A half century in a difficult, dynamic place

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A CLIFF NORTH OF LITUYA BAY — Dan Mann hands me a clump of orange dirt the size of an almond. He instructs me to put it in my mouth.

“What’s it taste like? Does it crunch? Ash crunches because there’s glass fragments in it.”

“It crunches.”

“It’s from Mount Edgecumbe,” he says, referring to a volcano 100 miles away, near Sitka. “From an eruption 13,000 years ago.”

As I spit out the grit, I realize that date doesn’t mean much to me. But it means a lot to Mann, a University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher who looks at landscapes and sees what they were thousands of years

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