The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds

The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds

by Caroline Van Hemert


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For fans of Hope Jahren, Helen MacDonald, and Cheryl Strayed, the gripping story of a biologist's journey from Washington State to high above the Arctic Circle -- traveling across remote and rugged terrain solely by human power -- to rediscover birds, the natural world, and her own love of science.

During graduate school, as she conducted experiments on the peculiarly misshapen beaks of chickadees, ornithologist Caroline Van Hemert began to feel stifled in the isolated, sterile environment of the lab. Worried that she was losing her passion for the scientific research she once loved, she was compelled to experience wildness again, to be guided by the sounds of birds and to follow the trails of animals.

In March of 2012 she and her husband set off on a 4,000-mile wilderness journey from the Pacific rainforest to the Alaskan Arctic. Traveling by rowboat, ski, foot, raft, and canoe, they explored northern landscapes so remote there were no maps or guidebooks to mark them. Together, they survived harrowing dangers while also experiencing incredible moments of joy and grace -- migrating birds silhouetted against the moon, the steamy breath of caribou, and the bond that comes from sharing such experiences. A unique blend of science, adventure, and personal narrative, the book explores the bounds of the physical body and the tenuousness of life in the company of creatures whose daily survival is nothing short of miraculous. It is a journey through the heart, the mind, and some of the wildest places left in North America.

In the end, The Sun Is a Compass is a love letter to nature, an inspiring story of endurance, and a beautifully written testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316414425
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 03/19/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 87,653
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Caroline Van Hemert is a biologist and adventurer whose journeys have taken her from the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean to the swamps of the Okavango Delta. She currently works at the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Center and regularly publishes articles in scientific journals about birds and other wildlife in the north. Her research and expeditions have been featured by the New York Times, MSNBC, National Geographic, and more. She lives in Alaska with her husband and two young sons.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Swimming the Chandalar 3

Part 1 Zugunruhe

Alaskan Kid 19

New York Meets Alaska 28

What Came Before 39

Now Is the Only Time 49

Part 2 Inside Passage

Preparations 63

Launch 72

Storm Days 82

Chasing Tides 92

Rules of the Sea 103

Part 3 Yukon

Info the Mountains 117

Border Crossing 131

Yukon Days 142

Wind River 156

Part 4 Arctic Coast

Mackenzie Delta 163

Capsized 175

A Land of Change 183

Barter Island 197

Part 5 Brooks Range

Arctic Pulse 207

Brooks Range Anniversary 216

Pingaluk 228

Takahula Lake 242

Caribou Crossing 251

Noatak Stones 270

Final Days 281

Epilogue: Three on the Lost Coast 290

Acknowledgments 297

Index 301

What People are Saying About This

MD, coauthor of Zoobiquity - Barbara Natterson Horowitz

"Van Hemert's vibrant and elegant book transports, educates, and inspires. To read The Sun Is a Compass is to be masterfully guided through the wild by an expert not only on nature itself but on the deep and often hidden connections between the natural world and our human lives."

Author of Cold - Bill Streever

“In The Sun is a Compass, adventure and romance journey hand in hand, covering 4,000 tough miles, reminding all of us that the easy way may not be the best way.”

Author of Turing's Cathedral - George Dyson

“Most adventures start with a map, often following a route that looks possible on paper but turns out to be less than possible in real life. Caroline Van Hemert's The Sun Is a Compass tells of a journey that looked almost impossible on a map. I was left with the same sense of amazement I have felt, five miles from land in the Gulf of Alaska, with nothing in bloom for a thousand miles, when a hummingbird flies by, circles once, and continues north.”

Author of Mozart's Starling - Lyanda Lynn Haupt

“This book leaves me pondering such a beautiful contradiction: We cannot survive as humans in extreme wilderness; we can best survive as humans through the experience of extreme wilderness. The Sun Is a Compass is a gorgeous, feral reminder of the resilience we all possess, and what we truly need, which is in fact very little—a bit of food and warm clothes, wildness, and love.”

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The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Anonymous 7 months ago
Caroline and her husband Pat take an unimaginable journey from Washington to the Arctic Circle. through places that I am not all that familiar with. I was both impressed and in awe of the pure fortitude to finish what they started. I enjoyed this book, and picked it because I was a huge fan of Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I received an uncorrected advance copy of this book in kind for my honest review. My advice is for the finished copy to include a map, I was able to look up most of the route they took, but a map would be helpful to the reader. Also, the book refers to birds a lot, a chart of the birds would be a nice touch.