Vermont Artist Creates An Illustrated Ode To The Elusive Catamount

May 26, 2017

When asked whether she falls into the camp that believes the catamount still roams Vermont's woods, author/illustrator Sarah Van Arsdale sees herself among those who fervently want to believe it's true.

"I want so much to think that the catamount is out there somewhere! I'm so ready for a verified sighting," said Van Arsdale enthusiastically.

She spoke with VPR about her newest book, titled, 'The Catamount,' that she has illustrated with pen and watercolor drawings of the elusive mountain lion.

Van Arsdale said she began writing the poem in the 1990s. She put it away to focus on her novel, Toward Amnesia. Recently, she was looking for a new project, and came across the unfinished poem and immediately felt drawn to finish and illustrate it, using her own three cats as models.

Sarah Van Arsdale writes of when the catamount thrived in our woods, "with paws the size of your dinner plate and a tail as long as you are tall."
Credit Sarah Van Arsdale

Just as quickly though, Van Arsdale said she doubted whether such a book would get published.

"It's a book for children and for adults illustrated by the author," she explains. "And I know enough about publishing to know that is never going to see the light of day."

"Part of the lesson of the book for me is to do the work that you really feel passionate about and want to do and let the cards fall where they may," says Van Arsdale. "I put the book together and printed it myself and I printed a hundred copies and gave them away to my friends. And after that, a publisher saw it and said, 'I really love this and I want to publish it.'"

"To me, it represents the wildlife that we're clearly losing in our world but that still there's a thread of it that remains. With myself and with people in general — we all have some wild, untamable part of ourselves that needs to be let out a bit."

Van Arsdale will read her book-length poem, 'The Catamount,' this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Knapp's Bookstore in Bennington as part of Bennington MayFest.