This month, as rural Maine braces for its first big snow and winter climbers launch weekend expeditions into the backcountry, Stewart Guay is packing gear for a season in the woods. For five days a week from late December through early March, Baxter State Park's sole winter ranger works, eats, and sleeps in a four-room log cabin at Chimney Pond campground, halfway up the side of 5,271-foot Mount Katahdin (he goes home on weekends to his wife and two kids in nearby Millinocket). "I always have a song in my head!" he enthuses. "Somehow, I've managed to land a dream job."
It's vocational nirvana—that is, for anyone into seclusion, rigorous outdoor labor in frigid weather, and a less-than-luxe lifestyle. After besting five other candidates for the job in 1994, Guay, 27, has spent his winter workweeks hauling firewood, checking avalanche conditions, registering the half-dozen or so hikers who pass through, maintaining the bunkhouse, and ferrying injured climbers down the mountain by sled. And then there's his least-favorite task: clearing deep snow off the three-mile-long, 3,000-vertical-foot trail that links Chimney Pond with the road out of Baxter, a sweaty, two-week ordeal. "There's nothing like the beauty and solitude of this place," says Guay. "But I get really, really, really sick of shoveling snow."
He's not tired, however, of living among the moose and deer in a cabin minimally equipped with emergency cell phone, propane fridge and lanterns, running water sans flush toilet, transistor radio, range, and woodstove. Yet Guay knows that the day will arrive when he may trade the cabin for a year-round ranger job that lets him come home to his family every night. Even so, pondering such an ordinary life makes him wistful. "Sure, it'll be nice to see more of the wife and kids," he allows. "But I won't have the same kind of feeling I have up at Chimney Pond."