Down East 2013 ©
Essential to the full experience of a Maine winter is the act of spending way too much time inside your home — cabin fever, this is commonly called. Symptoms include: intense brooding over existential questions, a rising irritation with dear friends, loved ones, and pets, and a daily consideration of moving to Florida. The ski condo, the log cabin, the ice-fishing shanty, the four-season tent — all of these institutions were invented to help us quell the grip of cabin fever. But this winter — a winter when most of us are tightening our pocketbooks and streamlining our finances — Mainers might be finding themselves grasping for new options.
Consider: A Google search for one-night off-mountain home rentals near Sunday River list prices between $600 and $975 per night. At those rates, it looks like my family will be taking our après-ski back to our own maison.
Regarding private getaways, log cabins, camps, and the like: though we may have an idyllic/libertarian dream of financing a little piece of land and building our own, we’ve learned from last winter’s mortgage crisis that now is not the time to borrow money we don’t have, any more than it’s the time to be paying for a second heating oil bill.
Of ice-fishing shanties: though they’re very inexpensive to rent (ten to twenty dollars per day on sections of the Androscoggin River), and though they are custom-made for beer, smelt, Patriots games on the radio, and many other pungent expressions of masculinity, they are no place to spend “quality time with the family,” or anyone else for that matter. If anyone knew the level of filth I can achieve inside a smelt shack, they would keep me at a distance until at least next summer.
Last January, I spent the night in a four-season mountain tent in Baxter State Park. What absolute quietness! What autonomy! How similar it was to being cooped up in my own home! Cabin fever is a sunny day compared to even the mildest case of MTC (Mountain Tent Claustrophobia).
Based on the above evidence, then, it would seem that cabin fever has beaten even the heartiest breed of New Englanders. Or it has beaten me in any case.
Recently, though, I found new reason for hope. It came in the form of a very large, dome-shaped, canvas covered, wood-heated, off the grid.
Was it a condo? No. A cabin? No. A shanty? No. A tent? No.
It was a yurt!
Not long ago, I spent the night in one at Frost Mountain Yurts in Brownfield. I came back a convert. Here’s why:
In comparison to the ski condo, my night in a yurt ran me ninety-five dollars. The thirty feet in diameter of floor space was ample — but cozy — quarters for six people. Inside I found a large dining room table and a double burner gas stove. There was no television, which I found charming. Access to the secluded yurt was no more than a tenth of a mile. In fact, the meandering trail through the woods — we towed our food and supplies on provided sleds — was much more pleasurable than dragging skis from the hill to the car rack and then from the car rack back into the rented ski condo.
The yurt is to the traditional Maine cabin in the woods what a Prius is to a Cadillac. Invented by Mongolian nomads wandering the plains of central Asia, the yurt is meant to offer all the same things that a cabin does — warmth, coziness, a place to cook, eat, sleep, and huddle by a fire — without the things that make a log cabin difficult. For one, renting a yurt requires none of your summer maintenance. You do not paint a yurt, or stain it, or reroof it, or jack it up every ten years to level the foundation. The yurt is built upon a platform, but because it’s made of canvas and a light wood frame, it carries little load-bearing weight. For one night in Brownfield, my wife and daughter and I had the feeling that we owned this structure. And the next morning, when we left it behind, we were glad we didn’t. No taxes to pay on the land, no paint to scrape.
Now, in regards to the part of me that loves ice-fishing shanties and mountain tents and other forms of roughing-it accommodations, the yurt experience is rustic, no doubt. But on the other hand, you can bring wine — we did, and whiskey, too — and there is a fondue set. There are also board games under the bunk beds. So, for the part of me that longs for the hearty solitude of the wilderness, this was satiated by a fire pit, a few feet out our door. I stayed up that night, squatted next to my bonfire, gazing up at the stars. When I got cold, rather than huddling next to a gang of stinky buddies, or crawling into my freezing sleeping bag, I stoked the woodstove and got into bed.
The other thing about staying in a yurt is that it meets the modern dictum of: Thou Shalt Be Green. In fact, we didn’t use any electricity that night. And a yurt fits into the forest landscape like a moss-covered boulder. We washed our dishes outside in the morning over a scrap pit. To rinse, we used gray water that the owners of Frost Mountain Yurts supplied in blue jugs. If we wished to ski, we could do so on the several miles of trails. We did not ride chair lifts or run snowmobiles. We took walks instead. This made for a simplified, peaceful morning.
And so, as we venture forth into another Maine winter, we need not feel fenced in by the shortcomings and inconveniences of our former lodgings. Because the yurt, in its simplicity, economy, and low-impact elegance, can show us a new way to experience the cold season during those cabin-feverish spells when — as Thoreau celebrates in A Winter Walk — “We fancy ourselves in the interior of a larger house.”
If You Go
Frost Mountain Yurts, 34 Farnsworth Road, Brownfield. Cold-season rates are $95 per night for one to two people, $15 per night for each additional person. 207-935-3243. www.frostmountainyurts.com