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The Junjik River runs south under Burnt Hill, bright with fall colors. Photo by Keely O’Connell We woke in the tent, dazzled by the morning sunlight fracturing in the frost on the dry fireweed stalks and the tundra moss. With the door unzipped and pegged open—there were no mosquitoes so far north in September—we could look east, out over our feet in sleeping bags, clear across the Junjik River. The Junjik is a clear, shallow river with its entire length in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It flows into the Chandalar just north of Arctic Village. That afternoon we wanted to see, just for the fun of it, how far we could get before bottoming out. In my freight canoe, Lyra, we hugged cutbanks, keeping just enough water under the hull to feed the prop. Blueberries on the bank hung limp on their stems, fragile, but syrupy sweet after the…

A brilliant moon illuminates fresh white snow on the Kenai Mountains in southcentral Alaska as multicolored auroras dance above Portage Lake on November 7, 2017, at 3:33 am. Photo by Todd Salat. “I hear the northern lights are going to shut off because we’re in the low of the solar cycle,” someone had told me a while back. This thought flashed through my mind as I stood bewildered by the aurora dancing directly over me last March in Alaska’s interior. Not one night, but five nights in a row, the nighttime sky erupted with wild, bizarre sheets of emerald white and crimson light rippling and following the turbulent whims of our magnetic field interacting with the solar wind. Science turned magical. It’s true that we are currently in what’s called solar minimum, the quieter phase in the approximate 11-year sunspot cycle. This means sunspots are low in number. Headline-grabbing explosions…

The position in which we found ourselves, tucked in among the rocks on a peak in the Chugach Mountains at 7 p.m. on that August evening, was not exactly impossible, but it was looking more that way with every passing minute. A hundred yards below, sprinkled across a high saddle, were a dozen Dall rams. The leader, a big old boy with horns pushing 40 inches, was facing us, his body shielded by his horns. We had no shot. He’d been like that since we crawled into position, an hour before. Time was critical. We had long since run out of water, and if we didn’t get off this mountain by dark we faced a night at high altitude in only our light clothes. Plus, our last meal was a long-long-ago yesterday. “I could toss a rock,” Dale whispered, “But we don’t want him running.” No, indeed. Dale—my guide, counselor…

Meet the Rodney Dangerfield of Alaskan wildlife I’m casting for a dinner along a cut bank across from camp, evening colors reflected in the Nuna’s clear, purling current. The arctic stillness is broken by a wet, resounding crash, as if a rock had just been chucked from the sky. Though startled, I’m hardly surprised by my noisy company. Floating 30 feet away, a pair of unblinking eyes set in a wet, furry head regard me, radiating curiosity-tinged indignation. I can practically hear a Disneyfied, bucktooth nasal voice: Hey buddy, what the hell you doin’ in my yard?  Another tail slap followed by a shallow dive, and the head pops up closer. I’m again fixed by that beady-eyed stare. I said, beat it! and with a final slap and a swirl, it vanishes. I track the bubble trail a few dozen yards down the bank to a mound of peeled, interlocked…