Several memoirs have such an apt title as Memoirs of Anne LaBastille Wooden.
Published in 1976, the book is the first in a four-volume autobiographical series written by LaBastille, environmentalist, environmentalist, hermit, author and professor, among many other titles. It would be just as easy to add to this list a woodworker, builder, philosopher, guide and teacher. LaBastille’s books describe her life in solitude – well, not alone, she has never been far from her favorite German shepherds – in a log house she built in Adirondaki. Henry David Thor’s wife. In fact, she modeled her cabin according to Thoreau’s Walden Pond cottage.
Wooden was perfectly timed to the exit to capture the energy of the two cultural waves that span the nation – feminism and the environmental movement. Just a year earlier, the United Nations had declared 1975 the International Year of Women, and Time magazine’s Man of the Year award went to American Women. Gloria Steinem fought with Phyllis Schlaffley for an amendment on equal rights.
At the same time, Congress was passing laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act, among others.
And in this environment LaBastille joined both movements, creating her own world as a writer-naturalist, inspiring women to seek adventure in the countryside, to engage in wilderness on their own terms.
“These books were really important to a large cohort of women who are interested in nature and the outdoors – hiking, guides, fishing – everything that Anne did,” said James Lassoa, a professor at the International University of Conservation at Cornell University who worked with LaBastille. .
LaBastille was born in New Jersey in 1933, but attended school in Cornell, upstate New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in security. A few years later, she earned a master’s degree in wildlife management from the University of Colorado. Part of her dissertation included La Bastille, which was touring Guatemala, where near Lake Atitlan she captured a giant flightless bird, which locals called “Pok”. LaBastille made the bird and its conservation efforts the subject of her doctoral dissertation at Cornel, where she received her PhD in 1969.
By that time LaBastille had already moved deep into the Adironds. For a time she was married, but when the relationship ended, La Bastille found refuge in the desert. She built her small log cabin in 1965 on the shores of Lake Twitchell. LaBastille lived there without electricity and without running water. It was 12 by 12 feet in size, and it had everything LaBastille needed; a small oven and typewriter, at last she used to write her way to the American outback.
The Adironds were her muse. When she was not writing, La Bastille took excursions to the heart of the mountains, working as a guide for canoeing and tourists. But mostly she wrote and wrote and wrote. 16 books. More than two dozen scientific papers, many of which are on the environmental issues facing her beloved Adirondack. LaBastille has been a prolific freelance writer for magazines such as Horizontal bar and National Geographic. She walked through the woods, sat quietly, watching the lake, and wrote some of the most beautiful prose about nature.
“Sometimes I sit in my log cabin like a cocoon,” she once wrote, “sheltered by shaky trees from the outside world.” From traffic, and noise, and alcohol, and triangles, and pollution. Life seems to have no beginning and no end. Only the steady expansion of the trunk and roots, the slow accumulation of dust and debris, the circles of water before it becomes ice, the pounding of raindrops before they turn into snowflakes. Then the chirping of the swallow that flies over the lake reminds me that there is always a new beginning ”.
When Wooden came out, La Bastille was covered with fan letters. She called her lake “Black Bear Lake” to hide his identity, but readers combed the Adirondaki in search of her cabin, and sent volumes of mail to her publisher, who piled up to the foot of her humble writing studio by the lake. Many of the men who read her works were enthralled by the blonde Daisy Duke, a nail-hard mountain woman who lives a rural writing life in a lodge, and sought her out on the lake, bringing gifts, occasionally proposing to marry.
LaBastille gathered hundreds of people to sign books in the Northern State and to talk about the ecology and history of Adirandak.
“It’s hardly an exaggeration to call Anne Carl Sagan a conservationist,” Lasua said. “For many, she embodied Adirondack because she was able to convey a sense of concern and ownership to countless readers around the world.”
LaBastille was so respected by Adirondack that she became a full member of the New York State Guides Association and was commissioner of Adirondack Park for almost two decades. All of this as a woman in the outside industry is still very much dominated by men.
Her role as APA commissioner has had repercussions for decades. LaBastille has helped integrate science and ecology into almost every aspect of the park’s decision-making. She also spoke out against threats to the natural environment there, often causing contempt for athletes and private landowners who are not accustomed, especially women, to telling what they cannot do on their property.
Eventually, she bought a property near Lake Champlain, leaving her writing booth. So beloved is La Bastille in the northern part of the state, however the cabin has been moved to the Adirondack Experience Museum on Lake Blue. There, LaBastille fans can withstand the spell and imagine her scolding on a typewriter, praising the world around her, warning of increasing threats to a place she loved so much, while reaching down to scratch her dogs.
Photo: Anne LaBastille collection