Cabin Fever

The clash between nature and technology can be all too familiar these days. One man from suburban Chicago has set off to rediscover balance with nature, and explore a modern interpretation of Henry David Thoreau. Tom Montgomery Fate, author of Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild, joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm.

The following is an excerpt from Fate’s book:

One sunny afternoon a few years ago, I drove to southwest Michigan
to build a cabin in the woods. It was spring break, and I had
just reread Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s nineteenth-century account
of his life in the woods at Walden Pond. The famous hermit philosopher
had again inspired me, but it was different from
the first time I had read it: I was not an idealistic nineteen-year old
college freshman, but a harried and married forty-six-year-old
father of three in suburban Chicago. Different things mattered.
The book called me with more urgency—from my distracted
middle-class, middle-aged life into the wild solitude it conjured.

That same morning, before leaving, I discussed the weekend
with my wife, Carol, packed food and clothes, and then went
to the garage to look for tools. When I pushed the remote and
the garage door hummed open, I abruptly recognized my life: a
wild tangle of bicycles and strollers and grilling utensils and patio
furniture and wet cardboard boxes full of moldy books and kids’
clothes. Amid the clutter, I found an old spade, two sawhorses, a
metal tool box, and a post-hole digger, all of which I tossed into
the back of our minivan. On the two-hour drive to Michigan that
day, I recited Thoreau’s mantra—“Simplify, simplify”—as a kind
of prayer, thinking it might offer me some guidance. But it never
really did.

Tom Montgomery Fate's cabin

We finished the cabin in two years—or at least stopped working
on it then. Cobbled together with the help of family and
friends, and with more patience than expertise, we built it on a
fifty-acre plot of woods and meadow we own and share with six
other families, friends from our old church. They bought the land
cheap thirty years ago—a farm abandoned after a fire. It has since
been slowly restored: the stone farmhouse rebuilt, thousands of
pines and oaks planted, a large garden dug. And we maintain a
network of walking trails that wind throughout the property.

Were he alive today, Thoreau might have little interest in our
experiment in Michigan. But he might be a bit curious. He did,
after all, anticipate those readers who would naively aspire to his
ideals. In the first chapter of Walden, he addresses the relevance of
his stint in the woods for the interested novice: “I would not have
anyone adopt my mode of living . . . but I would have each one be
very careful to find out and pursue his own way.”

From: Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild by Tom Montgomery Fate
Copyright © 2011 by Tom Montgomery Fate
Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston

Click here to visit the author’s website.

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