Weather beats, heavier still; a distinct howl reminds me how distant my Americas have become. Turning winter into summer, taking autumn without spring- trading hemispheres makes the world a vulnerable place.
From the kitchen a kettle whistles. I fill my mug and a hot water bottle. Memories of Costa Rica steep into potted warmth: The tin roof, the wet leaves, the intricacies of island life beneath the clouds. Dark vanilla bleeds through thin papers. I pick up a durry hand-rolled with tobacco my father used to smoke in his Half Bent Dublin. Memories flood with the falling.
"'Tis not too late to seek a newer world." -Tennyson
From the jungle they emerge, walking through our beach-locked campsite: Father, daughter and son of golden curls. The boy rests atop broad shoulders, the girl close at hand, beaming, silent, and strikingly beautiful. None wear shoes, shirts, or a care in the world.
They walk to a pause just beyond our tent, where jungle collapses into beach. Father pulls son from his shoulders and, still bent over, unzips his pocket. From sun-bleached trunks a joint emerges. Dad sticks it in his mouth before re-adjusting the spear gun that shades his back. Son back atop the world, the joint ignites. Smoke unfurls with the heat of heaven; daughter waits for a free hand. They walk on, down the path, merging into sands until they disappear.
Of all the memories from Costa Rica, this blonde mirage of pura vida ("pure life"- the Costa Rican way of the world) still haunts me. I dream of it, and in my dreams I become it. It's not just the spear gun or the children, the spliff or the locks of love; it's the unencumbered freedom that gets me. It's the barefeet and no shirt way of living. It's the hair that shines with the sun and bodies that brown beneath. It's the caress of land and sea. It's the children who want to be with their father and the father who wants nothing more. The feet that walk without fabricated soles. A wander, a bath with a spear gun, and the day is done. No iPads or headphones. No internet or distracts- like my summers in Vermont: No TV or friends, just family, dogs and baseball mitts. Beauty within simplicity like words within envelopes.
He knows perfectly well that a Skype call or an email would suffice, that I appreciate his words any way I hear them, but he is old-school: A man of ink and paper, flowers and napalm. Tearing into one of his letters is like diving into Alice's rabbit hole: Colors abound in rubber stamps and cut-outs, ink flies as his fountain pen swirls and dips. In winter, pipe tobacco and homemade bread waft from his pages. In summer, wet Labradors and fresh cut grass soak in his words.
Out of date as soon as he raises the little red flag, his letters encompass time. Two weeks later it's on my desk. I tear into the Spiderman stamps and New Zealand postmarks. A Dürer of Death beckoning an aged knight greets my smile. On either side, carefully scribed in forest green, "Birthday Greetings! Happily this Dürer etching applies to me and much less to you. The knight is not a young man." My expression constrains. I struggle to read on. The page blurs; ink bleeds. It's not his intention, but tenor gets lost between continents. I feel sick with guilt: Papa falters to time as I learn to embody it.
I put my father's letter down and pull a tribute to Maurice Sendak from the envelope. Through Papa's nightly readings, Sendak narrated the dreams of my childhood. I roared my terrible roars with Max and his Wild Things, I flew jetplanes of dough In the Night Kitchen, and spoiled the kidnap honeymoon Outside Over There. Sendak's passion for life emanated from his pages, opening my imagination to worlds I never knew existed. But Sendak's vision of mortality is bleak: "I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die, and I can't stop them. They leave me, and I love them more." I glance back at my father's last words, "In packing yesterday I found our baseball gloves. I so miss just the simple pleasure of throwing a ball around."
I miss things too. I miss rocking Batman tighty whities, a large cape, and a few washable marker tattoos with my brother as we saved the planet, I miss conversations with my best friends that we don't have time for anymore, I miss my little Chilean street dog that I brought to a better life in the States. The list goes on, but I cannot lament- time certainly doesn't. Instead, I let travel take Sendak's place alongside the memories, substituting his bound worlds for my bounding.
In another letter my father writes, "Journeys beckon to me less and less which I guess is why I am so attentive to your stories." His travels conclude as mine flourish. We both know that golden walk on the beach comes to an end, that those baseball gloves never fit as they once did, but they will be worn again, and other beaches will be explored. I've come to realize our only constant is change, so I carry my memories heavy as I go.
Travelers are a bit egocentric in that way: We put our journeys ahead of time. We put life above because as far as we know, as far as Sendak knew, we've only got one -- too short to be confined to memory. If it be friends, family or home that holds you back, then take your time: Appreciate them, memorize them, capture them if you can. Write about them, photograph them. Nothing will ever be as it is. Document the movement. Celebrate the change. Bring them with you or leave them behind, but hump on. Play catch. Send letters. Walk without soles.