Book Review by Zinta Aistars
• Paperback: 223 pages
• Publisher: West of Wind Publications, 2003
• Price: $18.00
• ISBN-10: 0963284630
• ISBN-13: 978-0963284631
And here we are, at the last book in the Woodswoman series, oddly enough numbered IIII rather than IV. Anne LaBastille has carried us, her readers, through nearly four decades of living in the Adirondacks, a decade per book, with this last one covering about half that.
The series begins with LaBastille building a log cabin in Adirondack wilderness shortly after a divorce in her mid 20s. Now, she is a much older woman, however sprite and spunky, still. Her wilderness living is not so wild anymore, as her property on Big Bear Lake (a fictional name) has been encroached upon by more residents, but more painfully, many more boaters on the lake. With each book, we witness increasing problems with all manner of pollution, climate change, and simple human lack of consideration for others and for the environment. LaBastille has taken an ever more involved role in fighting for ecological concerns, and an important part of her story is that fight, along with the resistance she meets. Some of that resistance is so fierce that it results in arson, cut brake and gas lines, and physical threats.
While the first two books in the series were more faithful to the Woodswoman title, the third (see my earlier review) became more of a story of self-publishing, a tad self-aggrandizing in the process. This fourth book returns to the theme of living with nature. It is not so much about LaBastille in her cabin and the surrounding woods (she seems to spend less and less time there), but it does go back to love of nature and love of animals. It’s also a pretty good read.
LaBastille is invited to teach at a southern college. She teaches nature writing, a favorite topic, and quite logically, wishes to take her students out into nature so as to make them better nature writers. A college administrator pulls her aside. Is this safe? he asks. She had planned to have the students camp solo for 24 hours, providing a list of needed camping gear and supplies, each 500 feet distant from the next. It hurts to laugh when reading the discussion between LaBastille and the college administrator, as they discuss legalities, issues of safety, and a weird fear of nature. One wonders where this fear goes when students walk city streets on a daily basis. It is also a sad commentary at how isolated we have become from the natural world around us.
Ironically, LaBastille does encounter danger when scoping out a state park for good camping sites. Not from wildlife, but from man. Several drunken gunmen fire weapons at her, her dog, Xandor, and Abe, a colleague who has come along for the hike. It very nearly reads like a thriller. Sound survival skills, however, learned from many previous wilderness treks, save the day.
Less interesting are more self-publishing adventures, and only mildly interesting a chapter about LaBastille’s adopted stray cat, Chunita. A little too cutesy, with a series of photos captioned in the cat’s voice.
LaBastille’s dog stories do better, and her devotion to her animals is clear in yet another aging pet story, as another German Shepherd (all her dogs are) ages and falls ill. Chekika is a particular favorite, and LaBastille fights valiantly to keep the dog alive through various afflictions, almost to the point of going too far. Each time she loses a dog, someone has to remind her it is time to let go. Not doing so becomes more selfish than loving. But LaBastille finally does let go, and the story will touch the heart of any dog lover.
The fourth Woodswoman book is an enjoyable addition to the series—not at the level of the first book, clearly the highest quality book of all four, not as pure to wilderness living theme as the second, but a pleasing move back up from the third in the series. We read more nature writing, more scenes such as one of a hummingbird seeking refuge from an aggressive male of its species, more scenes about loons living on the lake, more insights into the precarious tipping of the balance in human disregard for the earth. We are drawn into a thrilling adventure story in the field. We see civilization juxtaposed against nature. We are also introduced to a new friend, Albert, later revealed as Clarence Petty, a wilderness guide who really has been a woodsman all his life.
This is a fitting ending to LaBastille’s life story. If various sources hold true, she is now living under the care of health professionals, rumored to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Tragically, she warned of this in an earlier book, when testing water samples from the lake and finding dangerously high levels of mercury and other metals, which may cause Alzheimer’s in humans. We wish her well, and thank her for the window on the natural world that she has provided.
Anne LaBastille is the author of nine books, including the Woodswoman series, and approximately 180 articles on nature and similar topics. She has worked as a wilderness guide, and has led programs to introduce women to wilderness living. She has long been dedicated to preserving the Adirondack State Park, where her wilderness journey began.