Moon Lake Adventure

I spent this past weekend at exotic (and mysterious) Moon Lake, speaking to a group of 11-year-old Scouts. Great kids! I had a great time (and even looked for the legendary Moon Lake Monster, but without luck).

bearAnyway, I opened my talk with one of my favorite Scouting stories, which went something like this:

A bunch of years ago I spent 18 days backpack through Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Now, there’s a lot of bears at Philmont, so you can’t keep any food in your tent at night. Yeah, you do that and every hungry bear on the mountain’s gonna try crawling into your tent with you.

So every night before you go to bed, you’ve gotta take all your snacks and candy and anything else that smells like food and put it in a burlap sack called a “bear bag.” Then you take the bag about fifty yards out of camp and hoist it into a tree. That way, if any bears come wandering by, they spend the night trying to get into the tree instead of your tent.

At first, we were all really good about loading up the bear bag, ’cause none of us wanted some nosy bear sneaking into our tents. But there were a couple of problems. First, we weren’t seeing any bears. We weren’t seeing any tracks. And after a couple of days we started thinking maybe there really weren’t any bears, and that they were just a story made up to scare everybody.

And second, sometimes you’d put six Snickers bars into the bear bag, but you’d only get three back the next morning. So we all started getting a little lax about loading our best snacks in the bear bag.

One night after everyone had gone to bed, I went out for a little night hike. When I came back I was trying to be as quiet as I could, so I didn’t disturb anyone. There was one tent on the outskirts of camp, and as I got close I could hear a couple of the guys talking inside. One of the boys was saying, “Dude, quit moving around . . . you’re kneeling on my glasses!”

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were wearing them.”

“I am wearing them!”

Well, I started to walk around when I heard one of the kids go, “Shhhhhhhh!

And man, I froze, ’cause I believe in Bigfoot and I was sure someone had just heard him. But nothing happened, so I finally took another step and heard, “Shhhhhhhh! There it is again!

And this time I realized, “Ah, they hear me!”

But just to make sure I took another step and sure enough, “Shhhhhhhh! There it is again!

Followed by: “What do you think it is?”

“I bet it’s a bear!”

And a horrified voice: “I didn’t put all my stuff in the bear bag!”

“Where is it?”

And in pure panic: “It’s right here!

And the next second ZIP! went the zipper, and the next instant Pop Tarts, licorice, candy bars, power bars, raisins, bubble gum, and trail mix comes flying from the tent.

The next morning, we all searched the bushes for whatever was left of the guys’ snacks, but never did find any of it, which proved there was a bear in camp.

But I sure ate good that week.

Barkerisms

I have in my office a painting of the mountains at night. It looks nice from a distance, but if you get close you can see a coyote howling at the moon. Most people never notisquatchce it, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the picture.

I like to include little things like that in my books. Things most readers might never notice, but that people who know me (and know my writing) can spot and chuckle at. I call them “Barkerisms.”

For instance: any time I mention “time,” I rarely use a random number. Almost always the time will be a palindrome (a number that’s the same frontwards and backwards), like 6:46, or 9:29. (And that’s just because I used to be a mathematician.) If the time isn’t a palindrome, it might be something like 3:10 (someone’s birthday), 7:11 (c’mon . . . you oughtta get that!), or 12:25 (Christmas). So the next time you spot the time mentioned in one of my books, see if you can’t figure out the hidden meaning.

A huge Barkerism is Bigfoot. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but after a while I noticed that nearly every one of my books mentioned Bigfoot. They’re usually just subtle references, like “He raced through the trees like a kid fleeing Bigfoot,” or “He had the expression of a guy who’d just been bit on the butt by Bigfoot.” Saucer Crash takes place in 1947, which is 11 years before anyone coined the term “Bigfoot.” But I found a way to sneak him in anyway. (It’s subtle and you have to look close, but it’s there!) So the next time you see me mention Sasquatch, you can think, “Barkerism!”

I also love nicknames. In Demon’s Treasure (soon to be released) there’s a huge dude who kinda looks like Sasquatch. (Hey! There’s a Barkerism!) But rather than constantly reminding the reader that the guy’s a monster, one of the characters is always referring to him as Kong, or The Missing Link, or Apezilla, or . . . well, you see where I’m going. I had fun looking as many different ways as I could to say “Caveman.” In another book coming out this spring, there’s a tyrannosaur; but one of the characters never says the word “tyrannosaur.” Instead, he’s got a whole slew of different nicknames to have fun with instead.

I’ll mention one more: alliteration. That’s just a fancy term for words that rhyme. Here’s a couple of sentences I had fun with: “He was covered with more grime and slime and goop and poop than the floor of an old school bus.” (Hear the rhymes?) And from Demon’s Treasure: “Jansen’s arms and legs had been sliced and diced by the rocks and coral. The captain had actually turned pale when he saw Jansen’s collection of slashes, gashes, and other grotesqueries.”

Anyway, if you happen to read one of my books, be on the lookout for the next Barkerism!