Coming down with a case of the Shack Nasties is a gradual thing. Fortitude and stoicism delay the inevitable, slowing its progress for a time, but sooner or later the Shack Nasties set in. I’ve had them before, I have them now, and I will have them again but these, too, shall pass.
Some people prefer the term “Cabin Fever,” conjuring images of murder, cannibalism and other atrocities, committed in the deep, harsh chill, discovered in spring, providing grisly contrast to the pussy willows and daffodils down in the draw. They fear the dark recesses of winter, visiting only during holidays and congregating by the thousands at the resorts, where they can be stylish and safe, mingling with their own kind. They wonder how anyone can stand it up here with the snow and the cold and the bumpy, slippery roads. They couldn’t do it, they say, and on Monday they go home, leaving behind those of us who can.
It is implied that this affliction is brought on by extended time indoors but that is not the case. I am outside every day, at least for a while, tending to the chickens or tromping through the woods close to home, and at least once a week I venture further away, along a loop through the trees around the lake. Heck, the road crew does a great job keeping up with the plowing and I even head down the hill to our little village once in a while. It’s not like I’m stranded.
I’ve been stranded before, for weeks at a time, on an island in winter, with only Mrs. Gordon, some chickens and a bunch of sheep for company, and being stranded ain’t so bad, as long as you are properly prepared.
“Oh, Quill,” you might say, “you’re all fidgety. It sounds like you have Seasonal Affective Disorder. You should get yourself one of those special lights!”
“Poppycock!” I’d exclaim.
Just as an individual snowflake can not be blamed for an avalanche, the Shack Nasties have no single cause. I’m not cooped up and I have plenty to keep myself occupied and distracted if the mood should strike. The darkest days of December are a month in the past and there is actually a bit of twilight at the end of the day instead of a quick dimming to dark.
So what’s the problem?
I was having coffee this morning, at the back of our little village market, with some guys I know — loggers, carpenters and other caretakers — and even they were more surly than usual. I considered introducing the Shack Nasties, Cabin Fever and S.A.D. into the conversation but did not because it would have involved discussing feelings. Instead, we made fun of people from other places, bragged to each other about our skills at starting machinery in sub-zero weather, and pretended the cold didn’t bother us even though involuntary shivers ran down our spines each time someone opened the door. If pressed we would each deny it, but we had a little support group there, and were helping each other feel better about something none of us was willing to admit: winter, even with all it has going for it, is quite frankly a pain in the ass. That is the problem.
We look forward to the beginning of the season with its twinkling lights and feelings of goodwill. Everything appears fresh and new, blanketed by the first light snows, but by mid-January the novelty has worn off. The pretty lights are gone, the roadside snowbanks are the color and hardness of concrete and, even if yesterday was twenty-some degrees warmer than the day before, we still didn’t make it out of the teens. If the choices regarding winter are “embrace it, endure it, or leave,” we now endure.
A few hours on the tractor (once I’ve said the right magic words to get it started), moving newly fallen snow, seem for naught the next morning and I am already running out of places to put it all.
Getting dressed to go outside is a chore in itself. It takes a while, with thermal liners in my socks, long insulated underwear (top and bottom), thermal turtleneck beneath a warm flannel shirt, wool trousers, hooded fleece pullover and either a vest on top of that or my old chore coat, which weighs nearly ten pounds (seven if I take the screws and other miscellaneous hardware out of the pockets). I also put on my trusty orange hat and, somewhere along the line, before I’m too bulky to bend over, I will remember to put on my warm, insulated boots. If it’s really cold out I’ll even lace them up.
Once I’m outside I move slower than usual, not because of all the layers I wear, but because cold weather demands deliberate care. Taking a tumble is bad enough any time of year; falling when it’s ten below could be deadly and I am not the young buck I once was. Age has brought other considerations into the picture, too; it’s not just desk-bound city folk who might blow a valve shovelling snow. The cold can be dangerous and it gets tedious, having an element of danger to everything I do.
Maybe it is age, but I know guys a lot older than me who are much crabbier than I am. At least that gives me something to look forward to. I’m even getting used to hearing “grouchy” and “old” in the same sentence as “take a nap.” I do take naps, now and again but, other than feeling rested, nothing much changes. (Sigh)
I still embrace winter, its harsh beauty and profound quiet, along with the lessons it teaches. I love the sound of snow squeaking under-foot and of trees popping on a cold January night. I look forward to gazing across the snow-covered lake, beneath the full Wolf Moon, thousands of cold, sparkling jewels above and below, and I don’t even mind a few hours on the tractor now and then, rearranging piles of snow, making room for more.
But winter’s bony fingers probe like a spider, finding cracks in my soft, warm armor and a chill sets in that is hard to shake. A warm fire and a nap will help but tomorrow and the day after that are bound to be more of the same. And the day after that, and the day after that until, just as stealthily as it set in, that bony chill will go away, but for now we endure.
“But, Quill,” you say, “isn’t it about time for another funny story?”
Yes, yes, it is. But I don’t have a new one. Only one person clicked the link I recently posted to “Fishing Hurts” so here it is again: FISHING HURTS
And, as much as I grouse about it, I enjoy winter. Here are a few other posts about winter from the archives: