After Midnight

pb-130101-new-year-trash-001.photoblog900Happy new minutes of 2014, intrepid followers! While you were cheek-by-jowl watching balls drop in Times Square and blowing your horns the world over with grownups behaving badly, The Sultanette was flying solo. Yes, after an illustrious track record of Amateur Nights (highlighted below) I decided to risk self-imposed house arrest this year. Would I be up to it? Would I, upon hearing the gregarious yelps of street revelers, feel like the loneliest Sultanette in Manhattan? As a safeguard, I invited to my sequester the indomitable woodswoman, Anne LaBastille.

I discovered LaBastille at Hoss’s General Store in Long Lake, New York, an outpost of civilization in the Adirondack National Park. Its two floors, endlessly groaning from the constant foot traffic of hiking boots, were crammed with mountainwear, camping noshes, books of local lore, greeting cards, handcrafted jewelry, candles, stuffed animals and souvenir tchotchkes – most all of it bear-themed from T-shirts to toilet paper holders.

KingKoneTwistWith Custard’s Last Stand next door and the Adirondack Hotel down the road, its name painted on a massive boulder out front that looked like it had rolled down from one of the surrounding mountains, this was the north wood’s Times Square. Long Lake was a metropolis compared to Newcomb where One&Only and I drove several times a year to stay at Aunt Polly’s B&B and enjoy the wilds of soaring pines and the warmth of his family.

After hiking Goodnow Mountain to gasp at devastatingly majestic views from its windblown fire tower, dining on steak the consistency of beef jerky, and grabbing nookie under Aunt Polly’s handmade quilts, there was little left to do but have a good read. So when I found  LaBastille’s Woodswoman series of books displayed prominently at Hoss’s – her post-divorce tale about escaping with her dog, Pitzi, to live Thoreau-style in a cabin she’d built on twenty acres of secluded backwoods – I snapped her up.

Living in a cabin with no plumbing or electricity (“Why do I need an electric hair dryer? I have the wind.”) didn’t come second nature to LaBastille. Though she was drawn to camping and hiking in high school and majored in wildlife conservation at Cornell where she later received a doctorate in Wildlife Ecology, she grew up in New York City. Even after retreating to the woods, she accepted research and consulting trips to Central America and the Caribbean that earned awards and citations from the Explorers Club and the World Wildlife Fund.

Still water wake, Baie FineSo what compelled her, after the demise of a marriage spent managing a resort lodge with her husband, to head with dog and aluminum boat into a part of the Adirondacks tucked away somewhere in the folds of that vast view from Goodnow Mountain?

In that motorboat, she towed two piles of 16-foot unpeeled spruce logs purchased from a sawmill to a spot so remote “no track or trail linked the dirt road and public landing to the property one mile an a half up the lake.” Two brothers from the local hardware store helped her dig eight holes for foundation posts and piece together her Lincoln Logs hideaway.  And suddenly, she says, “I had a home. I had a door to open or close to the world. There were windows with peaceful views … and a sturdy, well-pitched roof.” A bookcase and benches, Boston rocker, Navajo rugs, filing cabinets, desk, and loft bedroom finished the job. “I would truly be alone in a cabin in the woods.”

With LaBastille as perspective, signing up for New Year’s Eve in my Manhattan apartment outfitted with fireplace, cheap caviar, and a refrigerator stocked with rocks for Vodka, seemed more excessively indulgent than courageous. And as I sipped on a vodka and soaked in the solitude, highlights of pre-Sultanette New Year’s Eves offered themselves up like martinis on a mixologist’s cocktail menu, reminding me that while midnight is a fleeting high, life is a countdown. As highlighted below there was …

no-heavy-petting6THE HORMONAL: Brewed in Wisconsin, this hearty blend of Kaukauna Klub Cheese, summer sausage, and Chex Mix was enjoyed by the pre-Sultanette tween with mom, sis and dad, as her thoughts strayed to heavy petting with the high school squeeze.

THE HALLUCINOGENIC: Not to be ingested while operating heavy farm machinery, this magical mystery brew inspired a barely memorable but mind-expanding excursion on a post-college New Year’s Eve in Chicago at haute hippie boyfriend’s apartment.

THE CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES: Consumed with caviar one block from the infamous avenue upon moving to Paris with the Good Ex. So giddily in love, we knew nothing better than to spend our first married New Year’s abroad assembling a jigsaw puzzle on our living room floor.

THE SWELLEGANT: Imbibed in Black Tie while dancing with the best of friends in a New York townhouse, this stylish aperitif precluded a feast that lasted until dawn. Choosing this memorable party over a hot date with a new heart throb remains documented proof that friendship endures longer than a horny man.

THE JOCK: Served in plastic cups to festively-dressed joggers at Central Park’s Midnight Run (yours truly attired in an Armani tux) surrounded by the glittering walls of Manhattan high-rises and the refugees of boring parties who gathered roadside to cheer us on.

imgresTHE STALEMATE: Shaken, stirred and shattered with one part denial and two parts defiance, then imbibed watching TV screen as ball dropped in Times Square on the last of sixteen New Year’s Eves with One&Only. Nothing so distant as the three feet between us.

A Cavalry Charge, Winslow Homer, 1862 Brooklyn Museum

A Cavalry Charge, Winslow Homer, 1862 Brooklyn Museum.

LaBastille was peacefully ensconced in her woodland idyll when the testosterone cavalry arrived. She had met Nick in her other life and now he passed through the area with hunting buddies. Both divorced, the connection was immediate and the wilderness woman became a giddy girl in love. (“Why couldn’t I be suave and confident like the Cosmo girls?”) The relationship was rich and enduring until two years later when Nick got the offer of his dreams to teach in Alaska. Would Anne come with him?

“Should I go with the man I loved?” she asks, “Or should I stay here alone in the home I’d built, in the mountains I loved, with the profession I had created?” She acknowledges the void in her “that can only be filled by a man’s love” yet she knew what her choice would be, even with the man she felt deeply connected to: “As much as we loved each other, he couldn’t stay and I couldn’t go.”

When do we learn it’s time to put distance between us and why do we too often wait too long? Why did things have to go stale before I saw that One&Only had too much past and I had too much future?

The Earth at Night, NASA.

The Earth at Night, NASA.

The noisemakers have calmed down on this New Year’s Eve, and the bleating has quieted, and I’m thinking about what LaBastille learned surrounded by the good earth – that it’s the distance we ignore that is  heartbreaking but the distance we choose is sublime.

“Sometime I sit in my log cabin as in a cocoon, sheltered by swaying spruces from the outside world. From traffic, and noise, and liquor, and … life seems to have no beginning and no ending.” Woodswoman, Anne LaBastille (November 20, 1935 – July, 1, 2011).

Oh! Almost forgot tonight’s cocktail, especially created for The Sultanette …

THE CINQ A SEPT: Named for the hours between 5pm and 7pm when lusty French engage in extramarital rendezvous (American version: “Honey, I’m still at the office.”) this intriguing mix was consumed at an impromptu get-together in Chelsea during the above hours of  New Year’s Eve 2014 – the perfect prelude to an evening spent contemplating the joys of solitude in a world populated by not-too-distant strangers.

So what are you doing after midnight?