A snowshoe hare in Wiseman licks the drippings tray from Clutch Lounsbury’s grill.
The evidence is in: Snowshoe hares near Wiseman eat lots of dirt.“I have thousands and thousands of photos of hares eating soil in this one little spot,” said Donna DiFolco, a biologist and cartographer with the National Park Service. DiFolco has studied hares in the eastern portion of Gates of the Arctic National Park since 1997. That’s when she started counting hare tracks near Wiseman as part of a lynx study.
About 160 years ago, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward was taking some heat for his significant role in the purchase of Alaska. On the day the Russians received the $7.2 million check, a group of white travelers were at Nulato, getting ready for an upriver trip to Fort Yukon to explore this strange land. Among them was Frederick Whymper, an adventurous English artist who had signed on to help document a telegraph project across North America. In his book “Travel and Adventure in the Territory of Alaska,” he left behind some insights into what America was getting itself into.
Just beneath the owl box, hung 20 feet up the stem of a balsam poplar, the backyard barbeque continued late into the evening. Despite the thwap of badminton birdies and the chirp of human voices, the boreal owl had work to do.
Just outside my window here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, workers are drilling into the asphalt of a parking lot using a truck-mounted rig. They twist a hollow bit 25 feet into the ground and pull up hard, clear evidence of why the blacktop is sinking.
Of the five species of salmon that swim Alaska waters, the pink is by far the most plentiful. Some scientists think the fish is an overabundant predator that outcompetes other salmon and some seabirds.
For the past century, official thermometers scattered around Alaska have shown a warming trend. Most of the trusted weather stations are in river valleys; Gulkana, at 1,300 feet, is the high point of Alaska’s 21 “first order” weather stations, some of which have been running for a century.
A Fairbanks scientist recently made an intricate new map of Denali while crisscrossing its summit a few times in a single-engine airplane. His top-of-the-continent measurement was within a few feet of a GPS reading done a few years ago, using a system he calls fodar.
When I left my sister’s house in Brooklyn yesterday afternoon, I was 4,200 miles from my home. That’s a long way, but I slept in my Fairbanks bed before the next sunrise.
Millions of Alaska birds nest on rocky emerald islands seen by few people other than ship captains. One of the funkiest of these creatures is the crested auklet, which looks like a bassist in a punk band and smells like a tangerine.
Overflow ice, also known as aufeis, is like a field of arctic daisies that comes back year after year. Aufeis that clogs northern valleys is born when frigid winter air meets cold water welling up to the ground’s surface. Aufeis dies when warm air finally melts it in July or August.
One year before Alaska became part of America, 21-year-old William Dall ascended the Yukon River on a sled pulled by dogs. The man who left his name all over the state was in 1866 one of the first scientists to document the mysterious peninsula jutting toward Russia. He is probably the most thorough researcher to ever ponder this place.
During the coldest days of the last ice age, the Bering Land Bridge was 1,000 miles wide, a belt buckle the size of Australia that connected North America and Asia.