Sara the Snowy Owl 2006

Sara, light as a feather
Sara the Snowy Owl parade
photo by Andy Flynn

Sara The Snowy Owl Fable - 2006

Sara, Light as a Feather

"How exciting," Sara thought as she flew into the tiny village by the river. There was her home away from home – - – the Ice Palace – - – gleaming in the sun. It was up on the hill and sparkled like a diamond on top of a scepter.

A scepter fit for a king or queen,' Sara mused to herself.

The twenties were roaring like a bonfire at the skating shed near Petrova School. People were enjoying prosperity like never before and believed it would never end. They were wrong, but you couldn't convince anyone in Saranac Lake. The village continued to help people curing with tuberculosis. All the residents had work to do and a paycheck to collect. But work never got in the way of having fun and that included winter activities like skating, skiing, snowshoeing and even horse racing.

In spite of how hot as the twenties were roaring or how hot a skating shed bonfire could be, the 1923 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival was all about ice. And not just because of the Ice Palace that served as Sara's home. In fact, when people looked back on the event that took place the last two days of January and first day of February 1923, they often referred it as the 'Skating Carnival.' This was because it was the year that the Adirondack Gold Cup Speed Skating Races were held.

Speed skating wasn't the only kind of fun on ice planned for the winter festival. There was the popular barrel jumping and fancy skating. When she had been in Saranac Lake for a couple hours, the big wintry bird found out that there were also rumors that curling competitions would return to the mid-winter celebration. Hospitality and competition were at home in Saranac Lake as Sara the Snowy Owl was during her mid-winter visits.

There is a saying in Saranac Lake: 'happiness is in the air." People felt that breathing the air in Saranac Lake brought happiness, they also felt the air brought good health. The air was part of the reason people came to cure for tuberculosis, though the main reason was the care they received from Dr. Trudeau.

Just about any event that took place in Saranac Lake seemed to be bigger, especially during Winter Carnival, because when visitors came to the village, they were always treated to the best in hospitality. When you feel good, you perform better than if you don't and you often get better by feeling good.

The visitors who had fun in the winter, often returned to the area in the summer to listen to the hoots of Sara's distant cousins – - – the great horn owls. Ironically, as Sara migrated south for carnival, the horned owls are headed towards the Catskills.

As the arctic air of Canada became too cold, Sara took off to the balmy climate of Saranac Lake. Of course balmy to Sara was any temperature around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Even as the temps dropped to minus 20 the great white owl was comfortable. Sara liked it cold; in fact it is why the Ice Palace was the perfect home. It provided her shelter from the wind, but made it so she wouldn't get too hot. Her thick plumage of feathers made her well suited for sleeping nestled against the blocks of ice.

Because it was too hot in the summer, Sara never came down to meet all the famous people who only came to Saranac Lake in summer, like Albert Einstein or Calvin Coolidge (who used the White Pine Camp as his summer White House in 1926). The snowy owl was quite a politician and could have influenced some of the brightest minds, if she only had a chance.

Sara was a tireless worker too. Just as she had become a famous 'sweeper' for many curling teams, she was sought after to clear the ice for the skating competitions. Between skating events she would help clear the ice chips. All she had to do is flap her mighty wings and she could blow the ice to the side of the track.

Like all good workers, Sara liked to kick back and relax. During the horse racing she thought she was going to do just that. She was very excited to see that her friend the high school English teacher was going to ride her horse, Stevenson (that she had named after Robert Louis). She told Sara that she was racing to get the prize money so she could pay off the mortgage to the schoolhouse.

If that wasn't enough hullabaloo, there was the added fact she had to race against Jimmie K. Rupps, who held the deed to the property. He was riding his horse Foreclosure (named after his favorite activity) and was expected to win, but what is expected doesn't always happen.

As the horses closed in on the finish line, Foreclosure loomed ahead of Stevenson. Sara couldn't stand the excitement and flew up to Nora. She knew Nora and Stevenson would be disqualified if she pushed the teacher or the horse, so she stayed back hooting words of encouragement. As they neared the finish line, Sara's left wing brushed the hind flank of Stevenson and the wisp of her plumage startled the horse. The brush of a feather caused Nora's steed to take flight. The two horses were neck and neck to the finish.

Some say that it was unfair to tickle the horse, others said it was probably more a distraction than a help and even more thought Nora would have won regardless, but win she did!

Even though Stevenson won by a nose, people who saw the race joked that Nora's horse won by a feather – - a ticklish snowy owl feather.

When she made her final mortgage payment, Nora gathered up all the loose owl feathers from the Ice Palace (after Sara returned to the North) and made a feather boa to wear – - – just to taunt Rupps. When news of Nora's fashion statement, complete with the downy punctuation, hit the papers, all the fashionable young women of the roaring 20's took to wearing feather boas.

Of course, Rupps being Rupps spent the next two months threatening everyone in the village, including the snowy owl, with lawsuits. He even was heard to say it was a communist plot since it had been Sara's 'left wing' that brushed Stevenson. It went on until the North Elba judge, James Roggers (who held jurisdiction over where the race took place), put an end to the foolishness. Roggers told Rupps that, by being a banker, he had all the money he needed and that as judge he wasn't going to let Rupps sue birds, because bees were next and soon everyone would be stung.

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2016-09-06 - Members of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee are seeking volunteers to help them plan and facilitate the next 10-day festival, set for February 3-12, 2017.
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