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The Blue Bear    by Lynn Schooler order for
Blue Bear
by Lynn Schooler
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Wilderness guide Lynn Schooler shares with the reader his love for Alaska where 'the Ice Age still lingers', a place in whose empty spaces he was able to distance himself from the world after a painful childhood and the brutal death of a young woman that he loved. It's a land full of dangers, where people often disappear. According to Tlingit legend, they are taken by the Kushtaka, 'a pitiless half-human, half-otter spirit that takes on the form of a siren ... to lure the unwary to their doom.'

Schooler tells the story of a decade long search for the rare glacier (blue) bear, and of his 'friendship with an uncommon man' - famed photographer Michio Hoshino, who taught him Japanese words like 'tabun' (maybe) and to'look at what the camera really sees.' Schooler describes Michio as 'Unfailingly kind; courteous above all, gentle, generous and considerate ... a sum greater than his parts.' Over several expeditions to photograph whales and glaciers, the two focused in on the glacier bear, a rare creature that became the Holy Grail of their joint expeditions.

The author's informed discussion of techniques to increase safety in the untamed Alaska wilderness are fascinating, and the color photographs in the middle of the book bring these two people and some of the places they visited to life. Snippets of history are interspersed through the story, such as 'the Russian promyshlenniki who swarmed east in the 1700s' and enslaved Aleut hunters, and the shameful 1942 internment of Aleut Americans, many of whom died of disease and neglect.

The author finally does find and photograph a glacier bear, but the occasion is marred by the wrong company, Michio Hoshino having died tragically some time before. The author gives him this tribute - 'Michio taught me how to look with my eyes - but as a friend, how to see with my heart' - and tells us a story that's as much one of life and how to live it well, as it is great travel literature.

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