Having Park Director Buzz Caverly show you around Baxter State Park is like having Emeril teach you how to cook.
We’d been climbing Katahdin in the near darkness for more than an hour, at first lighting our way from Chimney Pond over the steep, boulder-strewn Saddle Trail by flashlight, then by the breaking dawn. On the plateau we paused. Below, the North Woods seemed to stretch forever: all those lakes and ridges and timber; all that promise of bear and deer and moose. My companion, Irvin “Buzz” Caverly Jr., had seen this view hundreds of times. You didn’t hear him gush about its beauty; his feelings ran deeper than that. Instead he said simply, “This place doesn’t need advertising, does it?”
“This place” is Baxter State Park, that big green patch in the center of the map, about 60 miles north of Bangor, and nobody alive knows it the way Buzz Caverly does. He first came here as a ranger in 1960 at age 21 and didn’t leave until his retirement as park director in 2005. Baxter is where he brought his bride, where he raised his children. He refers to life outside Baxter as “downcountry,” admitting that he knows little of what goes on there. Of Baxter State Park’s 47 mountain peaks and ridges, of its 160 miles of trails, of its more than 200,000 acres, he’ll speak as intimately as another man might of his backyard.
Buzz Caverly was the last ranger who knew the remarkable Percival P. Baxter, who gave the park and its centerpiece, Mount Katahdin, to the people of Maine along with this enduring message: “Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble. Monuments decay, wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.”
On the plateau I asked Buzz Caverly a question: If he were someday told that he’d have to leave Baxter State Park and would be allowed just one more day’s camping, where would he choose? His face grew pained. “First of all,” he said, “I wouldn’t go. I’d fight to stay.” But when pressed, he spoke about Russell Pond Campground as though it were sacred ground:
“You’re seven miles in by foot, so already you have solitude. If I don’t want to fish, I can hike. If I don’t want to hike, I can swim. If I don’t want to swim, I can take a canoe and paddle the lake. If I don’t want to canoe, I can climb Lookout Rock, or I can climb Katahdin. If I don’t want to climb Katahdin, I can go have a nap and listen to the wind blowing through. And if I don’t want to go to bed at night, the whippoorwills are going to put me to sleep. Now what else do you want for a life? ”