Isabel Gray, 11, just got back from a 30-day trip to Antarctica.
Scientist Robert Swan, who was the first man to walk on the South and North poles, spoke about the voyage during a presentation at Half Moon Outfitters last December, and Isabel approached him after the meeting.
"He inspired me,” Isabel says, “and it looked really interesting. I figured out that he had an upcoming expedition, and I really wanted to go on it, so I asked him about it. I raised money at Second Sunday a few days later, and then he invited me to go with him.”
Armed only with her violin and a chalkboard easel, she raised $190. Robert Swan saw images of her fundraising and knew then that Isabel was not just a dreamer, but also a doer.
And that's the difference between Isabel and most kids—most adults even. There's just a small window of time for her to move from "that'd be cool" to "I'm going to do that." That's also how quickly Isabel became a vegetarian.
"I watched Chicken Run, and that night became a pescatarian, then for two years was a vegetarian, and now I'm vegan. I think that animals should be treated the same as humans."
"She has always been incredibly self-possessed,” says Isabel’s mother, Hayne. “I think what's been interesting over the past couple months is everyone asking, 'Why would you let her go to Antarctica?' And our philosophy is, why not?"
When Isabel plays the violin on King Street during Second Sunday, a third of her profits become mad money, a third is donated to charity, and the rest is saved for travel. She also played outside of the Jump, Little Children reunion shows last winter while touring with her father, Jonathan, upright bassist of Jump. Her father accompanied her to Antarctica, and they made music a part of the trip.
Isabel said, before leaving, "We're going to take his guitar and my violin to Antarctica and write some songs for one of the programs he does with schools, Science Songs Rock, where they write songs about science to explain things, and then we'd like to actually record something on an island in Antarctica."
Isabel is starting as a 6th grade creative writer at School of the Arts in the fall.
As a writer and explorer, her mother points out, "Isabel can be an agent of change, on her own terms, that is palatable for an 11-year-old."
Yes, Isabel is not the kind of girl who's asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Because she's doing it now.
Words by Elizabeth Bowers
Photo by Sully Sullivan