1995, Lake Champlain, Vermont
Imagine three pre-teen girls in a boat, enjoying the freedom of getting away from their families at their “boring” Vermont cottages, to be able to sit in a boat in the middle of Lake Champlain.
They were the grand-daughters of my grandmother’s cottage neighbors. After a few weeks of boredom and black and white TV, I was so relieved to have someone my age to hang out with.
I’d heard about Champ my whole life having a family cottage in Vermont.
In the previous summers, my Dad would take me out on our rowboat into the middle of the mirky, and seaweedy Lake Champlain that the cottage that had been in my family for decades had been on, and he’d tell me stories.
He’d tell me about “Cloak Island” which was an island off in the distance from our cottage, where a man had gone to look for his lost love, but disappeared, only to have his cloak left behind, giving the small island its namesake.
Then there were the stories about Champ.
I’d squirm with discomfort and fascination as he told me about the Lake Champlain Sea Monster. Apparently, Samuel de Champlain had first recorded seeing the “20-foot serpent with the horse shaped head and a body the size of a keg” upon “discovering” the lake that would later bear his name.
I’d try to forget about Champ whenever we’d go into the paddle boat, but of course, he was always top of mind.
That hot summer’s day with those two fellow- 12 year olds, we were ambitious and decided to paddle the boat as far away from the cottages as possible with our new found independence.
In the middle of the lake, we talked about what girls of that age talked about. Shaving our legs, boys, and all those awkward things in that super awkward stage of life between 12 and 13. I can remember that whole summer being just strange and transitional, like the ones you’d read about in a Wally Lamb book or see in a movie like “Now and Then”.
All of the sudden, I saw something approaching underneath us.
“No,” I whispered under my breath, “It can’t be.”
“What?” the girls innocently asked, seeing my face go white and my eyes grow wide.
The girls looked down wide-eyed and saw what I was seeing, as a large, white-ish-grey-ish-green-ish mass of sea creature swooshed under our boat. It never came up close to the surface, but the size, the color, told me all I needed to know.
“CHAAAAAAAMMMMMPPPPPP!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “The sea monster!”
The girls and I stood up and for some reason began stamping our feet on the bottom of the boat. The three of us screamed, the shrillest kind of pre-teen girl scream you could ever hear coming from a paddle boat from the otherwise tranquil Lake Champlain.
Our parents who had congregated at the shore for relaxing cottage time said all they could hear was screams as we paddled back to our cottage docks so fast we basically hydro-planed our way there.
“We saw CHAMP!” we all screamed to our parents when we arrived, tired, scared, and kind of excited too.
I don’t know what they were trying to do, whether they just wanted to calm us down, or just thought we were being silly kids, but they tried to convince us that all we had seen were snapping turtles.
I am a bit of a realist in my adult age, but no matter what new evidence comes out, or no matter how my memory fades, for life I’ll consider that day in 1995 as the day I saw a bona fide sea monster.
(Photo is from the 1970s of a photo of Champ himself.)