Cabin Fever

By this time of year many of us are experiencing Cabin Fever – loosely defined as “irritability, listlessness, and boredom from long confinement or isolation indoors.” That feeling of being trapped is generally caused by snowstorms when you can’t go out even if you wanted to – those severe blizzards where they’re telling people to stay home, off the roads and wait for the snowplows to do their thing – but it’s been made even worse this year by the pandemic lockdowns. 

Although we may be stuck inside, we have all the comforts of home – a warm dwelling, good food and plenty of entertainment available.  It’s even possible to ignore things altogether if you don’t look outside, especially if you have a cozy fire to sit beside, a hot beverage and a good book or movie.  Winter can be very hygge.

While I would normally appreciate these quiet January days after the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, lots of time to read and write and putter about pretending to reorganize, this year when we’ve been cooped up inside so much already, it seems downright claustrophobic.   So let’s call it pandemic fever instead.  In fact the term cabin fever had an early association with typhoid fever and quarantine.

As the term originated with the pioneers who spent long winters by themselves, when severe weather and long distances from neighbors were truly isolating, let’s take a look at how people coped with cabin fever way back when there were cabins.

The Log Cabin

I often wondered how my ancestors survived their first winter here.   They came from Ireland in 1846 during the potato famine, three brothers and their families, and after jumping ship in the St. Lawrence to evade the cholera epidemic, arrived in Toronto, starving and penniless.   They had to borrow one pound from the Immigrant Land Agent (National Archives Document Oct 16 1846) to pay for water transport to the area where they would settle.  The land was all wilderness then, and arriving so late in the year, they would never have survived the first winter were it not for the help of the Indians and a neighbor who helped them build a hut dwelling and showed them how to hunt for game.  (Most likely they ate a lot of venison stew).  They were unprepared for the cold and the snow as the posters advertising Upper Canada boasted about its abundant game (true) and tropical climate (well maybe in the summer).   Did they even have any warm clothing?   My great-grandfather, who had stayed behind to go to school, arrived later wearing a straw hat.  They would gladly have returned to the misery of Ireland in those early years. 

The First Winter

Their first homestead was on swampland and the water was bad, so eventually they moved to a different site a few miles down the road, where they build a log cabin, similar to this one I blogged about in my Pioneer Village post.   

The inspiration behind the painting….

This cabin dates from 1870, and is fairly large, with room for a farmhouse table and a sleeping loft above.    

A warm stove…

Another cabin on the site of the local Heritage Museum is much smaller, and housed just two people, a widow and her young son.  

The original Tiny House…

It was constructed in 1857 of lumber rather than logs, as there was a sawmill nearby – the interior is pine. With only two rooms, this typical first home was built quickly, as more effort went to clearing the land and planting crops.

While small in size, it was snug and warm with the long stove pipe circulating the heat across the house.  There was an additional sleeping space in the attic over the kitchen.

The rope bed was covered with a straw or feather mattress.

While the quilt is nice, it does make me grateful for my comfy bed, with its deep mattress, soft sheets and down comforter, and there’s certainly not much counter space in that kitchen!   

Now the local heritage museum is fund-raising to restore another log cabin.  

This one has an interesting and well-traveled history.   Originally built in 1840 in the Goderich area, it was disassembled in the 1930’s and floated down Lake Huron to a lakefront property where it was used as a summer cottage. In the 1970’s it was donated and moved to it’s current site in a local park where it was used for community events such as Christmas in the Park, until it fell into such a state of disrepair that it was deemed unsafe and they decided to tear it down and build a replica.   A great hue and cry ensued from the public and the local historical society, so they relented and at a cost of $50,000 are paying to have it relocated to the museum site for future restoration.  I know, it seems a lot of money to spend on a derelict old building but they waste money on other things, and how many 180 year old log cabins are left?  This will be it’s third move, but just look at that solid construction.    

No chilly drafts would come through those thick walls, but they do need to do something about the broken windows.      

I’ve been feeling bad about my house lately. My renos remain undone, dust bunnies abound and I don’t seem to have the energy to give it a good cleaning. My cleanliness standards have slipped considerably since no one is seeing it but me. Hopefully in March I’ll be motivated to give it a good spring cleaning.

But after a look at these humble abodes, I’m appreciating my own home and hearth more, and feeling better about cabin fever. We have so many more creature comforts today and all the modern conveniences. Maybe it really is all about perspective.

With no internet or Netflix to occupy themselves with what did they do for entertainment back then?   Being Irish, I’m sure there was music – the fiddle – and story telling often took the place of books, and I hope there was comfort food too – warm bread and  apple pies and taffy treats.  

So perhaps some things haven’t changed – after today’s dose of wintry weather it’s time for some beef stew. 

Supper by candlelight…

PS.  While researching this, I came across two books, The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie by Cecily Ross, a fictionalized historical novel based on the life of Susanna Moodie, a genteel English writer who immigrated to Canada in 1832. Moodie wrote about her experiences in the Canadian wilderness and subsequently published her memoirs as Roughing It In The Bush and Life in the Backwoods. I enjoyed the fictionalized book more, as it was rich in historical detail, although the first half in England was not as interesting. Both books depict a harsh life with many hardships and little in the way of fun or luxuries, a sobering look at the reality of pioneer life for many women.    

(1128 words)       

53 thoughts on “Cabin Fever

  1. Ally Bean says:

    I agree it’s all about perspective. To see how your ancestors would have lived compared to the *hardships* we go through today, we have it great. Nothing to whine about, but of course we do.

    I once read that some historians believe that once winter arrived in many cases early settlers who farmed just got under the covers of their beds and slept for a couple of months. They got up to do the essentials, but went back to sleep resting until they could hit the fields again. If true, that’s the ultimate nowhere to go, nothing to do scenario.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jo Shafer says:

    A particularly interesting read today, Joni, that makes me appreciate even more the luxury of being “homebound” for the winter. No, we are NOT snowed in. No snow. Just little COVIDs running around outside, not to mention a cranky back that complains if I get up without using Hubby’s walker. Senior Services has been a blessing, coming every Wednesday to clean the house while I smile and say “thank you” many times.

    I have finished reading the two Ken Follett books Hubby gave me for Christmas. Time to get back to writing, myself, say something in response to the insurrection in D.C. I guess I’m still numb from shock . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Jo, I hope your back gets better soon….but it would be lovely to have someone clean your house even if it does! I think this will be an interesting week in DC….just hoping nothing bad happens and everyone can move on to normal again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jo Shafer says:

        So do I, Joni, and so do we all! The only thing we can do is PRAY. Already so much tight security surrounds DC that I’m not worried, just “on guard,” but it’s the state capitols that remain vulnerable in spite of extra security. Is this what our country has come to: an armed nation enclosed with razor wire?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jo Shafer says:

        Senior Services is an ongoing thing for me, ever since my cardiologist “prescribed” the service a few years ago. It’s all paid for by the state, something like Welfare except we’re not on Welfare, so nothing to be ashamed of. Our taxes have paid for it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        We have that here too, for seniors or whoever qualifies, but it’s called HomeCare and it’s covered too ie free in a sense but paid for by our taxes. It’s part of an effort to keep people in their own homes instead of having to go to a retirement or nursing home….depending on what you qualify for, which could just be once a week cleaning services, but could also include daily checkups, help with meals and nursing care too. Lots of paperwork to qualify but all good services.

        Like

  3. CadyLuck Leedy says:

    I really enjoyed your post! My Irish ancestors came to the US quite a bit earlier. However, one of the women is quite documented in our family history. She married several times because her husbands died and she had several children by each. When her last husband came back from the Civil War and announced they should leave Ohio, she said nothing doing! She continued to live by herself and make do!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Anne says:

    This is a very interesting read, Joni. It makes me appreciate our hot summer weather too. We had power load shedding from 7 until 9 pm yet it was pleasant sitting outdoors next to the pool in the dark with the slightest of breezes swirling the warm air around.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      Oh, you are making me very jealous! Yesterday when I walked it was half rain/half wet snow and today they are forecasting 15-25cm of snow for most of the province.

      Like

  5. Writer of Words, etc says:

    I hear myself complain too, after all the endlessness that is lockdown lately. Mostly, I just don’t think it works. But being stuck indoors with family for so long, and restless teenagers who were on the cusp of learning to fly just a little further now that they’re older, it’s been difficult. I feel sad for them, and I struggle with irritability too.

    But these lovely pioneer villages are wonderful and important reminders how it was and how it is now. There is no comparison. I mean, just the internet alone can keep the isolation a little more tolerable.

    When the kids were young we went to many pioneer villages. I will look at your book recommendations, thank you for sharing.

    And good luck. It may be a few more weeks, possibly another couple of months, before we see a change in Ontario. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Joni says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting Claudette. It doesn’t seem like the lockdown is working very well esp in Toronto but even out here in the less densely populated areas, our stats have soared lately. We are now as high as Windsor, one of the hot spots. It does seem strange, perhaps the mutated strains are already here, and now the vaccine supply has been cut in half for the next month, so I don’t see us climbing out of this mess anytime soon. It’s very depressed….I’ve been thinking about turning off the news at night. It must be very challenging with everyone home ALL the time. I hope you can get out and walk a bit. I find that helps. The historical novel on Susanna Moodie was one of my discounted bookoutlet.ca finds, but the library might have it too, a well as her journals.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Writer of Words, etc says:

        Yeah I walk, not daily, but the sun is out today and I’m so close to the lake, I’m happy to take Tucker for a walk when it’s like this.

        Agreed, it is depressing. I cut back on the news a lot, it seems that things are not improving and I just get more irritated at the stupidity all around, why put myself through it.

        Hang in there. We have all the comforts to weather this inconvenience, right?

        Thank you for posting. I enjoy reading you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Thanks Claudette….and I enjoy your posts too, although I am way behind in Reader again…I’ve been working on another writing project and am finding it harder to keep my blog going…..yea, I know….shorter posts!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. brilliantviewpoint says:

    Cabin fever — you were spot on! In Chicago we have a snow storm coming. Time to hunker down. Love seeing the old cabins and your Mom’s paintings are always a joy to see. We sure have it easy these days. You are right, back then nothing much to entertain themselves and they probably didn’t have a lot of books for reading. DUST BUNNIES – I chuckled, because today is the day that I must vacuum and mop. Like you, I have low energy. Thanks for the nice post.

    Liked by 2 people

      • brilliantviewpoint says:

        Laughing… thanks, Joni. Good idea it’s Sunday! I want some blueberry scones. Working on my children’s book. It’s time to rev up and start submitting to Agents. Gotta get those rejections in, so I can see the offer. Being positive! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave says:

    I enjoyed this post, Joni – thank you – and the paintings are always such a nice touch. The dovetailing of the timbers on the yet-to-be-restored house (final photo before the stew) is remarkable. I guess they went to all that trouble so the house wouldn’t fall down in the worst of conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Dave – the two cabin paintings are in moms current exhibit as the theme is rural memories. After I posted this, there was an article in the local paper about moving the cabin. They had intended to lift the roof off and move it in two pieces, but there was so much rot in some of the beams, that they were afraid it would collapse in on itself so they reverted to their original plan of disassembling it log by log to transport it to the new site. Same with the brick fireplace. Now they are fundraising for another $100,000 to restore it, as I expect that is expensive specialized work. I’m not sure about that layer between the logs, but it was well insulated.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Linda Schaub says:

    I like how you paired your mom’s paintings with real life homesteads from back in the day. I used to love the show “Little House on the Prairie” and I used to picture myself living back in that time. Less mess and clutter in a one-room cabin though I’d not appreciate having to harness the horses to the buggy just to pick up a few groceries in town. 🙂 I might have pictured a simpler life before the advent of the internet … I think we’re spoiled with instant gratification for whatever we want to find online and likely could never go back to pre-computer time now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Linda. I should have referenced Little House on the Prairie in my bog but I never thought of it. I loved those books too, it’s one thing to read about those days and another to live them! I’m so far behind in Reader – I haven’t read anything since last Monday but it’s already 12 so won’t get too far tonight either. How are you finding posting less? More time for other things?

      Like

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I did like that show and I even signed up for a newsletter from them … they don’t publish it often and it has recipes from the show, so I sent it to Ruth awhile ago as they had recipes for some items she has mentioned in her blog that they harvest and she puts up. Can’t think what it is but it had a lot of crafts as well, all which Ruth does. She liked the site. I finally caught up in Reader last night – first time since Christmas. I am hoping to stay caught up better, but that said, I’m going to PBS in six minutes to see the second installment of “All Creatures Great and Small” … it felt funny not posting on Fridays, but the last two Fridays were really busy at work and I was so glad for it to be 5:30 and leave that two Fridays in a row, I just answered comments and went to Amazon and watched more of “Mad Men” … I felt a little guilty doing that to be honest. This past Friday, I really needed to just relax a little and watched three episodes. Last night, finished up Reader and didn’t want to finish up tomorrow’s post as it is long and picture-laden, so watched a fourth episode. Five hours of TV now this weekend – I’ve created a monster after ten years! I am enjoying Amazon Prime as I listened to some music there all afternoon while putting together tomorrow’s post. They have selections they pull together and you can save the playlist. So this is nice – it comes with your membership. I am thinking it is good I’ve looked into the benefits. I will return to three posts a week, but now think I’ll wait til I’m done with work. I have not gotten anything done in the house though … not good. Felt better when I saw you said in this post, you had not accomplished much either. Now to PBS thanks to you!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Glad to hear you are enjoying yourself with your extra time! I’m caught up on Reader now but it’s almost 1am. I watched the second ACGASmall episode tonight and found it a bit better, but it’s certainly not exciting like Downton Abbey or Poldark. I find the characters miscast and the acting not that good. The scenery is beautiful though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I am enjoying myself … I have three more episodes of “Mad Men” and that’s the end of Season 2. Five more seasons after that. This season they are now in the Summer of 1962.
        Some of the women were upset at Marilyn Monroe’s death and they show some classic B&W TV shows on the TV occasionally, like a clip from “The Danny Thomas Show” if you see a TV playing in the background. The second season has their wardrobes updated to styles I can remember seeing and talk of unrest due to the civil rights movement, etc. and will focus on some unrest in Mississippi. Has a little different tone than Season 1. I’m having a difficult time understanding the characters in “ACGASmall” – the British accent, but I find they speak kind of fast. Especially Siegfried. I miss a lot of what he says! Tell me please what the deal is with the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall’s son. I couldn’t read the note she signed “Mom” and put into the box that Siegfried offered to post for her. I’m afraid I missed a key point, then her friend wanted Siegfried to be kind to her due to her son? I was surprised Helen had a beau – didn’t see that coming. I don’t remember a lot from the book. I never saw “Downton Abbey”or “Poldark” but guess what – I did hear good things about Downton Abbey and checked on Amazon and it is available free with my Prime membership. I know for sure I won’t have qualms about renewing it. I have already put about 10 movies on my watchlist including “Bombshell” after you told me you enjoyed it and I followed that story in the news. The green rolling hills are beautiful – looks like gorgeous countryside.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Oh you have a lot to look forward to in retirement! Downtown Abbey is by far the best series I’ve ever seen, with Poldark not far behind. I also liked the last season of Grantchester. Mad men sounds good, if only for the fashion and the history bits. They didn’t really explain what’s up with the housekeepers wayward son, but IMO she didn’t look old enough to have a grownup son. I find them all horribly miscast age wise and looks wise. The potential girlfriend seems too old too, and the housekeeper too young, and the younger vet has a receding hairline and looks about 35 to me? And the older vet is not old enough. My mom had a hard time with the accents too. I find the acting poor – by far the cows have been the best actors. I guess they are trying to build suspense and whatever is going on with the son will be revealed sometime. Someone told me the old version was charming, but I’m just finding this disappointing when usually Masterpiece is wonderful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I went back and looked and “Poldar”k is also available on Amazon Prime, all five seasons. I looked at the storyline – is it like the movie “Sommersby” with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster? That was just one movie though, not a series. What a treasure trove of entertainment I will have coming up in the next few years … and beyond. One thing about “Mad Men” and the period clothing and history bits is that everyday objects they use are things I can remember from my youth and haven’t thought about in years. Like we had a thermos jug that was Scotch plaid and we used to take it if we went on a picnic. I remember that jug well. And we had a set of frosted drinking glasses with gold leaves on them. I remember those. An old-time movie camera. These vintage-type props are spot-on. Maybe it is the particular dialect too that is problematic – glad I’m not the only one if your mom had issues. Yes, Tristan does look old to me too, housekeeper looks too young. Jim Herriot looks like a young Noah Wylie. I did see another version years ago, but can’t remember if it was a series or one movie, but I enjoyed it.

        Like

      • Joni says:

        I didn’t see Sommersby so I can’t compare it to Poldark. I think Downton Abbey was my absolute favorite…..yes you will have a lot to watch. I’m sure I would recognize the props in Mad Man too. The old version of All Creatures was described to me as charming, but this one is a bit painful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        “Downton Abbey” got a lot of rave reviews and also on Amazon when I went to see if it was available to watch with Prime membership. It is fun to see those props that I’ve not thought about in years. I wish I could remember was old version I saw as it was years ago, but it was excellent.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Arlene Somerton Smith says:

    A very interesting post. It does make me appreciate all the room I have to move about during this time of “stay-at-home.” And of course, the warmth, and running water, and readily available food.
    Thank you for the boost in these dark days of January.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. throughrosetintedglasses54 says:

    Ah Joni what a lovely post. It took me away from endless watching of Poirot and as I was feeling a little chilly I sat by our lovely big stove with my laptop on the hearth (its big) and totally enjoyed reading this and of course the paintings are lovely too. How thankful we need to be for the simple things like a roof over our heads, food to eat and warmth. All we need now is the return of the warmth of a hug or a coffee with a friend. I cant wait.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ruthsoaper says:

    A great post Joni. I find it humbling. Maybe we have had it too good for too long. Water and heat pumped into our homes and all the foods and supplies we need readily available at the store (and even online to have delivered to our door) Do we really know what hardship is?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s