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

Dec 2009 – Love Came Down

February 4th, 2011 by

Skiing along Eagle River offers a peaceful reprieve to the demands of work and family, especially during the hectic rush of holiday activities. There is a different quality to the river during this season. Ice has silenced the rushing sound of water. Leaves no longer rustle in the breeze. Only the swish and glide of skis on snow and the occasional cry of a raven pierce the muffled silence of winter. The lavish fullness of summer has given way to dormancy. Ice and shadows encase the valley; the sun will not rise above the mountain spires until later in spring. And while it is starkly beautiful, beneath the pale sky and white snow, the world appears dead.

As the days grow shorter and darker, I sometimes wonder at the season of winter in our lives.  Doubt and dark questions can sometimes fill what feels like a perpetual night. From the horror of war overseas to the anguish of personal circumstance, sometimes the entire earth seems gripped by a deadly chill. Sometimes it seems that ice threatens to freeze over the heart.

I was skiing along Eagle River recently with temperatures near zero. As I rounded the bend, I heard the murmur of running water and discovered an opening in the smooth white ribbon of river. A tiny gray bird, a Dipper, bobbed up and down, flashing strange eyelids as it flitted in and around this gift of open water. I marveled that the bird did not freeze instantly as it emerged from the frigid water into the cold air. Yet there he was, moving and alive, sustained by some deep warmth – as mysterious as the heat that kept the river from freezing completely. It struck me then. Beneath the veneer of ice and snow, the earth is a furnace warmed by unimaginable power. And here on the frozen river, one of creation’s smallest creatures was being cared for with infinite tenderness.

In Alaska, we celebrate Advent and Christmas during the darkest, coldest month of the year. The arrival of the Christ child couldn’t come at a better time. A babe in a manger assures us that the fire and fury of God’s power is alive and burning even in the sometimes cold circumstances of our lives. And as we peer into the infant face of a Savior, we are looking into the heart of Love. A love that burns more brightly than we even dared imagine.

May this season of winter be also a season of warmth and wonder for you and your loved ones. May it be a season of renewed hope and light and joy. Here’s wishing you a blessed Christmas.

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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.

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