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Nothing to fear but Otter Man himself

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POSTED October 27, 2010 3:06 a.m.
A ton of horror movies make me laugh — adolescent girls with unwashed waist-length black hair climbing out of televisions slower than a slug in salt and still catching dudes that appear to be capable of easily busting out a 5k run.


Some flicks use loud noises to scare with surprise, which is kind of cheating. Others involving demonic-possession or supernatural activity provide a psychological fright, but I choose to save my money and not put those images and plots into my cranial stockpile.

Only one movie has made me hide my eyes. I was seven or so when Ghostbusters 2 came out, and when Vigo’s half decomposed head speaks in that thickly evil voice while levitating above that river of freakish pink slime, I hid my eyes.
As I said, I was pretty young, so Pete Venkman’s humor was lost on me, so I didn’t see the film as a bona fide comedy until later.

Non-fictionally speaking, I really don’t have any debilitating fears, other than being forced to watch Jersey Shore or Teen Mom.

Bears don’t scare me, because a creature the size of my washer and dryer combined isn’t going to sneak into my sleeping bag like the snakes and scorpions I detest.

Granted it could tear through my goose down bag on its way to making my femur a chew toy, but it’s not going to surprise me, plus text-messaging teenagers behind the wheel are far more dangerous and prevalent.

What really scared me was Jon Rowan telling us stories of a Tlingit spirit known as Otter Man or Koosh daa kaa during Native Art class in middle school. I have tremendous respect for Jon; he loves God, his culture, his country and terrifying kids like me by telling us about this creature that broke through the ice when he was a kid, soared over his head, then crashed back underwater without leaving so much as a crack in the frozen ocean.

There were others that told me stories. My Tlingit buddy Lawrence thought it was funny to tell Koosh Daa Kaa stories while we were camping. I couldn’t stop him, because he told me the Otter Man punished cowardice.

The spirit can take whatever form it choses, and was at times a benevolent character, but I never heard those stories. I heard ones that make crackling fires sound like haunting voices to a 15-year-old camping at the river outside of town.

There was the one about the possessed forest service ranger that bounded like a deer and shook violently while levitating (of course) that night in view of terrified co-workers at a cabin in the forest. There was the one about the trees that threw rocks at fishing boats in the night, and the one in which hunters were killed near Juneau.

All these stories have probably been embellished to the point that if I re-told them to my source it would sound new to them, but still, it’s some freaky stuff.

There is some overlap between the Otter Man and Pacific Northwest myths involving Bigfoot. A cafe down the street from mom’s house used a map to chart recent run-ins with Bigfoot, which became synonymous to many with Koosh Daa Kaa.

Even the Discovery Channel came up to film a show in which experts tried to scientifically prove if the island could or could not provide a habitat for a creature such as Bigfoot.

Of course if it’s a spirit like the one Jon scared the smoked salmon out of us with, then it probably wouldn’t allow itself to be filmed by dudes from the Lower 48.

Now that I think about it, I probably didn’t break my fishing rod this summer, the Koosh Daa Kaa probably grabbed and snapped it as I swung back to load up a cast, punishment for recommending an area of the island to the film crew.

It could be worse than a broken Ugly Stik, I could have a story like Harry Colp’s, who claimed in his account, The Strangest Story Ever Told, “their sexless bodies covered with long coarse hair, except where the scabs and running sores had replaced it.”

This passage and the rest of the chase story is non-fiction, as far as he knows, and is set within a short floatplane ride from my front door, though 110 years ago.

So this Halloween, bring it on Vigo, and Jack-O-Lantern, you’ve got nothing on the Otter Man.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail

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