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

Fair Bids Farewell to Summer

September 13th, 2011 by

When I came to work Monday morning, my coworker – who is normally a jocular fellow – growled about his weekend.

“I’m going to make a video of why I hate going to the fair,” he grumbled, “so that next year when someone tries to talk me into it, I can watch and remind myself why I should say ‘no’.”

I laughed, thinking how much I had thoroughly enjoyed my own evening at the fair eating those once-a-year indulgences, watching people, and laughing at the antics of baby pigs.

It seems people either love the fair or hate it – and maybe that’s a reflection of how we feel about the change of seasons this time of year. After the manic daylight hours of summer, many of us welcome autumn for its gentler change of pace. The curtains have finally darkened for at least part of the night; we breathe a little deeper, sleep more restfully. The last of the garden is harvested and the final berries are gathered from the vine. Rose colored sunrises and crimson sunsets hearken a time when the nights will grow colder and the snow will lay its skirt down the mountainside.

On the other hand, with winter comes its requisite hassle. Car tires need to be changed. Garden hoses need to be put away and snow shovels brought out. Icy roads and the darkness will have to be contended with. And (oh glory be!) skis will come out of the closet for a good waxing before snowfall.

We may have strong and sometimes mixed feelings about the seasons changing, but one thing is certain. It will happen whether we are ready for it or not. Author Carol Bishop Hipps wrote that autumn is “the mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”  And so the days pass, the seasons change, and our lives are richer for it in spite of that age-old tinge of melancholy.

While at the fair, I spent much of my time in the barn at the farm exhibits. The piglets were all awake, scampering around their mother who was snuffling down dinner in the manner that has given gluttony its namesake. The babies romped with enthusiastic abandon. Pink, black and spotted piglets tumbled with glee, little ears flopping. While the babies surely made me smile, what was even more remarkable were the people who gathered around the pen. Folks of every shape and ilk – people who might not acknowledge each other on the street, all of whom carried some burden or another – stood shoulder-to-shoulder grinning and laughing at the unabashed silliness of those piglets. There wasn’t a sad face in the bunch. Not one. And I thought to myself, these are moments to savor – moments when the world seems good and right, and oh-so-tender. Surely these latter days of summer are a place to linger and smile.

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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.