Cabin fever: keeping warm

“I got cabin fever; it’s burning in my brain. I’ve got cabin fever; it’s driving me insane. We got cabin fever, we’re flipping our bandanas. Been stuck so long; we have simply gone bananas.”

Ever feel like this, as sung by the Muppets on “Muppet Treasure Island?”

Like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy or Rizzo the Rat, there are times during the long, cold, and dark winter days when we feel a little crazy from being stuck inside for so long. Even if we get out for work and shopping, activities are more limited. Much like a hibernating bear, we spend much of our time lounging, perhaps eating for entertainment, and just trying to keep warm. It seems to be a consequence of this area’s winter climate in these long days of January and February.

If we think back to pioneer “yesterday” days, the feelings of the coined phrase “cabin fever” would be more intense than today. Think of being in a crude structure with just a room or two that served as sleeping quarters, kitchen, and living space. If there were windows, they were small and let in little light. The other source of light would be a lantern and some flickers from the fireplace or small cook-stove. There was no television, radio, or telephone for outside communication. How many times could you reread the same old newspaper or books? There might be some knitting or whittling to fill up some time after the chores of tending the animals, sprints to the outhouse, and splitting some more wood.

Cabin fever is the clever expression used to describe the symptoms a person can develop from being isolated, confined, and bored with not much to do. Hopefully it’s nothing close to the disturbing actions of the main character in the old movie “The Shining.” Played by Jack Nicholson, even though the family was in a huge resort, its winter remoteness (along with other issues) caused him to do crazy things, which seemed even more eerie if you saw it at a drive-in theatre when it first came out. Nonetheless, at the very least, one can become lethargic and irritable.

It is no surprise that exercise and interaction are the best remedies to help alleviate the symptoms of “cabin fever,” or the lethargy of winter. Interaction with people is obvious, but it can also be with alternate activities and nature. Some people today still heat their homes with wood, achieving the goals of keeping warm and getting on-going exercise. After initial splitting and stacking, the wood must be hauled into the house all winter long. Removal of ashes is another chore. Heating with wood leaves less time to even think about being lethargic and irritable – that is unless it’s a cold, cold day Trees, a renewable resource and plentiful in our region, are felled, cut into sections, split, and stacked into cords. The process starts in the summer, just like a busy squirrel storing nuts for the winter to come. Trees come down and have to be dragged from the woods. Logs are cut into lengths to fit into a fireplace or furnace and then split. In the old days this was done with an axe, but today many people have log splitters that are powered by gas or electric. Mountains of logs then need to be stacked.

Believe it or not, there is an art to stacking logs. When done right, rows can be quite high and straight. In fact, a finished job looks like a “Mona-Lisa” to the professional log stacker. If an unsuspecting person takes logs from the wrong place, it not only mars the image, but can create a domino effect of logs coming down in a rush if not caught in time. This is what one “citified” future son-in-law found out at one residence as he continued to take logs to feed the furnace from the end of the row, with a mother-in-law loudly exclaiming, “Who has been taking logs from the end-caps?”

End-caps are what hold the whole row of logs in place, much like bookends. Only a certain cut works right, so these are thrown aside to use at the ends when stacking from the mountains of cut wood. They have to be round on one side (the outer part of the log) and split flat and straight on the other. Three such logs are used to begin. The first is placed flat side down on the stacking surface. The second is placed flat-side, and the third is placed flat side down. The next layer is the same pattern, but in the opposite direction as the first row; similar to a north/south and then east/west alternating pattern as the layers increase. Taking shortcuts will often result in collapsed log piles.

Think this is not serious to log stackers? An internet news site, www.dailymail, described a television show last year in Norway. Featuring a fireplace and firewood in general, an apparent controversy “split the country down the middle on how it should be stacked.” Many people complained and argued that the bark should face up, and the other half that the bark should face down. Considering the country’s cold climate with temperatures of -30C, this is not an inconsequential matter. Apparently, it turns out that what part of the country a person lives in determines what is best. The coast has a lot of rain, so placing logs bark-side up to keep the wood more dry is appropriate. Inland folks place logs with the bark down to protect it from snow build-up from the ground and also say the wood dries more quickly. All would agree that stacking should never be haphazard and how one stacks his firewood is “the way he reveals himself.”

Make it a good week and don’t succumb to cabin fever. Or, as The Muppets would say, “We got cabin fever, no ifs ands, or buts. We’re disoriented, demented, and a little nuts.”

Mary?Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Comments may be directed