03 Jan 2013 11 Comments
Picture a single young woman at her keyboard, writing for her life in a cozy cabin tucked deep inside the Adirondack mountains. Sounds like heaven. For Anne LaBastille, it was a reality. Not only did LaBastille live and write in her rustic cabin, she built it herself. Woodswoman tells this true story, spanning the first ten years of LaBastille’s life as a writer and conservationist.
LaBastille earned her PhD in wildlife ecology from Cornell University, travelling to and from her beloved cabin. She wrote for many popular and scientific magazines from Reader’s Digest to National Geographic. She also took the photos, which in the heyday of print journalism was a must. The thing she was most proud of was that she made her living by her writing, never having to take a 9-5 job to pay her bills.
I have read Woodswoman many times, most recently just a few days ago. LaBastille is my hero. Not only is she an excellent writer, but her stories are filled with the sort of feminist freedom and daring I would never attempt. She’s got a sense of humor, too. When she built her cabin, she purposely kept the bark, thinking it would look pretty as wallpaper. Then came the first mating season of the birch bark beetles, and in the easy LaBastille style, she laughed at herself. And kept the bark.
Some of the hardships she willingly went through to realize her Thoreau-like dream were isolation, dangerously low temperatures in winter, no indoor plumbing, no electricity. All the while she wrote, traveled the globe for her conservationist work, and consulted on ecological concerns. She also earned her Adirondack guide badge, which allowed her to take groups deep into this stunning national forest.
My book collection includes a thousand titles: poetry, novels, memoir. I’ve got another 500 or so in my Kindle cloud. I’m a college teacher of English literature and have two degrees in the subject. And yet, my all-time Classic Read is a book not widely known, a memoir written in 1976, before there was a name for the genre. LaBastille wrote many books on conservation. These titles are not the dry tomes one might expect from an academic. Instead, she mixes adventure, ecology, and even romance into her subjects. Her titles also included two sequels to Woodswoman. LaBastille died in 2011, yet lived her life with a richness and character few can claim.