6/11 Idaho Magazine Features - "The Demons of Boulder Lake" (non-fiction)

Daniel Claar - Idaho's Premier Backcountry Writer

Winner - Idaho Magazine Publisher's Choice Award 2010
"The Proper Filter"

Winner - Idaho Magazine Judge's Choice Award 2011
"Where the River Leads"

"Hot Spring Break "

"Stampede! "

"Seeing Things"
Winner - Idaho Magazine Second Place 2011

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hostages At Lynx Creek (Idaho Magazine - April 2010)

     We have been here before. A quick comparison of the lichen encrusted boulder to a picture in our digital camera confirms our suspicions. This is the rocky game trail descending to the Middle Fork of the Boise River, and on its banks, our destination - Lynx Creek hot spring. The last time we ventured down this path, my wife, Jamie, and I, experienced an unbelievable incident with a herd of mountain goats. We had stumbled upon the goats grazing near Lynx Creek and enjoyed a rare opportunity of observing them at close range.

     However, just minutes into our private viewing, unleashed huskies appeared on the other side of the river and charged the herd. The goats panicked and fled using the only escape route available - the trail upon which we were crouched. Before it was over, a stampede of goats washed over us and we survived a face to face and once-in-a-lifetime stare down with the monstrous herd leader. As I recall, it never blinked.

     The owners of the huskies arrived shortly after the goats vanished up the mountain. They waved and shouted and probably expected us to return the enthusiasm. What they got was reluctant acknowledgment from two people who would have liked to lecture them on keeping their dogs under control. A loud river separated us at the time, so any communication effort would have been us attempting to mime a mountain goat stampede. We opted to keep our dignity.

     I’d be lying if I said we returned to this remote drainage of the aptly named Sawtooths just for the hot spring. Neither of us has mentioned it, but I know we are both hoping to see the mountain goats somewhere in these jagged peaks.

     Jamie and I have barely begun picking our way down the trail when we hear a rustle in the trees below us and out pops what… but a couple of huskies. Again? Really? At least this time, they are close enough we don’t mistake them for charging wolves. Well, that and the red doggy saddle-bags are a dead give away. The huskies hesitate, sniffing the air cautiously, but their wagging tails betray their intentions. I like that quality in dogs; they tend to assume the best about people. We hold out our hands and call softly to them which serves as enough of a welcoming gesture. The dogs trot up to us, smell our fingers, and allow us to scratch their heads.

     Moments later, a third husky appears down the trail and behind it, what appears to be a hallucination, or some kind of wild mountain woman. I notice Jamie's eyebrows arch in surprise. Definitely not a hallucination, my wife sees her too.

     The lady is incredibly tan and lithe, covered with tattoos and piercings. With the exception of a walking stick, a small medicine bag tied to her belt, and a monstrous hunting knife in a sheath around her left calf, she is carrying no gear. She is also, I assume, not expecting company as her shirt is completely unbuttoned with the two sides tucked into her pants revealing a wide strip of flesh from neck to waist. The lady fastens a couple of buttons as she approaches. Her lean-muscled appearance defies the age in and around her eyes. I figure she has to be pushing 50. Obviously, she is an old school, Idaho kind of woman.

     “I love your doggies,” says my wife as her three pets swarm us poking at our hands with their warm muzzles.

     “Thank you,” she replies. “I wish you could meet them all. My one-year old, Tiny, ran off a few hours ago. One second he was with me on the trail, the next… gone. I didn’t even see which way he went. I’ve been looking all morning.”

     While Jamie expresses her sympathies, I can’t help but question the mystery woman’s lack of equipment. Her hardcore, unencumbered appearance has left me feeling like rookie mountain tourist with a forty pound pack full of gear and food. I begin to entertain the idea of ditching everything except my underwear and hunting knife for all future outdoor excursions when she mentions her backpack is safely stashed on the main trail.

     “I’m worried his harness might be caught on some underbrush… or maybe he saw a deer to chase…” As her voice trails off, Jamie and I exchange a knowing glance.

     “Were you down by the hot spring when Tiny disappeared?” my wife asks.

     The tough old lady shrugs. “I don’t know of any hot springs around here.”

     Like Jamie and I had done on our last trip, the woman picked the wrong side of a massive granite outcropping where the trail ends at a cliff’s edge and a sheer drop to the water below. The raging river has spent thousands of years carving a steep and narrow channel straight through the granite resulting in a narrow gorge of dropping waterfalls and churning whitewater. She had missed the trail that follows the drainage down the other side of the granite monolith all the way to the river.

     We tell her about the hot springs and mountain goats and theorize Tiny had heard or smelled the herd, went looking for them, or possibly chased them, and wound up getting lost. The woman accepts Jamie’s invitation to join us for another trek down the mountain.

     “Might as well,” she says, “that knucklehead could be anywhere by now.”

     Despite the uneven terrain, we make quick time. All three of us are eager to find the missing pet. We smell the hot spring and hear the river before we can see anything through the trees. Moving cautiously, to avoid any potential animal surprises, we creep into a small meadow at the river’s edge. This is the same place we found the goats grazing on our last trip. This time the area is deserted, no goats and no dog.

     I remove my backpack and begin to search for animal sign. Almost immediately, I find fresh goat tracks and wet droppings. The herd had been here this morning. I also notice a couple of muddy canine tracks. They are too small to be anything other than juvenile wolf, or mid-sized dog. It seems more and more likely Tiny found the mountain goat herd. I experience a wave of agitation at the thought of more unleashed dogs tormenting this family of goats. The mountain lions and wolf packs should serve as adversaries enough in this wilderness. Dogs that can’t stay with their owners should be kept on a leash.

     If Tiny had been here, he is long gone. The lady guesses he may have returned to their camp site from the night before. She hides her feelings behind a wall of rigid body language and terse replies, but I sense a worried desperation taking hold. I look up at the towering Sawtooth peaks all around us. Where does one start looking for lost pets out here? There are no answers on the mid-day breeze.

     She thanks us for our assistance and we jot down her phone number in case we find her dog. The woman whistles for her remaining huskies and begins to ascend the trail for who knows how many times that day. We watch her go, silently casting our wills against the cosmos that she finds Tiny.

     Jamie and I set up camp and eat a quick lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches. We spend the day exhausting ourselves in the sun, alternating between quick dips in the freezing river and leisurely soaks in the hot spring. We do our best to forget about the missing husky, about the problems of other people, and enjoy a perfect summer day in one of the most beautiful places either of us can imagine.

     After a dinner of meatballs and barbeque sauce, we climb into our small backpacking tent to avoid the mosquito hour. As the heat of the day relents, and before the cold mountain night sets in, the mosquitoes come out in force, hungry for blood. We are killing time playing cards and flicking mosquitoes off the mesh walls when Jamie suddenly cocks her ear to the wind.

     “Did you hear that?”

     “I used to sing in a rock band,” I remind her. “I can't hear anything.”

     “There it is again,” she says and grips my knee. “It almost sounds like a child crying... somewhere in the cliffs.” I listen intently for a few seconds, but all I hear is the nearby river. I can tell Jamie is a little freaked out, so I decide to change the subject.

     “How about a… back rub?” I ask while casting an amorous gaze over her bikini clad body and smiling mischievously.

     “Yeah right,” she says. “That's exactly when the ax wielding maniac shows up. I know my horror films. THERE, you had to hear it that time!” she exclaims pointing to the cliffs above us.

     I listen again and this time I hear it. She is right, it sounds like a distant and disturbed child, somehow human and yet not human at all. The sound is eerie to say the least. “Oh that,” I say, playing it off as casually as possible. “That's just a Central Idaho demon baby. Nothing to worry about. Quite common in these parts.”

     As we listen, the sound grows louder and spookier until I am finally compelled to check it out. Feeling slightly vulnerable wearing only the boxers I had spent the day swimming in, I grab my hunting knife.

     “Wait a second.” says my wife, “Either you’re going to walk off and never return, or, you’re going to come back and find me chopped to pieces.”

     I laugh, but can’t help notice a sense of unease in the cooling air. Surely, just my imagination in overdrive. I make it about twenty steps before I have slapped and killed the third biting mosquito. I retreat to the campsite.

     “I need some clothes.”

     “My hero,” says my wife and tosses my pants and shirt out the tent door.

     “I don’t see you out here.”

     Never one to back down, Jamie throws some clothes on over her blue bikini and joins me. Meanwhile, the cries in the rocks have become more frantic, more desperate. Jamie and I make our way into the rocks above our campsite trying to pin-point the sound. I am carrying my knife out in front of me, looking like a hitchhiker with a long and razor sharp thumb. In the fading light, we scan the shadows on the cliff above us and locate the source of the cries.

     It’s a yearling mountain goat perched on the top and very edge of the cliff braying his concern to the echoing gorge below. Is it stuck? Where’s the rest of the herd? Clearly, the little goat has been separated from its family. I am suddenly reminded of the lost husky. The appearance of the young goat lends more credence to our missing dog theory. Perhaps Tiny charged into the herd causing the goats to bolt in all directions. Maybe this little one was singled out and forced into running in the opposite direction of the rest of its family. Who knows. We are left with speculation.

     The goat notices us just after we see him. The worried cries stop instantly and the animal appears relieved to have company. It begins see-sawing its way down the cliff where there is nothing any human would consider a path. Even at its young age, the animal is surprisingly dexterous. However, despite the goat’s bounding energy, something about its gait seems off. I can’t be certain, but I think it might be limping.

     Jamie turns to me and insists we get back to camp. We both know there is nothing to be done and we certainly don’t want to confuse the youngster or cause it further alarm. We retreat, but as soon as we are out of sight, the cries begin again, even more fervently this time and getting louder. The yearling is following us. We duck into our tent hoping the goat won’t spot our camp hidden amongst a small stand of spruce trees.

     For the next hour, we are tortured by the tormented cries. The yearling never appears to notice our tent, but it hobbles by within a stone’s throw of our camp. We are reminded of last year’s goat stampede when a nanny, with her new born in tow, pushed right past us on the trail, so close we could have touched them both. The fact this lost yearling could very well be that same infant isn’t lost on us. I even go so far as to entertain the ridiculous notion that the goat recognizes us and knows we mean it no harm. Jamie and I are tempted to see if the frightened goat will come to us, to see if there is anything we can do. Surely, an ax wielding maniac is preferable to this drawn out suffering.

     I consider the prospects of raising a mountain goat on our quarter-acre lot in Boise. It probably wouldn’t appreciate the summer heat, and really, what would our three cats think? However, we realize interfering with wild animals isn’t part of nature’s intentions. On the other hand, I can’t help but think nature didn’t intend for people’s unleashed dogs to harass these goats either. I sit in silence and watch the tears roll down my wife’s cheeks. We are being held hostage, afraid to move or make a sound, by a fluffy, adorable animal.

     Finally, mercifully, the goat retreats back up the mountain, its desperate cries fading with the last remaining light. We ponder the events that may have lead to the goat’s current predicament. Again, we ask ourselves if there is anything we can do, but we already know the answer. That night my dreams are haunted by lonely cries on the wind while my body, nearly swallowed in shadow, lies paralyzed on a forest floor. Above, the black, indifferent universe and distant stars mock my concern.

     The next morning, there is no trace of the yearling, no distant cries, nothing. We tell each other stories about the baby goat finding its family during the night and how it’s currently being smothered by an overbearing and relieved mother. Perhaps we have become too attached to this family of goats. Perhaps the few thrilling seconds we spent amongst the herd, or the fact they chose to not harm us when they could have, has left us feeling somehow indebted to these animals.

      In reality, I am pretty sure something has found the baby goat by now. Nothing making that kind of racket will go unnoticed in the wilderness for long. I can only hope it really was the herd and not a mountain lion or wolf. I also realize my anger with Tiny is unfounded. Like it is with the baby goat, this is no place for a lost dog and he will be lucky to be found alive. Something as simple as a leash could have possibly prevented the plight of both animals. Nature is a harsh mistress and rightfully so. However, the lives of mountain goats, and even dogs, are difficult enough without further complications at the hands of humans.

Know What I Mean

There is more of me
Scattered through time
One amongst the pines
Walking rivers
Biting tongues
Through the twilight of reason
To watch it go

Does it help
To be specific?

Trashcan in chain mail
Obese moon
On melted pillar
Ugly hunter
Shot cow
Smell of hot blood
On frozen earth

Is still everything
As it remains nothing
As it always
Will be

Gift Exchange

Everything has changed
Since these boxes
Last closed
Bows and ribbons
Seven rolls of
Picturesque snowman scenes
And a nativity set
I put up with
Year after year

Difficult to even touch
These artifacts
Let alone separate them
Into two distinct piles
A holiday time bomb
Left for me

Sometimes think
I got out a little easy
And maybe I did
But at least
She won’t have to
Leave her memories
On the doorstep
Of an apartment
She has never seen
Where the silent cries
Of a cat behind glass
And familiar wind chimes
Crash in on her

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Well In Hand

The power and the promise
Of the young
We had the fire
In our fingertips
On our tongues
The magic and the laughter
We aimed at those
You know we knew
They'd never get it
Man we knew they'd never know
And while we sat wasting
With it well in hand
The magic left the table
For someone who'd understand
Have yet to admit
The best never shows
But we drink and we smoke
And it never gets old

There's a joke boy
It never gets old
Yeah there's a joke boy
It never gets old
You live and you die boy
It never gets old
We drink and we smoke
And it never gets old

Another round for me
And my friends
Hard to tell
Where the fun really ends
Light it up
Load another bowl
Taking one more hit brother
One for the road
And while we sit wasting
With it well in hand
The magic might leave the band
For someone who understands
Have yet to admit
The best never shows
But we drink and we smoke
And it never gets old

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reading Entrails

As the city kick-starts its nerves
Caffeine and nicotine
Steeling itself for another day
I stroll through a local
Wildlife sanctuary

Politely ignore
The human architecture
Synthetic ecosystem
And distant
Rigid silhouettes
Intimidating the tree line

Enjoy the spectacle
Of a red-winged blackbird
Dive bombing a beaver
During its morning swim

With an echoing slap of tail
The hounded rodent
Retreats beneath the water

No sooner does the smile
Touch my lips
Before I spot a sleek sausage
With shiny wet fur
And sinister smirk
On the pond's grassy bank

With surprising speed
For three inch legs
The mink
Body rippling in little brown waves
Charges a flock of Canadian Geese

The birds momentarily forget
About their wings and
Surly disposition
Stumbling like obese drunks
In every direction

Lurching into the air
The flock attempts
To regain its dignity
In a cacophony of angry honks

Even within man's playground
Even in my diluted Cherokee blood
In the shadow of dark towers
I feel the earth tremor

Today is a day to war with devils

A Little Like Faith

The paranoia
Descends upon my table
And I nearly believe
I remember
From our last
Is a lie

I have heard stories
And wonder
How much is meant
To prompt
A reaction or
Whether I am falling
For some trick
In a lipstick and
Perfect tits magazine

Almost enough to
Keep myself
From laughing at
I would find pathetic
On someone
Other than me

Big Bird On Fire

I remember
Choking down poison
With the gods
Of depression
To validate our
Various discontents

I remember
Sage advice from an octopus
Who could smoke six joints
While piloting a helicopter

I remember
The logic behind abstaining
From swimming
For at least thirty minutes
After being impaled
By unicorns

I remember Twin Falls
Peppermint crack
Ritualistic muppet cruelty
And electricity
Between our fingers

I remember ashes
Wet and shoveled under
In danger of rising
Once again

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gave It Away

About to take stock
Of his life
In terms of possibilities
Lovers or friends
And the average number
Of hours
Arguing with himself
Before deciding
The gun powder
In the house
Far too accessible

Should have listened
To the one
Who understands
What it is like
Believing yourself
Unmistakenly magnetic
And finding
One funhouse mirror
Who agrees

Safety Vs. Freedom

I have cut myself
Free from many a cast
Never letting the bones
Quite heal
And I would like to say
It is the last time
I immortalize or encourage
Such behavior

But I can't suppress
An overwhelming sense
Of pride
When I open his portable cage
And find

That run over
Chewed up
Drugged and dizzy
My boy has managed
To escape
The lamp shade
They attached to his neck

Lady Death

Unearthed a woman
With ivory skin
Stiletto heels
And plastic tits
Room to rent eyeballs
Staring at me
As I bang away

But that's my lady death
She my lady death
Knocked out head to toe
In her black and blue
Leather dress

Well I keep it a secret
We all got a secret
I keep it a secret
From you and myself

She hangs from the wall
With rigid lips
She doesn't seem to mind
If it's forced
Or if I'm spent

But that's my lady death
She my lady death
Knocked out head to toe
In her black and blue
Leather dress

Well I keep it a secret
We all got a secret
I keep it a secret
From you and myself

Lady Death lies beside me at night
Whispering of a day much brighter
Lady Death lies in a pile of filters
Sitting next to my cigarette lighter
Lady Death lies on the lips of friends
And right on the tip of my tongue
Lady Death lies and I listen with a grin
Tacked right to my gums

Trophy Dust

The ring started
To itch
Heavier than any metal
Understood by man
And hours
After prying it off
I played the game
Of my life out there

Couldn't help feeling
I had broken
A banner
Confirming this road
Was destined
For the rafters

While driving the lane
Allowed myself
To steal
A little something
From every dancer
Across the scene

The whole time
Nobody can dominate
Every position
Or stretch to such
Translucent extremes

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lips And Assholes

Between eleven and two
Monday through Friday
Fashionable strangers surround
A hot dog cart
And wait like ashes
For their sizzling fat tubes

A routine broken
As a woman bounces
Off a screeching delivery van
While crossing the street

The people
Who usually swell in silence
Take turns
With what they saw
How it sounded
And when it isn’t one of us
Wrapped up
And stuffed in sack
Still warm
We feel obligated
To act more alive

At the very least
A little less dead

They Are Everywhere

With smoke
Thick in the room
And a cat
Perched on each shoulder
I crack a curtain
To watch
What my pets assume
And I believe
Is all that really exists

What we can’t see
Is just another
Tweaker’s imagination

Up and down my street
Always on cue
Adrenalin junkies and skateboards
Pigs and mountain bikes
Raccoons and army jackets
A fantastical freak parade

While across the road
Through slightly parted blinds
I catch
The eyes of a stranger
Watching me
Absorb and dismiss
All this madness

Friday, October 23, 2009


Behind the lies
You will see me
Lurch across the stage
With both hands
On all that I need
To help me turn a page

There's no light
No light
There's no light at all

I know I create nothing
More terrifying
Than these visions
Of a world
That hollows me inside

There's no light
No light
There's no light at all

I was afraid
I was so much different
It's much worse
I am just the same
Just like you
See I wake up too
Got myself staring back
And he won't be fooled
I was afraid
I was so much different
It's much worse
I am just the same

One more time
Back where I started
Here I go again
But this addiction
Must be thinking
He's my best friend

There's no light
No light
Still no light at all

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Choosing Bliss

We had just established
The connection
Between continental drift
Hair pieces and
Hand grenades found
In ancient ice
A language demanding
Thirty seven percent
Of the human mind
And a colossal energy
In seven billion directions
When we realized
It was a secret
Best kept between us

We understood any
To enlighten our vain
And destructive race
Would result in more thorazine
And because
We were beyond
The trappings of
Audible communication
We silently agreed
The conversation
Never took place

Surprise Party

Celebrating my anniversary
With slow death
In a favorite dive
He and I
Burning through
Obscene quantities
Of liquor and

Once again
My complete withdraw
From any idea of love
Family or friends
When she materializes
Through the smoke
To suck me back

In prime condition
And trying to quit
My lastest gravitation
The heart insists
I can always
Pull out tomorrow

As for tonight
There is no reason
To not get by
On her
Inescapable smile

Pass The Bacon

At an unfamiliar breakfast table
I notice my reflection
On a milk carton and find myself
Surrounded by faces
Who between mouthfuls
Chatter about the
Paper breeding on their desk
And whether or not the weather
Demands a sweater
And if this might
Finally be
Our year to bring home
The trophy

Catch a raised eyebrow
Or two
And I wait for my invitation
To be excused
But the more grease
They shovel in
The less they seem to care

I help myself
And quit worrying about it

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Once again
Living off rum
and no more
Than five hours
Of sleep
Allows me
To feel the years
I have
Subjected myself
To similar treatment

Seem to remember
When I could shake
The burn
With another drink
Rip or drop
Of flying eyeball

When considering
The bloodshot skeleton
Hanging above
The bathroom sink
I start to believe
These memories
Are the fables
Of another man
I liked well enough
To call my own

Stumble My Way

I gave up on forever
And ever and ever
Before it even began
Something like love
Turned into hate
The second that ring
Touched your hand
I let go of the rope
And fell into the dark
And out of the light
Made my stand

You thought I had slipped
Just out of your sight
But God I was so far away
I don't want to come back
I don't want to be found
I know I can never be saved

I crawled to the shore
Of a high mountain lake
Where even my own face
seemed fake
I built a home
And I lived alone
While I stumbled my way
Into grace
I forgot about us
And I let myself be
Now I can't even
Picture your face

You thought I had slipped
Just out of your sight
But God I was so far away
I don't want to come back
I don't want to be found
I know I can never be saved

One foot in front of the other
As I stumble my way into grace
I said one foot in front of the other
As I stumble my way into grace

Resurrection Of Cactus Ed

Last night
I witnessed the ghost
Of a tall and white bearded
Old man rise from an
Unmarked desert grave
Play his wooden flute
And kick up
His cowboy boots
Beneath a new moon

I lacked heart
To tell him
The resistance is now
Nothing more
Than twigs in the flood
And victory
Is an utterance
On the lips of fools

But still
I managed a smile
As our eyes met
And with a wink
He reminded me
That winning
Was never an option
And certainly
Not a reason for war

Friday, October 16, 2009


He had given up
On alcohol
Love and friends
Forcing himself to walk
A hundred miles
Out of his way
To avoid palm trees
Crystal ponds
Or any other manifestation
Of a desperate mind

The last time
He searched my eyes
For one thing
To keep his release
Wrapped in brass
I stared at the drink
In my hands
And wondered
If the wind would
Erase his passing
Before I could follow
The footprints

Bruised and Swelling

For the first time
He is free
To drip upon
Every lovely inch
Of all
The young women
Somewhat surprised
The sex
Has yet to slap him
With some kind of
Restraining order
When as fas
As he is concerned
They are all naked
And stepping out
Of a shower
Into his
Loving arms

One At A Time

There are days
The breeze stirs
Just enough to remind me
Of its presence
The sun caresses
Our dirty city
With long hot fingers
That I love
To hate
So I hide myself
In a cave
And there I wait
For my cloudy day

There are days
I no longer
Tolerate the broken bottles
Survey markers
The barbed wire
In our eyes
Stringing up souls
Stringing them up
One at a time

There are days
When I forgive myself
And you
Because I know
There will never be
Enough time
Bullets or friends
To get started
Let alone
Do the job right

The Mountain Goat Stampede (Published in Idaho and Backpacker Magazine)

(This story appears in a slightly different version in the November 2009 Issue of Idaho Magzine.)

The end of the road. Every state in the west has a couple of such places. Places where cell phones not only cease to function, but where the handful of year round residents wouldn’t care to use one anyway. Their knowledge and resources could keep you alive in the dead of a brutal mountain winter, but they have little patience for city folk and their gizmos.

Atlanta, Idaho is one of these places. Atlanta was established in 1863 as a gold mining town near the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Boise River; a mere 100 miles of mostly narrow, dusty, twisting, and wash boarded road from Boise - the state’s capital and only major metropolitan area. Atlanta, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a service station. If you ever decide to locate this quirky assortment of time ravaged mining cabins and hearty newer summer homes, be sure to set out with a full tank of gas. Also, don’t upset the locals. You are a long way from home and a man could vanish in these mountains in the blink of an eye. Here, at the edge of this small community, is where the road ends and the walking begins.

The sun is sinking into the western ridgeline casting long shadows across the mountainous and forested landscape. We are above and beyond the historical mining town of Atlanta, high in the jagged Sawtooth Mountains. My travel companion, as always, is my wife, Jamie. She is as tough and beautiful as the Idaho wilderness. We have spent the day searching for a natural hot spring that is rumored to be more difficult to locate than the animal it’s named after - Lynx Creek.

The keen sense of disappointment settles over us as our first day ends in failure. We stare over the edge of a cliff at a sheer rock wall dropping hundreds of feet to the raging river below. Dead end. We have attempted a descent on the wrong side of a massive granite outcropping and with darkness approaching we have no choice but to call off the search and set up camp. Boiled water makes for a quick dinner of dehydrated spaghetti and then we crawl into our bags. There is no sleeping aid like exhaustion.

Brilliant blue Stellar Jays invade our camp at first light waking us with hoarse cries. We stumble out of bed and greet the crisp and clear dawn with coffee and instant oatmeal before resuming our quest. Around noon, we find a promising, but narrow and rocky game trail on the other side of the granite mountain face that turned us back the night before, and begin our second descent.

It’s a slow process carrying full packs over the treacherously steep and uneven terrain, but at least the path appears to be leading us in the right direction. Several portions of the trail include precipitous drops off one side. We are clearly walking the only route in and out of this drainage. An hour later, we have worked our way to within sight of the river. We can just make out the icy water through the trees ahead and the roar of the July runoff is all we can hear. According to our sources, the hot spring should be right below us at the river’s edge.

Jamie suddenly crouches and motions for me to follow suit. “Goats!” she whispers and points down the trail.

Just ahead, the trail opens into a plush and muddy ravine smelling slightly of geothermal activity. Not more than 60 feet away, scattered amongst the tall grass, is an entire family of mountain goats. There are at least three generations, from a huge adult male with impressive goatee and long black horns all the way down to a couple of new born fluff balls. The adults’ shaggy white coats are ratty and shedding in the summer heat.

We take cover behind a thick spruce and slowly remove our backpacks. We exchange looks of bewilderment and excitement. Between the two of us, Jamie and I have a lot of outdoor experience, but neither of us have ever been this close to a herd of mountain goats. These animals are close enough that we can make out the individual leaves matted in their hair.

The goats radiate a Buddha-like calm that floats an air of peace over the entire ravine. We have forgotten the hot spring and are ecstatic to sit quietly and observe the herd. The young ones look like giant cotton balls so fluffed we can barely see their legs. The family seems content to spend their afternoon munching away on the long meadow grasses.

We have been watching them for less than five minutes when there is a change in the air and the goats appear to detect something disturbing. A few of them develop a case of restless feet and a nervous energy spreads across the herd. Suddenly, the goats raise their heads simultaneously in alarm. Across the river, two large and dark canines burst over the rise and charge down the bank to the water’s edge.

“Wolves,” I hiss. “No way!” We are about to witness a real National Geographic episode unfold before our very eyes!

Although the river separates them from their attackers, the herd panics and the goats charge for the only exit available. We instantly realize the seriousness of the situation. We are crouching on the only path in or out of this drainage. Even if we can avoid the impending mountain goat stampede, we’re still stuck on a trail between wolves and their intended prey.

Normally, I am not afraid of wolves. About a year ago, Jamie and I were awoken in the middle of the night by a spine-tingling and thunderous chorus of wolf howls. The next morning we found their tracks no more than fifty feet from our tent. We felt blessed they chose to honor us with their song. However, despite my rational mind knowing that wolves don’t attack people, I can’t help but feel like these are unusual circumstances. What if the wolves get confused and assume we are the ones they are chasing?

There is no time to think. The goats are 15 feet away and charging fast. I step in front of my wife with hands raised in what I hope is universal sign language for “We come in peace; please don’t kill us.”

The goats hadn’t even seen us until I moved. They pile into each other, stopping in momentary confusion, trapped between humans and wolves. The herd leader, all 300 hundred pounds of him, charges to the front and faces us with intense eyes and lowered horns. A wall of air blasts out of his nose inflating the big goat’s top lip. He can cover the 10 feet of ground separating us before I can possibly react.

“This is going to hurt,” I think to myself.

The majestic animal stands proud and fierce while the rest of the herd finds the courage to slip by him and improvise new trails all around us and up the rocky mountain face. Our hearts drum in our chests as the goat stampede washes over us.

The last two goats, a nanny and her newborn, don’t see us until it is too late to find an alternate route like the others. My wife and I bend slightly to one side and she does the same, pushing her way past us on the trail. There may be six inches separating us, but at this point she doesn’t seem scared. She is calmly determined to escort her kid to safety. It occurs to me that I could scoop up the adorable newborn in my arms as it scampers past my shins. Somehow, I suspect that might be the last thing I ever do.

The herd leader waits until his family is past us before finally releasing us from his steely black stare. Like most of the others, he ignores the trail and forges his own path up the rocks, moving with stunning speed and agility. Within seconds there is no trace the goat herd ever existed.

Our attention immediately reverts to the wolves. Or, what we thought were wolves.

The two canines have been joined by a third on the opposite river bank. However, unless wolf packs are allowing spaniel-heeler mixes to join their ranks, these are not wolves. These are dogs who are excited to be in the wild and off-leash. Now that I have a second to asses the situation, I realize the first two we saw are big husky mixes. I chastise myself, but given the circumstances, I don’t feel overly foolish for the mix up.

We’re not sure how they crossed, or where they could have come from, but there must be hikers on the other side of the river. Maybe they don’t realize this is wolf country. Wolves, while not a threat to people, will kill dogs they find in their territory. We both experience pangs of regret and relief that we won’t see an actual hunt, but I guess that’s better than winding up on the wrong end of the chase.

The hikers top the rise a few seconds later. They give us an excited wave, happy to see other backpackers. We reluctantly wave back. They didn’t see the mountain goats, are oblivious to the stampede caused by their dogs, and they fail to notice the hot spring despite having a better vantage point than we do.

Jamie and I spend the next few minutes in a heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled state babbling about what we saw and how we felt. We both agree it’s the most astonishing wildlife experience of our lives. Shortly afterwards, we are standing at the edge of Lynx Creek hot spring, but somehow, locating the pristine soaker seems anticlimactic to what we just witnessed.

Friday, October 9, 2009


While the relentless
Refused the possibility
Of something
Of anything to learn
One truth or definition
In the pale blue eyes
Of a flame-point Siamese
I found what my heart
Accepted as truth

I may never see
The simplicity
He understood without thought
But when I stared into those
Pools of sky
I wasn’t without hope

The Self Medicated

We have survived
A five
To ten minute death
Several times a day
For more years
Than we care to admit
Or recall
And still we dangle
From the conviction
Is the key to victory

Believing we can win
This silent war
Is more dangerous
Than hoping for
Sunday morning basketball
Epic conversation
In pint glasses
And smoke filled bars
Or lazy evenings
Floating rivers

This might amount to
Accepting defeat
And may be
No less cliche' than
Sympathy hungry poets
Acting above it all
But one thing
Is certain

It is easier this way


You won't find me
In a foxhole
Praying just in case
I've been wrong
All these years

You won't find me
Standing over a map
And barking orders
From the rear

You won't find me
Salvaging the ears
Of my enemies
Or counting scalps
When my hands
Were not involved

Chances are
You won't find me
At all
But if such
Is your intention
Check the front lines
Of this every day war
And watch as I
Take bullets
Never intended
For me


Looking out my apartment window
At a grand view over Main
Figured I’d be more surprised
To see a two-hundred foot
Albino crocodile
Snapping up cars
Stomping on people
And plowing through stores

Tried to recall Revelations
Before remembering
I had long since
Dismissed the faith
I once
Nearly drowned in

Opened my last beer
And decided
If this is how it ends

Who am I to argue?

Herd Behavior

Summer is on its way out
ATV and gun rack
Gettin’ restless
Saliva over the gums

I hear tidbits of
Twenty conversations
Every opinion
And the usual
Nothing at all
Can’t help but picture
Rabid samurais
In the streets
Strip joints and saloons

Can't help
But imagine myself
Knee deep in chalk outlines
Raising a glass

To nobody

Saw Right Through

In a bathtub
Drowning in the absence
Of a love I gave up on
And the lemmings
Meant to bask in my genius
When she walks in
Sits on the toilet
And tells me
I can no longer create
My own reality
And then blame everyone
For the job they do
And because
It isn't funny
Sitting in cold water
With my little secret exposed
The only thing I can do
Is laugh

One Or The Other

I have been told
The urge to create
And the urge
To destroy
Come from the same place
But I was never quite convinced
Until one day
I found them on display
In the window
Of a pawn shop
And still
I found myself torn
Between a Les Paul
And a sawed off Remington

Not the One

Would like you
To keep
My potential
Close to heart
The promise
If you ever think
Of me

Don't need you
Wasting lives
If I ever worked
Things out
What depths
Were allowed

When alone
Drinking to us
I picture you
In the arms
Of my better

As if
You need
My imagination
For that

The Dumbening

I snapped
Out of a hypnotic sleep
To find spiders
Snaring folks
In copper webs
Humming from the shoulders
Of steel crucifixes

I wanted to warn them
To arm them
For what seemed
Like a fighting chance
But the longer I watched
The more I realized
Just how over
The war really was

The victims still floating
Amongst the strands
Apparently unaware
Of their own passing

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Should Know

Feeling my way
Through the dusk
And fragrance
Of spring lilacs
I find my boy
On a picket fence

With fingertips
I trace his spine
From the base of his skull
On down
Across the lumps
That once
Were healthy hip bones

We share the sounds
Of a city winding down
And agree
The madness out there
Kills quicker than car tires

He arches and hisses
At something
And I want to believe
He isn't crazy
But seven
Or eight lives lost
In five short years
Has left him fighting
An enemy
Only he can see

Monday, October 5, 2009


I am looking forward to
Yellowstone lodge
Winding up on the moon
Tsunamis flooding corn fields
An entire planet turned inside out
Or at least a cult celebrating
Crystal therapy Tuesdays
Flying saucers in mossy skies
Bigfoot revealed
As Elvis unshaven
And the four syrups
Of the apocalypse
Dripping over us

It will only happen
So we might as well
Fertilize the hysteria
And hope
Come January
We are not overly
When we wake up
Throw on our costumes
And shuffle off to work
Like nothing happened

Planetary Alignment

Sunday morning snow
The first of the year
And from somewhere
The chanting of monks
Stutters across the breeze

An alley fighter
With two limps
Appears on my second story deck
And we settle
For a documentary
On the grace of
Wild cars

While he checks out
The competition
With ears laid back
I enjoy a pull
From the pipe
A sip of tea
And a fleeting moment
Where everything
Is exactly
Like it is supposed to be

* Taken From Knee-Deep in Chalk Outlines - 2010

Thursday, October 1, 2009


     Jerry was finally on the edge of a fitful sleep when his wife stomped through their living room. She shot a withering glance towards his blanketed form on the couch and then slipped into the deep purple light of first dawn, the front door slamming like a rifle report. The brief encounter had been his only contact with Sarah all day; a three second snippet stuck on constant rotation like holiday jingles.
     He was a bit surprised she had gone to work. After last night, he wasn’t sure if anyone would be in the proper mind frame to deal with stressed shoppers hunting for last-minute gifts. Jerry could picture his wife biting the head off some unsuspecting customer, but knowing her spiteful toad of a manager, he couldn’t imagine Sarah taking any chances.
     Jerry had called in sick despite having the entire next week off. They needed the money, but he made it a point to avoid spinning blades when exhausted. Over the years, he’d seen co-workers lose fingertips, entire digits, and once, even a hand. Besides, Jerry knew his boss would be willing to sign off on a smaller paycheck. A recent nosedive in the weak construction market had already brought mandatory furloughs to Dante’s Lumber Yard. Jerry was only scheduled for a half day and, although he didn’t like to take advantage, there was a solid chance Dante would pay him the hours anyway. They had grown up together in the Idaho logging town of Timberline and their families had been acquaintances for three generations.
     Standing at the kitchen window, Jerry digs a pack of Camel cigarettes out of his flannel shirt pocket and lights one. Yesterday had marked the end of ten days without smoking. Sarah had made it clear that it was an impossible habit to justify when they could barely afford to heat their house, but that hadn’t stopped him from taking a walk down to the corner Smoke N’ Suds. Not today.
     He looks at the clock on the stove. 5:49. The glowing green numbers are the only light in the room, barely enough to cast his ghostly reflection across the glass. Outside, it is dark and dumping snow. Although the driveway is less than thirty feet away, Jerry can barely see a vague outline of his battered Chevy S-10 through the thick flakes. The rest of the world has been swallowed by the storm. It has to be the roads, Jerry reasons. Otherwise, she would be home by now.
     The fight last night had been explosive, bordering on a physical confrontation. Jerry had never seen Sarah so close to hitting someone. He winces as he recalls her petite figure swelling with rage, her blue eyes turning black. He remembers the potted poinsettia that was supposed to serve as their Christmas tree smashing at his feet, showering his legs with shattered clay and damp soil. Jerry still hears the unbearable sound of his wife crying behind a locked bathroom door.
     A broad-shouldered and shaggy Saint Bernard creeps into the kitchen, toenails clicking on the tiled floor. The animal turns his back to Jerry, sits at the side door of the house, and begins to whimper softly.
     “You too, Brutus?”
     Upon hearing his name, the giant dog offers Jerry a suspicious glance before returning his attention to the door.
     “You think I wanted that, huh? I didn’t have a choice, man. He was too far gone. I guess I should have let your mom take him in when we noticed the abscess... We can’t even afford your damn dog food!”
     Brutus doesn’t flinch. Jerry might as well be talking to himself.
     He thinks about the heavy Carhartt boot box resting on a work bench in their garage. The ground outside has been frozen for weeks; digging holes has to wait for spring. Time enough for him to carve a maple plaque with commemorative inscription at Dante’s shop. Sarah will like that.
     A haunted vision of trust-filled eyes floods his memory. He remembers the lurching metal in his hand, the acrid smell of burnt powder, and the black stain splashed across the evening snow. He remembers the conviction he was doing the right thing vanishing as quickly as the echoing blast. He remembers handing Sarah the collar and realization taking control of her eyes.
     Jerry takes another look at the clock and then back at their dog. The Saint Bernard raises a giant paw and places it on the doorknob. Jerry takes a last drag off his cigarette, slowly exhales the plume of smoke, and snuffs it out.
     “Goodbyes are important, Brutus. Don’t worry. She knows that.”