Rediscovering Anne LaBastille in the Adirondacks; Revisiting the Northern Indiana guide

I had forgotten about Anne LaBastille, a.k.a. the wilderness woman. I discovered this pioneering, earth-hippie-era teacher, writer, and photographer in the mid-1970s in a magazine article about her life and work in the Adirondack Mountains.

Five years before receiving her doctorate in wildlife ecology from Cornell University in 1969, LaBastille built a cabin on Lake Twitchell deep in the Adirondacks, where she lived, led guided tours, advocated for wildness, and wrote sixteen books over four-plus decades before her death at 75 in 2011. Her signature work is the Woodswoman series: a four-volume set of memoirs of her life in the forest.

During a visit with daughter Jessica in Brooklyn last week, we spent three days driving and hiking to, through, and deep into the Adirondacks, landing some 20 miles east of LaBastille’s homesite. Our itinerary included a stop at the Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain, where an installation honoring the wilderness woman’s contributions features her cabin, which was painstakingly moved and reconstructed.

Our family Adirondack experience included camping at the Lewey Lake Campground, hiking to a couple open stone ledges on the Watch Hill Trail in the 3,898-foot Snowy Mountain foothills, photographing Buttermilk Falls, and attempting to scale our way to a fire tower atop the 3,579-foot Pillsbury Mountain.

At 1.6 miles, Pillsbury involves the shortest tower hike in the Adirondacks, at least from what my quick research showed. Situated six miles from pavement, the trail was narrow, root-and-rock covered, and steep.

A few pre-vacation bike rides and the occasional couple-hundred-foot ascent in the Southern Indiana hills do not constitute training for an Adirondack mountain trail, even if it is rated as moderate. I only made it half way, which, all things considered, I consider a modest achievement.

A passionate advocate for wilderness, LaBastille served 17 years on the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners, which oversees management and planning for 6.1 million acres of Upstate New York mountains. With boundaries that correspond largely to the Adirondack range, the park supports more than 10,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and natural habitats from wetlands to old-growth forests. To this day the Forest Preserve remains the largest tract of protected wildness in the continental United States.

The Adirondack Park is part of the New York Forest Preserve, which was established in 1885 as the first such nature sanctuary in the United States. Under that 19th-century law, the Adirondack and similarly designated Catskill Park shall be “forever wild.”

The larger-than-life LaBastille likewise lived forever wild. Her cabin had neither plumbing nor electricity. She heated her 12-by-12-foot space with a Franklin stove and wrote the first volume of Woodswoman on a typewriter that is preserved in the museum. To maintain as much solitude as possible, she adopted the fictional—and somewhat intimidating—name Black Bear Mountain as her Adirondack home.

LaBastille did not, however, live life exclusively as a hermit. She traveled widely as an environmental consultant, helping the World Wildlife Fund establish nature sanctuaries in Guatemala and Panama. She also led workshops and lectured extensively.

The wilderness woman’s obituary in the New York Times began: “The gratifying struggle for Anne LaBastille was how to balance her yearning for the serenity of solitude in the wilderness with her mission to let the world know, as best she could, that it must preserve wilderness.”

I picked up a copy of Woodswoman at the museum and began reading it last night.

Northern Indiana guidebook: a last look

Back to Natural Bloomington, I’ll receive the Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana from my editor on Monday and will have three weeks for a final read-through.

The next time I see it, the book will be laid out and ready to index (if memory serves).

Not much time for Hoosier National Forest-style wilderness travel this month. Gotta find time for exercise.

A forever wild mountain beckons.

Adirondack Mountains Photographs: Top, Watch Hill Trail: Second, Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain; Third, Buttermilk Falls; Fourth, Lewey Lake; Fifth, Indian Lake; Bottom, Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain.


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