Lake Champlain’s Winter Art

We’ve had crazy weather on Lake Champlain this week. First, it was a snowstorm that dumped about a foot of snow at my house and way more in places like southern Vermont.  And it was a heavy, wet snow that somehow managed to turn the shoreline area of Lake Champlain into a sort of slushy swirl.  This photo doesn’t entirely capture it, but this was something I’d never seen before.  That’s not ice…it’s floating snow-slush.

Last night, it rained, and the wind blew what was left of the lake ice near our house into a sparkly sculpture on the shore.

It’s beautiful in the morning sun, and almost makes up for our missing skating rink…but not quite.

I know the winter weather is continuing for many of you today. I hope wherever you are, you’re warm with a good book!

Lake Champlain: What a difference 15 hours can make

When the sun came up over Lake Champlain yesterday, there was a solid layer of ice from my house to the island about a mile off shore.  This time of year, we watch the lake with great interest because if it freezes the right way — with no ripples or snow or big chunks of ice sticking up — then our backyard is suddenly many, many acres larger.  When the ice gets thick enough, we love skating and cross country skiing out on the lake. 

And so we watch.  And wait.  But there are some false starts.  Often, the lake freezes and then breaks up again a number of times before it stays frozen.

When I left for school yesterday, I had a feeling it would probably be one of those "not-really" days.  Sure enough, when I got home, the lake was striped with dark cracks, with water seeping up into the new snow.

We went outside for a bit and listened.  The lake was chirping as the wind picked up and the bigger pieces fractured.  Little by little, tiny waves bit away at the ice.

We listened and watched until it got too dark and too cold, then went in for dinner. And this morning…

Open water. And we start all over again.

Meet Ernest McSeamonster (coming from Chronicle Books in 2011!)

Okay…so this isn’t really Ernest. 

This is one of the many local tributes to Lake Champlain’s resident monster, Champ. And the reason I am looking so happy and grateful is because my agent sold my new picture book to Chronicle Books.  ERNEST McSEAMONSTER WANTS TO GO HOME, the story of an unhappy seamonster’s first day in a new school (of fish), is tentatively scheduled for publication in spring/early summer of 2011. 

For those of you who write and like long stories with happy endings, the version of this book that just sold was an 11th draft, and the editor had it in her possession for 11 months before everything finally came together this week.

I’m very lucky that my agent is good with details like contracts and clauses and things, because honestly, all I can think about is what a fun outdoor story-time we are going to have on the lake shore in 2011.  Launch party at the beach, anyone?

Do you believe in Champ?

Big news from Lake Champlain this week… Our local media has picked up the story of a Vermont man who videotaped a mysterious-looking something apparently swimming in the lake near Burlington over the weekend.  He shared the video to YouTube.  Is it a really big dog?  A deer? Could it be Champ, Lake Champlain’s resident monster?

Still from

People are naturally skeptical, and at least one scientist has suggested that it actually looks like a moose in distress.  I can’t say for sure what’s swimming through the water in this shot.  But I can say that it’s very different from my own experience with the legendary Champlain monster. 

That’s right…I’ve seen the lake monster. I don’t talk about it much (because I’m afraid of getting those looks that I always used to give people who talked about seeing lake monsters).  But the creature I saw was longer –  probably 15-20 feet, with bumps along its back, and its head didn’t stick out of the water so much.  I’ve seen it twice.

The first time was late spring of 2003.  I was making dinner, and my son called to me from the living room. 

"Mom…. What’s that?"  He stared out the window, and when I saw what he was pointing at, I stared too.

"Well…"  About 60 yards offshore, I could see a series of small bumps in the water that stretched out for at least fifteen feet.  And the whole thing was moving.  Swimming.  There was a small wake behind it.

"Well," I said again.  "I think…uh…."  The thing turned in the water, and the bumps snaked around.  It straightened out and swam a little closer to shore. "Well…I think that’s what people see when they say they see Champ."

We rushed outside and stood on the seawall, watching it swim back and forth for at least five minutes. Then it sank below the surface and disappeared.   About an hour later, my husband came home for dinner.

"What’s new?"  he asked.

"We saw Champ," my son told him.

"Right…"  No matter how many times we insisted it was true, he shook his head and laughed.  Until the following week.

"Hey, Kate?"  he called from the living room window.  "Is that what you saw the other night?"

There it was again.  This time, we all ran outside, along with a dozen people from the birthday party that was going on next door.  The creature was just the same…bumps protruding from the water just a little…and easily 20 feet long. 

And then… a second creature appeared, looking just the same, but swimming in the opposite direction.  They crossed paths, back and forth several times, and didn’t even seem to acknowledge one another.  Were they feeding on a school of fish?  What were they?  No one left to get a video camera; we were sure they were about to disappear.  But they stayed for another ten minutes, swimming back and forth. And then swam off.

Were they lake creatures left over from centuries past?  Was each long creature really just a few giant sturgeon, swimming in perfect single file?

I don’t know.  And part of me… likes not knowing.  I love living here, for the mountains and cool still water, for the historical shipwrecks and musical waves.  And for the mystery.   I love that Lake Champlain still has some secrets she’s not giving up just yet.

Field Trip Critters

I teach middle school, first and foremost, because I love kids that age and love sharing books and writing with them.  Reason #2?  Probably the field trips.  I have never quite gotten over that feeling I used to get in second grade when I’d arrive at school, see the yellow buses waiting outside, and know that we were leaving.  Walking right out of the building to go to an official interesting place.

My seventh graders and I went to one of those places on the Burlington, VT waterfront today.  We took a trip on the University of Vermont’s research vessel, the Melosira.  If you teach and live within striking distance, I highly recommend this trip.  My group started the day with some activities in the lab, then ate lunch and climbed on board for a variety of lake-science activities.

Our guides used this special net to collect plankton samples for examination under the boat’s two dissecting microscopes.

Lake Champlain Book Club!

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is an amazing resource for lake history, so when their educators asked if I’d be part of a book club for families, I jumped at the chance.  I love the way they’ve scheduled the book club event to coincide with the museum’s Native American Encampment so kids will get to see and touch so many of the things they read about in Champlain in the Silent One — right down to a replica of a birch bark canoe.  Here’s the flyer… Feel free to share the link if you know families that might be interested!

Raise the Spitfire?

The debate over what to do with the wreck of the Spitfire, the Revolutionary War gunboat featured in my first historical novel, seems to be resurfacing.

Librarian Cally Flickinger alerted me to this article in the Burlington Free Press.  I expect it will reinvigorate our conversations about the value of historical resources.

What do you think should happen?

Marching on…

The ice on Lake Champlain is floating north in giant puzzle pieces today.

Some of these ice slabs are enormous — maybe 30 feet long.

There is a tiny part of me that thinks it would be fun to put on a big orange survival suit, climb onto one of them, flop down on my belly, and float all the way to Canada. 

But all the other parts of me get cold easily and have vetoed that idea. 

“Beside,” my 11-year-old said, “Waves slosh over those ice chunks all the time, and I think they’d wash you off before you got to the border.”

Instead, I’ll be in the big chair by the window, watching the ice float north without me while I read Eric Larson’s Thunderstruck with a cup of hot chocolate.

best tracker

Ice Song

We had a lazy morning on Lake Champlain.  When I woke up, the lake was frozen solid from our back deck to the island about a mile offshore.  When the wind picked up, it churned up the open water to the south, and the ice started talking.

Sometimes, when the ice breaks up, it sounds like a timpani drum.  Sometimes it sounds like thunder. Sometimes it sounds like a sea lion barking.  And sometimes, it sounds like something from another planet — something that doesn’t sound like an earth noise at all.

So we shivered on the porch this morning and listened.  We watched a mink that popped up from a crack in the ice and played for about an hour before she disappeared again.  And we videotaped, so you could listen and watch, too. 

Contest for Impatient Readers

Sometimes it can be hard to wait.  I’m feeling a little impatient about the books of 2008 for a few reasons.

As a writer, I’m feeling impatient because my second MG historical novel, Champlain & the Silent One,  is still seven months away from the shelves.  It’s off being edited and illustrated now, so all my work is done, except the waiting.  I can’t wait to see the illustrations and the cover, and I really can’t wait to start talking with kids at schools & libraries about Samuel de Champlain and the tribes who guided him on his voyage from Quebec to Lake Champlain 400 years ago.

As a reader and teacher, I’m excited for a whole roundup of 2008 titles from favorite authors & friends & other writers whose work I’ve heard about and can’t wait to read.  I’ve been lucky enough to get sneak peaks of some of them, like Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score, which I reviewed here. This one is so unbelievably good that I’ve decided it’s a crime not to pass it along so someone else can read it and love it and hopefully talk about it, too.

So here’s the contest.  I’m giving a way my pre-read and somewhat well-traveled ARC of Keeping Score.  I won it in a drawing on

‘s blog a few weeks ago and asked Cindy if she’d be okay with me giving it away again.  The ARC traveled with me to the Kindling Words retreat in Vermont last week, where Linda Sue Park (

) graciously signed it for the giveaway.  It’s not a shiny, perfect, unread-by-human-eyes ARC, but it is signed and got to hang out with the likes of Linda Sue and Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr and Katie Davis and Jane Yolen and other wonderful people.  It’s an ARC with lots of good karma.

If you’d like to be entered the drawing, just leave a comment below with the title of one 2008 release that you can’t wait to read.  The contest ends at 6pm EST on February 13th.  I’ll figure out some bizarre and random way to choose a winner and announce it here on my blog on Valentine’s Day.