Woodswoman III by Anne LaBastille

Dear Reader:

And now for something completely different!

As an upstate New Yorker who was both a Girl and a Boy Scout (my father was a Boy Scout leader making me an honorary Boy Scout) and who spent most vacations backpacking in the Adirondacks as a girl, I’m a big fan of stories coming out of that region.  Anne LaBastille is famous in some circles for writing up her experiences living, mostly, alone back in the woods.  I was at my library recently and saw that they had #168) Woodwoman III by LaBastille.

Years ago I read Woodswoman (I) and I remembered enjoying it, so I thought maybe I’d give this one a shot.  The fact that she features who two German shepherds in the book was a deciding factor.

Her earlier books include Beyond Black Bear Lake, and cover the period of 1965 to 1986.  Woodswoman III covers 1987 to 1997 – she would have been in her 60’s during that time.  LaBastille begins who her book with a description of opening her camp (built on Black Bear Lake in the mid-sixties on 22 acres).  She has to wait the ice to break up and the road to be OK before driving up (with her friend Andy assisting and meeting her there), parking, loading her waiting boat, and hauling everything across the lake with the dogs and Andy.

The book is really a series of essays describing different aspects of her life: how she worked to get her books into Adirondack stores (not as easy as you’d think), the loon couple that lake inhabitants strive to protect, her experiences with a big storm that blows down a lot of local forest, how she coped with breaking a bone and, later, seriously spraining her ankle with two dogs to feed and water to haul, and her experiences losing her GSD Condor and bringing up her new puppy Xandor.  The chapters almost seem like they might have been published as magazine articles on separate topics but there is no credit to that effect, so they probably weren’t.

I enjoyed the book – it was a light, fast read, as an avid camper who is a single woman with three dogs, I could relate to some of her stories.  I understand the love of the quiet and beauty of the backcountry and how much more enjoyable it is with dogs in tow.  It is in the memoir vein and I frequently enjoy that.  I guess I didn’t find it particularly meaty – enjoyable, but less than satisfying – I can’t explain why except to say that, by and large, her stories were not of great consequence and not deeply engaging.  For instance, one chapter is about the mouse that built a nest in her truck – fun, but not much more.  These chapters are a bit like James Herriott’s except that he did this sort of thing a lot better: with a sense of humor, an eye for detail, and often some kind of moral.  Some of my favorite chapters were about her guiding experiences taking women out into the woods – I think she’d have been a great guide, very knowledgeable, sensitive, flexible, and fun.  I remember Woodswoman as more satisfying and it may be that as time has gone on, Anne had already told her best stories – sometimes series peter out a bit.

The Wikipedia entry on LaBastille notes that she died last July 2011.  By 2007 she was spending less time at her cabin (as she aged and the lake was not freezing in winter, preventing winter snowshoe access, she spent more time in a farmhouse in the region).  And it then notes that she became ill in the last couple years, as she was unable to care for herself, her cats and dog were put up for adoption (none of her friends would take them? I’m not sure that was super social, but how heartbreaking!) and she went into a decline.  Born in 1935 she was 76 when she died – not that old.

Happy Reading, Ruby



  1. chris

    I can’t help but wonder – since it has been some time since you read LaBastille’s first book – is it her writing that changed as she aged, or perhaps her reader’s expectations of what makes for a satisfying book 🙂
    I’ve noticed with myself for example, I can’t be pleased with some of the mysteries that I once would have enjoyed because with time and more reading my expectations of writing have changed. For that reason I hesitate to revist some of the authors I loved in my youth for fear that I will now find them…less wonderful.

    Of course, sometimes writers do really provide a disapointing read. As a writer that makes we wince, but it is true. What really strikes me though is the sadness of how Anne ended up. I wonder about the story behind what happened to her from when she wrote Woodswoman III and when she died. What happend to the friends she did have? Was she so economically or mentally on the decline that she couldn’t even hire people to come in and help her? Was she too proud to ask for help or was there no one left to ask?
    This is an author I hope to eventually read and a person’s story I’d be interested in learning more about. Thank you for bringing her to my attention.

    • Hi Christy: Yes, great point – it is quite possible that the difference is as much me as her. I know that two of the books that affected me most profoundly were Crime and Punishment and Walden. Both read camping during my 18th summer as I waited to go to college and we built our house. I don’t know if I could get through Walden today – someday I’ll have to give it another try. I KNOW my reaction would be very different. Same with Crime and Punishment although I just loved the book (I really liked dark stuff then) – I didn’t see it as a life guide.

      Yes, it IS very sad about her last few years – the Wikipedia entry gave the impression that people weren’t noticing that she was declining – it sounded like she had some sort of very serious health issue – Alzheimers? Perhaps like you, the thought of her beloved pets just going to a shelter is horrifying. She does write about friends in her book, but it sounded like she might have been very focused on just one or two people at a time, aside from neighbors around the lake (summer folk).

      You might also check out Women and Wilderness – I read that a long time ago. Happy reading, Ruby

  2. chris

    So your enjoyment of ‘light reading’ goes back that far… a summer with Crime and Punishment. [Okay, I will admit, I read the Red Badge of Courage on my own in about sixth grade – I was always curious about the books with a reputation.] And I know that I can’t get through Walden any more. I will have to check out Women and Wilderness. I guess I should start keeping a list of must read books someplace besides in my head, as that space is not so reliable in the memory department. Thanks!


  1. The List « A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books

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