I want to tell you about the place where I live. Built in 1902 as part of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony, the cottage has two bedrooms, a walk in closet, a large living room, loft, kitchen, two bathrooms. A huge upgrade from the 440 sq ft apartment in the city.
Designed and built by artists, hand stenciled peaches trail along the wooden beams up at the ceiling.
The walls are painted white except in the living room where there’s a kind of wainscoting, and the bottom half of the walls are painted teal, not as bright as the blue of the trim on the outside windows—that color is called Byrdcliffe Blue, and many of the cottages have this detail, from years back, maybe since the founding of the place.
The colony was founded as a place where craftspeople and artists could come, leave the city, live and work in the woods. And come they did—furniture makers, ceramic artists, weavers, painters.
It’s funny how art thrives in cities—that is where culture is thought to reach its highest level. Moving here has softened my ambitions—the art I make now is simpler, folksier, less elevated, is that the right word? Maybe not. I’ve always been a populist, I guess. One of the reasons I stopped doing traditional theater—where I made my home for most of my life--is I wanted to step off the stage, to connect directly with the community.
For the first many years of adulthood, having a stable home was something I struggled with. I spent my twenties spent couch surfing, dog watching, house sitting—I didn’t rely on the kindness of strangers, I relied on the kindness of friends.
One day in the summer of 2012, Bobby and I drove out of the city to Woodsdtock, just to check out the cottage We had put our name on a waiting list but who knew if we would get it. My niece Elizabeth was visiting from California and was with us.
We pulled into Woodstock--cute shops, tourists crowding the sidewalks, tie dye tshirt shops, a produce stand. Then, continuing on the main road through town, we came to Ricks Road, and turned. Woodstock is in a valley—but you wouldn’t have known it that day--lush trees and foliage crowded the road, making a cover we drove under, meadows opened up with deer eating grass, old fence posts lined the road; houses could be seen tucked into the woods.
We’ve lived here nearly seven years now, and sometimes in the winter as we’re driving on our way somewhere, Bobby will ask, “Where do the animals go in the winter?”
I answer as if I know. “Well, the bears are hibernating, of course.”
“But what about the deer?”
“Well, they’re all tucked in.”
“Tucked in? Where?”
“They have burrows and hidden spaces.”
“Hm.” He sounds dubious.
But they must, right? Everything has somewhere to stay, to live. Even if that place is outdoors. Whenever I stay at my friend Celeste’s in Venice Beach, there are so many homeless people: sidewalks like living rooms with tents, remnants of stained carpets laid out, music playing from a small tinny machine. These gatherings are scary—but, why? Without a place to stay, an indoor place, a place we recognize as a home, whether it’s an apartment or a shack or a palace—we’re all aware that our humanness can slip, we are closer to the wild than we know, or care to.
I didn’t know until this morning that the world shelter comes from the word shield, like what a soldier would have carried into battle, wearing chain mail and visor. Some of the recent pictures of people working in hospitals resemble those of soldiers. One picture I saw showed a doctor who had fashioned a protective head gear out of a welders helmet, another was wearing ski goggles.
What shields us? What protects us? Especially when we can’t see the threat— When the threat is microbiotic? The strongest shelter, after physical safety, is trust. We want to be able to trust the people around us to not do anything that might compromise our safety or the safety of our family.
Those years ago, approaching this cottage for the first time, we turned off Ricks Road and soon came to Upper Byrdcliffe Road. At a row of old mailboxes we turned onto a dirt road. This ersatz driveway took us past two small wooden shacks and a long two story wooden building, and then, we saw it: the cottage.
“That must be it, huh?” I asked.
“Yes,” Bobby said, “that’s it.”
We didn’t live here yet, it was still only a possibility. But, like remembering the first day of a beautiful relationship, that was the moment we first met this place, this cottage. I’m good with directions but getting out of the car and looking around at the woods, hearing the rushing the stream, the birds singing--I thought, how did we get here?
It’s almost as if it called to us.