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Being Caribou: Seven Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd
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Being Caribou: Seven Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  502 ratings  ·  56 reviews
What began as a wildlife research project became much more as the author and his wife learn to hear the earth, pay attention to their dreams and slowly change, beyond their expectations, into being caribou.
Both gripping adventure and stark portrayal of an Arctic cosystem threatened by oil development.

In April 2003, wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer and filmmaker Leanne
Hardcover, 237 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by Mountaineers Books
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
I borrowed this book in a stack of books about Alaska from a friend who is a writer and teaches writing. It lingered for a while, and I pulled it back out for a book speed dating project for Science September.

This book is incredible in a number of ways. Heuer and his wife undertake a journey that most humans could not do. It is five months, thousands of miles, dangerous whether hot or cold, having to feed and shelter themselves. The ways it changes them throughout the journey are well captured
What a beautiful story! And what an extraordinary pair of human beings. Karsten is a wildlife biologist and Leanne is a filmmaker. These newlyweds spent five months north of the Arctic Circle, on skis and on foot, following the Porcupine Caribou Herd. One thousand miles round trip!! They endured grizzly bear attacks, near-starvation (six days without a meal to speak of), borderline hypothermia, monster mosquitoes from hell, and just pure exhaustion. With only each other for company, frustration ...more
Jul 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
In April of 2003, wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer & his new wife, Leanne Allison, set off on an epic journey to follow the Porcupine Caribou herd as it migrated from its Yukon winter range to its endangered calving grounds in the Arctic Nat'l Wildlife Refuge - and back! After over 1,000 miles on foot and skis, physically & mentally exhausted, they walk into a dimension of conciousness neither had experienced before. Being Caribou is more than a story of grand adventure - it's about the ...more
I enjoyed most of this book. It drew me in right off the bet with its very beautiful writings. I liked that the author would intermittently insert passages from his original journal. They make the content that much more telling. I could feel his passion for the caribou and nature through his words.

The migratory journey the author and his wife embarked on, was gruesome, courageous, and wondrous. Reading about it makes me want to do something as daring and primitive, though I doubt I will ever be
Carol Douglas
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What would it be like to walk with caribou for their whole migration from Canada into Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- and back -- a journey of around 2,000 kilometers? Karsten Heuer and his wife Leanne Allison took that journey, and this is their story. They determined exactly where those 125,000 caribou go to calve: right in the middle of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That is the best area because the forage is good and, at least as important, the soggy ground is inhospitable ...more
Apr 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
Look, I won't deny it. I am the wrong audience for this sort of thing. It was interesting, but for me it was really all beyond the pale. I think that nature is a wonderful and marvelous thing and I really respect what the author of the book did to try to help out a bunch of living creatures that deserve to live.

Still and all whenever someone is so intensely into something that they physically harm themselves I can't help but cringe. Maybe that just proves that I am weak and not dedicated enough
Alisha Billmen
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
What an amazing pair Karsen Heuer and his wife Leanna are. I can only look up to them with amazement of what they have achieved in the 5-month feat this book documents.

Being Caribou is an exhilarating, inspiring and touching adventure of the newly wedded couple, following the Porcupine Caribou herd on a 2,800-mile journey from their winter-feeding grounds to their summer calving grounds. Migratory caribou herds are named after their birthing grounds, in this case the Porcupine River, which runs
Catherine Symchych
Lyrical passages accent this often gritty portrait of a caribou herd and their journey. Whether he’s describing a dying cow or getting way too close to bulls, I can visualize the scene. That said, I’d like to see the film she made for real visuals that I’m sure outstrip my imagined ones. This book goes on my shelf of nature classics.
Kristina Ruttan
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal adventure read. Amazing writing; hours days weeks of walking across tundra is transformed into can’t-set-it-down reading. Honest without justification or self-glorification - my favorite read. A perfect example of entering a new world by picking up a book.
Jan 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Good if you're looking for an adventure story, but don't expect to learn much about caribou
Nov 03, 2019 rated it liked it
I did think it was an incredible walk and was glad the author wrote this book. I think I am a bit jaded with the travel journeys, even though I envy them their youth and vigor to do them.
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I wish I liked the cold. I would love to do something like Karsten and his wife did in this book. But alas, the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness is not for me.

Karsten and his wife decide to follow a caribou migration.....on foot and skis. The total trip lasts about five months and they go hundreds of miles. They sleep in a tent and just try to keep up with the herd, I'll while carrying only what they can on their backs and avoiding predators like grizzly bears and wolves. Supplies are dropped along
This book documents an adventure I’m glad someone else wrote about so I can read and experience their trip from the comfort of my home. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to visit the ANWR (it sounds breathtakingly beautiful), but this trip is riddled with requirements that are far outside this hiker’s comfort zone – relying on food drops, multiple encounters with starving bears, crossing frozen rivers barefoot, sleeping outdoors during 24-hour sunlight, dealing with mother cows protecting their ...more
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
Why ANWR must be preserved

Husband and wife team of Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison decide to spend their honeymoon in just about the most off-the-beaten-track way possible: they're going to migrate with caribou.

Not just any caribou, but the Porcupine herd of northern Canada and Alaska, the herd whose calving ground is the 1002 Section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the place where Exxon wants to drill to get what will likely be less than six months, maybe one year's worth of U.S. needs
Feb 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
A great adventure: a husband and wife: biologist Karsten Heuer and filmmaker Leanne Allison follow the famed Porcupine herd of caribou from its Yukon winter range to its calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and back, thousands of miles. Even more mosquitoes. Grizzly bears. Blizzards. Months of walking.

Ultimately they tapped into the herd’s “infrasonic resonance on the edge of human hearing.” A sort of oscillating song the collective caribou hummed to stay in touch, a group song
Karsten Heuer and his wife Leanne travel to the Yukon/Alaska border to follow the caribou from their winter range, to their calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, and back. Throughout the five month trip, they face the challenges of an arctic spring- starvation, exposure to the elements, swarms of insects, and hungry grizzly bears. After the trip, Karsten and Leanne are left changed by the experiences had. The Canadian duo travels to DC to lobby against the oil companies ...more
Rod Ruff
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
An unforgettable look into the world of northern caribou and the delicate ecosystems they inhabit. Heuer does an amazing job of describing his (and his wife's) journey as they attempt to travel with the Porcupine caribou on their annual migration. The book will also resonate if you are an adventure or wilderness junkie. Fording half frozen rivers, scaling mountains, grizzly bear encounters, and eating ground squirrels when on the brink of starvation are just a few of the activities they endure ...more
Kevin Dutton
Jun 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed "Being Caribou". The author writes about his 5 month journey following a herd of caribou during which time he becomes more and more aware of the natural presence and awareness found in the caribou and all that surrounds them. This allows him to see the glaring difference between that way of life and our technology and consumer driven lifestyle that is full of distractions and constant stimulation. Ultimately, he begins to make peace with the juxtaposition of these two existences ...more
Oct 29, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the natural world
"We try to be caribou but are continually pulled back by our human needs" writes the author in one of his diary entries. What value does it have to follow the migration of a herd of caribou as they head toward calving grounds on the Arctic Ocean, something that the author and his wife do with great hardship and considerable personal danger? That is the question that this non-fiction book tries to answer, and it may be a kind of religious answer that is discovered. The caribou herd is completely ...more
Marty Essen
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read Being Caribou in 2006. Since I prefer giving detailed reviews only when a book is fresh in my mind, I am going to skip a lengthy review here. I will say, however, that it was an excellent book. I also watched the movie version of the story twice. The book and movie are a nice combination, but read the book first.

Marty Essen, author of Endangered Edens: Exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, the Everglades, and Puerto Rico
Alexis Thibeault
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A wonderful book, written in such descriptive prose, that gets to the heart of its subject with a simple grace not commonly seen in non-fiction. This couple was extraordinarily brave to undergo this project and with wonderful results, they seem to have had a truly transformative experience. I doubt that the reader could ever understand the caribou or the issues at hand the way that Karsten and Leanne can, however by reading this book you at least can get a tiny fragment of that wild, securely ...more
Nov 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In response to Bush Administration threats to open the arctic to oil drilling, a married team of wildlife biologists follow the Porcupine caribou herd migration to the calving grounds on the coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to make a documentary. It's a fantastic adventure story. However, since the purpose of the expedition was to take photos I wish there were a few more photos in the book. In order to see the pictures you have to watch the documentary: ...more
Shonna Froebel
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian, favorites
Karsten Heuer and his new wife, Leanne Allison, a filmmaker, spend months following and relating to caribou. They follow the Porcupine caribou herd in the spring from their wintering areas to the birthing grounds and back out. They encounter natives on both sides of the oil/environmental refuge question, grizzly bears, birds of all types, wolves, mosquitos and other life. They almost starve, have trouble keeping up sometimes and have moving experiences. An amazing and moving book.
They have a
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Naturalists
A true story written like fiction, very easy to read. Lots of information about caribou and their habitat, but not at all in a textbook or preachy way. The landscape descriptions are good, but obviously cannot do the story justice. I really enjoyed reading about their trek, finding and following and losing (rinse, repeat) caribou. There is an excellent sense of ecology and of a world that is bigger than humans. It reminds me of what is out there, what we have lost, what we could protect.
John Elbare
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book, yet I did not finish it, as it started to get a little tedious midway through. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating true story of a couple who decide to follow the caribou herd on foot during its annual migration through the northern Yukon and Alaska. Well worth reading. There is a film they shot which can be viewed on their web site. The book also provide considerable insight into the presnet day like of Eskimo native Americans.
Sherry (sethurner)
Oct 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
It's a good thing I read this nonfiction account of a husband/wife team who set out to migrate with a caribou herd in the summer, because the reading gave me goosebumps. The conditions they traveled under were often very harsh, wet and cold and dangerous. They weree determined to photograph and film the lives of the carbou in the Artic Wildlife Refuge, hoping to preserve the caribou's habitat, and so preserve the caribou. Maybe a whole lot more people need to read their account.
Tema Sarick
Mar 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was extremely interesting as an account of a couple's 5 month migratory journey with caribou in the North. I was soooo envious of their proximity to such amazing critters including grizzlies, wolves, eagles and of course caribou. The writing is good enough but the story is great and the message about the potential devastation to all of these animals should Alaska be opened to further oil collection, is very, very important.
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
I would rate this book 1.5 if I could. It took 130 pages before I really even cared about the story. The author doesn't write terribly but neither would I call him an excellent writer. I think the book would have rated 3 stars if he focused more on the environmental /political side of the caribou issue, so that his readers would have a reason to care about his 5 month trek.
Doug Gordon
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Such a great book! This story is both amazing and mysterious. It gets to the core of nature's spiritual aspects - the concepts of flow and connection between beings and how it is possible to enter that flow if a person allows for the time required and cultivates a certain mental state. It is also an epic story in itself.
Joe Rodeck
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
With a general leave the wilderness alone, anti-drilling theme, this is easy reading; but only as interesting as looking at a herd of caribou can possibly be. The "becoming caribou" is too much of a zen stretch. Not exciting. Reinforces this rule of thumb: be careful when a book has only a handful of reviews.
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Karsten Heuer is a wildlife biologist, park warden and author of Walking the Big Wild: From Yellowstone to the Yukon on the Grizzly Bear's Trail. He has worked in Banff National Park in the Rockies, in Inuvik in Canada's far north, and in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. He is a recipient of the Wilburforce Foundation Conservation Leadership Award.