Tom Montgomery Fate
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Cabin Fever

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Excerpts from Cabin Fever

Cicada photograph

From “In the Time of the Cicadas”

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.

Protest at Chicago's Federal Building


From "The Art of Dying"

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.
       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.

Tom Montgomery Fate walking in an autumn woods with his son

From “Deliberate Life”

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.


The bridge in the woods in autumn

From “Saunter”

I walk over the bridge and up a steep hill, where I find my three favorite trees. The sycamore, beech, and cottonwood are all over 100 feet tall. Their branches mingle in the sky, share leaping squirrels and nervous woodpeckers. Each tree has its own personality. The grey beech with its tough slick skin is a dinosaur’s neck bending and stretching to feed in the canopy. The bark of the cottonwood conjures not skin but armor—a tough range of peaks and crevices so deep that Abby, our 11 year- old daughter, can put her entire hand in one. The leaves of the cottonwood sapling are fat green hearts, with thick red veins, that so resemble an animal’s circulatory system, they seem to pulsate with life. The sycamore is the easiest to recognize of the trio, because it’s always losing its skin. As it grows the outer layer of bark can’t keep pace and peels off into curling olive, white, and brown flakes.

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