, sea level rise, and ecosystem issues for sure, but also community and travel, all through that water lens and always asking “who is being excluded here?” While the examples I use may be local, these issues of water insecurity and privatization, environmental destruction, climate change, and exclusion are global and universal.

The plan seems to be working. I have over 300 subscribers to my newsletter on Substack and another 70 on LinkedIn. People are engaging with my writing; emailing, calling, and asking me for advice or to give a talk. I’m here for all of that, and for all of you.

I’m keeping all my content free for now with nothing behind a paywall. I’m grateful to those who have opted anyway for paid subscriptions. The longer issue focused pieces take time to research, and those paid subscriptions do help with the costs.

I hope you’ll all stay with me in 2024. Happy New Year!




Whitehead, Joshua. Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020.