Making a living in the Adirondacks has never been easy. Long winters, rough terrain and biting insects keep out or keep poor most who would make the Park their home. Too often, those who stick around do so by taking too much from the land—extracting non-renewable resources or renewable ones at non-renewable rates.
My friend and neighbor Anne LaBastille, in contrast, has managed to persevere thanks to her frugality, independence and love of wild nature. These qualities shine through all of her writings, including her 10th and latest book, Woodswoman IIII.
Indeed, this woodswoman has accomplished, largely through her writings, the most difficult of human feats in the Adirondacks: She has managed to thrive here in the Park while living in harmony with nature.
Her new book covers some of her adventures of the last five years and also reflects on earlier events. Anne begins with a moving account of being brushed by the wings of a hummingbird, then moves on to a perilous crossing through water three inches deep atop the frozen lake surface as she evacuates her cabin in volatile weather. It updates readers of her previous books on her companion animals, her life at Kestrel Crest Farm in the Champlain Valley and at her remote log cabin at Black Bear Lake.
She tells us of her research farther afield, particularly in Guatemala where she has worked for decades to save beautiful Lake Atitlan. She recounts her hair-raising stint as a visiting lecturer at a college in the South and fondly recalls being taught to row an Adirondack guideboat by the Archdruid of the Adirondacks, her friend Clarence Petty. In the end, the book circles back to another sublime experience with a hummingbird.
Reflecting Anne’s resourcefulness and frugality are her two cabins—her home on Black Bear Lake and her remote writer’s retreat on the same property. The latter, especially, was inspired by Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden Pond, and she christened it Thoreau II. Like Henry David, Anne kept count of her construction costs; whereas the Transcendentalist naturalist spent $38 on his cabin, the Woodswoman ecologist spent $137 a hundred years later on hers, a remarkable achievement when you factor in inflation. Anne’s cost savings came from using recycled and salvaged materials wherever possible and doing much of the work herself.
Later, in this same vein and as reported in her latest memoir, she built her “miserly book factory,” actually a warehouse and billing office where she processes thousands of orders for her self-published books. The facility, occupying half of a big old garage, cost her $220, not including a few more dollars for furnishing and equipment.
Anne’s reasons for this do-it-yourself, use-it-again approach to life are both philosophical and practical. She believes it’s how we must live if we are to husband our natural resources and help to save wild nature. Her appreciation of simplicity was enhanced by working and living in Gautemala, she writes, where the Mayan villagers made do—and did well—on very little. She’s also efficient and resourceful by necessity— these are essential elements when you live in a cabin in the woods, or on an old farm in the Champlain Valley, and depend on your wits to earn a livelihood.
Obviously, not all of us who love the Adirondacks are successful writers or can earn a living (even a meager one) by championing wildlife and working to protect nature. So how do we idealistic but impecunious settlers of this rugged land find a way to make a living that upholds rather than undermines what makes the Adirondacks special? The answer, says Anne, is to be humble and diverse. Be willing to do everything from shoveling roofs and cutting firewood to writing and guiding. If you want to find one stable, well-paying job, the Adirondack Park is probably not the home for you.
It could be a good home, however, for the cougar, lynx, gray wolf, wolverine, moose, elk, land-locked salmon, and other species that our forebears extirpated. Anne shares the view of a growing number of conservationists that room ought to be made in the Park for all its native species, including the top carnivores. You can read all about it in this and her nine other books.