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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The “Cabin” Is My Refuge

Let's address a major Up North winter issue: cabin fever.
I live in an old farmhouse, not a cabin, but cabin fever is no respecter of architecture. Like the flu, it can invade mansion or hovel or anything in between. Up North people know what I’m talking about.

A couple of lifetimes ago, in Kalamazoo, I went through a winter of impassioned Arctic reading. Couldn’t get enough of that polar stuff. Especially liked books by women in the Arctic. A Woman in the Polar Night (now reprinted) is one title I recall, in which the author lived through the dark winter days with her husband and another man (husband’s coworker or something) in a tiny, tiny cabin. She took seriously the advice that it was important to get outdoors every day but also that she must not fail, under any circumstances, to keep one hand on the cabin wall at all times so as not to lose her sense of direction, get lost, and freeze to death a foot from safety. And so she would leave the shelter of the cabin interior, dressed in her warmest clothes, and make a circuit outdoors, in darkness and stinging wind and snow, clinging to the safety of the walls, every day of the Arctic winter. That was her outdoor exercise and her cabin fever preventative.

The tropical equivalent to cabin fever is island fever. Simple and beautiful and idyllic as life can be in the islands, a non-native visitor can suddenly be overpowered by a desperate need for immediate escape. Lemme outta here! After all, an island is isolated land, and isolation deprives us of sensory and social variety. Iso- is sameness. So not any particular deprivation, such as cold, for example, but deprivation itself is the essence of cabin fever. Feeling trapped.

A friend asked me if I missed Florida this year. (The last time our pack went south for the winter was in 2010.) Not really. I always love being on the road, and our time in Aripeka was creative, but being home this year feels just fine. Not going outdoors with my sketchbook, as I did last year, I still get out with Sarah for little dog-and-mom adventures, very necessary and healthy for both of us. The bookstore is still open four days a week, and on other days we sometimes range as far afield as Traverse City, so no, I don’t feel housebound or trapped.

In fact, what I’m feeling deeply this winter is love and gratitude for my home, for my very specific old farmhouse, for the cold, windswept land surrounding it, the rooms we close off and don’t heat (for the sake of economy), our sheltered central room (no exterior walls) with dining table and fireplace and my yellow leather chair, my tiny Paris kitchen, our tiny bathroom with the beautiful new floor tile I admire daily, the “mouse nest” of a living room with its overflowing bookshelves, comfy pillows, and cozy throws, and the bedroom, where Sarah (who can be a real “bed hog”) joins us at night on a double bed piled high with blankets and pillows. Sometimes, as I did Monday, I stay home all day, and it feels like such a luxury! No one who has never held jobs outside the home could possibly understand! 

More often, David and Sarah and I travel together to Northport to do our errands and tend to our work (studio/gallery and bookstore) and our social lives—and then we come home again, and it feels so good to walk in the door and shed our coats and put the kettle on! “Isn’t it great to be home?” we say to each other every day.

Immune to cabin fever? Like flu, one should never feel too cocky about not coming down with it. Sometimes the fever doesn’t pounce until March, and I’m not saying it can’t happen to me, only that it hasn’t struck yet, and I’m feeling no symptoms. Love my crockpot! Love my rice cooker! Love that big cast iron Dutch oven! Last night’s beef barley soup and biscuits were heaven on the table!

Time to read!!!

Cabin fever? Hardly! Well, not at the moment....


BB-Idaho said...

We know inately that cabin fever can be temporarily cured by going
outside, even for a bit. Then, the
acadmemics in Michigan prove it with an awfully boring study
...time for my walk. :)

P. J. Grath said...

Oh, for the old days when psychology, sociology, ecoomics, etc., etc. were qualitative! What is there about a purely quantitative approach to human life that is so--well, so drained of life? At least the behavioral economists often come up with surprising results. But you're right, BB--no point kvetching when the alternative is to go for a walk. Wind is blowing here, and snow is drifting, and it's another exciting winter day Up North.

Dawn said...

Awww....I know the feeling. I feel a day off from work is a gift and I enjoy every single little minute of it. Because that work is waiting when I get back. I love to stay in some days....but other days I just want to go go go! Glad you're happy where you are. That's a sign of a smart woman!

P. J. Grath said...

Is it wisdom, or is it inertia? The really funny part is that on my days at home I'm starting to enjoy housework! Kind of scary!