A few websites out there declare that I “occasionally blog at don-mitchell.com”
My last posting was in late 2014, when I was in Eagle Rock CA, on a trip with Ruth Thompson. We’d been to our 50th Stanford reunion, and had done a few readings in Northern California.
A lot has changed since then; I’ll summarize.
Although there were many plusses to our life in Hilo (in my childhood home) in the end we realized that Hilo wasn’t the best place for us. So in 2020 we sold the house on Wailuku Drive that had been in my family for 75 years, and moved to Freeville NY, which is just outside of Ithaca. (I’ve been assured that saying I live “in Ithaca” is OK.)
We now live in a (mostly) solar-powered geothermally-heated house that sits on a ridge and is surrounded by more than 130 acres of woods and meadows. (“Mostly” because, of course, in winter there’s not much sun and snow covers the 53 panels . . . but in the other three seasons, we make much more power than we use.)
We see deer, turkeys, hawks, vultures, foxes, and groundhogs. We know that coyotes, fisher cats, and who know what else visit the place, but we don’t see them. In the past there have been bears. We lost a favorite cat to an unknown predator.
The driveway is .3 mile long, curves, and climbs 200′ through forest. Keeping it clear in the winter isn’t much fun, although I did learn to do it with an old F150 and plow. The rough-conditions driving that I’d learned on Mauna Kea as a boy and refined as an adult came in handy. As I said to a neighbor, “First gear low range is my happy place.”
We also have a semi-antique Massey-Ferguson 245 tractor, with bucket, tiller, brush hog, and boom. In late September, though, it’s going to be supplemented with a John Deere 3039R tractor, because the 3039 can mount a large snowblower, and the M-F cannot.
What else happened during those 6 years?
Backing up a bit: in 2017, the 1969 murder of my fellow Harvard grad student and friend Jane Britton took over my life for more than a year. (The Wikipedia article is incomplete and misleading in some ways, but it’s a useful summary.) The case had been cold for years. It was solved — after nearly half a century — but along the way things got pretty exciting for me. And frightening, too, when the Massachusetts State Police sent a detective to Hilo to collect my DNA so that I could be excluded as the killer. That opened wounds I thought had healed.
At about the same time, I began working with the investigative journalist Becky Cooper, who was writing a book about the case, and its larger Harvard context. That book (We Keep the Dead Close) was published to (well-deserved) rave reviews, in November 2020. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a wonderful piece of work.
I had been working on a novel in which the murder played a role. Becky and I had talked about how cool it would be to have her non-fiction book and my novel hit the streets at about the same time. The novel faltered (which is to say I faltered) so in summer 2020 I decided to write something resembling a memoir about how the case had affected two-thirds of my life.
I published Shibai: Remembering Jane Britton’s Murder in late November 2020.
You can see and hear Becky and me in conversation here, and I participate in another “about memoirs” presentation you can watch here.
My book has a website (a newer and better one is under construction as I write): shibaithebook.com
Well, this is enough for my re-emergence. I’ll be posting much more often, mostly about the book, about the novel that’s underway again, and about life on the ridge.
Speaking of life on the ridge, I’ve been making and posting daily images (as I did in Hilo for more than 2,000 consecutive days) — you can access them at newsofelsewhere.com (and the Hilo set is at hilodailyimage.com).
Later! Which doesn’t mean 2028.