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Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake

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1 review about Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake

The Woods Adventure Continues ...

  • Dec 22, 2010
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My last page read in Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness, I immediately picked up Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake. This hasn't been a story I've wanted to put down. Anne LaBastille's ongoing autobiography has followed lines too closely to my "retirement" plans north to upper Michigan for me to miss, and I have found inspiration, motivation, and quite a bit of education, and not a little forewarning in reading about her experiences as a woman living alone in the woods.

This second in a series does a quick recap of how LaBastille's adventure began. After a divorce, LaBastille decided to build her own cabin in the Adirondack wilderness, making her living as a freelance writer and ecologist. This book begins with her growing problem with intruders and overly ardent fans. With several books by now published, many articles, and an increasing number of academic lectures and speaking tours, her need for solitude and seclusion is coming under (mostly) friendly attack. Fan mail comes by the bag full, phone calls await at a neighboring camp (LaBastille's cabin has no electricity and no phone line), and a stunning number of fans search her out in the woods, even though she has carefully avoided naming her exact location, using fictional names for landmarks and lakes. Some pursue her for years until tracking her down. LaBastille is horrified, and eventually forced into building a second, more remote cabin that she calls Thoreau II, crediting Henry David Thoreau of Walden Pond.

"What do such visitors and callers hope to find when they search out the Woodswoman? I still don't know exactly, but I'm sure America is lonely. Americans are looking for identities. They want to attach themselves to authors, singers, actors, and TV stars. These searchers have fantasies. They need to sublimate to enrich their lives. They want to talk. Many are under the impression that I have nothing to do … They don't know about the grueling self-discipline and constant juggling of time that being a freelance writer and ecological consultant entails … As I see it, the problem is one of boundaries—the delicate line between social contact and solitude. Some people respect privacy; others don't. Europeans seem much more courteous about such matters than Americans. By my willingness to write about my life, I've created a two-edged sword. My readers nourish me through sales, yet they threaten to devour me with overattention."

LaBastille struggles to be kind and accommodating, while preserving her lifestyle and juggling her work. Finally, she must retreat. Duplicating Thoreau's cabin, she finds a spot much deeper into the woods, much more difficult to reach, requiring treks across land as well as water, and over a couple year's time, builds a second, much smaller cabin. This one is only about 100 square feet (the original, called West of the Wind, is around 400 square feet), the size of a walk-in closet for some, but all that she requires. She still balances time between her two cabins, depending on obligations and needs.

Another natural outgrowth of LaBastille's life in the wilderness is her role in protecting it. Her education is in ecology (a PhD from Cornell University), and she becomes a board member of the Adirondack Park Agency, helping to regulate the goings on in the area. She watches with horror as the population around the lake grows, and with it, pollution, including noise pollution. Vehicles abound, on land and on water, and they all make a roar. Large boats toss her canoe in their wake. And all that pollution ends up in the air, too, where it becomes acid rain, coming back down to raise the pH-levels of the water and the soil. A valuable section of this book is devoted to explaining acid rain and its devastation. Lakes that appear pure are actually dead, as fish die out and plants no longer thrive. Not all of the book's adventures take place in the Adirondacks, as LaBastille writes about trips abroad to expand her research, including a visit to the Baltic Sea. There, she learns what the Scandinavians understood long ago: acid rain is destroying even the most pristine areas, seemingly wilderness, but far from immune to the pollution produced by humankind.

Whereas this memoir begins as a love story between woman and wilderness, it now also becomes a wakeup call to its readers to be aware of what our more "civilized" lifestyles are doing to the earth that sustains us. As the author fights the good fight, she gains enemies around the lake among those who come for recreation and care little about the consequences. She finds the gas lines cut on her boat, and others threaten her. On the other hand, her efforts to protect the park from becoming a deposit area for nuclear waste are successful. One woman can indeed make a difference.

Career rising and gathering speed, LaBastille increasingly needs her time at the more remote of her two cabins. Her dog, Pitzi, is always beside her. Alas, life cycles conclude, and the death of her loyal friend is a moving chapter. Back to fun is her introduction to a new German Sheppard pup, Condor, and later, Condor's offspring, Chekika.

Other risks of wilderness living arise, too. No more, possibly less, than they do living anywhere else. LaBastille must deal with chemical burns to her eyes when she drops a bag of cement down too hard and raises a cloud of cement dust (this, however, leads to a pleasing and enduring romance with Doctor Mike, another independent type who is just as devoted to his medical work as she is to her ecological work). Or falling into a lake with a running chainsaw. Or new batteries, sold by mistake as the wrong size, giving out in the middle of a very dark forest, very far from home.

Along with the risks come human stories that are the same no matter where one lives: of relationships taking shape, of progressing age, and of the moment one has to say a final farewell to a dear old friend. Whether intending to or not, LaBastille makes a good argument for the individual's right to determine one's own death with dignity, rather than being kept indefinitely on life support. She cites her own worst nightmare as being afflicted by some progressive disease of mental deterioration, and one reads this wincing, as latest news seems to be that the author has succumbed to Alzheimer's disease.

So much more reason to live the life one chooses, fully, with gusto, holding nothing back. We only have this one, and to live it with courage, as this woodswoman does, surely makes sense in an ever more senseless world. When considering the roads not taken—of a life more conventional and traditional for contemporary women, of marriage, office career, and broods of children, LaBastille writes:

"Why do I continue to bumble through the woods at night on mushy snow? Carry impossible loads by backpack and canoe? Go for backcountry saunters rather than shopping mall sprees? Cut and split firewood instead of turning up a thermostat? Build a little cabin to write at instead of buying a condo to relax in?

Perhaps it's because the world around me seems to be so complex and materialistic. It's my small rebellion to keep myself in pioneerlike fitness, to promote creativity, and to maintain a sense of adventure in my life. It's also my desire to exist in tune with sound ecological and ethical principles—that is, ‘small is beautiful,' and ‘simplicity is best.'"


"Actually, I believe it would be much harder for a small-town woman to go to a city to pursue a career as a surgeon, TV anchorwoman, or stock analyst than to become a woodswoman. For me, the urban habitat and atmosphere would be far harder to deal with emotionally and much more dangerous physically than the wilderness … as for marriage, I don't think it would work for me now. I've gradually had a 180-degree change of attitude toward matrimony. Much as I adore Mike, I enjoy being single. It feels right."

LaBastille seems to have found her niche. As long as she has her pocket of privacy and peace, she writes, she can handle whatever life hands her. I look forward eagerly to reading Woodswoman III.

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December 31, 2010
Sounds absolutely intriguing. You might enjoy a book of similar ilk that I'm very fond of called "Nahanni Trailhead" by Joanne Ronan Moore. My review is at: http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Na...nture_and_romance_.html
January 05, 2011
Thank you! I'll definitely look up the book. Appreciate the pointer.
December 22, 2010
Is the second book just as intriguing as the first? It is rare that a woman is comfortable being single and in solitude, that's great for her that she is following her heart in regards to that. As for me, after I gave birth to my first child, a few weeks later I concluded that a woman who never had children has never truly lived! That is how profound the experience was and still is for me. To each her own I guess! :) ‘small is beautiful,' and ‘simplicity is best.' I couldn't agree more!
December 23, 2010
As more and more women are now financially independent and self-sufficient, I don't think it is so rare any longer. I know quite a few women who choose this kind of lifestyle as most preferable (myself included). Agreed, the birth of my children rates as one of the most memorable and wonderful experiences of my life, but I don't think motherhood is for everyone. It is one type of life among many. Certainly LaBastille could not have lived her life with children ... and I dare say she has lived more than most. There are too many mothers who don't cherish their children ... I'm very glad you so enjoy yours! More power to you ...
December 23, 2010
That is true. Although I enjoy being dependent on my husband financially :) I also look at children as more of an enjoyable gift rather than a burden. Of course living that kind of life with kids wouldn't be easy, but it has been done for thousands of years. All the modern advances are very recent if you look at the timeline of humanity. Anyhow, I find her choices (and yours) interesting and fascinating! :)
December 24, 2010
Not speaking of children as a burden. But they are a responsibility, and a good parent puts children ahead of one's own needs and wants. I considered a "wilder" lifestyle for my children, but in this day and age, and under my particular circumstances, it would not have been the right choice. I can't recommend for anyone, man or woman, to be financially dependent on someone else. Everyone needs a "stash" of their own. When we choose to be with someone, it should always be because we want to be together, not because we need to be. Having one's own resources ensure that we are together for the right reasons.
December 24, 2010
Agreed, they are a great responsibility. I think you misunderstood in terms of financial dependence, we are by no means together because of finances! It just happened to be that we mutually decided that we want one parent to stay home to raise the kids instead of paying for strangers to raise them in daycare and school. We took on the responsibility instead of giving it to someone else. Our devotion to each other as husband and wife has nothing to do with who earns the money! I guess I am just lucky to have met such a man :) This is just my opinion of course, but I think having one's own resources just tells that you don't trust the person.
January 06, 2011
I applaud all of what you say, EcoMama! We should more such devoted parents. I only disagree with your last statement. For many reasons, which I won't get into here, but I think it is important for all men and women to have the ability to make life choices from a position of strength. Nothing to do with trust at all.
January 06, 2011
Well, I agree to disagree with you :) To me personally, strength is measured not in having your way and doing what pleases your own self, but in pleasing others and making life choices to benefit those around you as well as yourself. Does that make any sense? I'm not very eloquent.
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