Common Reader: ‘Cabin Fever’ author comes to CMC in Breckenridge |

Common Reader: ‘Cabin Fever’ author comes to CMC in Breckenridge

'Cabin Fever,' by Tom Montgomery Fate, is this year’s Common Reader book at Colorado Mountain College. The public is invited to read the book and hear the author’s free talks throughout the college’s district.
Special to the Daily |

If you go

What: Common Reader author talk and book signing: ‘Cabin Fever,’ by Tom Montgomery Fate

When: Thursday, Oct. 23; 12:30-2 p.m. visit with students, and 7-9 p.m. talk and book signing

Where: Colorado Mountain College, 107 Denison Placer Road, Breckenridge

Cost: Free; copies of the book are available at local libraries and bookstores; e-books are available through readers’ public library accounts

More information: Fate will visit seven CMC locations: Rifle (Monday, Oct. 20), Aspen and Spring Valley (Tuesday, Oct. 21), Leadville (Wednesday, Oct. 22), Breckenridge (Thursday, Oct. 23), Steamboat Springs (Friday, Oct. 24) and Edwards (Saturday, Oct. 25). The college is also sponsoring an art and creative writing contest, with cash prizes for six winners. The deadline for submissions is Sunday, Nov. 23. For more information, go to or call (800) 621-8559.

On the back cover of Tom Montgomery Fate’s memoir “Cabin Fever” is a synopsis about this, the author’s fifth nonfiction book. “Try to imagine Thoreau married, with a job, three kids and a minivan,” it reads.

No matter that Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century author, abolitionist and philosopher, was a lifelong bachelor from a well-to-do family who never had children and certainly never had the opportunity to drive a minivan. Fate’s point, instead, is that even living in modern times, he still has some elemental needs in common with a man who lived 150 years ago — and so might the rest of us.

“That’s a rather playful rumination,” Fate said about the irreverent description on the back of his book. “I think of Thoreau as amazingly eloquent and extremely disciplined. But he was also decidedly human.”

Fate’s book “Cabin Fever” is Colorado Mountain College’s Common Reader selection this fall. The Common Reader program involves the college’s students, faculty and staff, plus community members interested in a group read. After reading the same book, participants attend free readings, discussions and book signings as the author tours the college’s campuses. Fate will come from his home in Illinois, where he teaches creative writing at the College of DuPage, to Breckenridge on Thursday, Oct. 23, for the Summit County stop of his Common Reader book tour.


The author said going on book tours, such as CMC’s Common Reader, reminds him that people always bring their own interpretations and experience to his work, sparking new conversations and ideas, which is part of what is so meaningful about writing.

“Every chapter includes images and ideas based on the lens I see through, that my own experience provokes,” Fate said. “The beauty of the art (of writing) is that it frames a moment in time, which the reader/beholders may then see through the lens of their own unique experience.”

“Cabin Fever” is very much a modern take on the writings of Thoreau and how they apply to the author’s life. Fate didn’t initially discover Thoreau out of an interest in living remotely or of seeking out undisturbed locations.

Instead, he said he discovered Thoreau because of his interest in the Central American solidarity movement during the latter part of the 20th century. While in graduate school, and writing a book about the war in Nicaragua, he read Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.”

The essay about resisting civil government prompted him to read more. During sabbatical years later, Fate finished reading all of Thoreau’s journals and books.

That’s when he found himself relating to Thoreau’s thoughts on simplicity and seeking to live “a more deliberate life.” It couldn’t have come at a better time. Feeling overwhelmed, Fate and his wife joined up with six families to buy an abandoned farm in southwest Michigan, where he would later build a cabin in the woods.


Like Thoreau, Fate’s cabin isn’t completely isolated. It’s more a place for contemplation than for accessing remote areas. And although Thoreau is often touted as the father of the environmental movement, that was not his only concern. He went to the woods primarily to have time to walk and think and write, to listen to “his own drummer.”

And, Fate said, Thoreau didn’t escape to the wilderness when he went to live at Walden Pond.

“Some people might think Walden Pond was a remote, untouched mecca of wilderness, but it wasn’t,” he said. “Thoreau’s cabin was built on a very mundane wood lot, and it was about a mile from town.

“Walden is not simply about wilderness. It’s also about wildness, and there’s a difference. Wildness is what the human animal might recover in the wilderness — a sense of his/her innate belonging to the whole of creation. One of the points of my book is that it is possible to experience that wildness, or that connection, wherever you happen to live. It’s no less wild to see cicadas in Chicago than to see the view from a peak in Colorado.”

Does Fate recommend that everyone build a cabin in order to achieve a more simplified, balanced life?

“No,” he said. “It’s not necessary to abandon civilization in order to understand that, as humans, we’re all a part of nature.”

Fate said he has a Native American friend with whom he was walking in the middle of Chicago. Both of them saw a half-eaten donut on the sidewalk. Fate said his friend got down on his hands and knees to watch an army of ants marching out of a crack in the sidewalk to sequester the discarded food.

“He was making a point,” said Fate. “He said to me, ‘See? Nature is everywhere.’”

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