Doug Bruns

“I need to go to Moosehead every afternoon, & camp out every night.” ~ HDT

In Memoir, Nature on June 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

The phrase “cabin fever” was first coined in 1918, assuming one does not count the actual illness called cabin fever. That malady, a sickness related to eating watery potatoes in bad weather, can be traced back to Ireland in the early 1800s. No, I am referring to the cabin fever to which some of us succumb after a winter cooped up and hibernating. That cabin fever is manifested as an itching to radically change venue, or, to a lesser degree, a hankering to get out of the house or perhaps out of the town, to a park, for example. In severe cases one wishes to be removed from civilization altogether. When experienced in this fashion, a person will become disagreeable at the least, at worst miserable and misanthropic. I get this illness every spring like clockwork and I usually head it off before it blossoms out of control. No longer.

I write this after a couple of days of prophylactic treatment against this annual threat.

It is pushing the season to go camping in Maine in early June. If fortunate, one experiences a reward reserved for the hearty: crisp, cold even, evenings and mornings, crystalline days. If fortune does not shine on the intrepid camper, wind, rain, sleet, even snow will be the punishment. We were out only two nights, but we garnered favored rewards.

The problem is, like so many positive life experiences, one desires more. In my case, attempting to quell cabin fever only exacerbates the problem. A couple of good days on the trail, makes me yearn for a week or so of similar good days. It’s a slippery slope, for one such as myself. I spent a lot of my youth in the woods and on the mountainsides. Now, fully domesticated and past the prime of my physical existence (as painfully true as that is to write), I quietly nurture the germ of my youthful planting. That is to say, with the advent of spring, I leap with full abandon, into the chasm of irrational cabin-fever induced behavior.

There was a summer many years ago, where I lived out of a backpack, or in a canoe. I was at summer camp in upper Michigan, and returning from one outdoor adventure, geared up immediately the next day for another. Coming and going, into the woods, back to camp to resupply, and back into the woods. Another summer I went west and into the mountains and didn’t return for months, spending weeks above tree line.

Thus it is, I sit here with a map of Moosehead Lake in front of me and a copy of Thoreau’s The Maine Woods in my hand. I have outlined on the map his trip from Greenville to Northeast Cove at the north end of Maine’s largest lake. I have convinced my long-suffering wife to let me go out to play by myself, that a solo canoe trip into the vastness of what Thoreau called “the wildest country,” is in order. She has always been supportive. I suspect, however, that what is really at work here is her wish to be rid of me for a while. This annual fever business is messy and disagreeable and simply giving way to it probably makes the most sense.

Lastly, as we drove home this week, I shared with her the reality of my existence: I have, at best, barring the unforeseen, maybe twenty more fever seasons. After that, I suspect I will have learned how to cope with it accordingly. But until then, I count them down and truth be told, encourage them. I nurture the cabin fever through the spring and usher it into the sun with the care and tenderness it deserves. It is a calling, a distant barking dog across the water of a remote pond in an awakening wood. I paddle my canoe toward it.

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