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 2010 – A Season for Exchanging

February 4th, 2011 by

I asked my 3-  and 5-year-old grandsons, Elias and River, recently what they most like about Christmas. They both chimed in “Presents!”

Fair enough. The first thoughts of two little boys waking up on Christmas morning – hearts thumping with excitement – is to discover what’s waiting under that gift-bearing tree.  And while most of us of over a certain age, will say that the Spirit of the Season is not about the presents, certainly there is pleasure in seeing the sparkle of anticipation and joy in a child’s eyes.

It was during the Christmas season some years ago, when I watched an elderly gentleman approach the customer service counter with a package. “I need to exchange this lamp,” he said. “It was broken when I opened the box.”

The frazzled woman behind the counter asked, “Do you want another one just like it?”

The man nodded.

“Then leave the broken one here and get another one.”

The man returned with the new lamp. “Don’t I need to fill out some paperwork?” he asked.

The phone was ringing and impatient customers were lined up at the counter.

“No. Just take it,” the woman answered, waving him off.

The man stepped out of line, looked at the new lamp in one hand and his receipt in the other. His face registered amazement. How could the exchange be so easy? As he left the store, he glanced over his shoulder just to make sure he had not misunderstood. Something about his gentle posture and his quiet wonder made me want to touch his arm and tell him not to worry; to reassure him that yes, it was that easy.

As I reflect on that scene, it seems to me that Christmas is a season of exchanging. More than just giving and receiving gifts, it is a season to exchange our broken selves for something else altogether. I can trade in the damaged goods of my life and receive, in exchange, the promise of hope. In the deep cold of a dark winter, there is this new life – a warm small infant, born in the quiet stillness of a barn, looking for place to call home.

Can it really be as simple as cradling the Christ Child and saying “Yes” to the gift of love? I tend to look over my shoulder, thinking there must be some misunderstanding. I mean, isn’t there isn’t some paperwork to fill out; some price to pay for this gift?

It turns out that the price was paid-in-full on a gift-bearing tree that we celebrate at Easter. Meanwhile, we get to hang our hearts on the one true Love that will not fail us. A humble heart, like a lowly manger, is all He needs to take up residence.

As it turns out, Elias and River were right about Christmas. It’s all about exchanging presents; in particular, the presence of the One Gift who is the hope that a weary world has been waiting for.

May anticipation and joy be yours during this, the season of exchanging.

1 Comment

One response to “Dec 2010 – A Season for Exchanging”

  1. Hi Kay! Hope is well- Norris.

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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.