COUNTY AGENT GUY
Late winter can be a dangerous time of the year up here in the Northland, and not just because of the risk of overdosing on televised presidential primary debates.
Winter is a season that often overstays its welcome. It’s like a chunk of cheese that got shoved way into the back of the fridge and wasn’t found until it had developed so many life forms that it was officially recognized by the United Nations as a new country.
The biggest problem with winter is that it’s always yanking our chain. “Welp, I’m out of here,” says winter one late-February day. “I won’t see you again until after autumn.”
But winter is a dirty, rotten liar. After leading us to believe that it’s finally gone for good, it roars back into our lives on a hurricane of icy whiteness.
Winter is the sleazy pal whom you let crash on your couch for “just one night.”
Now he won’t leave despite such broad hints as you slapping a For Sale sign on the couch and dragging it out to the curb.
Due to its habitual reoffending, winter can make a person feel a tad bit crazy. This state of mind is commonly known as cabin fever.
My Norwegian ancestors were extremely resourceful when it came to dealing with cabin fever. How else can one explain the concept of lutefisk?
“I have a great idea!” said one of my ancient Norsk forebears in the midst of an interminable Scandinavian winter. “Let’s hang some fish outdoors and leave it exposed to the birds and the elements.
And after that, we’ll soak it in poison. And then we’ll boil it and eat it and see if we die.”
“Sounds like a plan,” replied his equally crazed cabin mate. “Anything is better than being stuck in this room one more day with you.”
A similar conversation must have occurred when snow skiing was invented.
“I need to get out and see something other than the paint peeling off the kitchen wall,” said a cabin fever sufferer who lived on a mountainside. “Snowshoes are too slow, so I’m going to take a couple of slats off the bed, put a curl on their ends, tie them onto my feet and ride them down the mountain.”
“You doofus,” replied his roommate. “There won’t be any way to stop and steering them will be like trying to turn the Titanic with a ping-pong paddle.
“And you’ll be going so fast, if you hit a tree we’ll have to peel you off with a spatula. You’ll probably break your fool neck and I’ll be … here, let me help you pry those slats off the bed.”
I don’t mean to brag, but I’m an expert in the field of surviving cabin fever. My training took place in the white-hot crucible of a childhood that involved 10 people living in a small farmhouse that had only one bathroom.
It goes without saying that winters lasted longer and the snow was deeper back then. This is because my childhood took place during the waning years of the last Ice Age.
Eight kids and two adults in one house is an equation that adds up to a lot of people getting on a lot of nerves. It was not uncommon to hear such acrid accusations as “He’s breathing at me.”
Our parents had a time-tested cure for cabin fever that consisted of kicking us kids out of the cabin.
When the atmosphere became overly acrimonious – when siblings began to charge one another with such felonies as blinking too loudly – our parents would gently suggest that we get some fresh air by declaring, “All of you kids, outside. NOW!”
We would bundle up, putting on so many layers of clothing that we appeared to be a herd of miniature Michelin tire men.
At first we would be stunned by the frozen air. But then someone would say “Let’s build a fox and goose trail,” and we would waddle through the waist-deep snow like a group of pint-sized bulldozers.
Once the trail was ready, there might be some rancor regarding the issue of who should be the fox. The situation would be swiftly defused with an impromptu round of “not it!”
Towering fountains of crystallized dihydrogen monoxide exploded skyward as we dashed around the trail. We ran as if the game were a matter of life or death, playing so hard that we soon forgot what we had found so excruciatingly annoying about each other. We didn’t go back inside until it was time for supper.
“That was fun,” we would exclaim as we clumped into our farmhouse. “I wish winter lasted longer.”
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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