norbert blei | cabin fever

5 07 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.187 | July 4, 2009

Editor’s Intro to Summer:

This is the weekend of the 4th of July. Officially summer in these parts for many. Summer ends whenever school bells ring. A solemn note. A memorable sadness. Something akin to a judicial sentencing: time to be served.

But there is both essence and absence to the nature of time in summer. Measured, if at all, by a daily offering of sunshine, blue skies, perfect temperatures…the feeling you will live forever. This is what Eden must have been all about. Still calling us home

Summer here in northern, Midwestern America, and other parts of the world as well, is all about escape. From and to. And part of that destination (summer and fall/winter) remains the old cabin…in the woods…by a lake…

I don’t believe there was a cabin in biblical Eden.

But I do believe they are on the endangered local cultural habitations list. Almost extinct—the originals.

You may have to search the deepest woods, nameless little lakes, farthest reaches of True North to find what I’m talking about.

Lucky the person who does…whatever the season. Summer especially. —Norbert Blei

Cabin Fever

by Norbert Blei

As change makes itself seen, felt upon a way of life and place and work once rural…going, going, going…..gone…
Gone the way of the outhouse, the chicken coop, the windmill, the granary, the machine shed, the milk house, the corncrib, the root cellar, the cistern, the pigsty, the silo, the woodshed, the red barn, the white farmhouse, the home-made flagpole (hewn from a cedar tree) with American flag flying in a blue sky…
goodbye, too, “a cabin in the woods”.
Urban sprawl, urban folks, urban values
assaulting the spirit of the rural, the rustic, the real,

reducing open land and shoreline to NO TRESSPASSING `property’. ..
But welcome Mr. & Mrs. Moreanmore and their minions,
in their million dollar mansions with stone pillar entrances
studded with bronze plaques: “Innisfree”, “Sherwood Forest”, “Dreamthorp”;
gated developments;
class condominiums (Cottage Cove);
phony farmsteads, phony farmers, phony farm animals (llamas in Dairyland). ..
Give me a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ break.

Be mindful of the cabin, I say to no one in particular.
Look and you shall still find them, here and there.
A cabin beside a small blue lake in summer…

A cabin under a canopy of golden maples in autumn…
A cabin buried deep in the woods, deep in snow.
Pause, pay attention, your last respects. Circle the dwelling in reverie.
Peer into the windows.
Try the door. Take up a chair and sit down.
Leave everything untouched. And do not forget:

  • -one room
  • -in a woods
  • -facing water or within the sound of water
  • -made of pine…inside and out..
  • -a saggy pine wood floor that creaks with each footfall
  • -no insulation…bare studs, honey-colored with time…
  • -nails sticking through the water-stained walls inside
  • -a penciled note stuck through the nail sticking through the inside wall
  • -`Ernest’ it reads `firewood, eggs, tape, raspberry jam.’
  • -a wood stove with a stove pipe poking through a torn shingled roof
  • -the lingering smell of wood smoke in winter…soot marks
  • -a wooden screen door with rusty, spring action:
  • BANG BANG BANG. open/shut/open/shut/open/shut/open/shut
  • -a warped wooden front door that doesn’t shut …
  • -a back wooden door locked, with no key
  • -space at the bottom of both doors and around all the window to let the cold air in
  • -old coffee cans and a rusty bucket to catch the rain leaking in through the roof
  • -spider webs in the corners and most of the windows
  • -moths on the screens all summer long
  • -garter snakes under the cabin
  • -frost, ice, snow, on the window glass
  • -mismatched windows, one in each wall, two with muslin curtains, two without
  • -flies, fly swatters, sticky fly paper, dead flies … spiders … ants…mosquitoes …lady bugs…lightning bugs…bats…toads…field mice…wasp nest under an eave outside…
  • -a cardboard box of faded newspapers and kindling wood
  • -rag rugs
  • -a boxes of wooden matches, Diamond brand
  • -burnt candles and kerosene lamps…
  • -an overhead lighting fixture with a 40 watt bulb
  • -three windows with cracked glass
  • -a girlie calendar (1953) “Harold’s Auto Repairs” hanging near the kitchen sink
  • -open shelves above an old gas stove filled with Melmac ware, a couple of cracked China plates, and coffee cups, all but two with the handles broken off
  • -dripping faucet
  • -rust-stained enamel sink
  • -a tiny piece of Lux soap, almost translucent, resting on the windowsill above the sink
  • -a rose floral patterned drape of washed-out material hanging on a piece of string covering the plumbing beneath the sink and a new bar of Fels Naptha soap.
  • -a galvanized bucket
  • -a rag mop in the kitchen corner and a red wooden broom worn sharp to an angle, broken straw every which way
  • -three wooden Victory mousetraps, one still armed with hard old cheese
  • -a cabinet drawer filled with mismatched dinnerware: knives, forks, not enough spoons… a rusted church key can opener, a dull bread knife, a broken spatula, and a large chipped enamel ladle…
  • -two burned pot holder near a gas burner too clogged to light.
  • -a maple-armed sofa covered in a torn blue bedspread across the back and an Indian blanket spread put the length to sit upon
  • -a blue knitting needle and three pennies lost between the cushions
  • -a rustic, wobbly wooden chair, cane seat coming apart, made from branches and a small and an apple crate end-table beside it with torn covers of National Geographic, the Reader’s Digest and fishing magazines.
  • -an old army cot in one corner, covered in an old woolen army blanket
  • -a wooden kitchen table covered in yellow oil cloth with cigarette burns on two sides and three mismatched painted wooden chairs
  • -a flat rock from the lake to set hot pots upon
  • -a shelf behind the front door holding a black and red check flannel hunting cap
  • and four broken clothes hooks on the wall beneath the shelf, with three wire hangers one of them holding a navy blue woolen sweater filled with moth holes
  • -a small bathroom, just a stool, with just enough room to squeeze into and hook the door with an almost empty roll of toilet paper behind you on the tank along with a book of matches: “Ed and Rosie’s Knot Inn”
  • -or an outhouse, with an ancient aroma both nostalgic and non-describable, light streaming in between the cracks, a huge spider web in one corner, old newspaper and Sears catalogs
  • -some evidence of a dog…an old collar, a chain leash…
  • -more evidence of fishing gear: bamboo poles, rods, reels, tangled lines, weights, bobbers, hooks, broken lures
  • -a musty, moldy smell—till the windows are open in spring and summer, till a fire is lit, autumn and winter.
  • -a small, brown plastic radio (mostly static) to listen to news, weather, and Golden Oldies…Going to Take a Sentimental Journey…till bedtime…

-perhaps partitioned bedroom, with a single or double bed to sit upon fully clothed, removing your shoes or boots, your funny old outdoor clothes, thrusting the body back upon the bed in a full stretch against the bare wall or worn head-board…a mattress, you don’t ever want to see…alive, alone, listening in the cabin-dark to the wind, the rain, the insects, the snow falling against the windowpane…freezing, roasting, never enough or too many sorrowful looking blankets, positioning yourself on that unmentionable mattress somewhere between almost comfortable and too soft for a tired back…seeking firmness or a full body press …then sinking slowly into a free fall of partially sleep. The feet frozen, the nose ice…and you sending out a shivering animal call in the pitch darkness of closed eyes, registering all the frenzied pain of C O L D …Was that a scream? Was that me? Two, too small, too soft, unsupportable pillows, punched into shape, sinking the head first followed by body-sinking into sub-zero cold, cold sheets, cold, plastic-covered mattress, falling further into a fetus position harboring a hope of warmth, thinking thoughts of found-in-the-morning-frozen-dead. Ah but for the grace and beauty of frost upon the window glass, (eyes open and shut) in the middle of the night, the middle of the full moon shining through. Must I get up, stand barefoot in the snow, and relieve myself out the front door? How could I ever leaves this home-made hollow of warmth to hibernate through the night, through the long, cold, beautiful winter? Am I working up a sweat? Was I once cold but now fill a fever upon me? Shall I make eggs and bacon for breakfast in a black, cast-iron pan? Salt and pepper the yolks galore? Toast some old rye bread?. Cut the last red potato into chunks, fry it in hot bacon grease, salt and pepper, in the same cast-iron pan…toss in some chopped onion, bits of cheddar cheese, caraway seed. Boil a pot of hot black strong to sit up and take notice of everything, day and night…Listen to the wind in the trees. It must be 20 below…Reach for and pull up that second-hand-shop, fuzzy-pilled, beige blanket of tattered-stitched edge at the end of the bed, too thin to offer much warmth for bare shoulders kissed all night by sudden wafts of cold air stealing in under the door… o beige blanket of too much history, too many bodies engaged in too many battlegrounds of human misunderstandings, lust, or love…falling further into a numb tranquility…a cabin’s the right place for love, for passion, for a solitariness of soul…I don’t where it’s likely to be better…cabin dreams, cabin coffee perking on the cabin stove …come morning, noon, night…come fresh snow, winter birds, sunrise over the white lake, cabin love.

[from WINTER BOOK, Ellis Press, PO Box 6, Granite Falls, MN 56241, $20]




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