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kobuk river


A lone bear stakes out his fishing territory beneath Brooks Falls in Katmai. Photo by Michelle Theall. Alaska’s eight designated national parks cover over 41 million acres. For scale, that’s twice the size of all of the Lower 48 national parks—from Death Valley to Big Bend—added together. National parks are considered the crown jewels of each state—important enough to be protected for all—and Alaska is no exception. It just, well, has a bigger crown. Alaska is romanticized and revered for its wildness, its vast and forbidding landscapes, and its almost mythic number of creatures. The diverse flora and fauna here exist among famous mountains, but also unnamed and unclimbed peaks and salmon-rich rivers and remote streams. There’s a reason these areas are protected: their wild beauty and wonder represent the best Alaska and, thus, our country, has to offer. Visiting all of the parks requires some logistical gymnastics—ideally broken down…

Learning from a tree To understand the black spruce, remember it grows from a fist-sized root ball as grey and compact and crucial as a brain. Each black spruce spindles itself straight up into the crack of the cold, stout branches making a skyward scrub from base to apex all winter night. And below that brain of roots lies permafrost, even in summer. This, then, is a tree that keeps ice in mind. I remember meeting black spruce during my move from southeast Alaska to the interior. I was ill at the time, a fjordlands creature with an immune system gone haywire, taking temporary leave from the rainforest and a sabbatical from the whole glaciated coast against which my fevers flared. I went inland, aiming for semi-arid, boreal-forested Fairbanks, where I hoped to find a kind of medicine. It was end-summer when I went, fall-not-winter. The road north took me…

“WHICH WAY?” I shouted over the roar of the engine. Seth leaned forward, speed-reading the three-way split in the river that lay ahead. He gestured left.We both knew we had two chances to make that gooseneck turn into a six-foot-wide, three-inch-deep slot at 30 mph: slim and none.