Woods, Water & Wildlife: Cabin fever

Cabin fever describes the lowly feeling of isolation that comes from being cooped up in small quarters for some time without going outside. Many staying at home to avoid possible contact with people who could be carriers of coronavirus might be affected by it. There are options available. (Photo by John Jefferson)

Solitude is sometimes a disease, sometimes a cure - depending upon the dosage.

And then there’s Cabin Fever.

Some people think it’s a myth. Not really real. An old trapper’s tale. But they’re wrong.

 I had just gotten invited to live elsewhere. So, I decided it would be cool to live alone in the woods, maybe by a lake or a creek, just me and my long-eared hound dog. I could plink away on that old hand-me-down IBM Selectric and write the great American novel that had been germinating in my head for years. What a book jacket back cover story that would make! Maybe a beard would help me resemble Hemingway.

So, I started looking for a remote hideaway and left messages. One call-back was interesting.

A family had a seldom used lake cabin they were willing to rent. It sounded like just what I had pictured. It was on a hill overlooking the lake, which the bedroom/living room faced. The morning sun could be my alarm clock. It had a kitchen, of sorts, and the stove and fridge were said to work. The bathroom was indoors but needed a light. Room for a small desk faced the lake. And there were no nearby neighbors. Old Beau could sleep on the plywood deck and we had miles of shoreline and woods to explore. It looked like it could be my “Walden Pond”. And it rented for $75/month.

That should have told me something, but, the adventurer that I longed to be spurred me onward.

A pump provided water from the lake and usually worked, although water quality required hauling drinking water from HEB. The first cold spell introduced a new challenge – no heat. Buying an old wood-burning stove solved that, and the wood smoke added ambiance.

But when I moved in, the phone company went on strike. That meant no phone for weeks. It was a cold winter, and I got snowed in once and iced-in several times. The charm of the wild began wearing thin. The gasoline shortage capped it. Even on sunny days, I couldn’t waste gas driving into town; on icy days it was impossible. I tried once, lost traction, slid down a hill and had to walk home.

The isolation in my little cabin defined cabin fever. And that fever brought no warmth; it just added to the chill of separation.

Now, coronavirus has made cabin fever a household term. Everybody’s staying away from former gathering places for safety. And people are getting restless being cooped up. Kids are, too. At least cabin fever isn’t as bad as “corona fever”.

But there are outlets. The wilderness can be a safe escape from home-bound isolation. More space, fewer folks. State Parks, National Parks, beaches and local parks offer refreshing getaways. State parks are open and accessible although fees must be paid by credit card. The National Park Service has even waived park entrance fees.

And you can kick cabin fever with a good walk in the woods.

John Jefferson is a lifelong outdoorsman, former regulations coordinator at Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., past executive director of the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and author of two books on Texas hunting.

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