Where the Caribou Roam Encourages Readers to Rethink Humanity’s Role in the World
By Rachel M. Anderson, Contributing Writer
(Madison, WI) –Everyone remembers that day they got married, the births of their children, and when they retired. These profound events become indelibly lodged in our psyches and memories.
For Guy Mueller of Madison, Wisc., it was the trip he took with a friend in July 2004 that he will never forget. “I was a young 55 and abruptly facing the prospects of early retirement. I was struggling to make sense of whatever my future might hold,” he explains.
Half of all workers age 50 and older, according to a study done by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, enter retirement unexpectedly. “I was too young to live a life of leisure,” Mueller says. So instead, he took his friend, Mel Baughman, up on an offer to accompany him on a canoe trip through one of the more remote places on Planet Earth: the region of the Canadian tundra known as The Barren Lands.
Baughman, who was then a Professor of Forestry at The University of Minnesota, asked Mueller to join him on the July 2004 trip to Canada’s tundra in early January. “With time on my hands and the trip some six months distant, I had no ready excuses for saying no.” Saying “yes”, Mueller noted, wasn’t just a commitment for the three-week trip in the summer. “We also had plenty of meetings for planning and preparing for the trip.”
Baughman and Mueller, and Tom and Ruth Moore, the couple who joined them on their trip, would spend several months studying maps, getting gear together, packing food, etc. In his book about the adventure, Where the Caribou Roam: In the Barren Lands of Arctic Canada (Little Sticks Publishing, 2019, $21.95), Mueller shares the discoveries he made about nature, humanity, and himself.
The story begins with Mueller’s analysis of his decision to go on the trip, then gets into the incredible experiences he had along the way. “I was thinking through where I was in my life situation and knew a change of scenery would give me the opportunity to step back and think,” says Mueller. That’s not all it did.
The three-week trip also gave Mueller the opportunity to begin learning about Inuit culture and how the Inuit survived using just their wits and hands in one of the world’s harshest environments. Mueller and Baughman canoed down wild rivers, struggled to navigate rough terrain, dodged waterfalls, waved off black flies, and carried pepper spray and a shotgun to ward off stalking polar bears all the while taking in what there was to see around them.
In Chapter Ten he writes: After a bath in the river, a civilized round of cocktails, and supper in the tundra tarp, we watched the sun slowly sink. It coppered the tundra and lacquered the river in gold, but there was an emptiness in the panorama. The scene spread out in the manner of Africa’s Serengeti at sunset, but where was the wildlife?
Until that point they had seen seals, wolves, and birds and waterfowl, but It wasn’t until a few days later that the pair finally saw the sight they had long sought: Caribou, both adults and juveniles, bulls and cows, as far as they could see. “We came around the bend to the confluence of two rivers. On top of the distant river’s bank, on this flat, tabletop expanse of tundra, there they were. Thousands upon thousands of caribou as far as the eye could see,” says Mueller.
“Photographs can’t even begin to describe those two side-by-side rivers of life, one flowing with water, the other with caribou. It was amazing!”
When he set off on the trip, Mueller did not expect to write a story. Even when, during the trip, he decided to put some thoughts down on paper, he did not plan to share his story widely. He didn’t even take notes during the trip, but after returning home, he started jotting down the notes that would eventually turn into a 300-page book. “I have a pretty good knack for remembering scenes,” he says, recalling all the wolves, seals, waterfowl and migrating birds, and of course the caribou herd. “There was also a lot of research and personal interviews, some before the trip but mostly after the trip, that I did. My bibliography has around 150 entries.”
More than an adventure travelogue, this work of creative non-fiction is a story about the struggle of our planet and humankind to coexist, about the evolution and survival of cultures, and about the inseparable searches for both individual and collective identity. It is also about one of the last wild places on earth, a place where the caribou still roam.
Where the Caribou Roam: In the Barren Lands of Arctic Canada is printed and distributed by Ingram Spark. It is also available for purchase online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com.
About the Author
Guy Mueller and his wife of nearly 50 years, Marsha, recently relocated from the Twin Cities to Madison, Wisc., to be closer to their two daughters and their families. He is retired now, but his career spanned service in both the private and public sectors. Where the Caribou Roam: In the Barren Lands of Arctic Canada is his first published literary work.
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