“He was a rather large bear,” said Daniel Bunker. “Still, actually, fairly feared by the other bears.”
Bunker, who works for Alaska Hallo Bay Bear Camp, noticed this particular bear last summer while guiding a Disney Nature camera crew in Katmai National Park. One of the bear’s paws was flopped the wrong way so that it limped on the other three.
“He must have had a pretty interesting reputation, probably a pretty fierce reputation,” he said.
Bunker watched the bear, who the crew nicknamed “Limpy,” thinking he wouldn’t make it very long — but it kept hanging in there. He noticed it improving, and in about a month it was using the paw almost normally.
“I was pretty amazed, for such a significant injury,” said Bunker, who believed the injury was likely from a fight with another bear.
As he watched Limpy, a story came to Bunker — a story about a little bear who was bullied by other bears, who grew bigger and bigger until he became the bully. Bunker wrote the story in his notebook for his sons, 6-year-old Caleb and 3-year-old Micah.
“I’m not actually that big of a writer,” he said. “It’s kind of sporadic.”
It was Bunker’s little sister, Lily, who said, “Oh, that’s good! You should do something with it.”
So he decided to turn it into a children’s book and dedicate it to his sons.
Although he didn’t have a large budget for the project, Bunker used an online site to solicit bids for an illustrator. After receiving 32 responses he decided on an artist from India.
“I wanted something that was realistic and would capture the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness where I guide,” he said. The artist, Bijan Samaddar, was able to accomplish just that. Via the Internet, Samaddar and Bunker were able to create a beautifully illustrated version of “Limpy Chesterton.”
Bunker, who grew up in California, has always loved the outdoors. Now in his third year guiding for Hallo Bay, he describes the summer work as “totally (his) cup of tea.”
Prior to Alaska, Bunker lived in Texas, where he attended Dallas Baptist University and met his wife, Melissa. When their first son was born, the Bunkers said they were projecting his life being malls and McDonald’s play lands.
“We both realized we’d kind of gotten stuck there — and really didn’t like the lifestyle there,” said Bunker. “We were trying to find a way to get back to a place where you didn’t have to hang out at food courts with kids escaping the heat.”
Bunker had spent a summer in Alaska when he was in college and wanted to show some of it to Melissa. Instead of trying to see the entire state in just a few days, she asked him to show her one spot. He chose Homer. After spending a week they both said, “We could live here.”
One year later, in the fall of 2009, they were.
Melissa, a nurse practitioner, was recruited by SVT, where she now works as a locum, or fill-in, provider. Bunker, also a volunteer firefighter, was hired at Paul Banks Elementary School where he works with special needs children. Although his degree is in communications, Bunker spent time in his early 20s at an orphanage in Budapest, Hungary, where he worked with special needs children.
Because of his work, Bunker said he’s very familiar with disabilities and what kids have to struggle with during the school year.
“I did experience some of that growing up as well, so it’s definitely near and dear to my heart,” he said.
In an excerpt from the book, after overcoming his disability, Chester discovers he is bigger and stronger than the other bears:
“Why, they’re afraid of me,” Chester realized one day, amazed. Then he realized something else. He liked it.
Chester discovered that if he waited for other bears to catch fish, he could jump out, scare them away, and take their fish. This was much easier than fishing for himself.
As time went on Chester grew stronger and stronger… and meaner and meaner. Chester lived this way for several years. Everyone was afraid of the big “Bully Bear,” and Chester did whatever he pleased.
But that’s not how the story ends. To learn how Chester becomes a better bear, pick up a copy at the Homer Bookstore, the Hallo Bay office on Ocean Drive or at amazon.com.
Toni Ross is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
By Daniel Bunker
Illustrated by Bijan Samaddar
Available at Hallo Bay Bear Camp, the Homer Bookstore or amazon.com