Inspection- The Not So Unusual Story of Anne LaBastille and Bill Carman

Well not so “unusual” these days.

Anne LaBastille died a few days ago.

BY KEN CARMAN

I could have written just Anne’s story, though I’m sure by now plenty of writers and even Wiki have done a far better job than I could have. But I knew her in a way most folks never did, and my father knew her too… sort of. Kind of like how you know someone you deeply disagree with during a time when the movement you were following was starting to teach the kind of intolerance that has gone nuclear these days. In a way that some only know others by self serving cliche’s, unrealistic caricatures, framed in their own heads. In other words: not really “know” at all.

That kind of story is not so unusual these days, but remember this was the start of the Reagan “revolution” that led to the quite different political dynamic we have as a society today. How so? Well, can you imagine a president these days openly going to protesters and reasoning with them, or starting the EPA… as a Republican? That, believe it or not, was Nixon. Or openly, aggressively, waging war against Communism as a Democrat, like Johnson?

Times have changed, and we are more divided in some ways now than even during Nam, in my opinion. And I remember that era very well.

Bill and Anne “knew” each other kind of like most politicos know those on the opposite side of the aisle these days: not much. Therein lies my tale, the political side to this edition of Inspection: the story of Bill Carman and Anne LaBastille.

“Dear Bill,

I know we have had our differences, but I hope you know I would never have wanted something like this to happen to you. Hope you get better.

Anne”

I remember reading that note in my father’s room: the burn unit in Syracuse…

I thought it a very kind note from someone whom my father really didn’t get along with towards the end. More on that in one momento…

Dad was in the hospital because he had fallen on a floor furnace that had been shooting flames earlier. Probably, in part, due to the diabetes he wasn’t taking care of. 90% of his body: third degree burns. It eventually became his death bed as they took him apart: limb by limb, as the diabetes and the burns worked against each other.

I, youngest of the three sons, was the only one who was able to watch over him for the time he was there. I stayed and entertained schools, tried to amuse him and read incoming.

I knew Anne didn’t have to send that note, but I’m not surprised. Despite, like us all, from time to time being a tad clueless, I found Anne LaBastille as a friend and a neighbor to be a class act. And very intelligent. We talked a lot about writing. Sure wish I could ask her about my least fav task these days: editing. She always gave good advice.

“Clueless?”

Once she claimed my father was “stalking her.” Why? Because when she went down the lake he would watch her, occasionally, with field glasses. Think for a second: six foot of snow, hard to get out, temps so low you know to only go out when you must (40-50 plus below) and you’re all alone… for months at a time. Suddenly, something’s happening out on the lake. What might you do? Grab the field glasses? How did Anne know he wasn’t considering helping if he saw the loads were heavy, the steps too hard to take?

How do I know this? Because when we lived together that was a treasured “sport:” grab the field glasses to see what was happening now. Maybe an eagle, maybe an otter, maybe a woman and two dogs heading down the lake. Occasionally we would go out and help others.

But, as I will also explain, Anne was sensitive about her image and, I suspect, bothered by fans more than she would like. She, like my father, treasured privacy.

How does this all fit into the political nature of the sites I write for? You had a classic stand off between a Conservative and a Liberal when it came to the environment. My father, a technologist in another sense and reader of every scientific magazine and paper he could get his hands on, was still quite the skeptic.

But I need to do a little “business” first with Anne fans. If you are a devoted reader of Anne LaBastille, I hate to burst your ecological bubble but… while Anne was very much alone on that lake, so was my father. Both hermits. Anne did have a neighbor: Dad. But, as a writer, and being a bit of a public figure myself (very, very minor: at best), I understand the need to disguise some facts (like the name of the lake) and create an image.

For those who don’t know, Ann LaBastille was an author who wrote about a “mythical” lake she lived on, all alone, building a cabin with the help of others. She wrote many books, like Woodswoman, and Woodswoman II, as well as being an advocate for stopping acid rain, limited usage of the Adirondacks, global warming foe… I prefer “global climate change” because it’s more accurate… and passionate about keeping parts of the Dacks “forever wild.”

On that account, she and my father might have agreed. I remember him saying if the deer population was low they should just stop issuing permits until the population was replenished.

But, when it comes to Anne, you can Google her name as well as I can. But I don’t need to. The Anne LaBasittile I knew, I knew on a more personal nature. I also know she used to be married to Major Bowes, otherwise known as C. V. Bowes. (Not the Amateur Hour Major Bowes, that “Major Bowes” died in 1946 when Anne would have been about 11!) I worked at a camp for girls on Moss Lake I believe he owned, or had an interest in, during the summer of my senior high school year.

And I already mentioned, I lived on the same lake she did for a short while, as did my father: Bill Carman, who lived there for close to 20 years. The story that she was there alone was a bit of a canard.

There wasn’t one hermit on Twitchell Lake: for that was the real name. There were two.

From what I understand, towards the end, they fought more than shared the beauty, joy and solitude of winter time: Twitchell Lake. How unfortunate.

But most of my memories of Anne are from when I was a teen. I’m guessing my mother, before she died, or my father, mentioned to her I wanted to be a writer and I immediately was invited to lunch, down the lake. She also hired me to work on her camp, and around the grounds: like many Adirondack camps a wooded trail led up from the dock to a rustic cabin midst moss, pines and wildlife playing in the front yard. Over the years I chatted with her boyfriends and petted her German Shepherds, of which she had many. I would see her trudge down the lake with her dogs and her showshoes at 40 plus below.

I guess when Anne heard I was interested in writing for a living she felt some attachment, being a writer too. We got along quite well. She was one of the many who inspired me as a writer. We got along great.

Not her and my father. My father was an acid rain skeptic, and though he loathed polluters, he also loathed “tree huggers.” Once industry advocates asked him to speak in Saranac Lake: a bit north east of Twitchell, at an anti ecologist meet… and he did, explaining his skepticism regarding acid rain. When it came to question time he was asked what he thought of polluting factory owners in Ohio whose sludge floats northwestward with the gulf stream over the Adirondacks. He responded: “I still think polluters should be hung from trees.”

They never asked him to speak again.

That was Dad. As a kid I remember he told the adult education class, at the Baptist church, he would spit in the eye of any God who would let an unbaptized child go to Hell. Likewise, he still hated those who poured poison into our air, he just thought the case for acid rain was a bit overstated.

“They said Big Moose Lake is dead. The Dunn boy just pulled plenty of trout from there yesterday…”

…would be a constant refrain.

He was also a global warming skeptic, and she was right in regard to that. Like many Cons today he just refused to see. Kind of a “hear no evil, see no evil, admit to no evil:” a stance we know all too well these days, taken by partisans on all sides of the political divide.

Even back in the 70s we were seeing a bit less ice year to year. Walking down any lake would soon become a bit hazardous. Dad was surprised once, in the early 70s, after I headed off to meet the Big Moose bus to school: crossing the lake on the Polaris snowmobile, he saw a 40 foot patch of lake: no ice. The track of the Polaris could be seen at one end, then the other. After that Dad sent me to Old Forge until the thaw and mud season ended.

In February that was a rarity: at best, back then. Anne was right. And if she had been less of a gentlewoman I’m sure she would have said, “Told you so.”

It’s even warmer now. Business owners who rely on snowmobiles are having problems, especially if crossing a lake’s the best way to get to their bars, motels, etc..

Global climate change is real. I know it. I’ve seen it. I’ve damn near wound up at the bottom of a lake because of it.

Anne was dedicated conservationist who did work for the EPA, served on the sometimes much hated by locals Adirondack Park Agency, because some rulings rarely consider practicalities or the locals. She was a great advocate for environmental causes. My wife and I saw her at Millie’s college: Potsdam, one year when she spoke there. She was surprised to see someone she really knew.

Yet Dad and Anne had a lot in common. They were both Adirondack guides, as was my grandfather, and my great grandfather. They both had so much trouble caring for themselves at the end they were whisked away from their beloved lake. They both loved the woods and wanted to protect it from overuse.

They didn’t get along regarding acid rain, politics, and once while filming the landing at the end of the lake he accidentally took her picture. Anne demanded he hand over his camera so she could destroy the film.

I understand the need for her to protect her privacy as a public figure, but if she thought Bill Carman would sell her image? She had no clue. As a local columnist and a bit of a hermit himself he treasure privacy above all.

Personally, I think it all had to do with the rising animosity between the two and how political correctness has become so damn important for both the Left and the Right: more important than common decency, courtesy and getting along with each other.

Yet I can’t think of two people in a similar, hermit-like, situation, who needed each other more, at the end of his life. She: by her self. Him: alone with diabetes and a malfunctioning floor heater. How sad. Ironically they were both great people who simply differed and lived on the same lake, alone. They needed the casual friendship they couldn’t have because they decided their differences were more important.

Something these days we all recognize as a sad state of affairs when it comes to what folks believe, how folks react to each other and how little toleration and respect there seems to be for those we disagree with.

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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