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an enchanted garden

Johanna who I met in Talkeetna, where she provided me with a shower and a bed for the night in her hotel room, sent me off armed with her Anchorage phone number and the promise of a welcome there from her husband if she happened to be still away when I arrived.

It was thus that I spent my second sojourn in Anchorage in a strange magical garden where time, unaccountably, moves differently to the outside world. Johanna, clearly a fairy queen, rules over an enchanted kingdom; a tiny log cabin in an ancient forest in the middle of Anchorage. It doesn’t seem possible, but it is true.

Johanna tending the garden.

Johanna tending the garden.

The cabin, probably one of the older buildings in Anchorage, is exquisite – tiny and perfect. The two small rooms are furnished with loving care, nothing is out of place. Paintings by local artists hang on the walls; a forest fire, a seascape, a winter scene, each a distinctive and beautiful work of art. A formally posed photographic portrait of Johanna and Steven hangs by the front door, in the fittingly tiny entrance vestibule. It is reversible: on one side they are pictured clothed, on the other they appear naked.

Steven and cat.

Steven and cat.

Four cats with remarkable histories and personalities lounge with indolent feline assurance in the tiny space.  Sonny is a big, ugly, black and white cat, born right there in cabin and sure of his place in it – he is undisputed leader of the pride; Jack is a rescued feral cat, a small, wary tabby, incongruously run to fat; Adie is named Adolf for his neat, black moustache; and the fourth is a pretty silly ginger, whose name I have forgotton, that is so empty headed he forgets to eat.

The day I arrive Johanna, still busy with her film job in Talkeetna, appears in Anchorage for brief visit. She invites me to dinner with Steven, her husband, at the best restaurant in Anchorage, lending me an elegant dress and shoes which all fit perfectly and we dine on oysters, fresh Alaskan fish and lemon verbena sorbet.

After dinner, I am ensconced in Angela’s house, a larger, rambling, disintegrating structure next to the cabin. Angela can be described, for simplicity’s sake, as a tenant but the relationship is obviously far deeper. She accepts my presence without obvious discomfiture, merely asking how long I thought I might stay.

Angela is an artist and therefore lives in artistic disarray. Mexican inspired sculptures fill the living space and the kitchen is given over to the demands of print-making. The other rooms are store all sorts of things that may come in useful one day and I sleep in one of them on my camping map.

Angela working on a lino block.

Angela working on a lino block.

Angela sits between two small tables, carving printing blocks on one and following the affairs of the world on her laptop on the other. We talk of racism, poverty, homelessness and the structures that produce them.  The back veranda proves to offer an unexpected internet connection and I re-affirm all my previous connections to the world.

Johanna reappears in Anchorage a day or two later with three Polish mountaineers. They are two priests and a policeman who have just made an ascent of Mt McKinley. The priests were expecting hospitality at one of Anchorage’s local Catholic churches but have been turned away so they put up their tent under the birch trees behind the house. The priests say Mass for the policeman, morning and evening, no doubt to protect themselves from the magic in the air. Johanna turns the portrait of her and her husband so that they appear clothed and the photo of them naked faces the wall.

Johanna tends to the garden and people’s needs. She offers food, cuts flowers, weeds the garden. Baskets of hothouse fuchsias hang, bright and luscious, and as incongruous as tropical fruits in this sub-Arctic climate. A sizeable vegetable garden, doggedly grown in the ground from seed, provides fresh spinach, herbs, salad vegetables.

I find myself lingering some days here, unable to escape this enchanted realm.

Johanna.

Johanna.

Steven.

Steven.

Tropical flowers in the Arctic.

Tropical flowers in the Arctic.

White fuschias.

White fuschias.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. julie | August 15, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I am beguiledc by your descriptions of the enchanted garden and its residents. What a magic place to rest a while. No wonder you didn’t want to move on. Lots of love xx

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