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

May 2009 – Garden Dreaming

February 3rd, 2011 by

Although many of the local greenhouses have been open for several weeks, I’ve not indulged in the pleasure of a visit just yet. It will be awhile before Alaska’s cool ground warms enough for the tender young plants reared in a nursery. Even so, the long daylight hours and the warmth of the sun make the temptation to dig in the soil this time of year nearly irresistible. While it’s fine to work the soil and prepare beds for planting, woe to the gardener who does not resist the urge to actually put plants in the ground. I’ve learned to stay away from greenhouses until closer to planting season. The flowers and vegetables are far happier and so is my pocketbook when I wait until Memorial Day to put in my pansies and plant my petunias.

My son, Erik who is now in his mid-20s, has a passion for gardening. His love affair with soil and seeds began as a young boy. It enthralled him to be able to place a hard dry seed into dirt and watch something green and living emerge from the soil. To discover that the plant could then produce food to eat or a flower to admire was simply magical to him. He always asked to have a section of my gardens to call his own. One year, when he was about nine years old, I let him plant the entire front flower bed. He considered long and hard what he might plant. Should he plant vegetables to eat? Or flowers to adorn the yard? He eventually bought several packets of marigold seeds. He cultivated the soil and then used a hand trowel to draw the word “J-O-Y” in the soil. He proceeded to dump every last seed into his unusually shaped trench.

Now, Erik and his wife, Ashlee have two little boys of their own. Their family recently picked a single red tomato from a house-grown tomato plant. The tomato had grown as beautiful as a rose and the family plucked it from the spindly plant, divided it into four small pieces and feasted on their harvest.

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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.