‘Away Up the North Fork’ by Annie Chappell

  • “Away Up the North Fork” by Annie Chappell (She Writes Press, 288 pages, $19.95). CONTRIBUTED

For the Recorder
Published: 11/4/2022 2:33:18 PM
Modified: 11/4/2022 2:33:00 PM

‘A Way Up the North Fork” is subtitled “A Girl’s Search for Home in the Wilderness.” The subtitle is apt.

In the early 1970s, Annie Chappell was looking for a life that would differ from the one she led living with her parents and attending the exclusive Emma Willard School.

She was coming of age in an era in which young people wanted the world to be different, to become less materialistic and more ecologically sound. She was alienated further by sexual abuse from an older relative and her own dependence on alcohol and marijuana.

During her junior year of high school, she met someone she thought might embody the home for which she longed. Bill, whom she called Mountain Man, was a Vietnam veteran who lived off the grid in a cabin in Montana. Young Annie was struck by the man and his lifestyle and decided she wanted to go live with him.

She tried to make the journey in the middle of the following school year but was intercepted by family members. She returned to school and finished her senior year; then she navigated her way to Bill’s homestead with her helpless parents’ grudging permission.

He wasn’t precisely welcoming. He warned her that she would have to work for her keep. She did. She learned to cook, can, farm, and eventually kill animals for food. She saw the experience as a challenge to her strength, intelligence, and commitment to a different life.

In her memoir, the adult Annie Chappell documents her time in Montana, quoting liberally from journal entries and letters she wrote at the time. She was an expressive writer even then. She warmed to many of her tasks. She particularly enjoyed taking care of the animals on the farm.

It was clear almost from the start that Bill as a person was not going to represent home for her, however.

Her youth was evident in the way her letters defended his actions and his beliefs to her parents, even when it was clear to her (and probably to her mother and father) that she didn’t always agree with him and longed for a little kindness, a little levity, on his part.

I felt for the young Annie while reading these letters and also for her parents. They were clearly appalled by the path their daughter had chosen but were wise enough to realize that they had to accept what she felt bound to do.

The exchanges between the young woman and her parents are striking and moving; they show both parties reaching out to make a connection despite their differences.

Chappell, who has lived in Northfield with her husband for 22 years, told me that she started writing the book in 1992 but didn’t feel she could write the part about her teenage angst until after her mother’s death.

She returned to the project four years ago and has done a remarkable job evoking her youthful spirit as well as the joys, challenges, and occasional dangers of life in the wild. Her memoir is vivid and moving. I read it in a sitting and was awed by Annie Chappell’s courage and candor, in her youth and today.

“Away Up the North Fork” is available at the World Eye Bookshop. It may also be ordered from the author, who will give $3 of each copy she sells to Save the Yellowstone Grizzly. She may be contacted via email at chappella56@gmail.com.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her latest book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy