We think of the woods as being quiet, but there are lots of sounds, especially as the weather gets warm an the sounds begin to return—peepers, frogs, birdsong. Most of those sounds are still to come-- by the end of this month, it will be a symphony out there--but, for the past week or so, what we’ve been hearing most are chainsaws.
The art colony where we live was originally comprised of three very large farms. I was surprised to learn when I saw a picture of our cottage shortly after it was built, over 100 years ago, that there were no woods. Of course, I thought, the land had been cleared to make pastures for grazing. One of the most wonderful parts of living in these woods, is knowing that they have grown back since the colony was built. The trees have returned.
The colony has been parceled off in the decades since its founding so that the original 1500 acre campus is now about 250 acres with a bunch of private homes scattered throughout.
The parcel next to ours, sort of up and behind us, has been for sale ever since we moved here. One day last week, Bobby came back from his walk and said they were clearing the lot.
“It must have sold,” I said.
I’m always sad when a tree is killed—I know that sounds sort of corny, but it’s true. Some consolation can be found in knowing that trees live on as all kinds of different matter and food for other creatures and life forms.
I’ve been thinking about endings this weekend, ever since I found out on Friday that our friend Debra Kletter died. She was a longtime member of our New York City community. She had a heart attack Friday morning and died. It was her birthday.
There’s something not right about dying with so many other people. It risks making all of the dead merely statistics. And, the fact that Debra died seemingly unrelated to this terrible virus seems sort of—what?—silly? Ill-timed? Unfair?
Back in the day, Debra had been a lighting designer and worked on Broadway, shows by Craig Lucas and Terrence McNally, I think. She was gifted and spent years in the swirling middle of a dynamic group of friends mostly from the world of theater.
She lost her best friend to AIDS, and from what I could tell, never entirely recovered. That was a different time and a different virus, one that didn’t affect everyone and wasn’t really taken seriously until many people had died—lots of them from the theatre, art and design world.
Bobby and I first met Debra at the dog park in Madison Square Park. When Bobby moved to New York to live with me, he brought with him his beautiful, shaggy and loveable dog, Ruby, a magnificent bearded collie. She needed to go to the park twice a day. Deb was, if not the queen, then a sort of duchess of the dog park. Larry was an English Setter, black and white, Deb’s dog.
After The Secret City won an Obie and was written up in the New York Times, lots more people learned about us and we moved to a bigger theater. Debra came to one of the services along with her friend Tamar, also now our good friend and also from the dog park. There’s no way these two are going to enjoy this, I thought, but I was wrong—they became very devoted members, sitting in the same seats for every event, month after month.
Debra knew restaurants, not just in New York: the best tapas in Seville, the little known but excellent dive in Prague, the oldest, most delicious empanadas in Buenos Aires. She knew them all. She was a foodie but bristled at that label.
Debra bristled at a lot—and it was only after she decided to love you—if she loved you—that she became the most generous, loyal friend you could ever want. She did lighting for benefits, ordered food for choir rehearsal or whatever, whenever asked. She was a gem.
Debra and I shared a disorder: Misophonia, a condition where small repetitive sounds cause extreme irritation and discomfort. I have been known to loudly shush people at the theater for rustling their program, to ask a noisy grandmother on the bus to keep her phone conversation down, and to violently glare and anyone snapping their gum anywhere; you get the picture.
Debra and I discovered this shared condition years ago and we kept a running text conversation, a kind of release valve: we could be anywhere, and if we were experiencing a heightened sense of discomfort due to someone’s irritating, small, repetitive sounds, we would text the other to briefly describe the offending behavior and the other person would then write back a fantasy of how that offending person’s behavior, or sometimes life, would end.
It was ghoulish, darkly funny and always helpful—the sharing of a problem leading to its diminished impact. Debra was an intimate person, you’d want to sit next to her at the wedding reception: she shared closely, laughed deeply, saw keenly.
The chainsaws have stopped for now but they’ll be back. And a big new house will be built and a garden will be planted and the soil will be rich from the mulch of the wood. And there may be vegetables and flowers someday. And maybe a hundred years from now the woods will return. And knowing all this is not enough to stop my grieving—the trees, Deb, everything—but it will give me comfort over time.