Tom Montgomery Fate
|The cabin in the Michigan woods. (Photo: Tom Montgomery Fate)|
When I first read Henry David Thoreau's classic nature memoir, Walden, I was an intensely idealistic 18-year-old college freshman at the University of Iowa. When I read it again, thirty years later (during a sabbatical), I was a harried and married 48 year-old father of three in suburban Chicago. And while the famous hermit-philosopher had again inspired me, it was different from the first time I read it. The book called me with more urgency—from my distracted middle-class, middle-aged life into the wild solitude it conjured. So, over the next four years, I wrote my own seasonal memoir in response to Thoreau and to Walden—an attempt to explore its modern relevance. The result was Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father's Search for the Wild (Beacon Press, 2011). Several short excerpts follow.
From "In the Time of the Cicadas" (Chapter 7):
Over the next few days the cicada population explodes: up to a million per acre—maybe 300,000 in our back yard. Some of our neighbors are repulsed by the swarms of bugs clinging to their bushes and flowers, or falling out of trees into their hair during an evening stroll. But others, like me, find them miraculous: seventeen years of patience, of darkness, followed by a few weeks of passion, of sunlight and sex. Each night, I sit outside and listen to the newest arrivals move through the grass and leaves: chaotic platoons of red-eyed soldiers crunching over thousands of their own brittle casings. Then up the trees they march to wait for the sun and sing for a mate.From "The Art of Dying" (Chapter 15):
I have been dead for a long time when I finally catch the delicate scent of my carnation—just a trace, just for a second. A pigeon coos as he struts along the edge of my sheet. Then a little girl—one of the children of the temporarily dead—starts giggling about something. Her clicking shoes skip through the odd labyrinth of flower-adorned bodies.From "Deliberate Life" (Introduction):
I'm not sure why I came to this demonstration. I need to go grocery shopping and I have stacks of papers to grade. What motivated me? Guilt? Yes, partly. The belief I'm making a difference? No. I don't think so. The hope that this theater of the absurd will help alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people? No, not really. It's less noble, less clear. I'm just trying to learn how to believe in something, how to see in the dark.
My 7-year-old son, Bennett, sometimes tries to balance himself on the creaky iron fulcrum of a wooden teeter totter at the playground. He jumps up on the heavy plank and puts one foot on each side of the center. Then he shifts his weight, pushing one end of the plank down, causing the other end to rise. He tries to stay balanced and level but can't for more than a few seconds. One side always starts to teeter up or totter down. He doesn't stay centered, but neither does he ever fall off. This struggle for balance, the rising and falling between the earth and sky, gives him great joy. And he gives that joy to me, if I'm paying attention. (http://codfaculty.org/newsletter/1109.php)