I savored every page of this magical, beautifully-woven book – the story of one man’s apprenticeship to Alaska’s northern wisdom and wild joy. The final pages brought me to laughter and tears, inspired by Richard Nelson’s humility and respect. His great heart forever open – listening.”

                                       Kim Heacox

                                       author of The Only Kayak

Author’s Note:


 It’s a strange thing making art out of someone else’s life. Especially when that someone is a dear friend. Richard (I know him as Nels) allowed me to paw through precious photos, interview old flames, and read thousands of pages of his personal journals. This project could not have been done without his consent and support. I thank him for his trust. And I thank him for the warmth of laughter on cold mornings. Nels taught me how to be more fully alive. There is no way to give adequate thanks for such a gift.

Hank Lentfer and Richard Nelson taking.a break after a morning recording bird song. (Photo by Liz McKenzie)

Throughout the years of research and writing, I settled into a satisfying place in an unlikely lineage of storytellers. Through the power of story, I’ve learned from Richard’s teachers. I’m grateful for so many people I never had the chance to meet in person: Catherine and Steven Attla, Lavine Williams, Kusiq Bodfish, Weslay Ikaaq among so many others. 

As Richard wrote in his journal: There are ways of becoming worthy of the lessons taught you, most of all by passing them along. This book is my effort to pass along a few of the lessons I learned from Nels. 


"Lentfer's writing is honest, intensely lived, and overflowing with heart: broken, mended, and whole."

David James Duncan