Tracking friendship and the rare blue bear

Schooler's book chronicles his life and journeys with photographer Michio Hoshino

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2002

Juneau wilderness guide Lynn Schooler has rafted in Iceland and the Andes and trekked through Cambodia and Vietnam. But it was a powerful friendship, not adventure, that compelled him to write about his life.

Schooler woke at 3:30 or 4 a.m. every morning for a year and a half to work on "Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship, Tragedy and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness." His writing in the early hours before starting his "real work" paid off this spring.

The book has been out since May and has been selling well throughout the country. Schooler spent seven weeks this summer on a West Coast book tour, showing slides of Alaska, reading passages of the book and talking about the natural history of the North. The book, published by a subsidiary of Harper-Collins, has been translated into nine languages. The German-language edition is being released today and Schooler travels to Paris later this month to support the release of "Blue Bear" in France.

Schooler will show slides and read from "Blue Bear" from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, at Hearthside Books in Nugget Mall.

Schooler, 48, said he was inspired to write because of his friend Michio Hoshino, a renowned Japanese wildlife photographer who was killed by a brown bear on the Kamchatka Peninsula of Alaska in 1996.

"The book is largely a tribute to my friendship with him," Schooler said. "He was a huge influence on my life in a positive fashion."

Schooler has been a commercial fisherman, boatwright and cabinet maker, but for the past dozen years he's focused on guiding. He specializes in taking film crews and wildlife photographers from around the world out on the waters of Southeast Alaska aboard his 32-foot boat, Wilderness Swift.

The book tells of his work and his life.

"It is my memoirs, but I weave in a lot of natural history, Native history, geology and natural science as a metaphor for bigger things," Schooler said.

Schooler was born in Texas and grew up in the Permian Basin, the flat country between Odessa and Midland. When he was 14 the Alaska oil boom brought his family to Anchorage. It was a welcome change for a young man who loved the outdoors, but the move was quickly followed by a devastating discovery.

Schooler's adolescent growth spurt was accompanied by pain and back problems, and he was diagnosed with spinal scoliosis. To deal with the congenital problem, he spent two years in a monstrous brace, a metal-rod-and- leather-girdle contraption that kept his torso rigid. It was a social nightmare for a teenager.

That experience, and the death of a close friend a few years later in the mid-1970s, made Schooler a reclusive person. He wasn't antisocial, he said, but there was always a distance between himself and others, and he didn't have lasting friendships. That changed when he met Hoshino in 1990.

Schooler was guiding a Japanese television crew making a documentary on Hoshino in Alaska.

"I thought he was the interpreter or gofer for the crew. He was cooking and helping out," Schooler said. "I didn't realize he was the subject of the documentary."

The two become friends and made at least one, and sometimes three trips a year together until Hoshino's death. In part, their adventures together were related to finding and photographing the rare glacier bear, an unusual kind of black bear.

It was only after Hoshino's death that Schooler encountered the bear, but the time with Hoshino had transformed him.

"Being around him changed me from being an entirely reclusive person to someone willing to have more genuine contact with people," Schooler said.

"Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship, Tragedy, and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness" is available at Hearthside Books in hardcover for $25.95.



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