Kaylene Johnson: Writer and Photojournalist

Our Perfect Wild

An unlikely couple—a wild boy and a good girl—Ray and Barbara Bane, both teachers, set off from the sooty landscape of West Virginia into the snowy panoramas of Alaska. There they make another unlikely commitment: to learn the Old Ways of the land they come to adopt—and defend. With her characteristic poise and bravery, distinguished Alaskan journalist Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan chronicles the Banes’ story of environmental gumption in the wilderness.

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--Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Paradise, Piece By Piece.

A Tender Distance
Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska

Animals Gathered First: Reflections on Advent

December 7th, 2012 by

It is early morning when I venture outside to feed the horses. LC is at my side, with Labrador enthusiasm even at 5:30 a.m. I gaze up, looking for a glimpse of the Northern Lights but today they remain elusive. Stars shine brightly. The slivered moon hangs orange against a black sky. It will be hours before daylight. 

The dog’s collar jangles in the dark and the horses nicker. I try to guess the temperature by the squeak of snow underfoot and the amount of frost clinging to the horse’s whiskers. Minus 3 this morning, and they are hungry. I measure out their hay. The mare rests her head on the top rung of the gate, waiting. The Arab, Dasani – always in motion — takes himself to the far end of the paddock so that he can gallop, maybe even buck, his way to breakfast. Reminds me of how my sons used to run through the house, sliding to a stop in their stocking feet. Dasani skids to a halt knowing he must greet me politely before eating – a kind of saying grace, I suppose.

The cold freezes prickly inside my nose, but I linger anyway breathing in the sweet scent of hay and listening to the horses’ rhythmic chewing. I so enjoy these early feedings, a time when it seems I am sharing the secrets of the morning with gentle friends.

The season of Advent is upon us, a time of preparation for the arrival of Christmas. I don’t mean the shopping and cooking and merry-making of the season which, for all its sometimes excess, has its place.  Advent is, instead, a time of preparing an inner sanctuary for the arrival of long, longed-for peace. It is the clearing out of clutter and clamor; the gentle silencing of the cacophony of voices that distract and dismay us with their demands and judgment. Peace will not elbow its way into our lives the way so many other things do. I’m learning that one must be intentional about creating and holding space for peace to reside.

It seems entirely fitting that the first to greet the Christ Child were the animals of the Nativity. All theological symbolism aside, animals (much like children) embody what it means to live in the uncluttered simplicity of the moment. They live open to what the world has to teach. And in the case of our domesticated friends, they offer us acceptance without preconditions or ruse. What better place to begin a life that changed the world than in a manger, with the curious breath of creatures inhaling the scent of their Creator.

It also seems fitting that Advent takes place during the darkest days of the year. When else do we need light and warmth as much as we need them now, in the deep of winter? The winter of the soul too hungers for what the humble manger offers. The very axis of the earth shifts toward the sun this time of year and so too, the exiled soul leans into the light of Hope.

Feeding horses on these cold December mornings reminds me of this. It reminds me that the finest moments of our lives are often the quiet ones that lay open the heart to all that the Universe desires to give.

Peace to you and yours, throughout this season of Advent. This season of hope.

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  • About Kaylene

    Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a long-time Alaskan who makes her home in Palmer. She has found adventure on Denali, the Chugach Mountains, and as a wrangler and cook in the Brooks Range. Her award-winning articles have appeared in Alaska magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Louisville Review and other publications. Her books include Our Perfect Wild: Ray and Barbara Bane's Journeys and the Fate of the Far North; Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith; A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska; Trails Across Time: History of An Alaska Mountain Corridor; and Portrait of the Alaska Railroad.

    She holds a BA from Vermont College and an MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.