Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Finding, Losing, Recovering Val Ross

Eartha, at the DeLorme headquarters in Yarmouth, Maine
Recently, I found a book I'd bought for my classroom, brought home to read myself, and lost almost immediately. The book was about mapmakers, about being lost and found, and when it surfaced this time I held onto it long enough to read it, through the pitch and roll of various storms, snow and otherwise.

Val Ross wrote The Road to There as a series of stories, portraits of people struggling, being resourceful, being devious; going to extreme lengths to make or even just modify maps, or to hold in their hands maps that intrigued them; facing the suppression of maps that threatened the powers-in-place; scaling peaks, flying over wilderness, leaving our planet, all in order to say, “This is next to this, and over here...”

 As I read, I kept turning to the photo of Val Ross on the book jacket: open face, huge grin; curious, amused, ready for anything; somebody enjoying her life. Through the whole second half of the book, I kept thinking, "I'm going to write and tell her how much I’ve liked it..."

When I finished the book and went hunting, online, for a way to contact Val Ross, I was in no way prepared to have Wikipedia tell me that she had died in February 2008, of brain cancer. I was so shocked, so sad, I burst into tears.

There's a community page for her on Facebook. I "liked" that. Elsewhere on line, I found a piece one of her friends had written, about having lunch with Val, regularly, over a period of 30 years; about their last lunch. I learned that The Road to There had won the big Canadian prize for young adult non-fiction, in 2003. I learned that her book about Robertson Davies, on which she kept working after getting her diagnosis, had been published posthumously.

Each of these things brought some obscure comfort. Here’s the best part: Val Ross wrote another book for young people. This one is called You Can’t Read This, and the blurb says it’s about the banning of books, “and how people everywhere throughout history have devoted their wills and their brains to reading and unleashing the power of the word.”

I’ve just ordered it. I may be laughing at myself a little, but I feel as if she’d left me something in her will. Thank you, Val Ross. Thank you, thank you, the power of the word.