Cabin Fever

For a decade, lasting from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties, I lived in a tiny Yupik village – Little Russian Mission (pop 47) – on Alaska’s Kuskokuim River, in the Arctic Inuit whaling village of Pt. Hope (pop 450), and in the dying gold mining camp of Rampart (pop 55) on the Yukon. These were years of no roads, no TV, occasionally 1 radio station (KJNP – King Jesus, North Pole), no phones and only intermittent mail service.

All of these locations involved significant adjustments from my previous life as a rural Pennsylvania farm kid, to Ohio college student, to being a teaching Naturalist in a private nature preserve.

Now I think back to those years and read my letters (available edited and annotated as eBooks on Nook and Kindle, see: VISTA Alaska, The Little Russian Mission Letters, 1969-1970 and A Teacher on the Yukon, The Rampart, Alaska Letters, 1972-77) for just how did I manage – especially the latter years when I was operating a K-12 one room school for Rampart’s 13 children, raising my two adopted children, aged 4 and 7, by myself, and dragging my autistic younger brother back from his suicidal brink.

The answer? I coped because I was incredibly busy and very structured, No stores, no restaurants, no police or fire departments.

I coped through the winters with a lot of projects: I learned to write very good prose; I read; I built a kayak; I overhauled my outboard motors and maintained my snowmobile.

I cooked, baked and made my own yogurt.

I damn near drove myself into an early grave.

Some possible clues to waiting this out:

  • Don’t just grit your teeth and bear it – do stuff;
  • Get up, shower, get dressed, eat – don’t slump into dysthymia;
  • Reach out – I have 500 letters from that decade in Alaska because that was how I recorded how life was at the tine in order for me to appreciate it now, 50 years later – keep a journal;
  • Stay as active as you circumstances allow – in the Arctic I learned to fence, to the great amusement of my Inuit neighbors. In Rampart I jogged 8 miles after school until the temp hit -20, I read (for which I had to plan ahead but for which you have an unlimited supply of eBooks;
  • Watch alcohol consumption. Many of my neighbors drank their way through the winters with frequent violent and sometimes deadly effect. Additionally, alcohol, being a depressant, will make dysthymia much worse, as well as interfering with being active which is a great anti-depressant;

In summary, my suggestions are: take care of personal grooming; schedules and structure to your days helps; read; write; do what is possible; avoid alcohol and other drugs which anesthetize without relieving; and engage with whomever is quarantined with you while trying not to kill each other.

To that end, friend Judy and I have been baking cookies, pies, and scones to share in a safe manner.

  • We have binge watched some Australian and New Zealand TV.
  • We have curled up with Phoebe the Wonder Dog.
  • We have done some of the things we had planned on doing on the trips we now aren’t taking.
  • And, yes, we have a big house with separate offices, so see what you can do to manage some alone time.

Finally, what’s working for you that you can tell me about to share with our other readers?