Featured book author speaks at UAS

Karsten Heuer wrote this year's 'One Campus One Book' selection

Canadian wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer, author of the book “Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd,” spoke about his experiences adventuring through nature Friday night at the final lecture of the Evening at Egan Series for 2012.


“Being Caribou” is the UAS “One Campus One Book” selection for the year. The story was first told in documentary form in an eponymous film by Heuer’s wife, Leanne Allison. It follows the journey of Heuer and Allison as they tracked a herd of Porcupine caribou for 1,000 miles through the Arctic wilderness of Alaska and Yukon in 2003.

“Specifically, our intent was to highlight the decades-old debate over whether or not to develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge … but to talk about it from the perspective of the animals themselves,” said Heuer, addressing more than 100 students and members of the public who gathered in the campus’ Egan Library for the lecture.

Introducing Heuer, assistant professor Sarah Jaquette Ray said the purpose of the One Campus One Book program is to “create community across campus and in the community through a common reading.”

Ray added, “My impression is that the intent of the program has exceeded expectations, thanks to the quality and message of Karsten and Leanne’s work.”

Heuer talked about his three adventures to date in chronological order, starting with the “Y2Y” project that saw him and Allison trek on foot, skis and horseback and by canoe over 2,000 miles from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory in the late 1990s. The purpose of that journey was to trace proposed “wildlife corridors” along the Continental Divide, drawing on the experience of animals, like Pluie the wolf, who were recorded covering hundreds of miles through wilderness areas well outside of state, national and provincial parks.

“All these things were showing us that our traditional way of approaching conversation … was insufficient,” said Heuer. “This is not how nature is viewing the landscape.”

The largest share of Heuer’s lecture was dedicated to “Being Caribou.” He talked about the extreme experience of immersion in the huge herd as it traveled to its calving grounds, and then fled from swarms of emergent insects back into the mountains, forcing Heuer and Allison to match their pace, sleeping little and almost constantly moving.

“It was as if the line between the waking world and the dream world, the line between being caribou and being human, really started to blur for us,” Heuer said, describing how he and Allison began to pick up on sounds of the herd that they had not previously noticed and even intuit its movements.

After that trip, Heuer and Allison had a son, Zev, but decided to undertake another adventure in 2007 to visit Canadian author and environmentalist Farley Mowat. As a family, they traveled by water from their home in Alberta to visit Mowat in eastern Canada, a voyage was documented in the film “Finding Farley.”

“The most magical part of the trip for all of us, I think, were these moments where, as we’re going across the country, we’re in the settings of Farley’s books, we’re re-reading those books and we’re having these crossovers moments in modern times, decades later,” said Heuer, describing synergy along their journey between what they experienced and scenes from books Mowat wrote, including “Owls in the Family,” “Never Cry Wolf” and “A Whale for the Killing.”

Allison took the stage at the end of the lecture to talk about her latest project, “Bear 71,” an award-winning interactive Web documentary that uses hidden camera photography of a tagged bear to observe the effects of human civilization on the animal’s life cycle.

“It feels like it’s kind of capturing nature uninterrupted,” said Allison of the format.

Heuer’s lecture was preceded Thursday by a screening of the documentary “Being Caribou,” that was accompanied by a question-and-answer session with Allison. Both Heuer and Allison spent three days at UAS during the week, visiting classes and touring the campus.

Ray said, “Their visit has been inspiring, a reminder of what we can achieve, and I’m so grateful for what they’ve already shared with us.”

Randall Tetlichi, a Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation elder who was featured in both the film and book, was the previous Evening at Egan speaker, lecturing on “human-caribou relations” on Nov. 9 (http://bit.ly/QNtLT7).

This fall’s Evening at Egan Series has featured a speaker every Friday since Sept. 14 and has covered such diverse topics as glacier outburst flood monitoring (http://bit.ly/S3PuDp), a student visit to Cuba (http://bit.ly/S0av3a) and Native cultural heritage in contemporary Alaska (http://bit.ly/SzvI0V).

According to the website for Heuer and Allison, “Necessary Journeys” (http://bit.ly/WcqLww), the family is planning another adventure in 2014.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.


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