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

February Marks Shift in Winter

January 27th, 2012 by

I was riding through the nearby woods recently when the setting sun spilled rose-colored light across the snow. It was beautiful but it was also 8 below zero. My hands were curled around warmers inside my mittens, I had toe-warmers in my boots, but still I could feel the wallop of cold on my face. I wondered how quickly the tip of a nose can freeze. My horses fared better – this time of year they look like teddy bears.

It’s been a tough winter. Seems we are either dealing with copious amounts of snow or deep, unending days of cold. We’ve certainly experienced years with one or the other, but rarely has a winter come along with both to this degree. This is the kind of winter we’ll tell our grandchildren about and we won’t have to embellish much to make it a story. (My son was one of the crew in Valdez that shoveled 12-foot snow for $20/hour.)  No matter how much we might like winter, most of us are ready to move from deep freeze mode into something a little more comfortable.

Happily, in February things begin to change. The sun’s rays begin to feel a little warmer with the lengthening daylight. We all know there’s still plenty of winter left.  But in February it seems that energy is renewed. These longer days infuse us with expectation and we start making plans.

Snow enthusiasts know that the best skiing, riding and hiking are still ahead. Fur Rendezvous is coming. The Iditarod is just around the corner. Gardeners begin browsing through seed catalogs. Soon my gardening son will be playing in potting soil and planting  seeds for the plants that will go into the ground come Memorial Day.

The sun’s angle has changed enough to blaze through the windows of the house. My dog sleeps in the sunspots that angle across the floor. The sun’s warmth must sooth her aging bones. I remember when the boys were little – maybe 3 and 5 years old – they would strip off their shirts and lay in those puddles of sunshine, basking like little beach bums, their skinny arms spread-eagle on the carpet.

This time of year the trill of cedar waxwings outside sends me to my window. I watch as they feast on the berries of mountain ash and catony aster. Every year these elegant birds make their appearance, and I always wish that I could entice them to stay awhile. They are the color of fawn and smooth slate with dabs of saffron and hints of red; theirs is a beauty that longs to be lingered over and beheld. But these birds are in perpetual motion as they pass through on their yearly migrations.

When the weather gets above zero my horses frolic with pleasure. (Don’t we all?) They stand broadside to the sun these days, each one at exactly the same angle to soak up the most rays per square inch of winter coat. In a couple of months those coats will begin to shed into summer sleekness. Meanwhile, their heads nod as they drowse in the welcome warmth.

Winter will soon be in the rear view mirror and I don’t know anyone who won’t be happy to leave this one behind. Meanwhile keep the coffee on, the toe-warmers handy, and a ready smile for one another. Surely spring is coming. Surely

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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.