In undertaking an epic trek from the Pacific Northwest to the Alaskan Arctic, Van Hemert, a wildlife biologist, and her husband encountered both the grandeur and danger of some of the planet’s wildest locations. She vividly renders the experience, including being stalked by a black bear in the Brooks Range, initially visible only as “deep-set eyes, a pointed nose, and cinnamon-colored fur”; fighting the elements in a homemade rowboat off Vancouver Island; capsizing a raft in the Arctic Ocean; and coming under relentless attack for days by thousands of mosquitos in the Mackenzie Delta. Similarly, descriptions of witnessing a huge herd of caribou crossing Alaska’s Noatak River and of being followed in the Arctic Ocean by two huge moose, “large, brown noses stirring the surface of the water as they stare blankly ahead,” capture the magnificence of untamed nature. Van Hemert proves equally adept at exploring the inner dialogue that accompanied the harrowing physical feats, touching on love and loss, new parenthood, and the struggle to combine her passions for scientific inquiry and adventure. She leaves nature lovers with a story—of adventure, of environmental awareness, and of personal discovery—worth savoring. Agent: Bonnie Nadell, Hill Nadell Literary. (Mar.)
"What a marvelous book. An enthralling blend of adventure story, insightful memoir, and keen-eyed nature observation. Van Hemert is a fearless spirit and a master storyteller, to be admired equally for her astonishing grit and her elegant, compelling prose."
Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds
"A truly astounding journey, beautifully written. Caroline Van Hemert follows in the tradition of wilderness adventurers John Muir, Margaret Murie, Cheryl Strayed, and Robert Macfarlane, but she is not one to stick to well-trodden trails. Alongside her husband, she faces predatory bears, roaring rivers, and 4,000 miles of the world's most remote, wild country. She also weaves in her doubts, questions, and insights as a woman and bird biologist. An edge-of-your-seat thrilling read, but with a refreshing humility and grace. My favorite book of 2019, and one the best Alaskan books I have ever read."Eowyn Ivey, author of To the Bright Edge of the World and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Snow Child
"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."
Barbara Natterson Horowitz, MD, coauthor of Zoobiquity
"Caroline Van Hemert has written a riveting book full of birds, danger, beauty and wonder. Her intrepid travels with her equally adventurous husband left me breathless with awe."Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus
"I thoroughly enjoyed The Sun Is a Compass. It is an exciting modern adventure story in the far north that will appeal to anyone with a yen for experiencing wild nature."Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven
"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."Bill Streever, author of Cold
"Ornithologist and naturalist Caroline Van Hemert has written a thrilling account of an epic journey from the Pacific Coast to the Arctic Ocean. A triumph in wilderness travel, scientific curiosity, and adventure writing that exposes the sublime thrill and loving touch to be found in nature and our fellow human beings."John Marzluff, Professor of Wildlife Science and author of Welcome to Subirdia
"I was thoroughly charmed by Caroline Van Hemert's memoir of arctic travel. The astonishing length of the journey she and her husband chose to make -- on foot, by rowboat, and on skis -- leaves you shaking your head in wonder. Her honesty about her own anxieties, her informed thought about fearful and beautiful encounters along the way, and the gritty determination with which she and her husband faced each day offer us a rich and compelling story."Barry Lopez, author of Horizon and Arctic Dreams
"The Sun Is a Compass is an adventure story, but also a love story. It is thrilling, uplifting, and hopeful, both as a journey across northern wilds and as a diary of a couple growing ever closer together. Caroline and Pat's epic journey will rekindle your faith in human endurance, and intimacy."David Rothenberg, author of Nightingales in Berlin and Why Birds Sing
"Caroline Van Hemert has crafted a book as remarkable and dimensional as her epic journey. She is able to offer a scientist's insight into the natural world while writing of danger, beauty, and love without ego and with refreshing grace and honesty. Her book is a gift not just to those who like to venture on the wild side, but to anyone intrigued by the possibilities of strong partnership, imagination, and curiosity. This is unlikely to be a book you just read; it is one that will make you soar."Jill Fredston, author of Rowing to Latitude and Snowstruck
"In a time when stories of extreme outdoor adventures have become commonplace, Caroline Van Hemert's The Sun Is a Compass stands out because it is at heart a love story. A remarkably skilled and experienced wilderness traveler, the author writes in the clear language of a scientist who observes her world through the eyes of a poet, across 4,000 miles of risk and endurance, in concert with an extraordinary man. It's a hell of a read."Lynn Schooler, author of Walking Home
"Imagine trekking four times farther than Cheryl Strayed did in Wild, without a trail, through swarms of mosquitoes thick enough to suck caribou dry. In this marvelous tale of grit and grace, ornithologist Caroline Van Hemert leaves behind a lab full of caged chickadees to embark on her own epic migration to the Arctic, reconnecting with the reverence for nature that drove her to science in the first place. For those of us less skilled at fashioning our own sea kayaks, dodging avalanches, and fending off hungry bears, this intimate book is a precious window into a remote wilderness of formidable beauty."Emily Voigt, author of The Dragon Behind the Glass
"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."Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Mozart's Starling
"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."George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral
"Van Hemert leaves nature lovers with a story--of adventure, of environmental awareness, and of personal discovery--worth savoring"Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"This inspirational memoir is riveting. Reading it will incite wanderlust"Library Journal
"This inspirational memoir is riveting. Reading it will incite wanderlust."Diana Hartle, Book Verdict
"A beautiful and utterly engrossing book...Caroline Van Hemert so clearly loves our world, with all its challenges, beauty, and mysteries. Her book is a welcome invitation to do the same."
Nancy Lord, Anchorage Daily News
A research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center recounts a stirring wilderness adventure set against the background of a young woman juggling family, career, and a passion for rough country.
From the Pacific rainforests of Washington state to a remote corner of the Alaskan Arctic, it was an often grueling, 4,000-mile journey by foot, skis, raft, and canoe that few would have attempted, even such experienced wilderness travelers as debut author Van Hemert and her husband, Pat. In 2012, the author, who had begun to question her devotion to science, and Pat, a home builder driven by wanderlust, embarked on an expedition that would succeed or fail on human power alone—no roads, no trails, no motors—and test the limits of their endurance on some of the harshest and most unforgiving terrain in the world. Van Hemert chronicles their journey in sharp, sometimes-harrowing detail, though not so minutely that the narrative bogs down in the exigencies of living in the wild. While she discusses their various triumphs and travails, the author fully expresses the wonder of what they saw and experienced, who they met along the way, the microcultures they encountered, and how the journey brought her back to a love of scientific inquiry (if not to a love of the laboratory). After a brief in-progress report, she opens with the couple's personal histories and motivations for undertaking the trip. What might have been perfunctory actually adds depth. For all the readers' vicarious thrills and Van Hemert's admirable writing, it is the author's candor regarding her doubts and her appealing vulnerability that make this memoir so resonant.
One follows this engrossing adventure feeling as eager as the travelers to see what's around the next bend in the river, on the next island, across the next coastal passage, or over the next mountain pass.