The cool, crisp — and creepy — season has arrived, and as is often the case, people’s minds have started to conjure up tall tales.
What spirits are lurking in New England’s oldest cemeteries? Do ghouls and goblins hide in the chilly fog that rolls through the Bridgewater Triangle, the region’s nesting grounds for paranormal activity?
At Fresh Pond in Cambridge, beneath the ripples of the dark waters, it’s a mysterious creature with serpentine features that’s piqued the interests of some true believers.
In the weeks before Halloween, visitors to the picturesque reservoir have been peering out over the water’s surface with a bit of extra whimsy, as rumors swirled that something supernatural is perhaps circling the banks: a narrow, slithering creature that’s reportedly 15 feet long.
Numerous alleged sightings have been reported in recent weeks. According to witnesses, portions of its elongated body briefly pop into view before quickly disappearing, leaving only telltale bubbles in its wake.
Those who have heard about Cambridge’s newest legend have even settled on a name: the “Loch Fresh Monster” — or “Freshie” for short.
What is this thing? Where did it come from?
Some have suggested it could just be a group of otters swimming in an oddly straight line. Or maybe a pet snake that escaped and went for a swim. Then there’s at least one conspiracy claiming a coverup is afoot, that there’s something the city’s not telling us.
But officials insist no such thing is going on. Move along, folks. Everything’s fine here.
“There’s nothing to hide,” said Mark Gallagher, acting managing director of the Cambridge Water Department. “There’s a very plausible and rational explanation.”
The hunt for clues about Freshie began in late September, fliers appeared on the fences of Fresh Pond Reservation that asked if anyone else had seen anything like the peculiar life form.
“While walking the Fresh Pond Loop with my 9-year-old daughter, we spotted a mysterious creature surfacing the water,” said the flier, which included the person’s email. “We are certain it was not a snake, fish, river otter, or axolotl.”
The paper notice also had a crudely drawn image of the supposed beast, Cambridge’s own version of the Loch Ness monster, and said the sighting occurred roughly 30 yards offshore, near the Little Fresh Pond Dog Beach.
“It was all very quick,” the person, who declined a phone interview, told the Globe in an email. “But for about 20 seconds after, I noticed a ‘boiling’ of water under the surface, as if the creature was changing direction and diving under water.”
The person claimed a few others reached out, saying they’ve also seen Freshie in the wild. At least one of them reported “multiple sightings,” but otherwise, leads have been few and far between.
In the end, it may be a fruitless quest.
If there was an otherworldly creature in Fresh Pond, Timothy Puopolo would know about it.
As the city water department’s ranger, it’s his job to have a handle on what’s happening in and around the reservoir, by taking samples, checking for contaminants, and getting up close with wildlife that call Fresh Pond home.
“Because it’s an active drinking water supply, we keep it very well monitored,” he said. “So I don’t think there’d be any type of cryptid living there without us knowing.”
That’s not to say there aren’t other wonders lurking underwater, he said.
Every chance he gets, Puopolo reminds visitors that the pond, which is 55 feet deep, is teeming with life.
That includes an abundance of eels, some of which “live unnaturally long” in the relative safety of the pond, Puopolo said, and grow to be “five or even six feet long.”
To him, it’s a magical place, regardless of whether a mythical creature has settled there.
“There’s something about Fresh Pond that really captures our imagination,” he said. “Throughout history, people have been drawn to it. I’m sure there’s something in our human nature that can only wonder about the depths underneath.”
Lately, Puopolo said, what people really want to know is if he’s heard about Freshie, or seen it for himself.
But for those hoping for a real-life spooky story, or a legend in their midst, he has disappointing news: He knows what Freshie truly is, and it’s not as exciting as the rumor mill would have you believe.
First, the bubbles.
Fresh Pond, he explained, has several aeration tubes that snake across its rocky bottom. They inject air to create a gentle churn under the water and keep it clean and consistent and prevent it from getting too cold too fast.
The bubbles they produce are easiest to see on calm, windless days, when viewers can pick out the winding patterns of frothy water atop the pond.
If anyone has seen burbling air pockets amid the ripples lately, that’s probably where they came from — not from a large pond creature, he said.
As for the snakelike shape slithering across the water? Well, he has an explanation for that, too.
Freshie, he said, is a log.
At some point in the past few weeks, Puopolo said, he noticed an especially large and misshapen one — a knotty, twisted limb about 15 feet long — bobbing in the water. Caressed by bubbles from the tubes beneath the surface, it almost looked as if it were alive.
He’s convinced this is the source of the confusion. Earlier this week, he followed the fliers’ leads and searched in the area near the dog park.
“And lo and behold, there was a diving bird taking a rest on something that matched the description in the area,” he said.
He can understand why someone might be misled by — or be making a clever joke about — a wayward piece of wood, with its two snakelike ridges protruding over the surface, especially after seeing bubbles emerge in the vicinity of its supposed snout.
“You could easily see how it looked serpentine,” he said. “It’s the perfect illusion.”
He believes he can say definitively that Freshie is a branch, not a beast.
As of Wednesday afternoon, it wasn’t hard to find, and it appeared to be caught on some rocks, or perhaps another branch.
Whether all of this will put the speculation to rest remains to be seen. The person who distributed the fliers said they don’t buy the explanation.
Regardless, perhaps its name will live on in hikers’ memories.
“Log Ness monster” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.