IDAHO: Slimy Slim

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From time to time over 15 years, people have seen an enormous sea serpent glubbing about in Idaho's Payette Lake. Most of them kept their mouths shut. But someone always talked.

The lake is a seven-mile stretch of deep blue mountain water, rimmed by high pine-forested ridges and fed by a brawling, canyon-hemmed river. Summer cottages dot its beaches, and beef cattle graze in a Western-story valley below. The star-spangled nights at Payette Lake are beautifully clear; only the city-bred get any feel of the banshee, the barghest, the ouphe (rhymes with out) or other beasts prominent in monster husbandry. So Idahoans discounted serpent talk. And the serpent himself, a shy thing, appeared only at rare intervals, always at twilight.

But this summer the serpent has been popping up with cuckoo-clock regularity. Since July 2, some 30 people (including Republicans and teetotalers) have found themselves staring at his periscope-like head. The first witnesses conservatively discussed the serpent in secrecy and only among their closest friends. But Thomas L. Rogers, auditor of a stodgy Boise firm, boldly talked for publication after the serpent sloshed past his rowboat.

"The serpent was about 50 feet away and going five miles an hour with a sort of undulating motion," said the auditor. "His head, which resembles that of a snub-nosed crocodile, was 18 inches above the water. I'd say he was 35 feet long."

Suddenly Idaho's poker-faced skepticism became enthusiastic acceptance. The monster was immediately nicknamed Slimy Slim. This week photographers stalked him, and fishermen openly trolled the lake with deep-sea tackle.

There was much argument as to the monster's antecedents. Most logical explanation was one adapted from the Idaho Sunday Statesman: Paul Bunyan, who used to fish the Snake River regularly, tied the shore-end of his sturgeon line to Babe, his vast blue ox, one hot day when sport was slow. Babe, nipped by a horsefly at the moment a sturgeon took the bait, twitched so violently that the huge fish was sent sailing all the way to Payette Lake. A jerk like that could well have given the creature a curvature of the spine (Slimy Slim is a three-hump serpent). And then Slim developed his periscope neck by nostalgically trying to peer back over the hills toward the scenes of his childhood.