From the deck of his charter fishing boat Big Mack II, Mickey Daniels pierces minnows baited with cat food onto hooks and plunges them 400 feet into the dark water of Lake Tahoe. It's 7:47 a.m. on a day when mist slices distant mountaintops and gray clouds swallow the sun.
Daniels, a 67-year-old former Placer County law enforcement officer with wind-chapped cheeks, knows every ripple of the lake he's fished since 1959. But aside from his reputation for landing mackinaws and 30-pound trout, he believes that something else, something larger and more ominous, dwells in Tahoe's depths.
FOR THE RECORD:
Tasmanian tiger —An article in Tuesday's Outdoors section about a mythical creature in Lake Tahoe implied that Australia's Tasmanian tiger was a mythical animal. The Tasmanian tiger is an extinct animal.
Two decades ago, he rumbled his 43-foot boat a half-mile offshore and pointed toward the casinos in Nevada on the lake's south side.
"What's that?" a passenger suddenly yelled.
"It's not a wake from the boat," Daniels said, staring. The two peered into the water and watched a wave split into a huge V, as if an enormous head were clearing a path for an enormous tail. And then
These days when Daniels paddles his rowboat out to Big Mack II and dawn blurs sky and shore into Monet-like smudges, he sometimes peers into the dark water, searching for what he saw on that morning long ago. It makes him nervous.
At 1,645 feet deep, Lake Tahoe ranks as the world's 10th deepest lake. Twenty-two miles long and 12 miles wide, it harbors many legends. But perhaps most persistent is the myth of a humped-backed, scaly serpentine the locals call Tessie.
"I keep looking," Daniels says. "In case there is something, I want to see it."
With scant evidence that such crea-tures exist, our forests and waterways still teem with man-made monsters, and Tessie is just that kind of beast — quick to spin off into popular culture, provide good copy for the Weekly World News and compel perfectly reasonable men, like Daniels, to believe she's out there, lurking.
Roots of uncertainty
As early mapmakers struggled to decipher the shape of the world, they scrawled notes where they ran out of information: Beyond here lie monsters.
Children use this reasoning when they accept the inexplicable, sometimes in the guise of flying reindeer or molar-swiping fairies. Believing in something untrue or unproven does not render the believing itself false. To children, shadows are the edge of the world, and there may be monsters beyond.
Perhaps the same logic explains why some have seen Bigfoot, Chupacabra, Yeti and all the other so-called beasts who are tracked by cryptozoologists, the name given to those who study these hidden creatures.
"Nature is neither as kind as we want it, nor as evil as we fear," says Stephen Curley, who teaches literature at Texas A&M University at Galveston. "We like to believe we have tamed nature but cannot deny chronic reminders that nature is red in tooth and claw."
In a lake renowned for its clarity, Tessie seems to emerge from the murk of uncertainty. Her story likely begins several thousand years ago when Washoe Indians summered on the lake's shores. Shamans believed water babies swam in the glassy green water under sacred Cave Rock. To speak of small, powerful creatures was considered taboo: a water baby could blind a man or kill him.
The fear was enough to keep the tribe silent. These were, after all, dangerous times: A prehistoric bird, Ong, nested at the center of the lake, and tribe members warned children against wandering from camp, lest the winged creature kidnap them.
After white men arrived at Tahoe in 1844, more myths bubbled. There's allegedly a hole that drains water underground and into Pyramid Lake east of Reno, and bodies purportedly ditched by gangsters hover untouched until a fisherman reels in a hand with two fingers lopped off. With the lake rumored to hold gold bullion and remnants of a B-29 bomber, it's a wonder Tessie has room to unfurl.
It came from the deep
Rumor has it that somewhere in Lake Tahoe's belly lurks a scaly creature named Tessie. Even though there's no proof that such a monster exists, such myths bridge the gap between what we know and what we dont.
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