It was late August of 1994, and I found myself once again riding the National Park shuttle bus to to my first dropoff point int the Denali wilderness. I was issued a permit to spend a week backpacking in several of the most desired areas of the park. This was easy to do, travelling alone. Each of the park's 43 zones, tens of thousands of acres each, has a limit of only six or eight people per zone.

One night I was in front of Mount Eilson on a river bar. It had taken several hours to hike down from the park road and to scout around for a attractive site. I made my camp on a hard, little mud flat. That evening I watched a grizzly searching for berries and ground squirrels on the river bank of the Thorofare river. The river is actually fed from some of the glacial meltoff in the Alaska range. Most of these rivers are very narrow and very fast. They braid out and crisscross around, creating a wide bed, but only occuping a small portion. Crossing one of these is more dangerous than most anything else because they are decieving and can trick you to believe they are easy to cross. Many of the riverbanks themselves are usually very steep, in a way that sort of traps you if you are trying to get off the bed.

While watching the grizzly, I went up the river bank because I had a better view and felt safer up there. They say that a grizzly will pass by a tent without interest, provided there are no smells of anything good around. The rangers teach this point to you very carefully. As I watched, the bear meandered over towards me, and my chest felt ready to explode. Soon it was at the base of the bank looking up at me. I thought that I could remain quiet enough, but not so. He watched me for a tortuously brief moment, and then wheeled and ran off across the bed for almost a half mile.

That night I didn't worry too much about this or any other grizzly. Whenever in bear territory I pay serious attention to follow the precautions against attracting a bear. Always make a kitchen area at least a hundred yards from you tent site, and I prefer to have an outer layer of clothes that I put on for cooking so the food smells don't linger on me.

I did sleep a little light that night though. Sometime in the night I woke up feeling fully awake, and I lay there thinking. The gurgling water seems to be conducive to both thought as well as sleep. I unzipped the tent, and saw that the sky was very clear with that intensity of stars that you never see near cities. My tent door was facing south towards the Mt. Eilson, and behind me was the bank which rose about 30+ feet. I spent a good deal of time lying in my sleeping bag which was halfway in the tent and halfway out on the firm black mud. Although it was August, the nights were chilly enough leave my water bottles slushy. While still delighting in the brightness of the stars and the freshness of the air, I got out of the tent with my sleeping bag still wrapped around me.

All the time I had been facing south, so when I turned around I was surprised to see a pale glow above the river bank. I stepped backwards until I could see a swath of light rise and fall above my elevated horizon. Now I had chills, but not from the cold. I could feel every little hair stand on end. I had the excitement of a 5 year old wondering what was waiting inside a giftbox.

I rushed up the the bank, and as my head broke above the dirt and brush, I could see a ribbon of greenish white light like a thick curved line. It appeared about two or three widths of your outstretched hand above the rolling horizon of the Kantishna hills. For a few moments, it extended about the distance between your hands if you hold them out a little more than your shoulder's width. The thickness of light had a kind of fuzzy edge, and seemed to tremble a bit. If someone were there with me I would have been screaming for them, or laughing out loud with the kind of silliness that makes people afraid of you.

With a sudden jerk, the ribbon shifted like it was being twisted and bent. My heart raced. It broke apart into fragments of similar proportion. The fragments seemed to wave slowly like a flags in a mild breeze, but all the time still white-green. The lights seemed to have a discontinuity to their movements. They remained still again. Soon, in an amazing coherence each block of shimmering light began to skip just a little, across and down, across and up, across, across, across and up... Each one different from the other, but moving together. It reminded me of the way a field of hay seems to have within its body areas that sway with the wind like the swells on an ocean.

This went on for almost an hour, until it subsided and left me feeling exhausted.