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Cabin Fever

Wood smoke. Mothballs. Dust. Wet waders.

These are the scents that won’t be making Yankee Candle’s list of new releases, but that doesn’t mean that they are completely repulsive. Perhaps on their own, they don’t have much to offer. In fact, they can be downright off-putting. No one wants to come away from a hug smelling like mothballs.

But when they are all combined together in some bizarre olfactory cocktail, the situation changes. Particularly because the context of that specific blend is primarily found in the cabin. More specifically, the fishing cabin.

I do not own a fishing cabin. In fact, unless some acquaintance of mine is holding out on me, I don’t think I know anyone with a fishing cabin. But I’ve rented quite a few of them over the years. I’ve seen a lot of photos both vintage and new, and there are some universal features. Including the smells.

Let me start off by commenting on upholstered furniture. So anything that gets “shut down” over the winter, lacks air conditioning over the summer, and isn’t tight enough to keep out insects/rodents/etc. might not be the best place for a plush couch. But they can be comfy after a long day afield. Never mind the nests and fuzzy spots. Just nestle on in and become one with the cabin.

The bathroom is a good place to focus on the electrical system. Being up to code is a very citified concept. Wire nuts and grounding don’t have a place in the great outdoors. Consequently, reaching for a light switch with a wet hand is a bit of a gamble. Drywall covers a multitude of sins, and without it the seedy underbelly of shoddy work is on display for all to see. But we’re “getting away from it all,” which apparently includes light fixtures that consist of more than just a bulb dangling from the ceiling.

If the aforementioned features strike a chord or seem negative, I apologize. Remember: critical isn’t always a criticism.

Another common element is the fishing memorabilia. Rods, reels, flies, posters, fish and game signs, or the dying art taxidermy are all acceptable. The thing is that a lot of this stuff can be bought with a faux-vintage aesthetic from any number of discount stores. But in a fishing camp, there is a good chance that the stuff is legit. The big lake trout that pawpaw caught in ’48. It is missing a fin and it basically gray all over, but it’s always been over the nesty/fuzzy couch. The rod, reel, and lure used to catch her is hanging above the sooty mantle. Then maybe people know that you’re “into fishing” and get you some junky, kitschy stuff. And your wife will gladly let you take it to the cabin.

The bed probably stinks. Literally and figuratively, as a matter of fact. But who puts a nice bed in a buggy, damp cabin? If you’re young enough to not be sore already from going fishing over the weekend, then it isn’t going to matter what you’re sleeping on. If you’re old enough to get sore from fishing, then it isn’t going to matter what you’re sleeping on. Sleeping on these trips is just the few hours between fishing and coffee, anyway.

Plumbing. As miraculous as nature is on its own, roaches and mice really demonstrate their resourcefulness and adaptability when it comes to your sinks and toilets. Commodes aren’t natural occurring in the wild, yet a field mouse will navigate the many watery twists and turns with the greatest of ease in your cabin. Astonishing.

And then there are the smells. Our noses and their corollary nerves do an incredible job of linking us to places in ways that the high-profile senses like sight and hearing barely approach. So even the wader funk and general dustiness that we encounter send our minds hurtling back to the last time or the first time we were in the cabin. Somehow, someway that stink can subversively replace every negative or less than ideal memory and push the nostalgia to the forefront. Bad nights of sleep, bites/rashes/stains picked up from the couch, and late night brawls with overconfident raccoons all fade away with the promise of another week of fishing.

Just be sure to check the toilet bowl before you sit down and wash your clothes as soon as you get home. But hug your wife right away, even if you leave her smelling like mothballs.

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