Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd - Karsten Heuer

The Basics: Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd, Karsten Heuer, 2006, 234 pages, a documentary about the same trip is also available and is also called Being Caribou (it was written and directed by Leanne Allison, Heuer's wife)

How I found it: I saw the film, Being Caribou at the Best of the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Vancouver in early 2005 and loved it. I knew that Heuer was writing a book so I ordered it from the library when it came out.

What's it about?: Heuer and his wife spend their honeymoon being caribou. They migrate with the endangered Porcupine caribou herd to their calving grounds in Alaska and then back to the Yukon. They made this trip because Bush's government wants to allow drilling in the herd's calving grounds, which would likely lead to the end of the herd. Heuer and Allison wanted to raise awareness, and also to find out what the migration was like since there was little scientific documentation of how it happens, which routes they take and how the caribou decide the time is right to make the migration.

Did I like it?: Oh yes. I love adventure travel books and the idea of spending five months in the wilderness for an environmental cause you believe strongly in appealed to me. It's a really compelling story, and at times a real struggle for Heuer and Allison. However, in most cases the book is always better than the film. Not here though. Heuer writes competently, and I can't fault him for trying, but after seeing the incredible scenes of the caribou on film, a written description often doesn't cut it. As well, the film features video diaries from both Heuer and Allison so the book doesn't add much in that department either.

Will you like it?: If you read the book first, you'll like it. If you see the film and you want more, you'll like it. But if you aren't totally wowed and inspired by the film, the book isn't for you. Although this is a book review, I recommend the film much more than I recommend the book.

But don't take my word for it: Real people reviews, editorial reviews, and a collection of positive criticism of the book from the official Being Caribou website.

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