POWNAL — Drive by too fast, and it’s easy to miss the patch of woods that Ed Warden calls home.

A few steps from the roadway inside Bradbury Mountain State Park’s campground, Warden, 67, has carved out a life inside a 10-foot by 20-foot tent he has occupied since last April.

Neither an official park employee nor an illegal squatter, Warden is Maine’s only winter campground host, using the traditionally seasonal, volunteer position to fulfill a lifelong desire to live a pared-down life amid nature.

“Some people want to live in a house and work for 30 years,” said Warden, a retired certified nursing assistant. “My whole life goal (is) to be self-reliant and live like this.”

This is not Warden’s first stint at Bradbury. In the past five years, he has spent a total of three summers and one winter as park host.

Typically, campground hosts greet the tens of thousands of campers who stream into state parks each summer. In exchange for 20 hours of weekly work tidying the grounds, emptying trash barrels, cleaning toilets and selling firewood, the hosts get to stay at the park for free.

Having camped at Bradbury for nearly 10 months, Warden has perfected the routines and systems that make his life in the woods feasible.

Although he has an electrical hookup provided by the park, Warden has no running water in the winter so he keeps about 30 gallons on hand. His tent is heated by a small woodstove that keeps the place a toasty 70 degrees, even during severe storms.

Once or twice a week, Warden gets a ride into town to buy supplies. Meals are one-pot affairs, relying in the winter heavily on canned and dried foods.

“One-burner gourmet, that’s what I call it,” he said.

In the summer, he cooks outdoors, using fresh vegetables brought to him by friends.

He has a coffee maker, a propane-powered oven, a rice-cooker and an electric dryer, in which he makes his own hamburger jerky.

Ward sleeps on a cot in a sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees below zero.

He has a TV but no cable connection, so he uses it to watch DVDs. On his laptop, Warden connects to the Internet at the park ranger’s house across the street to load articles, news and blogs for reading later. He also has a cellphone.

It is a mixture of rustic necessity and creature comfort that defies two common back-to-nature ideals: living purely off the land or in complete isolation.

His life is a balance of the ideal and practical, but remedies a lifelong unease felt in modern accommodations.

As a boy growing up in Fairfield, Connecticut, Warden was always enamored with pioneer tales, gobbling up stories of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, and his family enjoyed hiking and camping.

When he graduated from high school in 1966, Warden joined the Marine Corps. He eventually served 23 months in Vietnam before he left the service in 1970, he said.

“I got out and I couldn’t adapt,” he said.

A year later, he stumbled on a book, “See the World on a Shoestring.”

It helped crystallize his feelings about living a life unencumbered by the expectation that he remain in one place, or that the place he remains in has four solid walls.

To pay the bills, Warden spent 20 years as a house painter, he said, but his travels have taken him all over, including to Florida, where he learned to wrestle alligators, and to Alaska, where he worked in a fish cannery.

There have been consequences for his nontraditional choices.

Warden has been married twice.

Both relationships failed because his wives weren’t comfortable living on the road, in a camper or out of a backpack.

When he lived briefly in New Hampshire, he was dating a woman who owned a house on 25 acres.

For a while, he didn’t understand why she didn’t want to come with him to live in the woods. Slowly, he’s come to realize that he just wasn’t meant to live like everyone else.

“I understand better now. It was her castle,” Warden said, his feet toasting in front of the stove during a recent interview. “This is mine.”

In his last job, as a nursing assistant, Warden watched people, some barely his age, wither away in nursing homes.

He wasn’t ready for assisted living and bingo.

“I didn’t want to end up like that,” he said.

So when a state parks official called him last spring, he moved out of his apartment in Westbrook, stored his belongings and, for the second time, took up residence at Bradbury Mountain, returning to the woods and the balance he finds there.

“I do better in here than I do in a small apartment,” he said. “When I’m in an apartment I get into ruts. I always find peace in nature.”

His family members, some of whom live in Las Vegas, think he’s crazy. After a recent visit, Warden holds similar feelings about them.

“They take pictures of their food in restaurants,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing that.”

The campground gig is steady, and Warden enjoys it. But his true goal is to find someone who will lease him a couple of acres where he can build a slightly more permanent tent, a small greenhouse, and give a try at true self-sufficiency.

Until then, Warden plans to stay at Bradbury Mountain at least until the end of the summer, perhaps the park’s happiest camper.

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