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The Sun Is a Compass

A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds
Narrated by: Xe Sands
Length: 9 hrs and 2 mins
4.0 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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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

Critic Reviews

"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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Profile Image for Philip Jacob Lee
  • Philip Jacob Lee
  • 18-06-2019

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!

7 people found this helpful

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  • Mike
  • 06-04-2019

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.

7 people found this helpful

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  • ElizabethCurtis
  • 21-03-2019

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

6 people found this helpful

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  • marisela de santa anna
  • 03-08-2019

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.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Susan Myrick
  • 01-06-2019

Great Story

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

5 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 01-04-2019

Boundless adventure

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

4 people found this helpful

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  • Orsi_G
  • 10-01-2020

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Christopher
  • 25-03-2020

amazing

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

2 people found this helpful

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  • Kathleen L. Gallagher
  • 06-02-2020

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.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Kay
  • 01-02-2020

Loved it

This book kept my attention throughout. Anyone who loves birds and nature will enjoy this book. Reader is excellent.

2 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for J. Wexler
  • J. Wexler
  • 29-08-2020

"A gripping story"? Not so much, frankly.

More of a book about a womans internal dialogue about her life, parents, career, romance, and decision to have a child, than a "gripping" adventure. We travel along on a couple seriously arduous trek across Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, while listening to a stream of consciousness about the authors life choices, past, present and future. Well written internal thought dialogue. Not what I would describe as an adventure book. More of a meditation on life choices while walking through wilderness. As a biologist the author inserts lots of factoids about birds. I am not sorry I read this book, but it would not be on a list of books I would ever read again.

1 person found this helpful

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  • A R Bryant
  • 16-02-2020

Dreadfully boring

I guess it my fault I had a feeling this book would be jam packed with emotional fillers completely irrelevant to the title or story I just couldn't get past the first chapter. Best of luck to everyone else.

1 person found this helpful