‘Embrace of the Wild’

Flavia PotenzaBy Flavia Potenza

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‘Embrace of the Wild’
Right: Travel Writer Linda Ballou entertained a rapt audience during her recent discussion about her acclaimed historical novel. Below: Isabella Lucy Bird’s books flank Linda Ballou’s novel based on Bird’s life.
A dozen people showed up in the Canyon Sages Room at the Topanga Community Center on May 10 to hear local adventure travel writer Linda Ballou talk about her historical novel, “Embrace of the Wild,” the inspiring story of Isabella Lucy Bird, who became the most popular travel writer in her day (ca. 1883). The book came about at a time when Ballou was not only laid low by a herniated disc, but by the COVID-19 pandemic, which isolated everyone. In pain and alone, what was this active, modern-day adventurer to do? Why, write a book, of course, about a woman who crossed the boundaries of what women could or couln’t do in her time. How Ballou came to write the book was an interesting addendum to her personal story of persevering and overcoming her own adversity, inspired by Bird’s life. “During the time I was writing the book,” Ballou said, “I was Isabella Bird.” “I have long admired Isabella Lucy Bird, the plucky English woman who rode solo in the Rockies in I873. Her book, “Life of a Lady in the Rockies,” inspired me to explore the places she rode. I used her book, “Six Months in the Sandwich Islands,” to capture details for my first novel, “Wai-nani: A Voice from Old Hawai’i.” I learned that her youth had been filled with chronic pain and that to become the best-loved travel writer of her day she had to overcome both social and physical barriers. “When I was down for the count with your garden-variety herniated disc, I had to give up the horse world I loved; Isabella’s example helped me press through the pain and become the adventure travel writer I am today. When the pandemic further clipped my travel wings, I determined to write her story in the first person. “‘Embrace of the Wild’ is the finished product and gained some acclaim in Colorado, where Isabella Bird is a local legend and I was invited to speak and do some book signings. I was honored to be the “Isabella Bird Expert” in the BBC docuseries, Trailblazers, spotlighting Isabella’s journey in Colorado. The film is tentatively scheduled to air in the U.S. later this year.” Ballou also thanked the Canyon Sages for “letting me share my story in their beautiful space at the Topanga Community Center.”
Flavia Potenza

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