Reason to Doubt


Before Aki. Before moving from Western to Southeastern Alaska. I drove a sled pulled by huskies. In Aniak, the dogs spent the summer along a wind swept section of slough while we fished and gardened. Most springs, the Kuskokwim River flooded our garden plot, soaking it in water made rich with nutrients from decomposing salmon. Hundreds of thousands of the fish spawned and died upriver from us.


On the long subarctic days of early summer we could almost hear our transplanted cole crops grow. But frost stayed late up there so, on advice from village elders, we waited to plant until emerging birch leaves were the size of squirrel ears. Frost never touched things planted after that point, which left me with an article of faith: wild plants never leaf until out until it is safe. On today’s walk with Aki I found reason to doubt.


During our recent thaw mountain ferns, like our foolish Dutch iris, pushed out new growth. The mild frost that hit them last night flattened out the ferns. They will lose all the stored nutrients invested in the new growth when real winter returns. Maybe this is why our elders in Juneau look to moon and won’t plant until the first high tide in May.

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