It’s been a long time since any of you have seen anything new on this website, and I can’t quite tell you why it’s been that way. It’s been a surprise to me, too. But I’m back online now.
This hiatus began innocently enough….I took advantage of a brief window in my schedule and headed out of town at 4 a.m. one Sunday to see if I could sneak up on my father, who disappeared from his lifelong home in Riverhead two years ago, retiring to the depths of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.
It had been more than a year since I’d been out of town, and I saw it as a working vacation. Dad and I spent our days exploring the mountains and the strange world of Asheville, and I spent the early morning hours keeping The Beacon afloat.
Then, a day before I was to return home, something bizarre happened. We were downtown, heading out for a goodbye pint and a taste of some local creation — fried chicken rollatini or wild boar in a red wine reduction — when my stepmother called with a frantic message.
One of the neighbors had just called. She’d heard coyotes. Then she’d heard a huge commotion. Then she’d learned that one of their neighbors, a relatively young woman who cheerfully walked a cheerful beagle through the neighborhood every morning, was lying dead on her basement floor. She was the fourth woman in the neighborhood to die in the past year. All the women left alive were quaking in their boots.
Now, it wasn’t coyotes that killed their neighbor. She’d had a seizure. But my trusted advisor told me never to underestimate the presence of coyotes in a story. So, I won’t. Coyotes are always there to teach you a lesson.
I headed home down the Blue Ridge Parkway with a heavy heart and a howling in my head. I woke in my hotel room halfway home the following morning to equally bizarre and horrible news — North Fork environmentalist Howard Meinke had died the night before, crossing the road in front of the Soundview Restaurant in Greenport. I began frantically calling everyone I knew who knew him. I needed to write something. Or at least I thought I needed to write something. But I didn’t really need to, after all.
I crept home in the slow lane — every car whizzing past was just a reminder of the tenuousness of life. I thought of Howard’s determination to always push for what was right, to keep walking a difficult path, when every step he took was filled with pain. I thought a lot about how horrible his last moments must have been.
Truth is, I didn’t know Howard Meinke well. We sat near each other at town board meetings. He didn’t say much, but he meant everything he said. He was a colleague of my stepfather, Frank Wills, who had also served, as Howard did, as a president of the North Fork Environmental Council. At Frank’s wake two years ago, Howard put his hand on my shoulder, looked in my eyes, and simply said: “He was in a lot of pain.”
Of all the things I’d heard that night, “he was in a lot of pain” is the only thing that really made me feel any better about Frank’s death. I’m sure they’re both together now, somewhere, laughing and telling stories, and neither of them is in pain any more.
Back home, again, we are working on repairs to the house that Frank built. There have been endless days all summer of roofing and painting, building steps and ripping out poison ivy, days of deer tick bites, sunburn and real work, not at all like the deskbound work that journalists like to think is so important.
The first place I went when I returned home from Asheville was to the roof of Frank’s shed, which I’d just finished shingling before I left for North Carolina. I sat there on the roof, watching the sunset, thinking about Frank and Howard, about my father’s dead neighbor, about ISIS and the Ukraine, the anniversary of 9-11 and my family’s pains, most of which I’ve put on the back burner while working full time and running this website.
I was feeling sick and I started to worry that I’d come down with Ebola, but I’d only been through West Virginia, not West Africa, so I shivered and shuddered and forced myself let that idea go. But I couldn’t bring myself to come back here until just now.
The truth is that we’re all suffering from media overload. The whole world is suffering from media overload, but people who work in the business have the worst case of it. You can’t see the big picture when you start thinking about web traffic or who beat you to a story or any of those things. It’s an insidious disease. It can only be cured through a quarantine.
But I think, I hope, I know, that I’ve been cured now. Thanks for sticking around and waiting for me to come back.