The effect of my exposure to nuclear winter was to drive home once and for all the realization that I could not escape even in my wilderness cabin. I would be as vulnerable as someone living in Manhattan or Moscow. Yet this more realistic and sober attitude did not deter me from wanting to finish my retreat. It merely changed the focus of my dream. I perceived how people need pieces and places of privacy more than ever before. They need to blot out the specters hanging over humanity for bits of time. They need Thoreau II’s wherever, whenever, and however they can find or fashion them.
—Anne Labastille, Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake (1987)
This was written during a time when the author became aware of the devastating impact of acid precipitation on her beloved Adirondacks, the insidious threat of nuclear wastes from medical and research facilities in the region, and the potential for global destruction should the Soviet Union and the United States ever make use of their nuclear arsenals. Part of her response was to move deeper into the woods and build a small retreat, Thoreau II, where she could write in peace while her lakefront neighbours roared about in 100 horsepower motorboats.
I can well understand her desire to retreat, and wonder how she feels now, twenty years later. The threat of nuclear winter may be lessened now, but climate change and peak oil more than make up for it. And let’s not forget the ever-accelerating, world-wide environmental degradation that is, for us, still being masked by petroleum-based technologies and our political, economic, and military dominance. I think it’s fair to say that the situation is going from bad to worse, and a major rearrangement of life on earth can’t be far off. In my weakened physical state I have few illusions about my own capacity to survive such a calamity, should it occur within my lifetime, and I’m fine with that. Even so I need a retreat from thoughts of what may come and what may be lost, and literature has become that for me. It is a source of joy, wonder, and richness, perhaps not equal to that which a cabin in the wilderness might bring, but exceeding most things within my feeble grasp. For what it’s worth—and I think it is worth a great deal—I shall read.