This can be a dangerous time of the year and not just because of the hazards that can arise from dealing with leftover fruitcake. An even larger peril lurks, one which can affect the life of every man, woman and bachelor here in the Northland. Yes, I am talking about cabin fever.     
     Cabin fever is a common malady in regions where wintertime can consume three out of four seasons. The earliest symptoms are usually mild. For instance, who among us has not yelled at those idiots on “The Jerry Springer Show”? But, this innocuous behavior can quickly evolve into full-blown cabin fever. The diagnosis is confirmed when the afflicted person admits to secretly hoarding garden catalogues.     
    Thanks to the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals, the outlook for sufferers is much improved. Cabin fever might be treated with a newfangled antidepressant such as Prozac. But it turns out that one of the side effects of Prozac can be ED, so Viagra may need to be prescribed. Viagra can cause headaches, so an NSAID might have to be taken. Too many NSAIDs can cause indigestion, so a bolus of antacids would be in order. And so it goes, on and on, until your medicine cabinet becomes a miniature version of a Costco pharmacy.     
     When I was a kid, nobody would have dreamed of using psychotropic substances to treat cabin fever. This was mainly due to our parents’ belief that suffering builds character. My upbringing involved so much suffering that I am simply bursting with character. Just ask my wife; I have often heard her say that I am full of it.     
    According to my parents, the cure for cabin fever could always be found somewhere outdoors. This was hammered home time and again during that beastly winter we endured the year when I was 11.     
    It was an ideal winter from a boy’s point of view. Blizzards came with maniacal regularity, dumping so much white stuff on us that a snowplow got stuck on the township road east of our dairy farm and remained stuck until spring. We missed weeks upon weeks of school. I could feel my brain beginning to atrophy.     
    With eight kids in the house, it was inevitable that people would get on each other’s nerves. Little quirks that had gone unnoticed became points of bitter contention. Fiery arguments would erupt over such things as who drank the last of the milk or what happened to the newest garden catalogue.     
    Mom and Dad would separate the combatants and command everyone to go outside and get some fresh air. It did not matter if it was 20 below with a howling northwest wind; we had to bundle up and go.     
    Once, my two brothers and I were banished to the outdoors after a minor scuffle resulted in a broken vase. I pointed out that it was totally not my fault even though I was the one who gave the first shove. What was I supposed to do? Sit there as my kid brother intentionally and annoyingly breathed through his nose?
    We decided to serve out our exile by expanding the system of tunnels we had been constructing in the mountainous snowdrift on the north side of our house. Pausing from our excavation operations, I happened to glance up the road to see a ghostly apparition materializing from a blindingly white snow squall. The isolation was causing me to hallucinate.
    As the phantasm drew nearer, I saw that it was actually our old Norwegian bachelor farmer neighbor, Martin. I was somewhat disappointed. I had never had a real hallucination before.     
    I walked to the road and escorted Martin to our farmhouse. A small icicle was dangling from the end of his nose and the damp butt of an unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarette was stuck to his lower lip. Good thing wind chill had not been invented or Martin might have frozen to death.     
    I invited Martin into the house. My parents bade him to warm himself by the kitchen stove and plied him with hot coffee and scrambled egg sandwiches. Eager for news from the outside world, we asked Martin what it was like out there and how the roads were. Martin described it all in detail adding, as was his habit, that while this may be bad, it was a Sunday school picnic compared to the snowstorms he had endured in his youth.     
    A few hours later, Martin got ready to take his leave. As Martin donned his massive sheepskin coat, I slyly slipped a little something into one of its pockets.     
    It was a small sacrifice. Besides, there were lots of garden catalogues where that one came from.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.