Cold comfort -- the strategies of winter

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During this winter of the ultimate shiver it must be a rare American north of , say, 39 degrees latitude who has not been house-bound for a day or two at a time. The University of Maryland, which just barely qualifies for the discussion according to this criterion of latitude, has issued a cautionary bulletin on the subject of ''cabin fever.''

The advice from the semitropics is certainly debatable. If the morning comes when you cannot fight your way out the front door past winter's barricade, you are instructed to watch television, listen to the radio, and read newspapers to keep yourself jolly.

This is a dubious formula for happiness even in the merry, merry springtime.

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Other recommendations from the Maryland winterizers:

Get a pet.

Exercise.

And ''observe hygiene.''

The last injunction, we assume, means spiffing up in isolation, like an English colonial in a jungle outpost dressing formally for dinner to keep from going native.

In weather's border states, like Maryland, winter is taken very respectfully indeed -- when it comes.

In the deep north one of two more casual courses is likely to be followed. People go outdoors anyway, treating winter more or less as a mirage. Snow? What snow? You call this snow?

The other popular choice is to surrender to the siege and go with it -- never mind the meticulous shave, the white-tie-and-tails, and the Maryland cry: ''Put some structure in the day.''

Enid Nemy, writing in the New York Times (well north of Maryland), has taken a strict antistructure approach. It can be no coincidence that her column about eating in bed appeared on one of the colder mornings of winter. In effect, Miss Nemy has provided her own recipe for ''cabin fever'' -- behave as if winter were just what you ordered.

Hibernating in bed -- the cave of caves -- Miss Nemy and her friends have been known to find happiness eating ice cream out of the carton with maple syrup poured on top. One informant even keeps a refrigerator in her bedroom to give integrity to the experience.

We have discovered, firsthand, that eaters in bed tend to specialize. At the extreme, there are the Drippers; the ice-cream lickers and yogurt snackers are prime candidates. Then there are the Crunchers, who feature crackers and peanuts and popcorn. You can identify them in the morning by the tiny salted particles imbedded in their backs.

Miss Nemy knows a man who eats only Italian food in bed. She herself seems to favor Chinese -- there is a heartfelt passage about ''the joys of snuggling under the covers,'' a pillow at one's back, an egg roll in one's mouth.

The point is, one must refuse to let winter turn one into a garrison state. Those who eat in bed are fighting back in their own guerrilla fashion. Schlepping to and from the refrigerator in bathrobe and slippers, writing ''Having a wonderful time . . .'' on their bedspreads with maple syrup, they are confronting winter - a great eccentricity of nature -- with eccentricities of their own.

In fact, they are on their way -- at a shuffle -- toward the more heroic forms of winter eccentricity that find New Englanders breaking holes in the ice to go swimming. Now if only the nibblers could locate their swim trunks at the back of the bedroom closet the next time they get up for another kind of dip

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