It seems not so very long ago that we were enjoying our summer family vacation in Alaska. Visits with Aunt Judy were magical when I was a little girl. She would appear, as if by magic, with her sparkling eyes and waist-length hair. She floated about in bohemian skirts and she’d sing like Joni Mitchell. I adored her. Now, we visit her in Alaska and I see my son enchanted by her, too. I completely understand. She and my uncle built a house facing Kachemak Bay nestled amongst the alders and cottongrass of the Kenai Peninsula. All around their home, Judy planted the most extraordinary garden and tucked into the plants are secret little treasures perfect for curious boys to find.
I fully believe that children are their happiest when permitted to load their pockets with bread and wander the yard while snacking. Caleb could be found by the woodpile or wandering the greenhouse with a mouth covered in crumbs and a brain bursting with creative thoughts. “Mommy, this is our submarine! Quick, push that button!” he would shout and then grab my index finger in his tiny hand and press it to the center ring of a log. A few minutes later, he would ask me to identify flowers for him. He found squash blossoms to be particularly fascinating and asked me to take photos for him to study. I obliged. What a charmer!
Mornings began early with trips to our favorite spot on the Kasilof river for dipnetting. At sunrise, Josh waded out into the current with his net braced to wait for the salmon runs to start and Caleb would race around the gray silty sand in borrowed muck boots with a handful of smiling laughing muddy toddlers happily following behind. The salmon would appear and the children would gravitate back to their parents to excitedly open the coolers for the fish or throw fish heads to the waiting gulls. Caleb slept on the way back to the house while Josh and I chatted about the people we met by the river, the salmon runs, and the tide times. Once home, Josh gutted and cleaned the day’s catch and I processed them for freezing. We developed quite the system and then, once the last salmon of the day had been placed in the freezer, found ourselves draped across the Adirondack chairs or sprawled on the deck with our sleepy eyes to the bay.
Goodness, I love a nice porch to sit upon! Caleb, Josh, and I spent a great deal of time sitting on the front porch and simply soaking in the staggering beauty of the flowers and mountains. We watched the ships sashay around the bay and the clouds roll across the sky. I planned the next meal to incorporate garden bounty and the bright red sockeye salmon belly & cheek strips which I saved out for evening feasts around the kitchen table.
Late one evening, I sat on the back steps snapping beans and gently swatting at mosquitoes after the kitchen had been cleaned, stories read, lullabies sung, and Caleb snuggled to sleep. There, in the quiet, walked a mother moose with her twins! I sat very still and watched her tug at leaves and twigs then nuzzle her babies affectionately. They meandered up the driveway and I dared to reach for my camera. Seeing her with her two babies spoke to me and awakened that ancient heart-tug that women the world over recognize: I wanted second child to raise and I was ready to continue the adoption process. Isn’t it odd how we find clarity in these moments? How (prior to those singular sparkling moments) we think we know our own minds? I watched the trio until they disappeared into the tall grasses and felt a slow warmth radiate through my chest. What child wouldn’t love this life? Sailing and hiking, swimming and surfing, baking and gardening, and then flying to Alaska to catch salmon with family… it’s truly a wonderful existence. In fact, it’s the life I dreamed of having years ago when my life seemed stuck in neutral. Nearly half a lifetime later, here I am — married to an amazing man who is a loving, playful, and fair father to our son, living in Hawaii, fishing in Alaska, and raising this fantastic tiny person named Caleb. Indeed, there are many treasures to be found in Aunt Judy’s garden.