On these blustery cold days and shivery cold nights, sometimes we can feel a bit cooped up in our homes, huddling by the wood stove with a dog or two close at hand for added warmth. Chores begin by encasing oneself with copious amounts of wooly or downy armor against the frigid winds—leaving only one’s peering eyes with frost-edged lashes open to the elements. Even the chickens huddle as puffed-up balls in the coops, their taloned toes firmly tucked inside their down.
Winter can create its own sense of isolation, as if everything outside stops, hunkers down, and waits for the warmth of springtime to reawaken. I think the “settling in” of winter happens to everyone up here in the Northland, burst open at times by the overwhelming sense of “cabin fever” needing release.
Things have been quiet on the farm and at Farmstead Creamery & Café as well. This allows the luxury of leisurely chats with the brave clients who do venture forth amidst the ice or wind. Except, that is, for the days when cabin fever reigns and the Creamery is unexpectedly packed by community member who simply cannot stay inside any longer.
Back in the day, cabin fever was tempered by the knowledge that winter was the time for “visiting.” Farm families would finish up the morning chores, hitch the team to a sleigh, and go off to spend the day with neighbors—share a hearty meal, play games, tell stories, or bring over a favorite portable instrument and dance together.
Grab your fiddle and grab your bow
Circle round and Do-si-do
First to the right and then to the left
Then to the one that you love best.
Get outa the way for old Dan Tucker
He’s too late to get his supper
Supper’s over and dinner is a cookin’
Old Dan Tucker just a-stands there lookin’.
Having something to do together was helpful as well—maple sugaring in the early spring, splitting wood in late autumn, quilting bees in between. And even if a particular project wasn’t apparent, bringing over a fresh pie or needing to borrow a cup of sugar could make an excellent excuse for spending the rest of the afternoon in good company.
Today, as I drive home from an evening event, I can’t help but notice that the glowing rectangle of wide-screen TVs appears to be the company we keep in wintertime. No wonder cabin fever abounds! Turn off that chatterbox and get neighborly again. Here are a few practical ideas to get you started.
Invite a friend on a snowshoe hike in the woods (or other quiet recreational activity). Few people like going out alone in the winter, but with a friend there’s plenty of thoughts, hopes, memories, and dreams to share as you enjoy the outdoors together.
Find a way to swap work. Everyone has a project they’ve been meaning to get to but it just works better with a helper or two. Whether this is painting a room, finishing a quilt, cleaning out the garage, or hanging new curtains, offer to help a neighbor with a project if they’ll help you with one as well. You’ll both be active, have company, and feel good about making progress on the “to do” list.
Offer to help an elderly neighbor. Winter is tough for everyone, but it’s hardest for our elders. If you can, lend a hand with shoveling walkways, pick up a few extra things for them in town, or just stop by to give them company. If you are an elder, invite folks over for a hot drink and “a little something” while they help make the winter a little easier for you. Remind folks that it’s good to have a break from the normal business of their lives.
And, of course, there is the tried-and-true method of stopping by with a freshly baked homemade pie. In farm country, you can’t hope to go visiting without either bringing or receiving something to eat (if not both). Sharing nourishment is part of sharing the camaraderie and trust that is part of neighborliness.
Not convinced? Well, you’re certainly welcome to improvise your own methods for breaking cabin fever with the folks who live near you. Throw a party, host a house concert, pick a day each week to meet at the kitchen table with tea and a deck of cards—whatever appeals to you as good, old-fashioned fun together. If you find yourself wondering who some of your neighbors are, winter might be an opportune time to find out. Remember, hot pies or cookies with a smile open doors.
Sometimes we get to know our neighbors by accident. Recently, friends of ours whom live down the road a bit were heading in to town for a live performance. There were four tickets but three attendants (the fourth was ill), so they called us up to see if we’d like to come along. On the dark and wintry ride into town, they recollected their first adventure on the farm.
“We like driving down the back roads. We knew this had a “dead end” sign on it, but we thought, why not? So here we were on this gravel road, and we meet this tall, elderly gentleman walking a little white dog. We waved and he waved and we kept on going.
“When we got to the corner, we could see that the road ended in a farm and didn’t go any farther, so we turned around and came back. But along the way, we met your Grandpa with the little white dog again. We apologized for bothering their place, but he said, “Oh no, not at all, come on down and see my farm.” So we turned around again and learned more about what was going on back here—we had no idea. Who knew there were folks still farming out here?”
So turn off the TV, kick up your heels, and shake off those winter-time blues with folks who are just as shut inside with this cold and wind as you. Maybe you don’t know them yet, and maybe you do, but being neighborly certainly doesn’t hurt one’s spirits during the dark time of year. We can each create greater cheer together as we muster on until the warming days of spring. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com