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Big earthquakes, like gardening in the North, bring Alaskans together

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: December 14, 2018
  • Published December 14, 2018

Inexplicably, this column is used as filler for internet newsfeed garden sections when there isn’t enough Lower 48 gardening news. I am not sure what good it does for those in southern states to get advice based on our growing conditions.

This is one column they won’t use. They won’t understand Outside that this is a garden column because they don’t live in the Land of Big Shakes and Aftershocks, where Alaskans are all suffering a bit of post-traumatic earthquake syndrome. Every aftershock over 4.0 and 10 seconds is cause for a pause: aftershock or another big one?

The quake has replaced the weather as the main source of conversation. Restaurant, supermarket, office, postal line or waiting room, it is all we talk about. And we are all hearing from people in the Lower 48 asking if we are OK and wanting a description of what it was like.

Many of my inquiries are from garden-writing friends. I just send them the picture of all the garden books they have written and sent me lying scattered on the floor. You know what I mean.

I report that not one plant we own so much as fell off a shelf. None even tipped over. I tell them I have not received any reports of such, either. They are amazed. Me too.

They wonder how the roads can be fixed so fast in the middle of an Alaska winter. It gives me a chance to finally prove our soils are not frozen solid from here to hell. They are amazed, as many already have a foot or more of frosted soils. I tell them this should rid them of their Disney-induced, preconceived nonsense about our weather.

And then I tell them that this quake actually created a feeling among Alaskans not unlike the feeling gardeners experience when they are around other gardeners. It isn’t easy to explain, even to myself, but it has to do with the unity of thought you get when you are part of the gardening community.

You go to a garden event, for example, or a botanical garden, and everyone there is thinking about gardening. Most are even dressed for it. Everyone talks to each other. Even people who didn’t vote the same way you did and might be wearing a hat you don’t like. People are happy when they are with other gardeners, even total strangers. If you are a gardener, you know what I am talking about.

I explain to all these folks who are asking about the quake that plate tectonics creates exactly the same sort of thing. As with going to a garden event, a big earthquake somehow causes a shift in thinking, and everyone who was there starts to speak the same language.

We listen to total strangers tell the story of where they were, what they were doing or some related story. And we have real empathy for what they are saying.

Quakes, like gardening, bring Alaskans together. They make us feel unique and different and eager to stand when “Alaska’s Flag” song is played. They don’t do that in New York after a blizzard or in Jacksonville after a hurricane.

Amazingly, my gardening friends get it. And they would. They are, after all, gardeners and know the unifying feeling.

Alaska Garden Calendar

Join the Alaska Botanical Garden: It is easy. It is necessary to support that garden, and it will pay for itself. Do not delay. Go to

Garden Lights: New this year at the Alaska Botanical Garden are lights and light walks! Go to for details. (And to join. Do it now. Great gift that starts paying for itself right away.)

Christmas trees: Do you need me to remind you to check the water? Set a daily alarm on your phone.

Quake aftermath warning: If you don’t go into your toolshed until spring, just remember to open the door slowly.