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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Special Spaces

This post by Gayle M. Irwin

I’m a woodswoman. A few decades ago, I read a book by Anne LaBastille called Woodswoman, a memoir of her life in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. She sustained herself through freelance writing and conservation work. Inspired by Thoreau, she lived in a log cabin without modern conveniences, relying on a boat for transportation and neighbors to help with things she couldn’t do by herself. But, she did a lot alone. I admired Anne’s fortitude and independent spirit. I wanted to be her. But, alas my life differed from Anne’s but I’ve always enjoyed her writing and appreciated her life (my parents lived like that during my 20s and 30s, doing so for nearly 14 years, although neither were writers or professional conservationists). Anne had a special space, environmentally and emotionally – she lived in a beautiful place and she lived a life not many people, especially single women, would choose. I highly recommend her books, Woodswoman and Beyond Bear Lake, are the ones I’ve read; she also has written others before her passing in 2011.

There are many special spaces; each of us holds a “somewhere” dear in our hearts (maybe more than one place). It may be our childhood home, the community where we currently live, our own writing space, a place in which we’ve visited that made an emotional (even spiritual) impact. There are several special spaces for me, and most every one is an outdoor place. Here are a few of most favorite places:

  1.  National Parks – America is blessed by the foresight and fortitude of people like Stephen Mather, John Muir, Presidents Ulysses Grant and Teddy Roosevelt, and many others who deemed places throughout our country worthy of protection, and therefore, created the world’s first national park. From Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite to Kenai Fjords, America’s national parks are treasures that not only Americans enjoy, but that also beckon people around the world who basically have nothing like U.S. parks and marvel at the majesty and wonderment. I’m privileged to have a story I wrote about our national parks in last year’s Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America. I’ve visited several parks and plan to visit more – they inspire me, both as a writer and a human being. 
  2. Ranch near Kaycee, Wyoming – I am fortunate to have friends who own a ranch about 70 miles northeast of Casper, where I live, and every few months I make a trip out there. I bask in the beauty of the landscape and the vast amount of animal life, a place where domestic sheep, cattle, and horses mingle with wildlife such as turkeys, deer, and sandhill cranes. Glorious sunrises greet me and the nearby Powder River lulls me to sleep at night. The quiet relaxes me, and the generosity of my friends brings me joy. I stay at the guesthouse with large windows that look upon the fields and woods nearby, and I write. I’ve composed many short stories, chapters of my book Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with a Blind Dog, and developed a children’s book about to be released called A Town Dog Named Mary Visits a Ranch, in which I’ll teach children about the domestic and wild creatures living in harmony together at the ranch. 
  3. Mountain Property and Cabin – this is truly my special space, for my husband and I own it. At 8,000 feet in elevation, the mountain property is a bit difficult to get to during the winter, but from May to October, I spend weekends and week nights at this place, only about 20 minutes from our home in town. We purchased the acreage nearly 14 years ago and found a Park Model mobile cabin in 2006; two years would pass before we could move the cabin to the property (lots of trees to cut for fire mitigation and lots of work to prepare the ground; thankfully our ranch friends had another small acreage close to Casper on which we parked the cabin as we prepared the land). A lot of writing occurs at the property, whether inside the 12x32 cabin (we had a tiny house before tiny houses became popular!) or outdoors beneath the coolness of the lodgepole pines. In fact, as I write this post, I’m at the cabin, soaking in the quiet on the 4th of July! Songbirds of all sorts are our neighbors, and mule deer grace the landscape. Our three acres brings us great peace, and me much creativity. My children’s book Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest takes children on a woodland adventure as Cody the cocker spaniel uses his senses to explore the forest; kids learn about the plants and animals found in a Rocky Mountain forest and are encouraged to go on their own woodland adventure with a variety of activities found in the book. 

As humans and writers, we all have special spaces. I recently returned from a trip to Alaska; my husband, father, and I drove through the state, experiencing mountains, oceans, rivers, tundra, and forests and the creatures that live within each ecosystem – not surprisingly, I came back with a book idea. The 49th state is definitely a very special place!

My special spaces involve the outdoors. Although I may not be Anne LaBastille, she certainly influenced me for I find peace and creativity in the woods – I am a woodswoman!

Whether it’s a favorite coffee shop, our home office, a farm, field, or forest, perhaps even a city park, there are places and spaces people enjoy and at which we as writers re-discover our creativity. What are some of your special spaces? I hope you have time and opportunity to enjoy them this summer!

Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning Wyoming author and freelance writer. Her inspirational pet books for children and adults teach valuable life lessons, such as courage, perseverance, and friendship. She is a contributing writer to magazines, newspapers, and compilation books, including last year’s Sundown Press release, Memories from Maple Street USA: Pawprints on My Heart. Her short story about a rescue dog, titled Jasmine’s Journey, will appear in the August Chicken Soup for the Soul release called The Dog Really Did That? This will be her seventh contribution to the Chicken Soup series; last year her story about America’s national parks was a feature in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America. Learn more about Gayle and her work at


  1. Gayle,

    This is so true: There are many special spaces; each of us holds a “somewhere” dear in our hearts (maybe more than one place). It may be our childhood home, the community where we currently live, our own writing space, a place in which we’ve visited that made an emotional (even spiritual) impact. There are several special spaces for me, and most every one is an outdoor place."

    I have several special places, too. My favorite place, though, is Fairplay, Colorado (actually the entire South Park area). I had relatives who lived in Fairplay when I was growing up, and my family visited often. We lived about 180 miles to the east out on the plains in Fort Morgan, so it wasn't a really long drive, but far enough away that we stayed a couple of days when we visited.

    Now, I live about 280 miles from Fairplay, so I don't make it there as often as I'd like to--every other summer or so.

  2. Hello, Kaye, and thank you for reading and commenting on my blog post. I'm glad you're still going to that special place, to Fairplay, even if it's just occasionally. When we have those special spaces, those places in our hearts, we need to cherish them, and return whenever possible to remember why we cherish them. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  3. I actually have the WOODSWOMAN book. I got it years ago. I grew up in the Adirondacks and had several special places. We lived in the country and although we only had an acre of land, we had good neighbors, and could roam the lands around us. I used to sit on the hill behind our house sometimes letting the wind blow my cares away, sometimes admiring the view of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, all visible from our house. Several years there was a fox den on the side of my hill and I would sit at the top and watch the kits play. We had a small cabin on lake back in the mountains. I loved canoeing and hiking through the woods. No trails and I don't think I ever traveled to the top of the mountain by the same path once over the many years I was there.
    We visit National Parks whenever we can and love the mountains. We lived in Colorado Springs, CO for 3 years and spent as much time as we could hiking and exploring the Rockies. We now live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I again live on a hill with a beautiful view of the mountains and we are looking for the perfect spot to put a cabin in the woods.