Woodswoman

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.


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11 Comments on “Woodswoman

  1. I’ve never heard of the Woodswoman either but am definitely interested in reading it. Anne LaBastille sounded like a remarkable woman. Thank you for the recommendation.

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  2. Reading this, I was reminded of one of my favourite books (which I have been told has just been re-released with new content). It is John A. Keel’s Jadoo – his search around the orient for what he calls ‘real magic.’ He searches out illusionists and snake charmers and devil worshippers… the devil worshippers, actually, are much more benign than one might imagine.

    All the while he was writing for a magazine in an effort to pay for his trip. At times this got very precarious. He had to sell his camera and his typewriter. He debated getting assistance from a US Embassy but apparently this would mean he wouldn’t get his passport back and he didn’t want to go down that path. I still take comfort in his musings over The Blank Page.

    Apparently the new version of the book contains material about his personal and romantic life, which was not the kind of thing he seemed to be very forthcoming with ordinarily. (Apparently the publishers wanted a release from the object of his affection and he was unable to get one in his lifetime.) I will have to get my hands on a copy.

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    • Now I’ve got another book to add to my Want to Read list:) Sounds really great. I love books about writers who give so much in pursuit of their passion. And I would definately be reading any postumous releases with new insights of any of my favorite authors. That just makes me want to read this more.

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  3. Pingback: At the Hop

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