Mountain, desert, iceberg adrift…and Books Can Save a Life, 2018

Antarctic mountain, 2017. (Photo by J. Hallinan)


Adrift, and a timely new edition of a little-known book

One year ago, my husband left for a two-week expedition to Antarctica. He traveled with 90 other tourists aboard a former research vessel and ice breaker. It was the trip of a lifetime, and he was among the sixteen or so tourists who ventured out kayaking. I asked him to bring back some sounds of Antarctica, and he did.

Finally, in November, I created an audio essay, “Adrift,” from some of those recordings, and it was published as part of my “From Where I Stand” series on A Journal of the Built + Natural Environment. The audio essay is six minutes long, and I hope you’ll take a few moments and listen. I would appreciate comments, thoughts, and feedback here or on If you’re intrigued, please check out the other poems, articles, letters, and features on, an outstanding online journal.

I gave my audio essay the title “Adrift” for a variety of reasons. For one thing, this past summer a massive iceberg broke off from the Antarctic mainland, alarming climate scientists and environmentalists. The rogue iceberg has since been floating away from mainland Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. “Adrift” also came to mind because our country is more seriously adrift than ever in regards to acknowledging climate change and taking action.


Encounter with an Antarctic glacier


This past Christmas, our older son who is the avid reader brought home the novel Ice by Anna Kavan. I’d been seeing the 50th Anniversary Edition online, but I’d never heard of the book or the author. Curious, I read the novel in an evening. It embodies the lost feeling of being adrift in the worst possible way. It’s difficult to summarize Ice, except to say that it is a singular, dystopian masterpiece that is eerily of our time, even though it was written in the 1960s. Reading it at this particular moment is especially resonant, given the recent bomb cyclone and deep freeze in the eastern half of the United States. In the novel, ice and bone-chilling cold encroach on the world due to an unnamed environmental or nuclear disaster. Ice is, in part, the story of an ecocatastrophe.  (This is the apt word of a New York Times reviewer, not mine). 

It is also the story of a man searching for a woman; he finds her but then loses her. He finds her again but then is somehow apart from her. And on and on, his search continues, as in a dream from which he can’t awaken. Reviewers say that his endless, obsessive search is in part a metaphor for the author’s struggle with drug addiction.

In the novel’s foreword, Jonathan Lethem writes that Ice has a nightmarish quality, with a disjointed, endless loop of a narrative similar to the style of Kazuo Ishiguro, and I know what he means: the tone and narrative reminded me of Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled. It’s a disturbing novel by a relatively unknown author who has not gotten the attention she deserves, an arresting but bleak story. There is, though, a note of redemption on the last pages.


A dark story with an unconventional narrative that may frustrate some readers. If you like this type of fiction, it’s well worth reading.


Books Can Save a Life, 2018

In a sense, my husband and I have been adrift, too, but in a more positive way. If you’ve been following Books Can Save a Life, you know that in October we left our dear, long-time upstate New York home and embarked on a cross country journey by car and train, stopping at several National Parks and scenic places in search of adventure and a new home.

In November, we landed in Portland, Oregon and in December we found the place that we’ll be calling home, at least for the next year: the high desert of Bend, Oregon. We’ve signed a year’s lease on an adorable bungalow in Bend’s historic district, known as Old Bend. Our intention is to spend the year immersing in nature – a face of nature that is novel and new for us, embodied in the dry climate east of the Cascade mountains.

We’d also like to see if we can learn to live more sustainably, in a more ecologically responsible way.

For example, we’ve chosen to live in a neighborhood where we can walk to the grocery store, the library, church, coffee shops, and restaurants. At the moment, we own one car, not two. We may take classes in permaculture and we’re looking into Oregon’s Master Naturalist and Master Gardener programs. Joe has signed up to renew his Wilderness First Responder Certification.

On Books Can Save a Life, books will continue to be the unifying thread, but I hope also to write about our lifestyle changes and their challenges. Concurrently, I’ll continue to highlight environmental and nature writers such as Barry Lopez, Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, and other modern-day prophets who are deeply connected to the natural world.

As always, I hope to feature other important, topical fiction and nonfiction as well. Jaron Lanier was one of the writers new to me in 2017 who impressed me the most, with his vision of a humanitarian information/technology economy. These are challenging times, and I’d like to focus on novelists and nonfiction writers like Lanier who give us visions of a more humane world.


A different kitchen window, a new view. This day, we awoke to lots of sunshine.


Originally, I began writing Books Can Save a Life to extend my author platform in preparation for publishing a memoir about mental illness in my family. Now, I have a rather ungainly memoir draft that needs cutting and that’s offering me plenty of opportunities for further creativity and deepening. (In other words, it needs revising. :))

As time goes on I’m more convinced that memoirs are making a difference. To that end, on Books Can Save a Life I’ll continue to occasionally tell you about memoirs that I think are exceptional, as well as books and writers concerned with maintaining and deepening creative practices like writing and art.

In the meantime, here are a few glimpses of our new home:


Our former backyard in New York had two large beech trees and a hemlock tree. I think we must have been unconsciously looking for the same thing: now we have three huge ponderosa pines.
Lightly frosted ponderosa pine. When it snows here, the sky is silvery-white, not the dark gray of places we’re used to. Of course, we haven’t been here long, so we’re not sure what is typical!




A Charlie Brown tree


Raised beds waiting to be reclaimed


A lifetime supply


Old Bend bungalows are painted in deep, earthy colors.


The Cascade Mountains were formed from volcanic activity in the Pacific Ring of Fire. The home we’re renting, and many of the homes in Old Bend, have foundations made from pumice, and pillars and chimneys fashioned from basalt, which formed from rapidly cooling lava.


A view from Mount Bachelor, where Joe and I went snowshoeing amidst the downhill skiers. This snow-capped mountain is one of the Three Sisters (I think!). The volunteer rangers who were our guides told us about the volcanic history of the Cascades. They also mentioned that Bend will be a major disaster relief center when the Cascadia earthquake happens sometime in the next fifty years. People here say “when,” and not “if” when they talk about the Cascadia quake.
All the books are in place in our new home, of course.


Next up: Our older son recommended Ice, which was my final read of 2017. I’m giving equal time to our younger son, whose Christmas gift to us was Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. It’s a tremendously inspiring book (even though I have no interest in starting a business), my first read of 2018, originally meant to be a manual for Patagonia employees. I know that sounds boring, but it’s not. It’s been translated into ten language. A new edition was published in 2016.




Happy New Year to all, and let me know what you’re reading!

29 thoughts on “Mountain, desert, iceberg adrift…and Books Can Save a Life, 2018”

  1. That’s wonderful! If anybody can bring back an old water garden it’s Joe!
    Let’s plan a visit for this summer. I look forward to being together, seeing the sights, harvesting fresh herbs to cook with, and doing yard work in the high desert of Oregon.

  2. What astounds me about your new home in Bend, is that it so perfectly suits you:
    the view of tall trees from a kitchen window, the personalized mantle piece above the fireplace, the raised garden beds in the backyard… maybe there’s no custom designed waterworks with real live goldfish, but I have no doubt you and Joe will live beautifully and intentionally with that house and yard as your new home base.

    I listened to your audio story Adrift again tonight. I must be missing you because what struck me most about it this time was just how nice it was to hear your voice!

    Did you see the super blue moon tonight? Here in Upstate New York we have to get up early tomorrow morning if we want to catch just a brief glimpse of the lunar eclipse. I’m not going to bother with it. But the super blue moon was beautiful. I don’t dare send you a picture I took because I still don’t know how to make my picture file smaller.

    I love recognizing objects from your Fairport home making themselves at home in Bend: the little painted metal gecko I gave you years ago, that pretty painting of a bouquet of flowers, that cast iron tea kettle… a snow plow just went by and scared the bejesus out of me cuz it’s making such a loud scraping sound and shooting out sparks!

    Anyway it’s time to say buona notte e sogni d’oro!

    1. Judy – You’ll laugh, but there actually is an old abandoned water garden here, too. Joe is thinking of bringing it back, and maybe I’ll plant herbs around it. We are looking forward to having you visit, you can help us with some of our outdoor projects!

      On 30 January 2018 at 18:59, Books Can Save A Life wrote:


  3. Hi Val!
    You are opening me up to so many new worlds.
    Love your blog. I read it, but then saw the pictures, so I will plan to read it again tonight when I am not “working”. You are such an eloquent writer and every sentence has significance. I want to sit down with a glass of wine (ok, hot cider) and just enjoy it, not rush through it like my emails. But you are such an eloquent person, I don’t mean to sound surprised. It is just a rare gift.
    Your bungalow is precious! A house that is walking distance to so many places?? I thought that was called “Urban living” when you live in a tiny apartment but can walk to the coffee shop. But you got the whole house and yard! Luv it! Well, this is becoming an email, so I will say bye for now.
    Hugs, Sheila

    1. Hey, Sheila, thanks for your kind words. I’m probably making this all sound easier than it has been – but things with the bungalow, at least, did fall into place quickly and easily, so that was great! Glad you stopped by!

  4. Wow, love seeing your pics of the base for your next year long adventure, it really is very brave of you to do this, congrats to you both and best of luck adventuring and progressing your quieter projects. I look forward to more of your reading insights and wish you all the best in your redrafting.

  5. What a wondrously interesting post, Valorie. The books, the homes, nature, the new environment, and the fact that your memoir has reached a milestone stage. Having produced two such books, I know that this is a major achievement, so big congrats! I hope you have a good editor to help you polish up the jewel — I also learned that every good writer needs a good editor.

    I’m inspired by your travels and willingness to live in a new place for a year. I love it. My best wishes to you and your family in 2018.

  6. I read Ice many years ago. I can’t remember very much of it – but the fact that it is still on my bookshelf points to the fact that I must have thought that at some point I might re-read. Maybe your post is a nudge!

    1. If you decide to read it again let me know what you think. The prose is striking, and I can’t help but think that there are so many extraordinary women writers who remain relatively obscure. (Although, my reading range tends to be rather narrow, so it just could be I’m a bit uninformed! Inspires me to be more creative in my search for books to read.)

  7. You two have been busy. I can’t say a winter trip to Iceland is on my bucket list, but I’m glad your husband got to cross it off his list, and the photos are amazing. Good luck in your new home, and I’ll look forward to see how its working for you. I’m still reading mysteries in book form and on a tablet. Enjoy your new adventures in Oregon. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Judy. I know I might be making some of this transition sound easier than it is – and I recall that you have done something similar, correct? It’s a big challenge, and we will be looking to make new friends which isn’t always easy – although Bend seems to be unusually friendly. One thing that helps is to have the continuity of my excellent blogger friends!

      1. Yes, you remember correctly, and we did it after we retired. The move itself and making a new circle of friends is challenging, but you have many interests so it might be easier for you. And, it is nice that your blogger friends just move right along with you. 🙂

  8. Loved this round up of your recent move, your new home and your current interests and aspirations for the next phase of your journey. Wishing you well.

  9. Congratulations on the new home! I hope it works out beautifully, though if your plans follow through it sounds like it certainly will. I look forward to reading about the books and memoirs you discover this year, it sounds like a wonderful reading year. I’ve also been investigating more sustainable living; my big challenge is that my husband is a huge technology lover so we’re not quite pulling in the same direction there. But I still think I can make some more changes – using less plastic, growing our own vegetables and herbs, creating a more wildlife friendly environment, using the car less – which will make a difference. Your blog inspires me to do better. Thank you 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! I miss upstate NY, even though they are having frigid weather at the moment – I miss all the snow! I’d love to hear how your gardening goes – I have no idea what we can grow here, but I do think some herbs will do well, like thyme and rosemary and oregano. We have a mud room that acts almost like a greenhouse and gets really warm in the afternoon. We’re starting small with trying to be sustainable – we’ll see how far we can and want to take it. Thank you for your encouraging comments.

  10. Congrats, Val! Bend is great. And there is nothing better than living car-free. An old friend (high school era) just moved to Bend, too. Best wishes for your launch. We are in Mexico now but will be back in N California in the spring…for awhile. We will be in Europe again this year, insh’allah. We like the floating life!

    1. Louisa, I remember your writing years ago that you go long periods not using a car. I’m so glad to hear you’re going to Europe again, I know you loved it this past trip. Unlike you and Barry, we have a harder time with the floating life. I loved our cross country tip, but we were really glad to get settled again. I’ll look forward to hearing about your travels.

  11. I am so glad to see your new home, and, of course, Bend is such a perfect place for your stage of life.

    1. Janet, thanks! It took us long enough. We’re excited, tho we miss you know where. It’s so great to hear from you!!! I hope you are well and doing lots of skiing and mountain biking and other good things.

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