CAREER: Wilderness explorer, wildlife guide, photographer, and writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prizes for photography from Alaska and National Wildlife.
The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship, Tragedy, and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness (memoir), Ecco Press (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Wilderness guide and explorer Lynn Schooler has lived in Alaska for most of his life. He lives on his boat, Wilderness Swift, and his home port is Juneau. A New Yorker reviewer wrote that Schooler "has distilled a life of unusual intensity into his first book." The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship, Tragedy, and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness is a memoir that reaches back to Schooler's teen years, when he strapped on a steel brace to correct the scoliosis that was turning him into a hunchback. It was removed two years later, but Schooler was by that time very shy, a loner who didn't mix well with people. He suffered many other tragedies in addition to his struggle with his physical affliction. A girl he cared for disappeared and was assumed to be a victim of Robert Hansen, who raped and killed dozens of women in Alaska during the 1970s and 1980s. Schooler writes of his other losses—his father to cancer and the loss of Michio Hoshino, a friend who changed Schooler's outlook forever, to a Russian grizzly. A Kirkus Reviews writer called The Blue Bear "an emotionally punishing memoir that finds beauty in the frailty of life and impermanence against a grand setting."
Hoshino was a Japanese photographer who came to Schooler in 1990, asking him to guide him through southeast Alaska in search of the rare glacier bear. This particular animal, a subspecies of black bear, appears to be blue in the right light, and very few had been photographed. According to Schooler, fewer than one hundred exist, and only within the 500-mile stretch of coast between Prince William Sound and Ketchikan. The men spent several seasons together, observing and photographing the landscape, birds, animals, and sea creatures of Alaska, learning from each other, and for Schooler, developing trust in the man with whom he developed a deep friendship.
Schooler writes of their major encounters, such as with great schools of humpback whales, but also offers the reader the minutiae that evokes Alaska, the blue of the glaciers, which he explains, and the cycles of nature. "The graciousness of Schooler's intelligence is never more apparent than when he yields to the details that might otherwise go unnoticed," commented Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times Book Review, "the way glacier-scraped ground regenerates over time, the environmental biology of the sundew plant, the migration of plovers."
Schooler has included a number of his Alaska photographs. Amanda Cuda, who reviewed the book for Curled Up with a Good Book online, called them "quite fine," but pointed out that although a great deal is written about Hoshino's skills as a photographer, none of his work has been included. "Despite that nitpicking," said Cuda, "Schooler's book is a relatively engrossing tale that may very well spur readers to pursue their own wilderness adventures."
"The quest to find a blue bear and photograph it emerges as the implicit bond between the author and Michio Hoshino," wrote Klinkenborg. "Of course, no quest is ever fulfilled in the way one imagines, and that is true of the search for the blue bear too. It leads Schooler sometimes through platitudinous country, where the sea-road is all too familiar. But it also takes him, and us, where we have never been before."
A Publishers Weekly contributor felt the strength of The Blue Bear to be "its evocation of the overpowering Alaskan landscape and the thoughts it imposes on the author's agile and receptive mind, gradually opening his solitary heart to the grace of true friendship."
Anthony Brandt reviewed the memoir in National Geographic Explorer, saying that it "gives up its secrets slowly; what it seems to be about and what it is ultimately about are not the same thing. … This is, finally, a book about what we now all too glibly call 'healing,' a word that glosses over the tentative, painful process by which we come to accept the basic conditions of life's sudden losses, innocences raped, hopes shattered, intolerable fates—and find, if we are lucky, our footing and our joy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Schooler, Lynn, The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship, Tragedy, and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of The Blue
Bear: A True Story of Friendship, Tragedy, and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness, p. 318.
National Geographic Adventure, May, 2002, Anthony Brandt, review of The Blue Bear, p. 42.
New Yorker, July 22, 2002, review of The Blue Bear, p. 75.
New York Times Book Review, June 9, 2002, Verlyn Klinkenborg, review of The Blue Bear, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 2002, review of The Blue Bear, p. 66.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (October 22, 2002), Amanda Cuda, review of The Blue Bear.*