Woodswoman is the memoir of a woman who builds her own log cabin in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York and lives in it, alone except for her dog. Some of us like well-written nature description, and some of us like stories in which nothing much happens but the carefully observed details of daily life and the change of seasons. This is a book for those of us.

LaBastille is impressively but understatedly bad-ass: she does build her own cabin, but hires help and explains exactly who hefted which logs and how; she wields a chain saw and a shotgun, but also has the only description ever of hugging a tree that didn’t make me want to throw a pie at the author. For fans of survival narratives, she has several hair-raising close encounters with truly terrifying spells of cold weather. There's some introspection but LaBastille is focused more outward than inward, and while the specter of environmental destruction looms over the book, there's very little preaching. I enjoyed this. Warning: she interacts a lot with animals, both pets and wild, and some of them die.

Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness

Cold is a loosely organized set of musings on and facts about cold and cold climates, interspersed with the author’s visits to a few of them. Streever brings some historical events and scientific facts to vivid life, like his explanation of how a yellowjacket can survive with supercooled blood, but will instantly turn to ice and die if a drop of water falls on it, setting off a chain reaction. But the writing is just as often on the dry side, a lot of the information is more or less common knowledge, and the choices of what to leave out and what to include sometimes seem random. For instance, his discussion of freezing sailors and adapted pearl divers would have been the perfect place to bring up modern athletes: Lynne Cox swims in water so frigid that she had her teeth specially treated to prevent them from shattering from cold. But you will not learn that from reading this book.

The writing is good, but not so stellar as to make me happily read again about stuff I already know. Worth reading if haven’t read much before about cold places, but skippable if you have.

Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places


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