Author: Caroline Van Hemert
Source: from publisher for review
Summary: Lovely – full of beautiful nature writing, incredible adventures, fun facts, and moving personal stories.
When Caroline Van Hemert finished her PhD, studying beak deformities in chickadees, she felt more uncertain than accomplished. Her years in the lab had left her feeling burnt out. She felt out of touch with the love of nature that led her to study biology in the first place. To try to reconnect with nature, she and her husband decided to pursue a wild dream of theirs – travelling more than 4000 miles through the Pacific northwest to the Alaskan Arctic entirely under their own power. They would spend many months hiking, skiing, rafting, traveling by rowboat, and by canoe. They hoped to finish with some clarity about what came next.
I empathized with the author’s grad school burnout, but wasn’t sure her problems would be compelling enough to make the ‘finding myself in nature’ story fresh. It turned out that her problems weren’t really the point. Her beautiful nature writing, incredible adventures, and frank descriptions of her partnership with her husband were what made this shine. The author drew me in with a fantastic prologue that captured the spirit of the book perfectly. She and her husband overcome life-threatening obstacles as a team of equals. They derive a lot of joy from surviving nature, but also simply from being surrounded by it. She particularly enjoys observing birds in their natural habitat, which I loved. All of these themes appear throughout the book.
I was still concerned the author would ascribe a deeper meaning to her experiences that would just feel cliched. Thankfully, she largely avoids that. She talks a bit about her internal work, figuring out what she wants to do next, but doesn’t claim some nature-inspired epiphany. She does do some lovely nature writing. Her writing isn’t overly flowery, in some cases quite sparse, but she selects the perfect details to make the reader share her sense of awe. Her blend of these visual descriptions with fun facts about animals, wilderness survival and local history was constantly engaging. The bits about her personal life didn’t dominate the story of her adventures and did make me more emotionally invested. I’m incredibly impressed that the author balanced all these different threads so well. This worked for me as a memoir, as a natural history, and as a source of inspiring nature writing. I’d recommend it to fans of any of these genres.