It took a trip together to an outdoors show in New Jersey, however, for Santaguida to fully comprehend Hold-

ng’s extraordinary way with people, even complete strangers.

“We were at this large-scale, high-end show with lots of influential outdoors people

there, and we set up this little booth trying to attract people to Maine,” Santaguida said.

Holding was off sightseeing, and browsers surprised Santaguida by inquiring about his colleague’s whereabouts. With a quizzical expression, Santaguida asked the residents from 10 hours south how they knew the unassuming fellow from a remote outpost called Stratton among the lakes and hills in western Maine.

“I figured they must have been people he met at the hotel the night before. Come to find out, they’d been to the show the year before and said they’d come back just to meet up with Blaine,” Santaguida said.

Perhaps that story has gained momentum in the translation. Still, it follows that a man making such fast friends hundreds of miles from home commands special attention in his daily sphere of influence.

For Holding, that recognition came earlier this month when he was honored as Maine Warden of the Year at an awards ceremony in Winslow.

“They must not’ve had much to choose from this year,” said Holding, one of 125 wardens in Maine and a 20-year veteran.

Makes me wonder how humble I’d be if one of the lines on my resume read that I helped apprehend a known terrorist at the U.S.-Canadian border.

Or rescued a sporting camp manager stranded on a frozen lake. Or attempted to save the life of a drowning victim by administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Holding hears the list and responds with the equivalent of a thousand ho-hums.

“I can’t really think of one incident that stands out,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to see from day to day. One day it’s an enforcement issue, the next a rescue situation. We encounter a variety of things.”

Never keeping banker’s or columnist’s hours, either. We haven’t even mentioned Holding’s devotion to the Special Olympics at Sugarloaf/USA.

“We have people in the outdoor community say to us, Why can’t every warden be like Blaine?’ I hear that comment all the time,” Santaguida said.

I’ll bet the Special Olympics organizers would like to clone him.

When Holding heard about the winter competition in nearby Carrabassett Valley, he and his wife, Bonnie, who along with Blaine is also a licensed Maine Guide, stepped forward to volunteer their time and talent.

After seeing what was required to stage the annual event, Holding recognized that wardens could offer oodles of equipment and expertise.

“It seemed like a natural thing,” he said. “We’re geared toward the outdoors. Anything we could do to help those athletes for a couple days.”

He floated a generic invitation to his fellow wardens in hopes of drumming up interest. According to Santaguida, about a dozen have joined the ranks over the years.

The Holdings make it worth their while. Any warden far from home (and who wouldn’t be?) is invited to dine and stay with them during the games.

“That’s all on his nickel,” Santaguida said. “He’s just a selfless person.”

In addition to organizing events at the games, Holding coordinates evening activities including a live band and ice cream sundaes.

“Whatever it takes to make it a better experience for the athletes,” Holding said. “They look forward every year to seeing us, and we look forward to seeing them.”

Holding’s northwest migration differs from many Mainers in his generation who were born in rural areas and relocated to Lewiston-Auburn or Greater Portland.

Raised in Scarborough, Holding spent his first year as a full-time warden in Kennebunk before requesting a move to the Franklin County fringes.

“He’s got a tough district up there with all the hiking and mountain activities,” Santaguida said.

Intrigued by hunting, fishing and trapping since his childhood, Holding felt called to Eustis and Stratton. This morning, however, if only briefly, Holding is flirting with the bright lights.

He was scheduled to fly Saturday to Ocean City, Md., for the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference. There, on Tuesday, he’ll again be feted as Maine’s top warden.

Santaguida bets Holding has made a half-dozen lifelong friends since the plane landed.

“He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.”

Kalle Oakes is staff columnist. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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