Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cabin Fever And Snow

When I watch the snow sifting down over my neighborhood and Neosho for the umpteenth time this winter, I think about past winters and I long for spring. I also find myself thinking about the term “cabin fever,” an ailment just about everyone I know has suffered to one extent or another this winter. That brings my thoughts to cabins and to the pioneers who settled this land.

When the snow falls and the roads become treacherous – as we have seen too many times this winter – most of us tend to stay home more and venture out with caution. Each time the “S” word (Snow) is in the forecast, I notice that people head for the grocery store in greater numbers and stock up as if we were going to be isolated for a month. Of course, we never are.

However, when I think about that term, cabin fever, and the tiny homestead housing that inspired it, it is a different story. We get cabin fever in our comfortable, multi-room homes but the pioneers for the most part were confined to one-room dwellings packed full.

I have had occasion to visit different cabins over the years, some reconstructed authentic log cabins from the past and others, modern recreations. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are small.

Most cabins were small at a time when many families were large and often multi-generational. Such things that our children think are necessary such as rooms of their own or a large bedroom to share with a sibling didn’t exist. The entire family slept in the same room where they ate, worked, cooked, and lived. Lucky families had a loft above where the children could sleep, giving them a little more space but not much by our standards of today.

When winter snows came down over isolated cabins nestled in Ozark valleys or perched on the crown of a hill, the folks inside were already there for the long haul. Winter meant more isolation in eras when a neighbor might live miles away, not next door or across the street.

Just as we find ourselves sliding over the roads because we need that loaf of bread or gallon of milk, our pioneer ancestors had to get out to hunt, to tend the livestock, and to fetch water. The difference is that we get out and we see people we know to share our frustration with the weather. Those early settlers had each other so getting along was mandatory.

Those pioneers were home bound in a way that most of us cannot even begin to imagine and yet many gloried in that solitude. They were survivors, strong people who tamed a wild land and made it provide for their needs. I doubt most griped or complained when snow kept them close but instead were thankful that they had shelter and the warmth of the hearth.

With no supermarket to provide, they relied instead on the provisions they had stored for winter, the vegetables, the dried meat, the cured meats, and what they could obtain. Foraging becomes much more difficult in the winter and hunting becomes a challenge when many animals tend to stay in their dens during bad weather.

As weary as I am of winter this year, I have to admit that I am just as glad that I have a comfortable home, food in the pantry and freezer, and that my family can stay warm. We have space to spread out in when we are home because of weather and we have many diversions.

Even so, I will be glad when spring arrives.

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