seth kantner


An Arctic Miracle on Hold Seth Kantner and I sat, leaning into our binoculars. The sandy knoll commanded a huge sweep of autumn-bright country—rolling tundra banded with willow and spruce, framed by the ragged, snow-dusted heave of the western Brooks Range. Working near to far, we scanned each crease and hummock, studied clumps of brush and jumbles of rock, searching the blue-tinted distance for shimmers of movement, anything that stood out or reflected light a bit differently. This place was far more than a fine view in a landscape defined by countless others. Half a lifetime had passed since I’d first looked out from this crest, and I’d returned more times than I could count. Seth’s attachment lay deeper still. He’d been born just a few miles to the east and knew this place from childhood. Each of us, together and alone, and in varying company, had spent time here…

“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.

“This doesn’t look good,” Seth Kantner muttered, peering at the pale gray end of a spark plug, then passing it to Vic Walker and me for inspection. The top plug on my side looked even worse—grains of aluminum piston speckling the electrode, sure signs of a damaging, possibly fatal, engine overheat. My jet skiff lay against a cut bank up the Nuna River in northwest Arctic Alaska on a fading September evening. Globs of icy rain hissed on the still-hot engine. At the very least, we were bound for a three-mile slog over swampy, slush-coated tundra to Seth’s cabin, and after that, a chain of logistical headaches trailing over the horizon, featuring a crippled skiff far from home. It was one thing if an impossible-to- dodge boulder or a twitch of fate had caused the mess. But none of it had to happen. I had three rapid-fire chances to avoid…