Wendy Weiger became more familiar with her surroundings living in her remote cabin this winter – including the night sky. Photo by Eddie O’Leary

FRENCHTOWN TOWNSHIP — Who snowshoes 8 miles round trip in 5 feet of snow to bring a guest to her cabin for lunch?

Who relishes evenings under the stars when it’s 30 below zero? Or, crazier still, hikes to the outhouse 50 yards away on those same frigid nights?

The same woman who savors living in isolation in the woods for six months, that’s who. And Wendy Weiger, a 60-year-old conservation advocate and a Registered Maine Guide, is embracing this primitive lifestyle in northern Maine for the second winter in a row.

In fact, in her one-room, off-the-grid cabin, a small sign reminds her: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

For Weiger there have been many such moments, living more than 10 miles from the nearest paved road in a tiny cabin next to First Roach Pond. She lights the cabin at night with propane lamps and heats it with a wood stove, using firewood she chops on a stump out front. There is no running water.

In warmer weather, Weiger works six months of the year at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s visitor center in Monson, at the doorstep of the 100 Mile Wilderness. Typically she finds seasonal work in winter. But when the pandemic hit and home isolation became the new normal, Weiger pursued a longtime dream of living alone in the remote cabin deep in the woods during the winter of 2020-21.

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When the seasonal work she pursued this winter didn’t pan out, she returned to the cabin for a second year.

“I have always found healing and peace in nature, here in the woods. I feel a deep sense of connection with the life all around me, the Earth, even the cosmos,” Weiger said.

To reach her remote cabin, Wendy Weiger must drive more than 10 miles on plowed logging roads and then snowshoe in four miles. She can’t hike because she would sink into the deep snow. Deirdre Fleming photo

Her cabin is located east of Moosehead Lake, next to 75,000 acres of protected Appalachian Mountain Club forest that is at the doorstep of the North Maine Woods, an area that was designated as the first International Dark Sky Park in New England last year. Her neighbors are moose, otter, snowshoe hare and Canada lynx. 

To those who know her story, there may seem little difference between Weiger’s time in the woods last year and this winter. The rhythm of days full of chores is the same. But Weiger hit her stride with wilderness survival this winter. She brought more of a swagger to the rituals needed to maintain her health, wood stove, water supply – and existence. She explored more outside her cabin. 

Weiger still must haul water in stainless-steel buckets from the hand pump 100 yards away in order to wash dishes, cook and sponge bathe each day. 

Her only electricity comes from a generator she uses to charge a battery that powers her laptop computer, and a satellite dish powered by the battery provides a WiFi signal. There is no cell phone reception at the cabin, but she is able to connect with others a few times a week via Facebook Messenger or Zoom.

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Every four to six weeks, she heads into Greenville for provisions and mail, snowshoeing 8 miles round trip to her car in a lot off a logging road. She hauls groceries back to her cabin using a pulk sled strapped to her body.

She estimated living off the grid this winter will cost her about $7,000.

Weiger uses a hand pump that reaches to a 300-foot well for water. Deirdre Fleming photo

Weiger said she is more dialed in to her daily tasks and routines this winter. The chores now are second nature. But the remote location can still throw her curveballs. 

In January, her leach field froze during a bitter stretch. So now she has to carry out water from dirty dishes, rather than pouring it down the drain.

“Last year the coldest it got was negative-14. This year, it was negative-20 or negative-30, colder than Greenville,” Weiger said.

And in early March, her generator died – and along with it, connectivity to the internet. So she made an emergency trip to town to get a spark plug and take a crash course replacing one, hauling the 50-pound generator behind her.

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Weiger’s 14-by-21-foot cabin is like a shrine to nature. At every turn lies a token or talisman honoring wildlife, even though it is simple and uncluttered. 

Stained-glass hearts encased with wildflowers adorn the kitchen sink backsplash. A prayer to St. Francis, patron saint of animals, hangs on the wall. The dining table holds a wooden bowl carved with leaves that is chock full of rocks, mementos from friends and past adventures. A birch bark moose call made by a Penobscot Nation artist sits on her dresser, and a sweetgrass basket made by a Passamaquoddy artisan is on the nightstand, another hint of Weiger’s interest in Native American culture.

Weiger’s cabin is tiny, but has all she needs. Deirdre Fleming photo

As she snowshoed up the driveway to her cabin, Weiger pointed out that the 12-acre property is the ancestral land of the Wabanaki people.

And so, the one new activity she pursued this winter – which is an ancient practice – thrilled her. Weiger began orienting herself at night using the stars.

In mid-January, Eddie O’Leary, a professional photographer, visited her to photograph the night sky, and made her realize she had not studied this vast wilderness. So she did.

And because her cabin lies at the edge of the North Maine Woods, it is one of the darkest places on the East Coast.

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“I knew the stars, like the North Star, and Sirius, the dog star, the brightest in the sky, but I had a passing acquaintance with the stars,” Weiger said. “Now I have a much better sense of where my cabin is located in the cosmos. When I’m out here alone on a starry night, I feel more a part of the cosmos.”

In fact, on the day the generator died, Weiger returned home from Greenville by celestial navigation.

In the past, when returning from a day-long trip to town in the dark, Weiger would follow the nearest shore to the east of her cabin.

But that path did not follow the most direct route, and she had the heavy generator.

There was a new moon, so it was dark. But she could still make out the stars. So for the first time, Weiger used the stars and constellations as her guides, using the Big Dipper to orient her to the North Star, which shines above and a bit west of her cabin.

“If given a choice, I would time a winter nighttime trek to coincide with a full moon, or nearly full moon. However, I didn’t have a choice with regard to the date of my generator failure,” Weiger said. “I was pleased to see, when I started my trek across the ice, that the stars were clearly visible.

“I’m certainly no expert in celestial navigation, and would want a lot more practice with this method before relying on it too heavily. But I was delighted to find that I had learned something from my hours of stargazing that had a practical application, and that I had gained some of the attunement to the night sky that our remote ancestors must have known.”


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