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Cabin Fever

Cover of Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

A Suburban Father's Search for the Wild
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Cabin Fever might be described as a modern Walden, if you can imagine Thoreau married, with a job, three kids, and a minivan. A seasonal memoir written alternately from a little cabin in the Michigan woods and a house in suburban Chicago, the book engages readers in a serious yet irreverent conversation about Thoreau's relevance in the modern age.

The author turns Thoreau's immortal statement "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately" on its head with the phrase "I got married and had children because I wished to live deliberately." Though Fate spends half his time at the cabin, this is no world-renouncing, back-to-nature paean. Unlike Thoreau during his Walden years, he balances his solitude with full engagement in family and civic life.

Fate's writing reflects this balancing of nature and family in stories such as "The Confused Cardinal," in which a male cardinal feeds chicks of another species and leads to a reflection on parenting; "In the Time of Cicadas," which juxtaposes his wife's hysterectomy with the burgeoning fecundity of the seventeen-year cicadas coming out to mate; and in a beautiful essay reminiscent of E. B. White's "Once More to the Lake," in which Fate takes his son to the same cabin his father took him as a child.

In his exploration of how we are to live "a more deliberate life" amid a high-tech, materialist culture, Fate invites readers into an interrogation of their own lives, and into a new kind of vision: the possibility of enough in a culture of more.

Cabin Fever might be described as a modern Walden, if you can imagine Thoreau married, with a job, three kids, and a minivan. A seasonal memoir written alternately from a little cabin in the Michigan woods and a house in suburban Chicago, the book engages readers in a serious yet irreverent conversation about Thoreau's relevance in the modern age.

The author turns Thoreau's immortal statement "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately" on its head with the phrase "I got married and had children because I wished to live deliberately." Though Fate spends half his time at the cabin, this is no world-renouncing, back-to-nature paean. Unlike Thoreau during his Walden years, he balances his solitude with full engagement in family and civic life.

Fate's writing reflects this balancing of nature and family in stories such as "The Confused Cardinal," in which a male cardinal feeds chicks of another species and leads to a reflection on parenting; "In the Time of Cicadas," which juxtaposes his wife's hysterectomy with the burgeoning fecundity of the seventeen-year cicadas coming out to mate; and in a beautiful essay reminiscent of E. B. White's "Once More to the Lake," in which Fate takes his son to the same cabin his father took him as a child.

In his exploration of how we are to live "a more deliberate life" amid a high-tech, materialist culture, Fate invites readers into an interrogation of their own lives, and into a new kind of vision: the possibility of enough in a culture of more.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 13

    "Falling Apart: Death and Birth"

    Our cat Rosie, a gray tabby who now weighs just four pounds, is dying. She's completely deaf, nearly blind, and has been since spring. But she holds on, and we can't bring ourselves to put her to sleep. She was five weeks old when Carol and I found her at a shelter--the same week we moved to Chicago from Iowa to start our new lives together--twenty-one years ago. The kids say she's over one hundred--that a cat year equals five human years. One of my days feels like five to Rosie. The idea intrigues me. How does that work? Is cat time slower because they never worry--about what to say or wear, or if they are late to a meeting? Does Rosie have some sort of heightened kitty consciousness that allows her to live more in the present? Or maybe if I curled up in a bright square of sunlight on the oak floor for a few hours each day, those hours would begin to slow for me too, to elongate, to become something else. I wish the present would slow down.

    I care for Rosie like she is an aging grandmother. I buy her gourmet food and litter: the aged-cheddar-cheese-and-albacoretuna dry blend for seniors, and the odorless, all-natural multicat litter with "quick clumping technology." Each morning I pour some milk in a mason jar lid and take it down to her in the basement. She can no longer manage the stairs, but lately she seems to prefer the basement. Today I can't see her, but I can hear her. She makes bizarre sounds now--odd, mournful meows that sound like a baby crying. It started when she lost her hearing. No longer sneaky or surprising, she half creeps, half limps out of the shadows of my workroom toward what seems to be the highlight of her day--a few ounces of skim milk.

    As much as I love this cat, I have to admit that when she goes, it won't be so terrible. Why? It's a quality-of-life issue--hers and mine. She's in physical pain. I'm not, but am concerned about hygiene. Our clothes dryer is right next to her litter box, and she has just started peeing on our clean laundry rather than in the box. I find little nuggets of poop all over the basement. It's not her fault; her body functions autonomously from her brain. Things are decaying, falling apart. It is, it seems, her time.

    I think of this decay now, sitting outside at dusk on the back porch of our house. The wild green buzz of summer is gone. The robins and goldfinches and bluebirds have flown south or are preparing to. It is the fall. And everything falls--not just the leaves. The temperature falls as the earth again tilts away from the sun. Darkness falls more quickly as the days shorten. Plants droop and dry up and break apart. Trees fall into dormancy and stop growing. Their leaves and seeds fall into the cool air, and then to the ground, where they will rot and root and become something new. This is the season of decay--a word that means "to fall away"--to return to your constituent parts, to what you are made of. We die and fall apart, but the parts go on. The same is true for the human species. Though lately I'm finding how much harder it is to accept this cycle with people than it is with pets or plants--particularly if they die suddenly, and seem to fall outside of the natural cycle of time.

    -----

    Yesterday I saw our friend John at the YMCA. He lives four blocks away from us, but I know him mainly through Carol, who works with his wife, Ellen. They are both school social workers who run programs that assist new immigrant families. Ellen has cancer. She's just fifty-six, and their family is very close; she's the kind of mother you can see in her three boys....

About the Author-
  • Tom Montgomery Fate is the author of four books, including the collection of essays Beyond the White Noise and the spiritual memoir Steady and Trembling. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Orion, Iowa Review, Fourth Genre, Christian Century, and many other publications, and they often air on NPR's Living On Earth and Chicago Public Radio. He is a professor of English at College of DuPage in Illinois, where he lives with his family. His cabin is in southwest Michigan.

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    Beacon Press
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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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