ON THE SCENE: Welcome to Lorraine Duvall’s neighborhood
Lorraine Duvall, a former computer scientist who has taken up a second vocation as an author and journalist, launched the publication of her fourth book Monday evening, Sept. 25, at the Keene Valley Library.
Duvall’s latest, “Where the Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home,” examines her neighborhood, the people and history along the Styles Brook watershed, a section of the larger AuSable River watershed between Keene and Upper Jay. Unlike Russell Banks, the internationally acclaimed Keene novelist who recently passed, Duvall hasn’t taken up writing as a career but as a way of sharing her experiences and insights, particularly as an environmentalist and feminist living in the Adirondacks.
“I started by writing what I call memoir vignettes, little vignettes about the experiences that happened in my life, stories about my family, growing up and like that,” Duvall told me in 2020. “I decided to attend a writers workshop in Old Forge in September of 2012. I didn’t know anybody there. I just saw a poster, and it looked like fun.”
Duvall gained several insights from the workshop, among them that the instructor felt she “had a book” in her writings, and thus, her desire to switch from technical to narrative writing was becoming a reality. In addition, she liked the feedback she received; therefore, she has continued participating in workshops ever since.
“I find participating in our writing workshop motivating, and it helps me get things right,” said Monique Weston. “Most recently, I wrote a story about Isaac and Erma’s journey to live in Keene, which I haven’t gotten around to publishing. I’ve also written about Naomi and Rachel’s story. I like writing about people’s odyssey. Like Lorraine, I was an academic writer; she about computers, and for me, law reviews. I had to get out of that mode. I wanted to write more narrative and literary. I find the workshop very supportive, and we gain from each other’s criticism and the sharing of ideas.”
When Charles Watts was in his 20s, he worked in Hollywood writing for television shows such as “Kojak” and “Here Come the Brides.”
“It was the worst job I ever had,” said Watts. “You wrote to somebody else’s ideas, and they all sucked. So I stopped writing for other people, took up another career, and, while doing so, once in a while wrote a little poetry and some stories. Like Lorraine, it wasn’t until I retired, came to the Adirondacks, attended an Adirondack Center for Writing event and met a publisher from Vermont that I got into writing what I wanted to write. I sent him a few things, and he said write me a book. I did, and he asked me to write another. Now I’ve done four.”
Duvall’s first book was a memoir, “And I Know Too Much,” a volume of stories and shared experiences that revealed her awakening to feminism, finding her center and falling in love with the Adirondacks. Her second, “In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Adirondacks,” illustrates how precious and threatened our waterways are. Her third, which Duvall intended to be her last, was “Finding a Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970s Feminist’s Collective in the Adirondacks.”
But on Monday in the library, Duvall shared her most recent book to a packed audience. Once again, she stated it would be her last, and in the future she would write just essays for the Adirondack Almanack website and other area publications, as she often does.
“This book came about when I first started writing about Tropical Storm Irene and how great it was to experience how the people living in the Styles Brook neighborhood came together to support each other during that event,” said Duvall. “I started writing a few essays about that, and then I started writing more about the people, and I thought, maybe there’s a book here. And so, I did. Writing about my neighborhood was enriching; I learned about my neighbors and how to relate to them in ways I never had before.”
Duvall learned that her charming high-meadow valley, known as The Glen, was mined for iron ore and harvested for its timber in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The J&J Rogers company fairly denuded the valley for its pulp and paper mill in AuSable Forks, building a large sluiceway that carried the logs down to the East Branch of the AuSable, dumping them in where Styles Brook met the river.
In the mid-1920s, New York state acquired much of the deforested lands, adding them to the Adirondack Park’s Forest Preserve (now the Jay Mountain Wilderness), from J&J Rogers in return for tax breaks.
In the 1930s, the retired lawyer Samuel Thorne took advantage of the largely treeless high meadow, purchasing nearly 1,400 acres, naming the property Uplands Meadow Farm, and establishing a dairy he ran until 1962.
Though based in the Hudson Valley town of Rye, Thorne built his country estate in Keene Valley, also naming it The Uplands, and became an active member of the Keene Valley Congregational Church. In 1963, Thorne’s Rye neighbor Robert Gardener bought the farm, naming it Highlands. To Duvall’s great advantage in researching the history of Styles Brook, Thorne’s granddaughter Cindy Ayres lives in Keene Valley, as did until recently her sister Phebe Thorne, who had written extensively about the dairy farm in her cookbook, “Camp Cooking in the Adirondacks.”
“Where the Styles Brook Waters Flow” is filled with a wealth of stories ranging from how a Canadian mountain club established a retreat at the head of the Glen, Paul Desjardins launched a work-study program on his property named Saddleback Farm, the struggles to keep The Glen from being “overdeveloped” by people who had benefited from the owner’s largess, and, of course, everyone coming together during Tropical Storm Irene. Throughout, Duvall’s growing love and appreciation of her neighbors is apparent.
“Learning and writing about the history and people of Styles Brook has been a wonderful experience said Duvall. “If you ever think about journaling or writing, go to your neighbors, talk with them; you’ll find it a very enriching experience.”
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)