Cabin Fever

I opened my eyes and saw gray light filtering into the room. Pushing the blankets aside I walked to the window and lifted a curtain to peek out. My monochromic yard looked dreary. “The weatherman was wrong.” I grumbled. “The storm didn’t start at six am. Maybe he’ll also be wrong about it being icy. With any luck we’ll get nothing but snow.” I glared disdainfully at the black evergreen branches, gray tree trunks and white snow. The tracks in the snow were old and no longer interested me. I felt bored with this unchanging winter landscape.

Once a week I clean out my furnace’s ash pan. After dressing, I jogged down to the basement to shut the wood pellet burner off, the first step of the chore. Passing a window, I thought about how excited I am when I see new tracks in the snow around the house. Winter boredom, cabin fever, or whatever you want to call it, magnifies the mundane to an otherwise perfectly normal person.

Last week I noticed a fresh mark in the snow below the branches of a crabapple tree next to the house. There were other curious deep marks in the snow leading away from the spot.

No longer having to struggle to work each morning, this retiree has become a rare combination of Daniel Boone and Sherlock Holmes, sleuthing out how the tracks came to be and who had made them. I explained to my daughter Tammie, “You can plainly see that one of the squirrels who like to visit the yard to eat bird seed, jumped down from one of the branches. Then it bounded five big jumps through the snow to reach the second driveway. From there, it climbed into the trees growing along the river.”

Since retiring two years ago, I’ve been busy in an unscheduled sort of way. I have more time to dwell on small things, but not out of boredom. I have always enjoyed the minutiae of life.

“Did you say you saw turkey tracks crossing the yard? Let me go out and look at them to see if I can tell how many there were in the flock!”

I have also been happily thinking about gardening during this dreary time. Last fall my daughter bought a house in the Twin Cities. Before her new yard was covered with snow, I noticed a few dried stalks and plant supports, telling me the previous owner had loved flowers.

There is nothing more beautiful than spring returning to Wisconsin. Each year I look forward to seeing new sprouts pushing up through the cold flowerbed soil. I am excited to see the new sprouts even though I know what will come up. That isn’t the case with Tammie’s new yard. It is a mystery. We have no idea of what sprouts will surprise us this spring. Will there be crocus, Siberian squill and snowdrops? I am looking forward to seeing if lilies, clumps of Russian sage, and hopefully a few herbs will appear in the rock garden!

Held prisoner in my house by winter weather, I began to daydream about planting a small vegetable garden for my daughter. One day I realized that I needed to ask, “Tammie, do you want to have a garden?”

My daughter eagerly answered, “Yes, but not in the ground. I’m going to buy a raised garden box. I don’t need a huge harvest! All I want is a couple bell peppers, a few beans and peas. Most of all, I want to plant a cherry tomato like you grow in your garden.”

Finishing my weekly furnace cleaning chore, I took a shower. Every chance I had, I checked to see if the sleet storm had arrived. Finally, I saw ice pellets began to fall. They were so small at first, they were hard to see.

In the following hours the storm turned out to be as nasty as the weatherman had predicted. Icy rain and snow took turns coating the yard. Watching the storm, I decided that I needed yet another antidote for cabin fever. I brewed a cup of tea, wrapped myself in a warm blanket. With the hum of my newly cleaned furnace in the background, I pored over my seed catalog collection.

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