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The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wildby Lynn Schooler
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneSeveranceI was born in 1954 on the edge of the Llano Estacado in West Texas, a desert so vast and featureless that the early Spanish explorers drove a line of stakes across this land to avoid losing their way. The German, Dutch, and Russian immigrants who scattered across West Texas at the turn of the century stringing barbed wire and sinking windmills in an effort to subdue the sunbaked land were a generally mule-headed people, averse to quitting anything once begun, but by the time my father was a young man things were changing, and he became the first of our line to leave our ancestral home'a small, flinty ranch nestled into the mesquite-covered hills near Robert Lee, Texas, where his own father and grandfather had been repeatedly ground down and bested by unending droughts and tightfisted cattle buyers. When I was born he took to the road as a modern-day drummer, driving a blue Plymouth Fury a thousand miles a week across Texas and New Mexico to peddle electrical supplies and hardware to the steadily declining oil and construction industries.One afternoon in 1969 (my fifteenth year), Dad's Plymouth rolled into the sunburned yard in a cloud of biting alkali dust. The driver's-side door swung open as the car skidded to a halt and one booted foot swung to the ground. My father cocked his slender frame on the seat, draped an arm over the steering wheel, then sat there looking at me for a moment before waving me over. Look at this, he said, unfurling a newspaper in my face. What do you think of that? Dad ran a hand through his thinning hair while I studied the paper. Well, what do you think? He was smiling. They've found oil inAlaska. Lots and lots of oil. I wasn't sure where Alaska was, but it was pretty far away, I knew that. It was much farther than El Paso or even Colorado, where my friend Jimmy went elk hunting with his father. Jimmy was gone for a week when he went to Colorado. If they had oil in Alaska, it probably meant Dad would be gone much longer. You gonna be gone some more? Dad smacked me on the shoulder with the paper, a small web of smile lines crinkling in the corners of his eyes. Well, I guess I might, he said, starting toward the house. He seemed in a hurry, didn't even close the door to the car. I could smell the Camel cigarettes he smoked lingering in the interior. Will you? I hollered after him. Be gone a bunch more? Don't worry, son. He was already to the open garage, disappearing into the cool darkness, taking the shortcut into the kitchen. You're coming with me. I squinted into the glare of the sun as I looked around at our home — an acre and a half of hard-packed Texas dirt with a cinderblock house set square in the middle of it; an oil refinery a half mile away that flared off so much waste gas at night that its burning made it possible to read without turning on a lamp; the scrubbed, level horizon of mesquite brush and caliche dirt, the fan of a windmill in the distance. When I spoke it was to myself and out loud. Sounds pretty good to me. Anyplace, I thought, was probably better than this.Dad traded and wheedled, made a deal with a busted wildcat driller for a thirdhand, two-ton Chevrolet oil field truck, then got busy converting it into a makeshift moving van. Barrel-sized saddle tanksstraddled the cab left and right. Fuel's expensive, especially in Canada, Dad said, unscrewing the pipe cap that covered the fill spout and peering into the hollow darkness of one tank. These'll give us plenty of range. It's a long damn road to Alaska. A swiveling crane the previous owner had made of steel pipe welded into the shape of an A-frame and mounted above the bed to lift welding machines, drill heads, and other heavy objects crashed to the ground as the pins were knocked free. A skeleton of wooden slats went up in its place to support a skin of aluminum in the shape of a box, and Dad showed me how to cut and slide Styrofoam sheets between the boards as insulation. We might have to live in here, he said, and I wondered if he was joking. Taking off for Alaska was such a wild idea that living in the back of a truck didn't seem so far-fetched.Mother watched with her arms crossed, shaking her head and smiling, then went back to packing. Her best friend dropped off a tub of peanut butter the size of a bucket, and then Jimmy's mother phoned to ask where we were going to get vegetables once we were living in Alaska. My parents put their arms around each other and laughed at that, but Mother's mouth tightened up when she thought no one was looking.Everything we owned was carefully wedged, packed, and padded into the back of the big truck and the door bolted shut. My eyes dazzled and danced from the sparkling blue glare of the welder a friend of my father used to build a tow bar onto the front of our old Ford pickup. With the pickup in tow behind the moving van, Dad drove carefully, double-clutching the overloaded rig up the long, slow rises, and Isat beside him, absorbed in a stack of magazines (Argosy, Outdoor Life, True Tales of the Old West) to spare myself the incessant boredom of the plains. My mother and two sisters crept along behind in the family car, playing Otis Redding's (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay (the only music they could agree on) over and over on the eight-track tape...
Includes bibliographical references.
With a body twisted by adolescent scoliosis and memories of the brutal death of a woman he loved, Lynn Schooler kept the world at arm's length, drifting through the wilds of Alaska as a commercial fisherman, outdoorsman, and wilderness guide. In 1990, Schooler met Japanese photographer Michio Hoshino, and began a profound friendship cemented by a shared love of adventure and a passionate quest to find the elusive glacier bear, an exceedingly rare creature, seldom seen and shrouded in legend. But only after Hoshino's tragic death from a bear attack does Schooler succeed in photographing the animal — completing a remarkable journey that ultimately brings new meaning to his life.
The Blue Bear is an unforgettable book. Set amid the wild archipelagoes, deep glittering fjords, and dense primordial forests of Alaska's Glacier Coast, it is rich with the lyric sensibility and stunning prose of such nature classics as Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams and Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard.
About the Author
Lynn Schooler, author of The Blue Bear, has lived in Alaska for more than thirty years. He is a two-time winner of Alaska magazine's grand prize for wildlife photography and winner of the National Wildlife grand prize.
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