‘This is home’: Retired forester lives off grid in log cabin his father built

Categories: Life Stories

Stacks of covered lumber, the large garden and a storage building are on Lee Stover's property in Waldo. With the exception of the cabin, which was built by his father, Stover built all the structures from lumber he sawed on his sawmill.

To get to Lee Stover’s cabin in January, you have to walk half a mile or so into the woods, passing old gravel pits, towering white pines and freshly made animal tracks etched in the snow.

You know you are getting closer when the first building appears — a weathered wooden shed that shelters his red Massey Ferguson tractor. Then you spot the elaborate fence that guards the large garden plot, sleeping under its white winter blanket. Up a slight hill is his sawmill and the tall piles of new lumber seasoning in the fresh air.

Stover, 70, a retired forester, has lived on this land year-round for 16 years and has loved it all his life. His father built the log cabin from trees he felled nearby back in 1954, when Stover was just a boy who helped peel off the bark by hand. They built it strong, to last — and it has. The sturdy logs have darkened with age but have withstood the storms of more than half a century. Inside, the 255-square foot cabin is heated only with a wood stove and lit with LED lanterns and an old gaslight system when the sun goes down. Stover jokes that when he wants running water, he runs down to the nearby spring with a bucket in his hand.

“This is home,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of effort just living [here], but I wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

The 110-acre former farm property came into his family in the hungry days at the beginning of the Great Depression, when his grandmother agreed to work the fields and do housekeeping for the farmer. He lived there until he couldn’t anymore and then left it to her. No money exchanged hands, Stover said. His parents, both from Belfast, raised their two sons in northern Massachusetts, but they came back to Maine often throughout the year.

A gas light is in Lee Stover's cabin in Waldo. The cabin has no electricity or running water, and Stover still uses the gas lights as a backup to LED light sources. The cabin was built by his father in the 1950s, and his family made many trips each year to spend time there.

“I remember coming in on snowshoes and cross-country skis,” the retired forester said. “My father liked to come here because there were no ringing telephones. He could come here and do what he wanted.”

For Stover, life in the woods got under his skin so he studied forestry at the University of Maine. He was hired by Georgia-Pacific Corp. to manage the paper company’s vast timberlands in Washington County and put in 25 years there. He and his former wife raised their two children in Calais and always planned to retire in Waldo. They moved there in 1999, working hard to clear part of the grown-over land and to mill lumber together with the sawmill. The marriage ended but Stover stayed, working the sawmill alone. He stayed even when others may have chosen to move back to the comforts and conveniences of town.

Lee Stover lives in his cabin, which has no electricity or running water, on his Waldo property. The cabin was built by his father in the 1950s, and his family made many trips each year to spend time there. The 70-year-old retired forester moved into the cabin 16 years ago. He harvests logs from his property and saws lumber to sell. "There is a fair amount effort just living [here], but I would't want to have it any other way," he said.

“I have no fear,” he said. “I’m not concerned. You can always walk out with your snowshoes.”

That desire to stay remained strong even after Stover narrowly survived a heart attack in June of 2009, during a crowded contra dance in Belfast.

“I had a pressure in my chest. Then the lights went out,” he said.

His heart had stopped. The contra dance caller saw that Stover had collapsed and asked the room of dancers if there was a doctor in the hall. A nurse practitioner, an emergency medical technician and others sprang forward to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“Despite the CPR, I was beginning to turn gray,” he said.

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