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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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

     A sudden movement in the willows and Jack’s hazel eyes snap instantly into focus. Fingers tighten on the bundle of black carbon fiber and silver metal lying across his lap. Another aspen leaf. He watches the solitary golden soldier fall with graceful dignity to join its spent comrades on the forest floor. It lands on the muddy bank of a narrow stream, ten feet from where his attention has been transfixed.
     “If you can see it, so can they.” Jack hears his father’s smoke ravaged voice echoing through his memory. He aims his frosty breath down into his chest rather than let it escape the small opening in his pine bough cocoon.
     Poorly prepared to be sitting in a makeshift blind at 7,500 feet in late October, Jack takes little comfort in a sun cresting the eastern ridge and casting its feeble rays across the mountainous landscape. To no avail, he wills his fingers and toes to cross the final threshold of aching pain and pass into welcoming numbness. Despite the freezer box conditions, Jack feels the anticipation burning. Some opportunities present themselves once in a lifetime, and this isn’t just an opportunity; this is Jack’s white whale.
     He found the tracks Friday evening, at the beginning of a weekend intended to get his head and heart together. Jack had just broken up with his girlfriend of six months and, as always, when confronted with emotional upheaval, he retreated to a remote part of the White Cloud Mountains. Growing up, his family had camped in the area every autumn to hunt elk. It was the last place Jack remembered his parents and two brothers together and happy.
     After unrolling a thick down sleeping bag in the back of his dented and oxidized F-250, Jack had gathered a pile of dry wood, and then blazed a half mile trail to the nearest stream. Night was rapidly approaching and he needed water for a dinner of dehydrated lasagna. This late in the year, the stream was barely a trickle, but the water remained cold and clear.
     As he knelt on the bank fumbling with a filtrating water bottle, Jack caught the pungent whiff of animal urine and sensed a lurking presence. At the same moment, he noticed huge paw prints imbedded in mud on the opposite bank. The impressions were slowly filling with water from beneath. Something had been standing there just seconds ago. The tracks were as wide as his hand and nearly as long. Jack noted the lack of visible claw marks, eliminating the possibility of bear or wolf. Only one other predator in the Idaho wilderness was capable of leaving prints that size. The hair on Jack’s spine snapped to attention. Mountain lion. Jack rose slowly to his feet, eyes searching the closest trees and undergrowth. The sound of his breathing fell silent as he listened intently. Nothing. In fact, the entire forest seemed strangely silent.
     Sitting in the blind two days later, Jack laughs inwardly at his initial reaction. He is relieved nobody had been there to witness him speed walking back to camp. The longest half mile of his life had been spent imagining something heavy smashing into his back and throwing him face first onto the rocky ground. He could almost feel the three inch razors digging into his back and shoulders, the rancid breath filling his nostrils. Jack’s instincts had been screaming at him to sprint through the lengthening twilight. It wasn’t until he climbed inside the cab of his truck, and fastened a holstered .357 around his waist that Jack realized he left his water bottle sitting by the stream.
     It was a reaction more befitting a New York tourist. Jack smiled ruefully; not since his teenage years had his imagination run so wild. He considered the likelihood of actually being attacked and couldn’t recall the last time a mountain lion had made the news. In fact, the majority of his adult life had been spent in the wilderness and although he had encountered numerous black bears and gray wolves, he had never even seen a cougar. Still, despite a rationale understanding of the odds and statistics, Jack decided the water bottle could wait for morning.
     Jack pulled a banana from his camp box, a Corona from his cooler, and sat on the old Ford’s tailgate musing about lions. Because his numerous attempts to track them over the years had proven fruitless, he had long considered the great cat his white whale. Unlike others, Jack wouldn’t hear of letting hounds do the work. He considered the practice of treeing mountain lions to be dishonorable. A man without the skill and patience to track his quarry had no business hunting.
     As a younger man, Jack had been convinced he was always just a bend in the trail away from coming face to face with the great cat. Instead, he had been teased with a lifetime of fresh tracks, scat, and a hope that always dissipated with the setting sun. A loner most his life, Jack felt a kinship with the solitary creature, but over the years his insatiable need to find the lion had been replaced by a sense of weary resignation. God, or Mother Nature, or whatever it was, just didn’t care how hard he tried.
     Lost in thought, Jack relives the night’s earlier encounter at the stream. The most encouraging detail was the volume of tracks. It hadn’t been the cougar’s first trip to that muddy bank, which meant it might be coming back. He could feel the rekindled flame burn even hotter, stoking his confidence.
     “We’ll see what’s what in the morning.” Jack said rubbing his hands together.
     He slept poorly that night. Every sound amplified in the dark, Jack imagined shadowed and sinewy beasts circling his camp, sniffing him out. His sleepless night was cut short by the alarm on his wristwatch; the green glow revealing a 5:00 a.m. wake up call.
     Less than thirty minutes later, Jack was putting the finishing touches on his hiding place. Using the infrared light on his headlamp, Jack located and then lopped off a pine bough with his hunting knife. Moving silently, he draped the severed branch over the base of a dead and fallen spruce lodged between two of its living brothers about four feet off the ground. Jack had identified the natural lean-to as an ideal vantage point for observing the stream, but the shelter needed walls.
    Jack cut and arranged a couple more boughs and then stood back to admire his handy work. The lion would be hard-pressed to notice him buried inside the foliage. Assuming, of course, the big cat hadn’t already been watching him the entire time.
     Anxious to begin the wait, Jack again nearly forgot to retrieve the water bottle still sitting by the stream. He filled the plastic container, aware that doing so left him exposed. If the lion sensed his presence, it would find another place to drink. After filtering an adequate water supply for several hours, Jack eased inside his blind. Utilizing another trick learned from his father, he opened two granola bars and set them on a nearby rock for later consumption. Opening them early prevented unnecessary sound and movement later that could give away his location at a critical moment. Jack settled into position and focused his attention through a narrow gap of pine needles, the cold dark instrument on his lap almost an afterthought.
     Five hours later, Jack quietly unfolded himself from the blind. With the exception of a handful of squirrels and little brown birds, Jack had seen no signs of life. He was out of water, hungry, and his muscles felt as though they had permanently atrophied. As Jack stretched his shoulders, a familiar sensation of defeat and foolishness welled within him. He fought off a sudden urge to slink back to camp, drive home… maybe even patch things up with Pam. After all, it had been his idea to end the relationship. Surely, she would give a fool another chance.
     Jack gathered his equipment and walked back to camp, barely aware he was retracing his path from the night before. Yesterday’s anxiety had been replaced by something else entirely. Jack found himself wishing the lion would attack just so he could see the damn thing for once in his life. Back at camp and lost in thought, he methodically ate a bologna sandwich, another banana, and then lay back down in the bed of his truck. This time, Jack was able to fall asleep almost as soon as his eyelids touched.
     Several dreamless hours passed before Jack awoke to find the sun had marched its deliberate arc across the sky and was already threatening the western horizon. Again, the feeling of missed opportunities washed over him. The big cat had surely come and gone while he wasted time sleeping. Wondering why he even bothered, Jack gathered his gear and returned to the blind. This time, he only lasted two hours before his patience was gone and cramping muscles drove him back to camp. Knowing his window of opportunity had most likely closed, he decided to risk a fire. There wasn’t anything out there to scare off, Jack figured. He might as well finally enjoy that lasagna.
     An hour later, seated next to a roaring fire, Jack washed down the last bite of salty mush with a swig of cold Corona. The empty bottles were piling around his feet and his toes felt warm for the first time all day. As he stared into the flickering orange flames, Jack felt his resolve heat up. Or, maybe it was the alcohol kicking in. In any case, he still had tomorrow. Tomorrow was another chance and not everybody had another tomorrow. The thought brought with it the memory of a photograph. A picture of him standing next to a breathing skeleton lying in a hospital bed taken just hours before the cancer claimed his father. As far as Jack knew, his dad had never backed down from anything in his entire life. Jack finished the last Corona in one powerful gulp.
     “That’s right,” he shouted into the dancing shadows. Jack flinched slightly at the sudden intrusion of sound splintering the silence. His voice dropped to a steel whisper, “It’s time to show yourself, kitty.”
     Back in the blind, Jack’s proclamation from the night before plays a constant repeat in his head. He feels different today, less pressure, less anxiety. The usual nagging sensations replaced with a surging sense of certainty. Jack feels as if his will alone can unfold before him any outcome he might imagine. There is no discomfort he can’t push off to some faraway place. He can do this all day if necessary. He can do this for the rest of his life. He is ready.
     And yet, Jack senses his determination bouncing back at him, reflecting off some unseen surface with an opaque message hammering his mind’s shore like the relentless tide. Jack feels a tremor reverberate through his consciousness; a rusted bolt pulled aside and a creaking door kicked open.  Finding lions had never been up to Jack or how hard he tried. It had nothing to do with him at all.
    And with that simple revelation, Jack realizes he is already observing his white whale. Still as a stone, the mountain lion is crouched on the muddy bank, precisely where Jack has been staring for the last two days. The magnificent cat silently laps water from the stream while two piercing golden orbs slowly shift from side to side, scrutinizing their surroundings. The color of the cougar’s thick fur is matched only by its eyes and the visible shoulder muscles bunched beneath, speak of a strength Jack can only imagine. This animal is no less a king than one of its maned cousins stalking the African plains.
     Jack’s mind reels, caught between accepting the gift before him and rejecting it as a symptom of a desperate mind. Jack saw nothing of the animal’s approach, no motion, no sound, nothing. How could an animal bigger than him just appear out of nowhere?
     Jack already knows the answer. For the first time in his life, he is simply looking upon their world through the proper filter. The lions have always been there, surrounding him, watching him, waiting for him to notice. All Jack ever needed to do was let go and realize the decision was out of his hands.
     Operating on instinct and moving nothing but his forearms, Jack lifts the frosted piece of metal to his eye and places the crosshairs dead center over the lion’s face. The cougar’s eyes continue their back and forth crawl; the black tip of its tail twitches lightly.
     “Call me Ahab,” Jack breathes as his index finger contracts.
     The click is barely audible but it is enough. In the time it takes for Jack to pull the camera away from his face, the mountain lion has disappeared. Just as it had materialized moments before, the huge cat vanishes into thin air.
     He looks down at the digital display fully expecting to see the lackluster image of a small stream surrounded by willow stands and the white trunks of taller aspen. But there it is in perfect focus, the one thing he had searched for his entire life. Jack is dumbstruck by the picture. The lion’s bright eyes are looking straight at him, straight through him. Somehow, in the micro-second before he took the picture, the cat had spotted him.
     Jack enlarges the image and is taken back by something in the lion’s face, an expression that couldn’t be more clear on a human visage. It is the same look on his Father’s face, when as a boy, Jack had been caught stealing candy from a convenience store owned by a family friend. It is the same look on Pam’s face, just days ago, as he drove away leaving her standing alone in his garage. It is the look of incredulity, sadness, anger, defiance, and betrayal, but mostly, it is the unmistakable look of disappointment.
     A devastating sense of shame grips Jack’s heart. He feels as though he has committed some premeditated sacrilege in the planet’s most sacred temple. Jack studies the small and two-dimensional countenance, the bottomless eyes trapped on display in a metal and plastic box full of wires and computer chips. This isn’t the majesty he had just been allowed to witness. This is something cold, compromised, counterfeit, and beyond all shadow of a doubt, not the treasure he had been seeking. Jack presses another button and the image is replaced by a simple question in blocky font.


     “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my goddamn life,” Jack says with an erupting grin. With another click, he erases the picture from history. “Besides,” he adds, “I know how to see you now.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Final Addiction

A month now
Since she first appeared
Across the table
In a coffee shop
I never frequent
On a night
That would have
Otherwise blended
Into another yesterday

An intoxicating scent
Of hope
Infectious laughter
Wide Wyoming eyes
Plum deeper
Than morphine dreams
And I can't remember
Having ever been hooked
So quickly

A possible remedy
For the silent affliction
Of a one pillow bed
And the certainity
Of never being seen
By the one you need

Friday, December 18, 2009

In The Eye

Although the questions
And scattered condemnations
Will surely return
The stars are quiet
And I am grateful
To be left
With my bottle of wine
A waning moon candle
And the company
Of sleeping cats


I will not say
To whom
And for the sake
Of my reputation
I would rather
We keep this
To ourselves
But I recently
Said a prayer
If that gives you
Any idea
As to what depths
I have burrowed

Placed a little faith
In the hands
Of something
I am dimly aware of
And something
I do not
Believe in

Which might explain
Why nothing
And I feel
No different

Rock Star

Woke up covered
In last night's
Excessive behavior
Remembering little
Of the hours before
Not overly troubled
By the fact
I came close to never
Opening my eyes
At all

Just a little curious
As to how long
It might have taken
To find my body
How few phone calls
Left unanswered
Whether anybody
Would have known
To scatter my ashes
Across a particular
Mountain lake

How many would attend
The funeral
Who would cry
And if the situation
Would be dismissed
As an accident
Or suicide

Pouring another drink
I feel a little cheated
For having missed
My fifteen minutes

Methadone Clinic

There are nights when
The one
Closest to my heart
Requires more energy
And common decency
Than I posses

After a cocktail
Or six
When it all unravels
And I need her
To believe
In nebulas promises

Still cannot stop
I do not feel
Long enough to help
Either of us

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Angel Dust

Let’s see you move mountains
With your mind
Cause rivers to unwind
Turn the moon outside in
Make me believe again

Anything’s possible
You said
And you placed that thought
Deep in my head
Anything’s possible
You said
And like a bullet
It stuck in my head

You said I could fly
And don’t think
I didn’t try
Thought I had wings
I thought I
Would touch the very sky
But instead
I fell and I broke
And I bled

Anything’s possible
You said
And you placed that thought
Deep in my head
Anything’s possible
You said
And like a bullet
It stuck in my head

How could you look
In my eye
And tell me one more lie
Had to know
Had to know
Had to knowI would try
Anything’s possible you said
And because of you
For the last time
I am dead

Friday, December 11, 2009

Would You Believe

They finally found you
At your new address
Although six months in
Allowed you to believe
They could be lost
Or tricked somehow

Even found yourself
If the sound of
Their claws
Scraping across your wall
Had always been
Just an imagination
Gone insane

That a lover
Thinking you were a danger
To yourself and others
Has taken your
Handguns away
The shadows are braver
Than before
Some even appearing
Before nightfall
And your are left
With nothing
As the candle burns dim

No matter how close
You might feel
To another
There is some evil
That just cannot
Be kept at bay

Champagne and Tar

She had written
A dance
Just for my eyes
Something sensually
Innocent no doubt
That I will now
Never see

I had been thinking
About reinventing
The word
But now
Will never know

A painfully obvious
Of lifestyles
And the
Inescapable truth
Of toxic synergy

We both knew
How it would end
But we were
To make our time
As hurtful as

At the time
Felt like
The only way out

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Inside lonely moments
Of silence
Sleepless nights
And distant contemplation
When we lack the energy
To keep ourselves
You can still hear
A whisper

We have been granted shelter
In this dense shadow
And those
Who stretch the fabric
With a curious desire
To see ourselves
Are the reason
I feel a kettle
On the verge of screaming
When sliding my fingers
Inside her warming flesh

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This Could All Be Yours

Absorbing the smoke
And chatter
From the local
Leper colony
I am pulled from
The page
by kind and
Curious eyes perched
Above pin-striped suit

He wants to know
If I am writing poetry
And with little choice
I confess
The afflicition

He asks me
To say something
About him
And having no intention
Of doing so
I tell him
I will

Noticing his watch
And wallet
And knowing where
My craft is headed
I tell him
To include me
In his next
Business proposal

In The Red Corner

I wake up
From the same nightmare
Every night
Breathing heavy and
Stuck to the sheets

Never recall who
What or how many
I have been fighting
But a third degree black belt
In dream karate
Is far from enough

All I can do is uppercut
And hook
Block and kick
Jab jab jab
And in the morning
Wash the bedding
Hoping one day
They let me retire
And at least respect
The heart
I always brought
To the cage

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Slobbering Acid

Throwing out more
Than I encourage
to dig through

Tired of being
A bent fork
In a warped frame
On a slanted wall
That might even out
If you stare
Long enough

Nothing here
Rarely wear sleeves
Cannot shuffle
And wouldn't know
Where to stuff
A rabbit
If I wanted to

Just sawing through
The false advertisement
Of a never ending story
Wasting more
Than my share
Of nights
The correct synergy
Might make this
Somehow more magical

Tom Foolery

Night cat stalking down the street
Shadow at my side
Gutter rats sporting poisoned minds
Wanna test my pride
So I take them to the sky

If I dogged and came belly up
Would you tear my throat
Or would you lick my side

Queen twisting in starlight drag
Wants to share the night
Dance the highmoon way
Until the eastern light
Jumps into the sky

If I dogged and came belly up
Would you tear my throat
Or would you lick my side

Fence walking my dead end street
Scarred from every fight
Alley trash so ripe and sway
Think that I just might
Might change my mind

Monday, December 7, 2009

Handmaiden Of Doom

She has been blessed
With butterfly kisses
Played tag
With the black bear
Adopted by chipmunks
And once
In the absence of a mother
A stag even trusted her
With the life of its fawn

The people
Who think they know
Agree on
Her skepticism
Sarcastic manner
And pessimistic outlook
On the bipedal condition
But as long
As there is one
Who cares enough
To see what lies behind
She will be happy
As the next
To be spinning through space
On this big doomed ball

Trophy Hunter

One the hottest day
You might find
A cold
Detached shadow
Grinning across
The broken hearts
Of innocent women
In my desert
Lining the trail like
Scattered bones

Removed from
the reach of the dead
And waiting
For another to freeze in
Hell's headlights

While the rest of time
It sits in plain sight
Like a yield sign
On an open road
Unable to weather
The elements
And bullet holes

Friday, December 4, 2009

Know Your Place

It is spring
And once again
He is mocked by fresh leaves
Comfortable with their role
In this fuckery
While he struggles
To leave behind the years
Remembered as a dream

The past summarized
In one admittance

He has not become

No sidestepping tomorrow’s charge
The lost nights
And forgotten promises
Buried beneath
Half hearted resolutions

Take it away
No longer will he look for meaning
He accepts the fact
Movie sets will forever transform
Before he catches
The stage hands

He can’t save anything
Or anyone
Anymore than he can preserve
His own sanity

Not tonight

It is easier this way

Crib Death

The ritual
Should have been
Somewhere around
the second trimester
And deposited
In a dumpster

We chose
To force it out
Until what we had
Was a bloody spectacle
Of proper nights
Long past
And a reminder
That for the sake
Of deceny
We should have
Given up
On something so
Settling for a natural
Tendency to exaggerate
The memories

Ten Cent Admission

The women
I have loved
Grow more scattered
Every day
While the friends
Once allowed
Are moving away
From the words

A cold exchange for
Digital implants
And who blames them

I am now
Half the draw
My mind suspected
To selling tickets
For the
Carnival De Grotesque
In which
I once was
A main attraction

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Damage Done

I greet the eyes
Of a woman
I see
Lashed to a
Sinking ship
I tell you what
She reminds me
Of me
Oh she reminds me
Of me

She looks away
And I know she thinks
Hope is just as bad
As drowning alone
But maybe we
Can give it a row
Maybe we can plug a hole

The two of us
We are barely afloat
Oh we are barely afloat
Take my hand
We got one last chance
To keep this wreck afloat

The waves crashing down
Are cold and dark
The bottom is so dark
And deep
We can’t forget
All these springing leaks
Now that the hull is breached

One last glance
And I know she thinks
Love is just as bad
As drowning alone
But maybe we
Can give it a row
Maybe we can plug a hole

The two of us
We are barely afloat
Oh we are barely afloat
Take my hand
We got one last chance
To keep this wreck afloat

Once Was Lost

So wrapped up
In what I thought
Love had to offer
Went ahead
And placed a cause
On hold

Noticed myself
Looking for something
Acceptable in people

Found it possible
To enjoy a sunset
Ignoring the fact
That if it wasn't for
The factories and
Personal smog machines
The tangerine sky
Would be nowhere
Near as vivid

For the first time
Made to believe
In her touch
Unable to define
The impossibility
Of trust
However temporary

Suppose It Shouldn't Matter

From both sides of the tracks
A hundred frog orchestra
Smothers the traffic
Tomorow's paper work
Approaching trains
And I do not care

I am lost in the song
If they sing for cousins
Disappearing from our earth
Or friends found with five legs

I stare at a night sky
To focus on the layered rhythms
And watch two suns
Caught in a black hole
Collide and scatter
A shower of sparks
Across a thousand galaxies

Entire solar systems swallowed
Pulverized and compressed
Into a pin head of darkness
Weighing billions of tons

Enough for one mind
To collapse on itself
And still
Here I stand
Worried about frogs

Where's The Remote

When they catch me
Off guard
My heart breaks
Like no other
And I almost weep
For the truck driving pedophiles
And lesbian taxidermists
Hitting each other With chairs

Of course
Reminding myself
There is nothing I can do
Is only a click away
And judging
From the epic comedy
Blaring from seven billion channels
And roller-coastering
To an unfunny finale

I’m not positive it would be
In anyone’s best interest
If I could

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Born in a barn
Born in a swamp can’t say
But he's been a freak of nature
Since busting out his egg
Likes to loves the ladies
Hypnotize them with his eyes
Catch him with the sinners
Something new between the thighs

Coming down the road
It’s a snakeduck snakeduck
Slithering waddling
Down the road

Always finds himself a
Heap of trouble right away
Once took the Sheriff’s daughter
And rolled her in the hay
The Sheriff formed a posse
To hunt the snakeduck down
And that’s when he learned
The snakeduck doesn’t fuck around

Coming down the road
It’s a snakeduck snakeduck
Slithering waddling
Down the road

The snakeduck is a monster
Or so the people say
Just for ending what they start
In his own toxic way
No one ever heard from the Sheriff
Or his friends
And no one ought to fuck
With what they can’t comprehend

New Highs Old Lows

Sanctuary is a word
I like the sound of
Couldn’t tell you where
But I hear it’s gravy
Thick blue and ready
To suspend thought

Never again feel like
An imposter
With a ring on my finger
Never again remember the man
Who introduced me to fear
Or the girl
Who taught me something
About love teasing fingertips

Time to sort through ego
And whatever it was
I thought I knew

A refuge where
Despite being numb
I am lost in each breath
And let myself forget

I have to come down

There is always a thread
To be justified
So find the balance
Between everything wasted
And everything learned

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


A woman left behind
On the horizon
A weekend cabin trip
Planned for March
And just like that
I am trying
To remember
Why last week
I was doing my best
Impersonation of
Spontaneous combustion

Cannot figure out
How I get caught up
In one night
Month or year
Of tragedy
Or triumph
When I know
There is plenty of both
Penciled across
My pocket sized
Life planner


In our least
Intoxicated state
I like to think
One of us
Might pull you aside
And insist
You steer clear
Of this madness

Get out
While you can

You have yet to
This kind of
Entertaining abuse
Is a gentle version
Of where
We are headed and
How the laughs
Come harder
Every wasted night

Shelving Boxes

For years
I wasted my sanity
Rehearsing different methods
Of telling a memory
How much I hated
And how
I needed him to pay

Never thought of this person
As someone
Who loved a Norwegian Elkhound
Drank coffee
Collected comic books
Or breathed in and out

I only remembered the fear

So consumed
With blaming a cartoon villain
I refused to recognize
The revenge was killing me
Until one day
I found a plastic box
Full of marbles
The same container
That once held his ashes
And I realized
You can only bleed for so long
Before death has its way

Tracking The She Wolf

          My eyes crack open to a blinding light followed by ruthless, stabbing pains in both temples. Before passing out last night, I vaguely recall opening the bedroom curtains so the sunrise would serve as a natural alarm. The reasoning behind this decision is less substantial; a will o’ the wisp teasing me through the fog in some dark forest. I need more sleep. Why would I, nay, why would anyone do this to themselves? Through the open window comes an uplifting chorus of bird songs and I suppress an abrupt urge to grab the .44 Ruger Redhawk always within reach of my bed.

          Ignoring the screaming protests from both body and mine, I sit up and massage my shaved scalp with one hand. My throat stings, my tongue feels like sandpaper, and my mouth tastes as though I spent the night gargling tequila shots out of an ashtray. I experience a flashing vision of rotting teeth and bare breasts being flung around in a smoky night club; the smell of cheap beer, cigarettes, and defeat lingering in my nostrils. Last night my band rocked the dingiest bar in Nampa, Idaho. At the time, punishing ourselves with Red Bull infused cocktails seemed the most brutally efficient method to atone for our sins. I would refer to the bar’s clientele as more animal than man, but no animal has ever disgusted me enough to make such an unfair comparison. In any case, I’m glad Jamie had the good sense to stay home.

          Thinking about my wife, I suddenly realize I am in bed alone. Oh yeah! My memory seizes on our last conversation like a proud puppy fetching a stick. Jamie wasn’t about to sit around this weekend and wait for me to play the screaming rock star. She is out in the wilderness, on a solo backpacking trip, no doubt still buried in a cosy sleeping bag or just getting up to brew coffee in the brisk mountain air. That is why I left the curtains open; that is why I’m punishing myself. I agreed to meet her around noon at remote Grandjean campground located on the very edge of Idaho’s Sawtooth wilderness.

          Dragging myself into the shower, I wash up, brush my teeth, down four Ibuprofen, and drink nearly a half-gallon of water straight from the faucet. Afterwards, I throw on a pair of camouflage shorts, a ratty t-shirt, lace up my hiking shoes, stuff a few snacks in a daypack, and hop into my silver Toyota truck.

          An hour later, I’m eating a banana and racing along highway 55 next to the roaring Payette River. With spring runoff near its peak, the white-water is a continuous maelstrom of terrifying energy and noise. Recently, a woman drowned nearby when her husband and children shoved off into class V rapids without any rafting experience whatsoever. Only an annual handful of the most hardened and reckless kayakers even attempt to navigate this particular stretch of rapids. Needless to say, the family’s ride was over in minutes with the mom dead and the rest lucky to have survived.

          I experience a fleeting concern for my wife’s safety. Like our powerful rivers, the Idaho mountains can be unforgiving to those with poor preparation. However, Jamie is a skilled backpacker and this is not her first solo expedition. My anxiety is replaced by a prevailing sense of pride. While I have met many women who are more than capable, I only know a few who are truly comfortable alone in the high country. Jamie’s mom worries immensely, and our friends think she might be crazy, but my wife refuses to let irrational fears control her behaviour.

          Still, experience and education are no guarantees in the wild; potential obstacles are numerous and often times, life-threatening. Despite the inherent dangers of backcountry adventuring, the situations I worry about most are those involving other humans. Wild animals never prompt me to bring weapons into the mountains, but I cannot say similar things about the unpredictable nature of people. In that anthrophobic manner, Jamie and I are very much alike.

          The train of thought reminds me that in my packing haste, I left all of my weaponry at home. Without at least a substantial blade, I feel naked. It doesn’t help my situation, but I take comfort knowing my wife carries her hunting knife and a pearl-handled, antique .22 derringer. Although I am not convinced the tiny, archaic two-shot pistol will even fire, it could still be used to bluff her way out of a precarious encounter. As a young lady, my mother once stuck a .357 right in the faces of a couple drunken hunters who invited themselves into her camp with bad intentions. You just never know.

          Soon after, I turn and drive northeast on Highway 21 for another 70 minutes before finally reaching the Grandjean turnout. My headache is waning with each passing mile and the smell of fresh pine has me feeling almost human once again. The digital clock on my car stereo indicates I am over an hour early. Chances are my wife is still hiking. I drive through the sprawling campsite and find her Hyundai parked at the trailhead. The maroon hatchback is empty of backpacking gear. I look up at the towering, jagged peaks dominating the landscape. Sure enough, Jamie is out there somewhere.

          At the same time I make the decision to track her down, I realize my portable filtrating water bottle is still sitting next to the kitchen sink where I left it this morning. No weapons, no water… what is this, amateur hour? No more getting packed for outdoor activities when I have the functioning brain power of a zombie.

          In light of the situation, I opt to leave my daypack behind. Carrying nothing, I’ll be able to cover ground more quickly. The midday June sun has long since burned through the morning dew and the temperature is surprisingly hot for the time of year and elevation. I figure I can walk at least 8 miles in the increasing heat without water. That means a maximum of four miles in and four miles back out. After that, dehydration will set in quickly. I drink my fill of water from a pump at the trailhead, soak my t-shirt, and tie it around my head. Time to get walking.

          Less than a quarter-mile down a narrow trail hemmed in on both sides by walls of spruce trees, I spot the largest pile of carnivore scat I have ever seen in Idaho. The mound is packed with elk hair and is no more than a day old. I keep moving and find an abundance of sign. A pack of wolves containing some sizable members has been through here recently. Several of their tracks are clearly imbedded in the earth from when the ground was last damp. The larger ones have feet the size of my hands and I’m not a small guy. Their tracks are heading in both directions; the wolves are using this trail as a highway.

          I crouch and crab walk over the trail attempting to distinguish Jamie’s tracks from the ample boot prints of other hikers. It takes me a few minutes of scouring the packed dirt for evidence, but eventually I find a single, clear impression that is both her foot size and bears a recognizable tread pattern. Something about tracking living things always makes my blood run hot and brings a grin to my lips. Although mostly diluted, I like to believe the Cherokee blood flowing through my veins still has a powerful influence over my heart and mind.

          Hiking deeper into the forest, I find a spruce trunk bearing the recent claw marks of a black bear and shortly after, a half-buried pile of mountain lion scat. Even wild cats are tidy about their business. Never have I seen so much evidence of predator activity in such a confined location. The wolf sign, however, continues to dominate the trail. I cannot help but wonder if Jamie has seen any of these majestic and elusive animals streaking through the trees. Even the possibility leaves me feeling jealous.

            Thinking about lions, bears, and wolves (oh my!) causes a shiver of excitement to bolt down my spine. This is what I crave. This is what humans need. We need landscapes littered with carnivores like what existed in North America five hundred years ago. We need to spend time alone in the pitch black of moonless mountain nights where every cracking twig and rustling leaf is amplified tenfold. We need to feel the undeniable sensation of being watched while hiking remote ridges. We need to know there is something wild out there, something with teeth and claws, something with flashing eyes in the campfire light, and above all, we need to embrace those things as something vital in our lives.

            As usual, I get lost in my philosophies while walking. I think about fear and how it has motivated so many horribly short-sighted decisions throughout history, especially concerning mankind’s role within the natural world. I think about my own fear of other humans. I know full well that I would trust a pack of ravenous wolves over last night’s lecherous, addicted, and criminal bar crowd. Surely, if we allow real monsters to share the city streets with our children on a daily basis, we can also find a way to let wild animals exist in their own environment with as much peace as we can possibly ensure.

          A sudden fork in the trail brings my wandering mind back into focus. I have walked maybe two miles but my throat is already parched. The left path looks as though it will soon hit a series of cutbacks climbing a sun exposed mountainside, while the right one heads in the direction of more trees and what sounds like a distant stream. With no idea which path my wife might have chosen, and the trail bed now covered with small stones telling no tales of traffic, I close my eyes and open the rest of my senses to the wind, rocks, and delicate wildflowers all around. Within seconds, I feel the universe tugging at me. I am supposed to go right.

          No more than a hundred yards later, the trail runs straight into an icy stream still surging from the snow melt. From my vantage point, crossing the flow seems like a hazardous proposition. Jamie would know better than attempting to ford such madness, especially alone. So much for my natural instincts.

          I am about to turn back when I notice a solitary backpacker crouched on the bank downstream filling a water container. She is a petite young lady with long brownish-blond hair, exposed muscled arms, and a hunting knife strapped to her hip. For a moment, I am tempted to slip into the trees and wait for her to walk past before springing out in surprise. However, I don’t feel like getting shot or stabbed today. Instead, I sneak quietly within ten feet of her and wait for her to turn around. She does, but instead of the startled expression I am hoping for, I am greeted by a serene smile. She is dirty, and obviously tired, precisely how a backpacker should appear by trip’s end, but Jamie could not look any more at peace with her rugged surroundings.

          “I had a vision you would find me here,” my wife says with a sly smile as she steps into my embrace.