What the Caribou Taught Me About Being Together, and Apart

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We set off down the Noatak River once again, each paddle stroke carrying us nearer to the Chukchi Sea, and the finish. We recognized in principle that it wasn’t achievable to disappear into the northern wilderness for half a yr and come back again unchanged. What we could not envision was what this return may look like in practice. Suddenly, I understood it didn’t issue. There are some items we just can’t understand until we dwell them. To have been amongst the caribou was all the closure I would at any time will need.

Like all of us, I’m greedy for link in a time of uncertainty. I hear the university bell ring down the street and listen reflexively for the children’s voices that never arrive. I stand 6 toes from my sister and truly feel the void stretch deep and aching among us. I hug my small children shut, due to the fact I nonetheless can. And then I shut my eyes and think about the caribou bedded down in the snow, trusting the solar to increase and warm their backs, being aware of that the night will pass.

We are not caribou. We really don’t pound our hooves in opposition to the earth each spring and tumble, in look for of food and shelter. We just can’t endure on frozen lichen and the warmth of our fur coats. Mosquitoes and wolves aren’t our finest foes. The normal specifics of our human life do issue, and deeply. But even now, when I most want to believe that in content endings, I obtain myself turning towards the harshness of an Arctic river. In the wild eyes of a floundering calf divided from its mother, in the bleached white cranium of very last season’s casualty, I choose solace in merely staying present. The caribou remind me that we have to reconcile the tenuousness of our existence with the preciousness of what we stand to lose.

In the end, potentially we are not so various from the caribou crossing the river. As we battle against the present-day, we’re buoyed by the simple fact that we’re not by yourself. We greet our neighbors on the screen, via windows, at distances that truly feel strained and unnatural, and trade silent blessings, recognizing that for us, like for caribou, local community is every little thing. Even cloistered in our very own invisible bubbles, we perception the momentum of the herd pouring down the hillside. We know that there is no one to conserve us except ourselves.

By gathering the bravery to leap, waiting for the shock of the chilly water to pass, and emotion the ripples of our individual alternatives, we commence to transfer as a single. To endure together, we should be courageous. We will have to be compassionate. We must find out when to phase forward as leaders and when to stage apart so some others can pass safely and securely. And during these times when fear steals my breath, I will remember the steam mounting from the backs of caribou, see the moms plunging boldly into the cold h2o with their calves by their sides, and let myself feel that we, way too, can uncover our way.


Caroline Van Hemert is a wildlife biologist and the writer of “The Sunlight is a Compass,” which was produced in paperback in February.

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