Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dear Sara Loewen . . .

(I have no idea why this showed back up here, when it was written a year ago. Oh, the mysteries of the internet . . .)

Why am I calling you dear?  I spoke to you for perhaps forty-five seconds at this year’s AWP conference.  You were manning the University of Alaska press table when I walked up.  I had no idea who you were, never heard of your book.  I’d attended a panel of Alaskan writers that morning and was actually there to purchase someone else’s book.  I don’t remember whose now, only that it wasn’t available and you told me I’d have to order it.  I’m sure I did, perhaps I’ve read it by now, or perhaps it’s sitting on my shelf;  in the stack of books waiting until I have more time.

But oh, my dear dear Sara Loewen.  You suggested your book, sitting on the corner of the table.  You said perhaps if I enjoyed reading about Alaska I would enjoy your book.  I liked the title, Gaining Daylight, and was taken by the subtitle Life on Two Islands.

 I spent years on an island.  I may have talked to you briefly about that.  But mostly I bought your book because you were there, and you pointed it out, and I would’ve been embarrassed not to buy it.  It would’ve felt somehow rude.  I wouldn’t have wanted someone to walk away after I’d suggested they buy my book.

I picked your book up last week, out of that pile of ‘to be gotten to’ books.  I picked it because it was small and light, because it was short essays that could be carried in my bag and read in waiting rooms.  I had no expectations.

Dear Sara Loewen,
 Your writing stuns me.  I read each essay slowly, once, and then again.  It’s been a long time since I savored a book as much as this one.  Every image is so clear, so bright.  Every word seems to be the perfect word, the only word that could possibly have been used to convey that idea, but that sentiment.  The things you write about and at the same time encompassing everything.  I don’t have the words to describe your words.  I’m not that good.

Dear, dear Sara Loewen.
 Whether you’re writing about salmon fishing, running your own skiff, substituting for second grade, whether you’re telling me about the Russians encamped on Kodiak Island, or Rose Tweed, the Bell of Kodiak during World War II, or baby humpback whales, it feels like everything you’re saying is true and right and important, and I want to know what you know, and I want to feel what you feel.  Do you know how rare this is to a reader like myself?  Do you know how good you are?

Sara Loewen, you inscribed my copy of Gaining Daylight.  You wrote “hope you visit Alaska one day soon.  You’ll love it.”

I visit Alaska.  In small, beautifully rendered, beautifully written essays.  I visit Kodiak Island and Amook Island.  I visit fish camps and beaches swept by fall winds, I visit the 1890’s Russian settlements, and the Army barracks in World War II.  I visit Rose Tweed Lake.  And it’s all because I happen to be in the right place at the right time on a snowy day in Boston.  And because of you, Sara Loewen.
Thank you.  Truly.

You can visit Alaska, too.