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Publisher's Summary

For fans of Cheryl Strayed, the gripping story of a biologist's human-powered journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Arctic to rediscover her love of birds, nature, and adventure.

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 rain forest to the Alaskan Arctic, traveling by rowboat, ski, foot, raft, and canoe. 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 audiobook 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.

©2019 Caroline Van Hemert (P)2019 Hachette Audio

What the critics say

"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)

"This inspirational memoir is riveting. Reading it will incite wanderlust." (Library Journal)

"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)

What listeners say about The Sun Is a Compass

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Feel Like You Are on the Journey With the Author

Caroline Van Hemert writes so eloquently and descriptively that it leaves you feeling as though you were on this 4000-mile adventure with her and Pat. As a biology grad myself, I appreciated her references to the field and lab work she included in her writing. Her story-telling is a gift. The narrator did an amazing job leaving you feeling as though she, in fact, were the one telling her own story. Highly recommend it.

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Beautiful

An amazing journey that is beautifully written and read. I was inspired, moved, and I didn't want it to end. This is a must read for those who love the outdoors and those who are just beginning to feel the pull of the wild. I highly recommend this book.

2 people found this helpful

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Amazing book!

This is one of the best “into the wild” stories I’ve ever read. Powerful yet thoughtful, beautifully written and read (on Audible), the book brought the north country totally alive for me. From thrilling adventures - like capsizing, being stalked by a bear and witnessing a caribou migration close-up - to the cold. and snowy hardships of the trek, this book swept me away like one of the icy rivers these two adventurers had to cross. I’ll be reading this again!

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Great story. Narration odd

This was a good story. Unfortunately I found that the affected manner of the narrator interfered with my enjoyment of the listen.

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Inspiring and Beautiful

I was engrossed in the story immediately, mesmerized by the rich descriptive detail, the incredible but still plausible adventure, the writer's intense humanity, and the narrator's excellent delivery. Caroline's connection and love of all things living - human species being only one of many - is very powerful. I completed the listening experience in just over two days. I think I shall have to read it again, but not before I share my enthusiasm for this inspiring couple with my son and his girlfriend, who will soon be travelling by motorbike to the Arctic. Thank you.

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amazing story

This was such an engaging book! oh, to have the courage to do this trip! Bravo. Beautifully narrated too.

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Well Written Adventure

This is an immersive book for anyone looking to experience an incredible outdoor adventure. Hemert is an excellent storyteller and the narrator captures the action well.

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  • cj
  • 2022-04-29

A great listen

Not my typical listen but enjoyed every moment. It was informative, soothing and engaging. Will certainly look for more of this genre in future.

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What an adventure!

This truly was an adventure, not only on land and sea but also within the souls of the author and her husband. So grateful to listen to the stories and to hear about their evolution as a couple.

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Amazing

This book was amazing. It is a well told adventure. Loved every minute of it.

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  • Philip Jacob Lee
  • 2019-06-18

The journey doesn’t get any better...

What an amazing story of two courageous humans. Caroline has a knack for bringing scenes to life for her readers. I found myself lost in this story which takes you from their close encounters with bears to their undying love for each other. A true achievement that is a testament to their love of adventure, nature, and dedication to one another. You will feel inspired in so many ways when you read this book. To know what you are capable of accomplishing when you put your mind to it, to follow your heart and trust your gut, to understand what you are capable of when love runs deep. You won’t regret going on this once in a lifetime journey with Caroline and Pat!

21 people found this helpful

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  • ElizabethCurtis
  • 2019-03-21

MUST READ: Existential Truths Beautifully Conveyed Within an Epic Story of Mind-Boggling Adventure and True Love

This book , which so beautifully details a self-powered adventure of massive proportions, is riveting, inquisitive, romantic, and raw. Woven through the fabric of the insane premise (a 4,000 mile journey into the Alaskan wilderness) is an intimate and visceral description of a woman pushing boundaries and seeking truth for herself, her family, and the world. The expert bird biologist exquisitely weaves in her knowledge and love for birds, wilderness, history, and science throughout, leaving the reader filled with a new understanding, and wanting more. This book is a must read. Well done, Caroline and Pat. -Elizabeth Curtis, Los Angeles, CA

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  • marisela de santa anna
  • 2019-08-03

Wonderful adventure with a depth and intimacy that is mixed with natural history information reminiscent

This is an adventure that keeps you on your toes while gently informing you about the natural history of the Alaska area. I loved the intimacy of the authors relationship with her husband, family, and the wild life they encounter. Beautifully written so I felt as though I was there with them.

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  • Mike Nault
  • 2019-04-06

What a gem

I think the marketing info for this book said if you liked Wild you would like The Sun is a Compass. This is true. However, The Sun is a Compass is an entirely different story written by an author at a different point in life, about a trip of a lifetime that few will ever consider, and fewer ever accomplish. As a bonus, there are the birds, the land, the journey, and the reflections. Great book. Highly recommend.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Susan Myrick
  • 2019-06-01

Great Story

A very enjoyable book. The narrator made it a joy to listen to. Highly recommend.

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  • Michelle
  • 2020-11-20

Love Hate Relationship with the Book

I had a love hate relationship with this book. It’s an amazing story of people trekking 4,000 miles through the wilderness. I loved that part of it. Sometimes, the details got so tedious that my mind would start wandering into other things. But the constant seesawing of the authors emotions of should she do this, should she do that, what if she chooses this? Should she have a kid? Should she not have a kid? For the love of all things great and small...I really didn’t need to hear all about her agonizing over all her life choices. I agree that doing something like this trek puts everything into perspective of what is and isn’t important but her constant back and forth made me want to pull my hair out. I spend enough time agonizing over my own life choices. I really didn’t want to hear hers.
I could definitely see how some people could get very bored with this book. She goes into the minutia of detail...which I overall don’t mind. But again, sometimes my mind would wander and I just let it and never went back to hear what I missed...because when I did, my mind would wander again.
Xe Sands is a great narrator. I loved her more in the Murmur of Bees...I think her soft spoken way of narrating lost me at times with this book.
This is and isn’t Wild. I absolutely loved Wild. I did not absolutely love this book.
I admire what they did, but I think a lot of her psychological journey could have been saved for her own private journals...she didn’t have to burden the reader with all her indecision.

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  • Kathleen L. Gallagher
  • 2020-02-06

A great story of an amazing adventure

I completely enjoyed everything about this book. It was the adventure of a lifetime by real people, written well, and read well. A friend recommended it as her favorite book of 2019 and she read 90 books! I was thrilled to see it on Audible and have already started over with round 2. If you like stories about people doing extraordinary things, I highly recommend it. The information about birds is a bonus too.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Orsi_G
  • 2020-01-10

Beautiful

I must say that I am biased, because it is one of the most relatable books I’ve recently read/heard.
It’s simply beautifully written about a breathtaking journey and the really soothing voice and style of the reader definitely adds to the experience :) It’s highly recommended to adventurers-soon to be parents as well as to climate change deniers.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 2019-04-01

Boundless adventure

Spellbinding journey through the wild of the land and the thirst for adventure of the human spirit

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  • Christopher
  • 2020-03-25

amazing

loved it!!! enjoyed the narration, I felt like I was on this journey with caroline and Pat. highly recommend! thank you!

4 people found this helpful