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Arctic Circle


Visitors can see everything from bears and murres to sand dunes and salmon.

[by David Shaw]

It’s Denali National Park’s fault I live in Alaska. Fourteen years ago, I accepted a position as a field biologist, banding birds at the far end of the park’s only road. For two months I awoke every clear morning to a view of Denali itself, the Great One rising 20,320 feet into thin air. I was hooked, and have been here ever since.

Come April, light-starved Alaskans on porches lift their faces to the sun, letting it gently massage cheeks, brows, and shuttered eyelids. Some native wildflowers attuned to circadian rhythms even more diligently in June follow suit. The glory of summer tundra is fleeting, brilliant florescence. Boreal perennials bud mostly just before fall slams the door, powering up and unfolding as soon as temperatures climb in the spring. How much nectar they produce depends on the sunshine they receive. South-facing slopes benefit these dainty creations, though all yield less than their austral kin. Several screen their reproductive goods—pollen—from rain. When clouds gather, Arctic gentian’s porcelain furls within minutes, keeping its ambrosia undiluted. In harsh environments, hardier, dwarf species or subspecies evolved, like the region’s two magenta marvels, Lapland rosebay (a fragrant, heathery rhododendron) and purple saxifrage. Waxy leaves the size of ladybug wings hug the earth, ducking winds, checking evaporation. Alaska moss…