Green Hills Literary Lantern




 Off the Grid



I’ll have a couple fingers of Jim Beam. I’m not driving. Far. I’ll be stayin’ here in Anchorage tonight if this plane ever gets in or not. You get whatever you want, young lady. On me. Since the airline ain’t treatin. Even though it’s their fault you’re missing your Seattle connection. Think they hold up the planes on purpose to make money at the bar? Say you’re from Chicago? Don’t be scared. You’ll get back.                      

That crabby ticket agent’s the kinda thing keeps me out in the bush. Long time since I seen this much pavement. Not that I’m one a’ them pickax-sledgehammer-dynamite-coulda-dug-those-copper-mines kinda woman.  Pistol-packin, bushwhackin’, ransackin’ Alaska for gold and copper in the olden days? Not me. Wouldn’ta minded bein’ one a them Kennicott sourdoughs. They tell you that mining story? Oh that’s right, you never even got outta your anthropo-doohickey conferenceYou might wanna come back another time to look around, honey. That’s what I do, drive tourists around, show em the sights, tell em the stories. 

Tundra’s worth of stories around here. Like them Kennicott sourdoughs who wore themself right down to little nubs, flat on their backs lookin’ up at a green hillside on a mountain one day thinkin’ “Wish we was lyin’on that nice green pasture.” Then thinkin,’

“Green. Real green! Copper itself greening right outta the mountain!” What a day that

musta been, 1902, dancin’on their little rubber legs, shoutin’ their voices away, whuppin’ the horses to telegraph their bosses and their Mamas. Not like now, where you could just call your Mama on your cell like you did. That’s bein a good daughter, which I never was and never had.

If I’da been a pickax-sledgehammer-dynamite-kinda person, I coulda maybe got through to my own boys. Maybe I did. I’ll know soon enough. I just maybe shoulda been smarter. Like them Kennicotts, I seen the green and the gold in their minds. But I’m not like their Daddy. I ain’t willing to crush em to get to it. Course he’s a equal opportunity crusher.

My boys can’t believe a Louisville sissy like me is even up here as long as I been. But what got me right away about Alaska? No guard rails. Go ahead. Fall off the cliff. It’s fine with us. How secure do you have to be to think like that?

Hope you’re still here when they get in tonight.  My youngest ain’t married yet. Course it’s them who was scared to come up. They think wilderness is chaos and confusion. I don’t blame em. Most of human history thought that, like your anthropo deal musta taught ya. But now we know what we thought was chaos and confusion was order. Sublime order, if you please. Don’t you get embarrassed for the human race?

Course, confusion is what drew me to the bush. Someone pulls the cliff out from under you, you don’t want fifty streets, a hundred avenues, a thousand intersections.

Confusion wants a path. A single choice. The moving forward. Whicha course means leaving behind.

And now my boys are coming and I feel real strange. All these years I been askin’ em to come, to see I’m not the person I was. Only today I am. I’m sissy scared. I’m sissy scared to see my boys. How can a Mama be scared of her kids, you ask? 

Maybe cause they don’t know about me working the hot springs, driving my tourists around. And cause they’re gonna see I live in my van.

Why’d I even ask em? I wrote em all kinda stuff like Prince William Sound. Orcas. Porpoise. Fatbeak puffins running over the water. Denali breaks my heart for beauty. Yeah, you gotta come back. They let you off anywhere to hike there. Make your own path. Red fox with her kits, Great Horned with her owlets. Watched a grizzly nurse her cubs—she lies on the ground, cubs climb up. Felt those little claws in my heart. I know I’ve missed some important things.

But I want my boys to know livin’ in a van don’t matter. Even a path don’t matter.  Find that out on the channels with a paddle in the rainforest. Sitka spruce on the banks, skinny things two hundred years old—not like your sequoia. Short growing season. Skunk lilies. Salmonberries.

Then you get to where you don’t even need trees or banks or berries. Just the blue-pure shapely grace of glaciers. I head up to Columbia every chance I get. She’s in retreat, they say. Catastrophic retreat. I understand that.

All those old snows pressed into ice. All that stopped-up power, blue the only energy strong enough to escape. Simple as it gets, gliding by icebergs. Glacier babies. Astonishing. Water can rise into sculpture and turquoise. Towers of blue reaching deep underneath you. Not only that but they talk. Like all of us do in Alaska. The winters are long. Glaciers roar when they calve and collapse. I understand that, too. Floes full of

frozen old bubbles, snapping and popping. Crackly brash ice, the small fry. Friendly, almost.

That’s maybe it most of all. It’s the sound. Last year my oldest says, Mom, we seen Planet Earth on Discovery. We don’t need to come.  I say, Coming out a tinny little tv speaker?  Mom, we got great tv sound now. You can’t hear the wilderness through the builderness, I said. Burble of water. Bellowing sea lion. Poooosh of a surfacing humpback. Wavelengths of wilderness. Everything’s wavelengths, they say. Color and sound and lightning and magnets and brainwaves.Vibration. Did you know there’s a tone the earth makes we can’t hear? 72 octaves below our ears. I like to think about that. Can’t hear it, but our bodies do.

I finally said it’s as different being in the wilderness from watching on tv as it is from talkin on the phone to being with a person you love. And now they’re comin. Maybe their green and their gold’s popping out, like the Kennicott Motherlode. Maybe a family makes tones you can’t hear.

Lord, did they just call their flight landing? Come with me, honey. Please.


Irene O’Garden’s critically acclaimed play, Women On Fire (Samuel French), played to sold-out houses Off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre and was nominated for a  Lucille Lortel award for Best Solo Show. O’Garden’s writing is anthologized with Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, and others in The Greatness of Girls. Her performance piece/book, Fat Girl, was published by Harper in hardcover. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in many literary journals including The Alembic, Atlanta Review, The Awakenings Review, Bayou, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, California Quarterly, Calyx, College English, Compass Rose, Confrontation, Controlled Burn, Literary Gazette, Sanskrit, Skylark, and Tusculum Review. O’Garden recently won a Willow Review Award for her poem “Nonfiction” and a 2012 Pushcart Prize for her essay “Glad To Be Human.” In 1987 O’Garden founded The Art Garden, a performing literary magazine: She has continued to produce, host, and write for it ever since. She blogs at