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

October’s Tasty Harvest

October 13th, 2014 by


It rained medallions of gold this past week as birch trees released their last leaves to the cool air of autumn. In years past we’ve had termination dust by late August in time for the state fair, but this year our summer seemed to hold through much of September, allowing gardens another month of growth. The result was a bountiful harvest that my sons and their families gathered from their plots of ground as late as last week.  The last zucchini Erik pulled from his patch made his three-year-old daughter stagger under its heft.

“Daddy, it’s heavy,” she complained as she posed for a photo.Zucchini kid lr

This was Mark and Renee’s first year for a garden, one they essentially had to scratch out of a glacial moraine.  They moved into their new home near Hatcher Pass earlier this year where the ground was little more than a jumble of rocks. Yet after hours of toil, some topsoil, and a lot of organic care, it grew with wild abandon throughout this long season of sunshine. Not only was it prolific, it was beautiful, with nasturtiums climbing up the moose fence that Mark built to keep out marauders.

As they dug the last of the potatoes and harvested the kale and cabbages, I asked my nine-year-old grandson what he liked best to eat from their garden. Carrots. These were his favorite and I remembered the carrots Renee gifted us a few weeks ago, sweet as sunshine, bright as a harvest moon. Their flavor danced in your mouth. The peas too were simply astonishing in their crisp size and sweetness.

Renee's garden 2Now there will be canning and pickling and freezers to fill. There is something deeply satisfying about filling the larder just as the first snowflakes kiss the ground. Putting up the harvest marks the end of the season of growth and cultivation and hearkens a quieter time of rest for garden and gardener. Soon a fire will crackle in the wood stove and the scent of baking will waft from the kitchen.

I asked Elias his favorite foods to make from the garden’s harvest. He said Rhubarb Crisp was the best. He liked Zucchini Bread too. I can vouch for the tastiness of the following recipes. Gluten-free flour can be substituted for the Rhubarb Crisp but I have not tried gluten-free flour in the Zucchini Bread recipe. Happy Harvest!




Elias’ Rhubarb Crisp

3 c chopped rhubarb

1 c white sugar

¾ c rolled oats

1 tsp all-purpose flour (substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¾ c brown sugar

¾ c all-purpose flour (substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour)

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1/3 c butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 2 quart baking dish. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, sugar, oats, 1 tsp. flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Stir until well combined and pour into prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, stir together 3/4 cup flour, baking soda and salt. Blend in bitter until all flour is incorporated. Sprinkle over rhubarb mixture. Bake 30 minutes until rhubarb is tender.


Harvest Zucchini Bread

3 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

3 tsp ground cinnamon

3 eggs

1 c vegetable oil

2 ¼ c sugar

3 tsp vanilla extract

2 c grated zucchini

1 c chopped walnuts (optional)


Optional: Add crumb topping 15 minutes into baking time:  Combine 1/2 c. regular oats, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. flour, 1/4 t. cinnamon, 1/4 c. butter.)


Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in bowl. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a separate bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake at 325 degrees. Add crumb topping 15 minutes into baking time.  Bake for total of 50 minutes or until test inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan and cool completely.


Elias harvesting cabbage lr

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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.