Chapter 14

Dear Sarah,

I've always thought that when people went into ecstasies over what fun they had on a cruise that they were exaggerating, that of course they had to say those things because of the outrageous amount of money they had squandered on a frivolity. And I do feel guilty about the expense. The cruise was a complete surprise. I thought we were only seeing Seattle and Vancouver for a few days, and then Owen came back to the hotel in a cab instead of the rental car, which he'd returned, and showed me the tickets for the cruise. He'd done such a thoroughgoing job of concealing the arrangements that I was taken completely by surprise. Of course we didn't have enough clothes for the extra week on the ship and we had to spend half the last day in Vancouver shopping, which you know I dislike, but it was fun. How very odd. I have had a simply wonderful time since we stepped off the airplane in Seattle. It's like a honeymoon, but better, because we are already comfortable with each other and so are unconstrained. You've made it clear that you think I was crazy to forgive Owen his affair, but if you could see him, you would admit that it was the right thing to do. He is free and happy in a way he's never been, and it makes me happy, too. Sarah, we are having such fun. Everything is delightful: the beauty of the Inland Passage, the weather. We were sitting on the deck outside our cabin -- we have a small private deck -- and two bald eagles flew past, not fifty feet away. I would love to spend a summer here, birding and botanizing.

There is always something to do. We are taking dance lessons, and there is a theater for plays and musicals, and of course a cinema. The food is superb and plentiful. There is always something to eat, even between meals. There are little carts with trays of petits fours in the hallway, and pizza, and every other kind of snack. I've actually gained weight! Yes, skinny me, whose weight hasn't changed since she was nineteen! The weather is beautifully mild, sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, and the ship moves quietly along between forests on either side that look scarcely half a mile away. I have never seen anything so dreamlike, the white railing of the ship moving past the perfect green of the trees, with the blue of the sky above and the blue of the water below. Sometimes we pass a tug pushing a large raft of logs, to a sawmill, I suppose. And then, about the time we get restless, the ship docks somewhere and we can walk around a little Alaskan town. Even Juneau is small.

I cannot tell you how happy I am, and it is not this cruise, or the beauty of the places we are visiting, although these are in perfect accord with the way I feel. For the first time I no longer feel outside, and the secret was simple: to forget myself. Sometimes I'm afraid that I'm dreaming and that I will wake up and find myself enmeshed in the old struggle and confusion and uncertainty. All that is gone now. I am content with myself, in a way I have never been, and it seems that whatever has haunted Owen is gone, and this only increases my joy. My joy is greater because it is not for me, but for us. Does this make sense? I'm afraid I'm not explaining it well.

Of course, nothing is entirely without flaw, and the very extravagance of all this makes me uneasy. We have a butler, wearing tails, no less, for the cabins in our little section of the ship. I think about the poor people I feed at the City Union Mission, or some of the Costa Ricans I used to know, and I feel like a profligate, a wastrel. But in spite of that, I can't help enjoying myself, because after all, Owen paid for all this in secret and told me nothing about it beforehand. It was out of my hands, you see. At the last minute, when he told me, he pointed out that the cabin was paid for and would simply go to someone else if we didn't use it. Sometimes he is too clever. I think he would have made a good politician, engineering deals behind the scenes.

I have much more to tell you, about the beautiful gardens in the city park in Vancouver, and all the things we saw in Seattle. You know, I must be a naif. I have never really travelled. The only places I have lived are Monteverde and Lawrence and Kansas City. I took that trip to Los Angeles all those years ago, to visit Wyatt, and in the summer Owen and I sometimes go to Estes Park for a week or two, and I've been to Chicago, and made my pilgrimage to Arch Street in Philadelphia and to the garden of John Bartram, my favorite botanist, and also to the National Herbarium, although I was too pressed for time to visit any other attractions in Washington then. But now the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I see why so many people love to travel. The world is vast and wide, isn't it, and full of things and places and people of unimaginable variety. I want to see, to meet, to learn. I've always been so wrapped up in my little projects, mostly school, that I've never looked around. What a blinkered life I've led. There is so much beauty and strangeness in which to -- delight? Take joy?

In re-reading this, it seems that every other word is "I", and I (there's that pronoun again!) must apologize. What an egotistical letter. I promise not to inflict on you all the photographs of our trip, and not to ramble on like all those terrible bores describing all the museums they saw and all the meals they ate. Instead, I promise to listen. You must tell me everything you're doing. I've seen so little of you lately, and I've missed you. I know that you've been busy with the exhibit, and when it opens, I expect an invitation. You have worked so hard for so long that it's time you received some recognition. It is always mysterious to me how you manage to capture the essences of people with your camera, which has always seemed to me nothing but a photomechanical device. In your hands, it takes on life -- or it passes life through to the photographs. You must explain to me how you do that. It baffles me. It is delightful, and touching, and even terrifying (as in the pictures of junkies). You have great talent. I am proud to have such a friend.

Well, I seem to have written myself out. I have been sitting here in a daydream now for I don't know how long, the wind riffling my hair (so comfortable, now that it's short again). Owen has wandered off somewhere. I am watching the trees slide past. I have never been one to sit idle, but what could be more delightful, in such a lovely and peaceful place?

I wish you were here, Sarah. We would sit on the deck and talk for hours, and eat, and laugh, and sometimes be silent, and then talk and eat and laugh all over again, and the next day we would do the very same thing, and never grow tired of it. This gives me a wonderful idea. We should go to Belize, the four of us, you and Dougal and Owen and I. We will snorkel and when we have seen as much coral and as many fish as we can stand we will buy a Jeep and drive all the way down to Costa Rica, camping in mountains and deserts and rain forests, speaking Spanish (I will teach you), and when we get to Monteverde I will show you the plants and birds, and introduce you to my father and brother, who always seemed to me to fit the place as simply and naturally as the plants and birds themselves. Like the birds and plants, my father and brother are simple and natural, but they are also kind.

Oh, well, I don't suppose I could get Owen to stay away that long. He is working mightily to build up his business. Sometimes it is doing well, and sometimes it seems to stagger along. You can never predict from one quarter to the next which it will be. I was naive to think it would stabilize and require less of his time.

But all that is neither here nor there. We will be home in a week or less, and I can't wait to talk to you and find out how the exhibit is coming along, and of course how Dougal is doing. He is such a sweet man and I'm happy that you found someone so nice, and that the relationship seems to be working out so well. Or so it seems to me. I congratulate you, and share in your joy. And if Dougal and Wyatt are still playing in that band together, I would like to know how Wyatt is and whether he's happy and whether he has found someone yet. Someone who is good to him, and for him. Sometimes I think of him, I can't help it, and feel the shame of the way in which I discarded him. He is so incredibly strong, but the strongest suffer as much as the rest of us. I hope he finds someone. He is good, and brave, and generous, and if anyone deserves happiness, he does.

Well, I must end this letter before this unseemly vein of melancholy grows, and taints an otherwise happy day. I can't tell what has gotten into me. Maybe I'm tired out from all this fun. I've never been much good at having fun, really. One of my many shortcomings, which I intend to remedy. I have been thinking of ways to enjoy life more, if I can overcome my shyness.

Stay well and happy until I see you again.