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"
http://idahomagazine.com/previous_winners_details.asp?ID=84

Winner - Idaho Magazine Judge's Choice Award 2011
"Where the River Leads"
http://idahomagazine.com/previous_winners_details.asp?ID=98

"Hot Spring Break "
http://www.idahohotsprings.com/education/hot-spring-break.htm

"Stampede! "
http://www.backpacker.com/january-2010-reader-essays-stampede/destinations/13661

"Seeing Things"
Winner - Idaho Magazine Second Place 2011
http://idahomagazine.com/previous_winners_details.asp?ID=101

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Seeing Things

          My father stood six and a half feet tall, weighed close to three hundred pounds, and like some kind of misshapen magician, he could vanish in a crowded room. He had the inherent ability to retreat inside his massive red beard and faded flannels, becoming something of a giant house plant or awkwardly placed statue. It may have been his well known reluctance to waste words, or just the fact his silent, towering figure made others uncomfortable, but rarely did anyone initiate a conversation with my dad. I also remember the pain visible in his eyes whenever he found himself in the proximity of people chatting about weather, sports, or the mundane occurrences in their everyday lives. He simply had no patience for small talk.

          As a result, my dad had few acquaintances, but I remember those who visited his woodshop as they always respected his desire for silence. When my father did speak, usually with his shaggy hair and beard full of sweet smelling sawdust, people listened intently to his impossibly deep and measured voice. Typically though, few words were exchanged as customers picked up their moose, coyotes, badgers, and other lifelike animals all hand-carved from the golden Ponderosa surrounding Timberline, Idaho.

          It was a mid-October Saturday morning, a week after my fifteenth birthday, when my father awoke me from a deep sleep. Although I had no idea at that moment, it was also the day I would truly begin to understand my dad. I remember peeking out at his giant, shadowed form from beneath a thick quilt my mother had sewn. It was still pitch black outside. Through blurry eyes, I noticed the clock on my nightstand.

          “It’s four in the morning… what’s wrong? Is mom ok?”

          As always, his reply was short and to the point. “She’s fine. We’re going huntin’. Get dressed. Leavin’ in ten minutes.”

          Hunting? Ten minutes? What the…? Although an avid hunter himself, my father never brought me along. In fact, he always hunted alone. When I asked him about it, even when I begged, his terse response had always been the same, “When you’re ready, we’ll go.” I could already dot the “i” on a Pepsi can with every rifle we owned, but when I reminded him of that fact, he would just shake his head and walk off with an amused twinkle in his eye.

          As an even younger boy, I clearly remember the bald owner of our small mountain town’s hunting store once saying to me as I purchased a tin of pellets for my air-rifle, “From what I hear, I ain’t never sold your dad a game tag he didn’t fill. Lotta guys ‘round here would like to know his secrets.”

          I simply nodded at the time, but as I walked out of the store, I felt the clerk’s eyes on my back. He expected something more than the two quarters I had tossed on the counter. I realized later he wanted me to share some hidden piece of family knowledge, an overlooked tidbit of wisdom, or secret prime location, but there was nothing to say; I didn’t know anything about my father as a hunter. All I knew is that we ate every single animal he brought home. The remaining bones wound up in soups, fed to our blue heeler, or incorporated into his sculptures. My dad once carved a snarling jackrabbit the size of an antelope and attached a giant set of elk antlers to its head creating an impressive and intimidating jackalope. Mother was absolutely tickled when he sold his mythical creature to a grinning tourist for $25.

          Still half asleep, I stumbled out of bed and rummaged through my dresser for long-johns and warm outer layer. I finished my hunting ensemble with a well-worn down coat, gloves, leather boots, and a heavy-duty sheepskin hat that looked more like a hornless Viking helmet. My father appeared back at the door dressed from head to toe in a pair of hooded camouflage coveralls. “You ready?”

          I nodded and followed him out to our silver and oxidizing 1972 Chevy Blazer. A duffle bag, two day packs, and a large canteen sat in the bench style back seat. Concentrating on the effort it took to keep my eyes open, I failed to notice the empty gun racks installed over the passenger side windows. In fact, I barely remember passing the Timberline population sign less than a half-mile from our house, before I was slumped against the door and drifting off.

          I recall a dream as vividly as anything else from that trip. Standing on a cliff, overlooking a lake nearly a hundred feet below, I could see my friends swimming below and beckoning me to join them. My heart wanted to make the insane plunge, but my brain kept posing intimidating questions and picturing tragic scenarios. Even in my sleep, I felt an ardent sense of self-doubt and disappointment. I knew I couldn’t jump; I was too scared. However, just as I was about to turn away from the cliff, my friends, and a chance to overcome the fear, some strong invisible hand shoved me square in the back and over the edge I went.

          I jerked awake to find myself sitting in my dad’s Blazer with him nudging my shoulder. “Wake up,” he whispered. I mumbled some sort of apology and straightened myself in the bucket seat. The dark world I fell asleep in had been replaced by total whiteout. For a split-second, the last instant of my dream flooded back over me and I experienced a sense of vertigo, like we were falling through clouds. Instinctually, I grabbed the door handle for balance. My father looked into my eyes and raised a finger to his mouth. “Shhhhh.”

          We were parked. Where, I had no idea, but the outside world had been swallowed in thick fog. Through the side window, I could make out snow-covered ground beneath the tires and could almost imagine the outline of pine trees some thirty feet from the Chevy’s front bumper. The fog and snow were an identical shade of white and trying to discern where one met the other was impossible. Almost lost in the ivory backdrop were large flakes of snow drifting slowly through the calm air, like thousands of feathered pillows had been turned inside out somewhere in the sky above.

           “Where are w…,” I started to ask, but my father cut me off with a wave of his hand and pointed straight out the front windshield. My eyes followed his index finger and for a moment I saw nothing but the slow swirl of dense fog and snow. Then, suddenly, I could make out shapes moving in the mist; hazy silhouettes of dark creatures gradually taking form. I felt an overpowering urge to throw open the door and escape before the foreboding apparitions could fully manifest and overtake our position. Instead, I sat frozen, afraid to move or make a sound. More shadowy figures appeared, figures growing impossibly large, and then through the white veil, the silent wraiths began to materialize.

          Almost paralyzed by the sudden transition from apprehension to fascination, I simply stared, mouth agape, as the elk herd marched into view, each animal bellowing great plumes of vapor. For a split second, I remember thinking the outside fog wasn’t really a fog at all, but instead, the breath of a hundred giant mammals held close to the earth by frozen mountain air. The elk, it seemed, could create their own mist in which to hide and move about cloaked in secrecy.

          The majestic animals, already draped in their impressive tan and chocolate winter coats, never hesitated at the sight of our vehicle. We may as well have been a boulder in the path of a river. The herd, consisting of adult cows and their protected calves in tow, split in half and began to amble past our Blazer on both sides. Giant, dark eyes, rolling lazily in their sockets peered into the vehicle’s windows, but the elk weren’t at all concerned with the two humans sitting motionless inside. One particularly large cow swung her massive head too far to one side as she sauntered past and lightly tapped the passenger side window with the end of her muzzle. She snorted in surprise at the invisible barrier leaving a wet nose print on the glass just inches from my face.

          It was at that moment I finally risked a glance towards my father. The situation was so surreal, part of me wondered if we were both witnessing the same scene; I needed confirmation that I wasn’t still dreaming. What I saw in his face and what became crystal clear to me in that instant would stick with me the rest of my life. There was a tear breaking free from the corner of the big man’s eye. I watched it roll over his cheek bone and disappear into his beard. He made no effort to hide it. In fact, he looked straight into my eyes and I instantly understood something very profound about my father.

          He loved these forest animals more than anyone could imagine. The elk, the deer, the mountain lions and wolves, my father cherished them all. I realized his hunting secrets were wrapped in his respect and appreciation for living things. Through countless hours hunting, hiking, and quiet observation, he understood their patterns and behavior like nobody I would ever meet, something I would gradually learn as my father’s student over the course of the next ten years.

          Seeing my dad shed an unabashed tear over an animal he could also kill and eat freed me from so many expectations about what it meant to be a man. His wasn’t an adversarial role with nature. He wasn’t out to prove something to himself, or conquer anything. My father hunted because our family needed food, but he never once lost perspective on what it meant to take a life. Like any natural predator, my father killed because he had to, not because he took any kind of pleasure in the act.

          Later in life, I also realized his wood carving business wasn’t just a means to help support a family with financial issues, but rather, each carving a labor of love intended to enshrine the life force of a beautiful animal. Something about immortalizing his prey in tedious detail allowed him to be at peace with the lives he took.

          “Are you sure you’re ready to hunt with me?”

          My father’s question didn’t catch me off-guard that October morning. In fact, I actually expected it.

          “I am,” I said simply and beyond all shadow of doubt, he knew I understood.

          “Good,” he said. “Next time we bring the rifles.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hair Pieces and Hand Grenades

Have you seen the dire warning
Posted just above the door
Exit signs are broken
Doesn't matter where you go

Have you see our precious mother
Blue and blackened on the floor
Once a priceless golden vision
Can't lift her head up anymore

The world doesn't end with a whimper
The world is gonna end with a bang
And way back
Way back when
That's how it started all over again

Have you seen our real reflection
Do you stare or look away
Bloated ghouls we're on a mission
Ugly murder every day

Have you seen the coming winter
Another ice age on the way
Bury tools of self destruction
Save them for another day

The world doesn't end with a whimper
The world is gonna end with a bang
And way back
Way back when
That's how it started all over again

Hair pieces and hand grenades
Hair pieces and hand grenades
Hair pieces and hand grenades
Vanity violence all the rage

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Glory Within a Breath

Having retreated
Or been tossed from
The mountain
More often than she
Cares to remember
Felt unsure
Of ever having
Enough heart
To climb again
But here she is
Working her way
Over the face
And for the first time
It is possible
To breathe
At this elevation

She suffers no delusion
About ascension
Offering one way treks
And knows
Nothing withstands erosion
Forever
But one gasp
Living inside today
Is worth the fear of
Tomorrow starting over

Monday, March 22, 2010

While She Lasts

Inside the sensual curves
Of her glass chamber
There is no sign
Of sand
Swallowing his feet
Or prints
Leading to this vacuum
There is only the moment
And those breaths
She permits

Never clever
Or cruel enough
To trap such radiance
He is free
To let the momentary
Lover crawl across
His stigma

Her eternal reward
Is the promise
Of a possible return
To such quiet ecstasy
Even one last time

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Symptomatic Episodes

Today
It was getting caught
By a traffic light
The last
In a series of
Perceived slights
From inanimate objects
Causing waves
Of white hot blood
To crash inside
A fire bombed skull
Blurred vision
Beyond the point
Of recognizing
The reflected
Twisted
Shaking countenance
Turned to one side
As if attempting
To dislodge
This malignant tumor
And let it drain
From one ear

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Well Eyedclaar

Beyond doubt's shadow
Our original sin
Is a capacity to mistake
Or accept
What are clearly
Rantings of the insane
For punishable fact

I mean
Good Waffle people
The more unbelievable
The greater odds
A loose wire is enshrined

See
Even eye
Invented a religion
The only difference
Appears to be
Never losing sight
Of the actual creator

However
That does not mean
I couldn't be sold
On its street value

Monday, March 15, 2010

What We Pretend To Be

          Darion barely catches his breath before the band segues into their final performance of the night. The nightclub’s pulsing rainbow of stage lights beat down on the four men like a July sun. Shirtless and sweaty, the singer howls into the microphone as the song’s introduction reaches a climax of heavy riffing and rapid-fire drumming. The crowded floor becomes a seething pool of bouncing heads and raised fists. A wolf-like grin erupts across the face of the maniacal singer. Darion drags one hand over his shaved scalp and wipes the drenched fingers on his camouflage shorts as he screams the opening lines.

          Flanking the front man are his closest friends and band mates. Hawg, a masterful jazz drummer, pounds his kit with such primitive fury, no one would guess he is professionally trained. Behind a mop of thick brown curls, Kent hacks at his ebony Les Paul, carving out a menacing and chunky chord progression. Stage left, stocky Julio pummels the bass strings and stomps in circles like a man possessed. The synergistic wall of sound created by the four men feels as though it could rip the building from its very foundation.

          As always, when playing this particular number, Darion seeks out new faces in the crowd to gauge their reaction. Taken literally, the song seems to promote war on everyone from Arabs to Eskimos. Acutely aware of his own militant appearance, Darion enjoys taking a hyperbolic stance in his lyrics and stage presence. The song is actually an anti-war piece, but so disguised in its brutally heavy music and sarcastic lyrics, the band had seen their share of misunderstanding. Over the years, they had comically witnessed more than one person storm out of a show with disgust etched across their face. Once, a whirling, diminutive blur of tie-dye and dreadlocks stopped dead in her sandals, extending both middle fingers in wild gesticulations until the song ended.

          Pressed against the stage, their regular fans and personal acquaintances echo the atrocious but catchy chorus with a look of twisted glee. In the mass of twisting bodies, Darion notices a young lady with long blond hair tackle a large bearded man and drag him to the floor where they are lost from sight. Through the heavy tide of swaying bodies, several audience members surge to their aid and both are pulled back to their feet laughing wildly.

          They have just begun the second verse when Julio kicks Darion in the shin lightly and with narrowing eyes, nods his head in Kent's direction. Standing right in front of the guitar player is a barrel-chested mountain of a man, shirtless beneath a pair of tattered overalls. Like Darion, his head is finely shaved. Tattoos of barbed swastikas and iron crosses cover his muscled shoulders, neck, and bald scalp. The man's hands are balled into fists and his arms are shaking above his head like an enraged gorilla. He is screaming so loud, Darion can hear him over the music.

          Kent nods in approval at the man's frenetic energy while his fingers do an effortless dance across the fret board. The recognition from stage lights an intense fire in the giant’s eyes and he begins to lumber in place, moving from foot to foot in rhythm with the music. The colossus quickly begins to stalk in circles, elbows and knees beginning to churn, violently clearing space all around. Those nearby try to make room for the muscular monster, but the club’s floor is too packed and the crowd’s swaying momentum tosses people right back into the pulverizing machine of blunt limbs.

          The hulking beast notices Darion watching him and marches across the front line of the audience, peeling the first row away from the stage. He points to the singer’s shaved head, then to his own tattoos, before smiling viciously and shoving a skinny red-headed kid onto his knees.

          Now front and center, the man continues his aggressive thrashing and his energy infects the crowd. Some of the younger men in the audience try to shove the mammoth aside. However, the side to side motion of the pit carries most their energy into the uninvolved, and in order to retain their balance, those people have little choice but to push back. Soon, people are shoving in every direction just to maintain their footing.

          Darion locks eyes with the man, shakes his head critically, and focuses all the rage the lyrics ever intended on the beast before him. The effect is like nothing the front man has ever seen. Although use to an audience responding to his vocal cues and stage mannerisms, this individual reacts to the singer's presence like an actor undergoing some Hollywood lycanthropic transformation. All the malice Darion can emit is absorbed by the tattooed entity and then unleashed on everything in arm's length. The song's message seems to validate the man's very existence with Darion serving the role of divine preacher.

          Unable to watch any more, Kent turns his back to the crowd and slides into a guitar solo of sustained notes and manipulated feedback. Darion also turns around to make eye contact with Hawg. The drummer is watching the flailing stranger and shaking his head with concern. Sweat pours from the drummer’s thick blond hairline and into his bloodshot eyes.

          The singer looks back at the crowd just in time to catch the man inadvertently elbow the face of an older woman standing well behind him. Darion recognizes her as Julio's aunt; a woman he had met earlier that night. She was in town and wanted to watch her nephew perform for the first time. Before anyone can react, Juilio is flying across the stage, tearing the bass over his head by the instrument's neck, and pulling it back behind him like a golf player about to tee off.

          The swing is interrupted at the last second when the instrument’s cord reaches the end of its length and yanks Julio's amplifier right off its mount. The cable pops free from its jack, slowing but not stopping the blow’s velocity. Turned halfway around, the huge man never sees Julio’s charge. The body of the heavy bass guitar catches him right in the temple and the big man drops without a sound to the club's sticky floor.

          Face first on the stage, the bass amp emits an obnoxious static buzz. The song ends awkwardly as the drums come to an abrupt halt and Kent’s fingers reluctantly cease moving. Silence fills the room. As one, the audience pulls back from the giant’s crumpled form as if it has suddenly become contagious. Darion notices the man is out cold, but still breathing. He also sees Julio's aunt standing off to one side holding her mouth while a trickle of blood seeps from her chin and tears run down her cheeks.

          “I think we're done here,” Darion mumbles into the microphone.

          The front man places a hand on Julio's trembling shoulder. The bass player still has his cold eyes locked on the unconscious man. There are a few calls of half-hearted approval from the floor area mixed with boos and undecipherable cat calls from the rear of the club.

          “Last time we play that one,” Darion whispers to nobody in particular. “Never expected that…”

          Julio barely nods his head. “How about we get our shit out of here before the Nazi wakes up... or the cops arrive?”

          “Good idea.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sand Castles

Without a word
He was gone
On a beach all alone
He turned to dust
And let the tide
Pull him out to sea

Man is a mountain
But down pouring rain
Was bound to see him
In the waves again

Maybe now he can
Wash it all away
Maybe now he needs
A castle made of sand

Never held him
Close enough
A brother’s arms
Are not to touch
But they could build a
House for a king

See him at dusk
Alone and adrift
Lost in the surf
At one with the mist

Maybe now he can
Wash it all away
Maybe now he needs
A castle made of sand

Monday, March 8, 2010

Miners

Having succeeded
Our own expectations
In tunneling down within
Distractions out of reach
And ties unbinding
We now notice
The walls of these caverns
Covered in undecipherable
Chalk hieroglyphs and
Quantifiably confining

The hollow echo
Of our own applause
Halls once filled
With golden laughter
And the perpetual
Underground night
Questions
The actual value
Of gems
Plucked from these
Collapsing shafts
Only to be shared
With nobody

Ride at Dawn

Not so caught
In critical assessment
Of everything seen
That I am blind
To a candy cane sunrise
Erupting over snow peaked
Violet mountains
Doubling their grandeur
In a glass lagoon

Or brash emerald drakes
Crashing the calm
No doubt
Trying to catch
A lifelong eye
From some young hen

Or even the amber glow of
Clock towers
Guaranteeing
A five minute reprieve
From this morning commute
To breathe the perfume
Of still March air and
For one moment
Let myself live
Inside this postcard

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Speaking a Dead Tongue

This is no way
For a man to live
Begging approval
And silent applause
From the underwhelming
Selling slivers of soul
One sentence at a time
For pennies on the investment

Time better spent
Watching clouds take shape
Listening to ecstatic claps
Of thunder
Smelling the roses and
Polishing clich├ęs

This is how to stand out
Present the same play
So the spotlight understands
Its focus
Except this time
Make it extra ordinary

Monday, March 1, 2010

Overwhelmed by Opportunity

As we zero in
on a Mayan countdown
The one doomsday scenario
Tantalizing my trigger finger
More than most
Is the zombie apocalypse

Imagine
How honest we could be
With nobody left
To judge or praise

With currency removed
From the equation
Purpose becomes
A simple matter of surviving
Flesh eating hordes
That once
May have been clergy
Police or politicians

Of course
There are those
Who might not think
In like minded fashion
And would simply
See the situation
As permission
To treat you monsters
Like we've always wanted