The Blue Bear, Lynn Schooler’s true account of his search for an elusive bear in the wilds of Alaska, is something of a cousin to Linda Greenlaw’s recent The Lobster Chronicles. Both works are true account of people in professions (he’s a wilderness guide in Alaska, she’s a lobsterman in Maine) that put them directly in touch with the beauty and treachery of the natural world.
Both are rich with lore about the history of their unique locales. And both are interwoven with the personal tragedies suffered by the narrators. Where Schooler’s tale differs is that he tends to get a little too wrapped in the history of Alaska – how its mountains and bodies of water got their names; the mythology of the native Tlingit Indians; the various stories of explorers and adventurers who came before him.
It’s not that his stories of the past aren’t interesting – it’s just that the story at the book’s center is far more absorbing. The memoir revolves around Schooler’s relationship with a kind, talented Japanese photographer Michio Hoshino who initially hires Schooler to help him and his film crew capture some images of the Alaskan wilderness. However, the two eventually come to share a fascination with the elusive blue bear of the title. Also known as a glacier bear, its silvery fur sometimes takes on a blue sheen, earning the creature its nickname. Hoshino and Schooler meet periodically over the coming years to search for the bear.
There also are some flashbacks to Schooler’s past: his early battle with scoliosis, the tragic loss of a woman he loved.
However, the heart of the story is the growing friendship between the friendly, effortlessly trusting Hoshino and the knowledgeable but emotionally distant Schooler. The excitement as the two of them plan their voyages to look for the bear, and the sadness that befalls their relationship pops to life on the page, making bearable the drier stretches.
The men, particularly Hoshino, are vivid human beings, made even more vulnerable and sympathetic by their yearning to get a glimpse of a creature they may never see.
Still, there is one major flaw in the book, and it isn’t necessarily the fault of the author. There are some lovely color photos in the book, but, despite all we hear about his photographic skills, none are by Hoshino. Most are Schooler’s, and they are quite fine, but it would have been nice to actually see Hoshino’s work after reading about it for more than 200 pages.
Despite that nitpicking, Schooler’s book is a relatively engrossing tale that may very well spur
readers to pursue their own wilderness adventures.