It’s been about three years since the National Film Board production of Being Caribou began making the rounds and impressing people with the immensity of the task Karsten Heuer and his wife, Leanne Allison, undertook when they decided to follow the annual migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Allison produced the film along with Diana Wilson. Heuer concentrated on print and photography. There has been an adult book, also called Being Caribou; this one is for younger readers.
Having seen the film, I was puzzled as to how that five month trek could be distilled into an effective combination of words and photographs within the confines of the traditional children’s picture book. There are 60 well chosen colour pictures in this book, carefully selected to go with the eight chapters into which the story is divided. There is somewhat more text and a smaller font size than one would expect in a book of these dimensions, but this is more of a coffee table chapter book than it is a typical picture book, and one must bear that in mind.
Heuer has written the book carefully, packed it with information and some adventure, and managed to give a good outline of the adventure he and his wife had. There is wonder and hardship packed into these pages. The story has not been Disneyfied at all. This couple had backpacked through the wilderness and climbed mountains together before they took on this trek, and Heuer is very clear that it taxed their resources to the utmost.
The book is also very clear in its intentions. While it is, on the one hand, a straightforward account of the caribou migration, Heuer makes it quite clear why they migrate the way they do and why no pattern could substitute for this age old route. Who would have believed that the need to avoid insects would be one of the key factors in the caribou migration? Well, anyone who has ever had to change a tire in northern British Columbia or the Yukon, outside the boundaries of a town and the local insect control program would have only the slightest inkling of how bad the bug problem can get.
Heuer has set this up like an adult book, with an index, a list of books and web sites a person could look up to learn more on the subject, and has included a “How You Can Help” plea for people to write to US legislators and encourage them to keep the oil companies out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.