There are a lot of Earth Day posts out there but I’ll bet that few of them revolve around a 100 year-old man’s dresser drawer.

Several years ago I was honored to spend an afternoon interviewing 100 year-old Julian Nelson, a prime figure in the creation of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. As mayor of Bayfield during the fight for the park, and a well-respected local commercial fisherman, Julian had the ear of politicians like Gaylord Nelson (the founder of Earth Day).

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(paintings by Margaret Florence Ludwig)

THIS LAND OF LIGHT: An Artist in the Midnight Sun

To see the world like an artist, spend time with artists. Years ago, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a National Geographic Society book on the national parks of Canada. I chose to write about the parks in the far north in general and Ivvavik National Park specifically for two reasons: the way the midnight sun of high summer glows on its beautiful jade green river called the Firth,

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FOG VISION: Some questions only become clear when you are lost in the fog

There is nothing to do but watch. Like an avalanche of clouds, the fogbank spills off the peaks of the Brooks Range and swallows us, cutting off the horizons as surely as a shroud. Moments ago, we could see for miles. Now, even the rocks at our feet are fuzzy and indistinct.

Compared to the noise and clatter of the floatplane that dropped us here a few hours ago,

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The light in the canyon at this hour makes the river flow like braided strands of the morning sky. It is early, too early, and I am up and sitting at the edge of the river watching. Behind me, the canoes are pulled far up on shore and turned over; in the dim light they look like a pair of drift logs stranded by last night’s high water. Near the ashes of our campfire,

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The Lost Arch: Guidebooks are fine but the best directions come scribbled on a napkin

There were, by my count, 27 different hikes listed on the trail brochure the ranger had given me. The shelves of the park visitor center were crammed with guidebooks spelling out literally hundreds of potential routes complete with GPS coordinates for panels of rock art, wildflower blooming sites, even the best sunset locations. But, I had something even better.

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(Photo of the author “flying” by Ken Kochey)

We all have them: dreams of flying untethered to the earth, spreading our miraculous suddenly-sprouted wings to soar as gracefully as a bird, rising weightlessly on a puff of wind to escape our earthbound selves. And then, there is reality. Once, on an assignment for National Geographic Traveler magazine in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I got a little taste of both.

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A Photographic Moment: Dancing with the Devil

Let me just say right from the outset here that none of what follows was my idea. But then, I didn’t say “no” either.

January of 2017 in northern Wisconsin had all the teeth of a normal northern winter – storms, wind, bone-chilling cold – but for reasons that only the lake gods know, Lake Superior in the Apostle Islands was still mostly ice free the first week of January,

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Being a writer is not always about the landscape. Sometimes, the greatest thing about it is the people you meet. How often, for instance, do you get to meet a legend?

I was on assignment for my book TREASURES OF ALASKA, trying to arrange a helicopter to take me up to Camp 10 of the Juneau Icefield Research Project (JIRP) high in the Coast Mountains to meet Dr. Maynard Miller, founder of JIRP and one of the leading glaciologists in the world,

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In the face of something as beautiful, as powerful, and ultimately as unknowable as Lake Superior, sometimes the only place to turn is poetry:

THE SINGING

SOMETIMES, I HEAR SINGING.

EARLY IN THE MORNING

WHEN THE MIST LIFTS AND WISPS ITS WAY

ACROSS THE BLUE-BLACK BACK OF THE WATER

OR LATE

WHEN THE LAKE ROLLS AND MOANS

BENEATH ITS STAR-STREWN BLANKETS

THIS LAKE HAS A VOICE.

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Before the wildflowers bloom, before the return of the first robin, the first signs of spring can be heard in something as simple as the song of a flowing river.

Nothing. Not a chickadee. Not a woodpecker. No wind through the trees. Nothing. It is March and the forest along Lake Superior near my home is as silent as the inside of an iceberg. I slip my glove off and snap my fingers next to my ears to be sure I haven’t unknowingly lost my hearing.

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