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Last graduation leaves more time for the raspberries

Heather Lende

Haines almost made the news again this week but happily dodged another disaster after a fire started by a road-building crew jumped into the brush and began to run up the hill below a neighborhood. The wind was blowing hard, as it has been for just about all of these high-pressure and sun-shining spring days. While we thought the woods were still plenty wet from the just-melted snow, apparently the tinder is dry enough to feed a hot fire.

One guy took a look at the smoke boiling just below a hillside home and hauled his snow machines to safety. But that wasn't necessary. The wind died in time to help Fireman Al and his volunteers extinguish the blaze.

(Everyone calls the borough Volunteer Fire Department's training officer, whose real name is Al Badgley, Fireman Al.)

Anyway, Fireman Al has now issued a burn ban until we get some rain, which isn't in the forecast. It has been so sunny that I planted my garden two weeks earlier than last year -- all except the carrots, which prefer warmer soil. It dips into the high 30s at night in town and on yesterday's morning bike ride we ran into frost 10 miles up the Chilkat Valley toward Klukwan. I'm still wearing warm booties over my cycling shoes to keep my toes from freezing.

My friend Anna is covering her planted carrot bed with a quilt at night to keep her germinating seeds from getting frost-nipped. Another friend suggested spreading down plastic sheeting until the seedlings pop up. I think I'll wait a week. There's no hurry.

This year, I'm taking the long view in my garden and am planting two whole beds of fancy raspberries -- not the wild or half-wild local variety, but a bred for fruit producer that I actually paid for. I have 25 sturdy Boyne canes that won't yield a berry on them for a whole year.

Annie Dillard wasn't the first person to observe that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, although she said it the most eloquently. And while that is no doubt true, anyone with children also knows that a lot of good things result from not living for the moment but working hard toward a distant goal.

Like a high school diploma. It takes about 12 years of sequential lessons, beginning with sounding out the letters that spell "garden" in the first grade to writing a paper on the symbolism in the backyard garden in "Death of A Salesmen" in the 12th grade. My youngest daughter will graduate with 22 other seniors from Haines High this week.

I have spent 260 plus days a year for 20 years helping her and her four older siblings with homework, watching meets and games, attending recitals, plays and concerts and making sure the TV was off and that everyone had a good breakfast. On my tombstone it will say, "Have another pancake."

So, when the principal does her best to pronounce Stoli's full name -- Stojanka Antoanetova Stephanova Lende -- and my beautiful, strong-willed gypsy child who spent the first eight years of her life in a Bulgarian orphanage accepts the kind of magical miracle that her diploma represents, it will also be a kind of commencement for my husband and me.

We will no longer be tied to the daily school schedule, or even the school year calendar. We can take a winter vacation. We can sleep in on Wednesdays in February when his lumberyard is slow. We finally, really can go camping in Atlin or cycling in Italy. We could even take a day and ski up the Kicking Horse River, something we've never done even though we can see it across the inlet from our bedroom window. Until now, when conditions were right the family schedule wasn't.

But you know, I have never had a strong yen to ski away from my home and family or be a tourist in distant lands. I don't want to sail to Tahiti either. Instead, I'm tending raspberries that no one will be able to eat for a year, but with any luck at all will be harvested for a hundred years.

I read recently that scientists believe the Milky Way is dusted with the same chemical that gives raspberries their flavor. I am not all that surprised. If I were God I'd feed my angels berries over cake any day.

So far, two of my grown daughters have settled in Haines. But if the rest of my now mostly adult children don't come home from college next summer, or move to someplace warmer and more populated, I'll have plenty of berries right in the backyard to make them raspberry jam -- and the time to deliver it myself to wherever they may be.

Heather Lende writes and gardens in Haines.


HEATHER LENDE
AROUND ALASKA