Yankee Classic: The Champ Believer
“You try to learn something new every time out,” he said calmly.
Late that night I read the reports Zarr had been collecting of the summer’s sightings. One of the most interesting was a letter from a local writer named Pete Horton, who reported that on July 1 he had been sitting by Potash Bay (an inlet between the locations of the McGeoch and Koch sightings) reading, when he heard what he thought was a school of fish.
“But it was not fish making the noise,” Horton wrote. “First it looked like two merging boat waves. But there had been no boats. Then for a second it looked like two women with black bathing caps and black bathing suits. But there were no arms or legs. The noise was not a splashing. It was a steady rushing caused by three rounded black humps which were proceeding smoothly parallel to the shore … ”
In the morning the fog lifted slowly, like a curtain, revealing the cliffs of New York State rosy in the level sunlight. Pat was in the kitchen, making blueberry pancakes for breakfast. “It’s a pleasure to cook for somebody,” she laughed. “All I do for Zarr is shred lettuce. ”
Zarr was on watch. “In a place as beautiful as this,” he said dreamily, “Moby Dick could come cruising down the lake, and you’d be so absorbed in watching turkey vultures that you’d miss him.”
We ate, facing the lake. It was so quiet and still we could hear fish jumping, and the clicking of the sonar on the porch. “So many people talk about the commotion in the water, and the sound,” Pat said. “They look up because of the sound. When I imagine seeing Champ, I think about a big sound, a churning sound.”
“I imagine seeing what the Mansi photo shows,” Zarr declared. “I think it’s for real. She is a real person. She was trying to save her kids. She wanted to get them out of the water without alarming them, so she went down and said, ‘Come on, let’s go get pizza.'”
Those who like to speculate about the creatures — they call themselves “cryptozoologists,” meaning they study “hidden” animals – are divided about what they might be. One school of thought favors the zeuglodon, a primitive whale that was thought to have become extinct 20 million years ago. Others nominate the plesiosaur, a marine reptile with a snakelike neck and four large flippers to propel it through the water. It is believed to have died out between 60 and 70 million years ago. The coelacanth, a strange fish once thought to have become extinct at the same time as the plesiosaur, was rediscovered in 1937.
“I sort of expect it to be the plesiosaur,” Zarr said. “The Mansi photo looks like a plesiosaur. I imagine that when I see Champ, it will be a good sighting — eyeball to eyeball.”
“That would be good, wouldn’t it, Zarr?” Pat said. “In two feet of water?”
He chuckled. “Don’t hold your breath. The Vermont State Lottery ran a ‘Search for Champ’ contest, where you win if you find a picture of the monster under one of those scratch-off things. I never won.”
He spoke of one Loch Ness monster hunter whose tactics were to loudly announce his intention to go one place to observe, then go to a different spot to fool his prey. Another, a minister, believed in meditating to draw the creatures close. “I wish I was that positive,” he said wistfully.
“You’re the most positive person I know,” Pat retorted.
They fell into an old argument. Pat takes the pragmatic position that more publicity would help raise money for a more thorough search for Champ. She’d like to see the Mansi photo on postcards, for example. Zarr doesn’t want to appear to be exploiting the animal for personal or commercial gain.
“My hero in all this is Tim Dinsdale,” Zarr said, naming one of the Loch Ness investigators. “He claims that his search at Loch Ness is like looking for a unicorn in the water — a myth made real.