A Look Back: The Works of Anne Labastille

Though the intent of my "A Look Back" series was originally to chronicle past adventures, it's just as important to me that I remember people who've directly or indirectly influenced my relationship with playing outside. In Margot Talbot's All That Glitters, she writes,

"...relationships are the most important things in our lives - more important than anything else we do. In the end we are nothing but the sum total of how we have affected others in this world, for better or for worse."

Going through old books and letters,
remembering my roots. (D Herscovitch)
I idolized my beautiful, wonderful cousin Elizabeth beginning somewhere around kindergarten. We share a passion for the outdoors, hers, and eventually mine, strongly tied to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. She recommended Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness when I was a teenager knowing I'd love to read about a woman who did what I'd dreamed of doing - building a cabin in the wilderness and living self-sufficiently in it.

Anne Labastille's first autobiographical work chronicles the challenges, successes and relationships associated with constructing a structure in a remote area on her own in the 1960's. Her stories are beautiful, and it often seemed as though this woman I'd never met weaved threads directly from my own dreams into a perfect life for herself.

In Woodswoman, Anne shares some of the struggles she face building the cabin, her hiking adventures, nuances of the North Country and environmental concerns. Her strength, determination and intelligence shine through every page of the book. She takes us places many of us have only dreamed of being able to go, and in a location very familiar to me and my cousin. (It also didn't hurt that Anne went to college in my hometown, a college that would later become my alma mater. She received her PhD in Wildlife Ecology in 1969.)

Anne's second work, Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake, was released several years later. In it, she builds a second cabin further in the wilderness under the influence of Thoreau's Walden, though Black Bear Lake is actually a euphemism designed to disguise the actual location of her cabin. She struggled with unwelcome visitors, governmental threats and environmental issues. It's as engaging as the first Woodswoman story, and we're permitted continued glimpses of what wilderness living really looks like for an independent woman. Of course, there's a bit of a love story as well.

Woodswoman III was the last of the four book series I can clearly remember reading. It was released in 1997, at which point Anne was 62 years old. The last book, (not surprisingly) titled Woodswoman IIII, came out in 2003. Both continue with beautiful stories about wild parts of the North Country and its woods, but seemed fraught with the challenges a self-made writer faces and the difficulties that come from others discovering and wanting to share the beauty of her wilderness. Her passion for the environment continues to play a lead role in the stories and events that shaped the last few decades of her life in her cabin, in some cases leading to tragedy.

Though my reading Anne's books didn't result in a move to the Adirondack wilderness, they did teach me at a formative age that what seemed like a far fetched dream wasn't only possible, someone else had done it. Anne has been called a legend, controversial, and an early advocate for the Adirondacks all in the same news article I found. The deep dive into my memory bank was triggered by my mother, who sent along a news article from my hometown's newspaper that Anne had passed away at the age of 75. The discovery of Anne's death might prompt more than just a stroll down memory lane; I might have to revisit the books, and the dreams they brought to life in me.

Have you read Anne's books? Are there any books that profoundly influenced your outlook on the outdoors? Tell us in the comments!


Mbear said…
I am just discovering all of the books and the author. Just amazing. Whatever happened to the cabin there? and Thoreau II?
Katie said…
Great questions, I have no idea! Perhaps some research is in order... She was an incredible woman though, wasn't she?
Mbear said…
There was an article or an obituary about a service there...a journey home...I hope the structures were retained. There seemed to be a lot of development going on in the area. But to stay with that passion and love each day and never look back ....there's a lesson in life
Mountain Man said…
Anne was an Adirondack legend. I didn't realize for years that her "Black Bear Lake" was actually Twitchell Lake, just north of Big Moose Lake, where I spent plenty of time in boyhood summers past.

John Naresky
google or facebook Red Tail Guide Service
Katie L said…
And I had absolutely no clue where the lake was! She did an amazing job of coming up with ways of telling the story without revealing too much about her location.
Mountain Man said…
Since my post I've met three people that knew her personally. Her cabin will be moved to the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake to protect the privacy of residents at twitchell lake. Ironically enough I'll be guiding clients in the area, in Pigeon Lake Wilderness. There's some fine ponds back in there, for brook trout as well as lean-to camping.

John Naresky
Google or facebook Red Tail Guide Service