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The snowshoe hare If you’ve invested any time in nature documentaries, you’ve undoubtedly come across this image: Alaska’s snowy paradise, the boreal forest. Everything appears serene until, perhaps with a swell of dramatic music, a snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) leaps into the frame, followed hotly by a Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis). With the lynx’s laser-focus and seemingly inexhaustible speed, it appears impossible that the hare will get away. Yet, lo and behold, the scene usually fades out as the hare makes its escape, dashing into some impenetrable cover or simply vanishing altogether. Like Houdini squirming his way out of a straitjacket. The snowshoe hare’s crafty reputation goes beyond the big screen. In traditional Ojibwa tales out of Great Lakes Canada, for instance, the hare is known as a trickster, utilizing the ol’ sleight-of-hand to steal fire from the gods. In India, a hare fooled a lion into eating its own…

10 Alaska summer music festivals that will get you groovin’  If winter has you restless, maybe it’s time to plan a roadtrip to one (or more) of Alaska’s summer music festivals. The lineup of multiday events has grown in recent years and offers both Alaskan and national acts exploring a range of genres. For Alaskans, the festivals are community celebrations that offer a break from summer’s busy pace. For visitors, they’re a chance to dive into a local scene, with great music against a backdrop of gorgeous scenery. Here’s a quick sampling of 2024 events. Alaska Folk Festival The music is mostly acoustic, but the atmosphere turns electric as hundreds of musicians descend on Juneau each April for this seven-day festival. It offers nine four-hour performances averaging 15 acts each, along with workshops. The music also runs late-night at bars, restaurants, and even street corners. If you come by ferry,…

A map and guide to best viewing sites The nonprofit Explore Fairbanks has published an Aurora Viewing Map & Guide to nine of the best spots in the area for viewing the northern lights. Places range from Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge just a couple of miles from downtown to farther-out locations such as Denali National Park or the community of Coldfoot, which are several hours away by car. A few locations are within a 30-minute drive, and all are well known for their excellent aurora viewing. The guide includes some basic aurora science, pro tips for photographers, and a QR code for accessing real time aurora predictions. Its centerfold map is designed to help visitors easily find the best views. Fairbanks’ aurora season stretches from August 21 to April 21. Several companies offer guided tours to see and photograph the lights. The guide is available for free at the…

An excerpt from the novel Homestead by Melinda Moustakis Note: This edited excerpt from Chapter 1, “Pioneer Peak, June 1956” is taken from the novel Homestead, with permission of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. Copyright ©2023 by Melinda Moustakis. God made the trees and men make the kindling, they say. One hundred and fifty acres of white spruce and paper birch, alder, aspen, cottonwood, and willow—spears of evergreen pointed at the sky, and the pale and peeling bark, and the leaves of every branch—all for the taking if the acres are proved. Fell the trees and clear twenty acres of land to seed a crop, raise a cabin with nails and timber, and weather the seasons. This is the way to earn and own the deed. Lawrence stands where the cabin will stand, the marsh and muskeg easing miles toward the marine inlet of Knik Arm, and beyond,…

Merry Christmas in Central Yup’ik By the first week of January, most Americans are taking down their Christmas decorations, but for Alaska’s thousands of Orthodox Christians, who, in keeping with the Julian calendar, celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7, the holiday season is just getting started. The Orthodox Church in America lists over 90 active Orthodox parishes in Alaska. Most are along the coast from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta southward through southeast Alaska. They are a legacy of early Russian Orthodox influence, with Alaska’s first Russian Orthodox mission established in 1794 at Kodiak. Today, Orthodox Christmas celebrations include the Ukrainian practice of “starring,” where groups travel among homes and villages to sing folk and religious songs while spinning a crafted star that represents the story of the Three Wise Men. These and other practices are often mixed with Alaska Native foods and traditions. On Saint Paul Island, for instance, Slavonic songs…

The Bitter Winter Wind Chills of Howard Pass Weather gauges that scientists installed in 2011 have recorded phenomenally cold wind chills at Howard Pass (called Akutuq in Inupiaq) in the far western Brooks Range. The pass, which sits at 1,647 feet, forms a tundra plateau between the sprawling Colville and Noatak watersheds. It lies within the Noatak National Preserve over 100 miles north of the villages of Ambler and Kobuk. Early on February 7, 2022, the weather station reported an air temperature of 43 degrees below zero and a 52-mph sustained wind speed, for a ridiculously cold wind chill of 91 below. In February 2013, the wind chill was 99.8 below. Nearly every year, scientists record wind chills colder than minus 70 at the pass. Wind speeds at Howard Pass can exceed 100 mph, especially when atmospheric pressure differences set up between Alaska’s North Slope and the state’s interior. Wind…

Past Disasters still haunt travelers “Could this whole world crack apart?” my three-year-old son asked me one day as we were walking along a beach on Coronation Island, a far-flung U.S. Forest Service designated wilderness area on the outer coast of southeast Alaska. We’d arrived here, to Egg Harbor, 90 miles south of Sitka, via our family’s small sailboat.  “Of course not,” I told him. “But right here, I mean. What if there was the biggest tsunami ever? Or an asteroid?” I raised my eyebrows at him. “What makes you ask?” Admittedly, our position looked precarious from a distance—on one side of us was an archipelago boasting some of the densest brown bear populations in the world; on the other was the North Pacific, whose fetch is intimidating even on a good day. If there ever was a part of the world that might swallow a person, this fit the…

By photographer James H. Barker The following pages present a tiny fraction of the extensive body of work (largely focused on Alaska Native peoples) created by legendary Fairbanks photographer James H. Barker. Now in his mid-80s, Barker was recently honored as the Rasmuson Foundation’s 2022 Distinguished Artist, the first photographer to receive the prestigious award. His photos, reproduced here from Always Getting Ready: Upterrlainarluta: Yup’ik Eskimo Subsistence in Southwest Alaska, are the result of 18 years spent capturing the intimate moments of the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to give viewers a glimpse of Native life. Over those years, Barker joined his Yup’ik friends and subjects on whale hunts and trapping trips, in steam baths, and at fishcamp. Though each image represents a single, frozen instant, Barker’s work transcends the individual moment to reveal universal beauty and connection. See more of his work at jamesbarker-photography.com. —Michelle Theall

Young Inupiaq captains provide food for their community Text by Molly Maqpee Lane, Images by Nathaniel Wilder Time stands still when you catch a bowhead whale. Meetings are canceled, work is forgotten about, chores go undone, the kids don’t go to school, and sleep is out of the question.  The only focus is on harvesting the giant mammal. Sometimes it can take hours, sometimes it takes days to put away. It’s such a joyous time that it doesn’t feel like work. Thomas Edison once said, “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” That is what whaling is all about. I am from Point Hope, Alaska. It is the oldest continuously inhabited region in North America. We have always been an Inupiaq subsistence community. Thanksgiving of 2022, my in-laws Jacob and Della Lane Jr. passed down their whaling crew to my husband, Jacob Lane III,…

A 3,000-mile journey in search of love, peace, and home by Olivia Hill The edited excerpt below is printed with permission by Olivia Hill and Woodneath Press. It’s taken from her memoir reflecting on living as a Black woman in an Alaska Native village in the 1980s juxtaposed with her own cultural upbringing. I knocked on the door, and a partially naked woman opened. “You don’t have to knock, come in, no men around.” They laughed shyly and smiled. “We run them off … You like sweat, bathe, ah? … We like it hot, first one we do this year now it’s cold … Put your clothes there then come in quick.” They disappeared through another door while I took off my clothes, slowly piece by piece, and hung them on the pegs made from birch tree limbs. This small outer room had wooden benches with space to slide your…