Sara the Snowy Owl 2011

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Sara the Snowy Owl parade
photo by Andy Flynn

Sara the Snowy Owl - 2011

Page turner part 1

After a long flight from the arctic, it was so nice to sit on Mary Prescott's Curing Porch on Shepard Ave. Sara the Snowy owl had known Mary for several years. The two were sitting on the front porch of 38 Shepard Avenue enjoying a cup of hot cocoa.

In honor of Sara, Mary had named the residence 'Perch Cottage' because of how the two liked to 'perch' on the porch and watch the village below. Mary's house had just been built in 1908 and she was also maintaining two other buildings. Her biggest adventure was Reception Hospital at the end of Franklin Avenue built in 1905. Saranac Lake was definitely a 'cottage industry,' with many local residents building cottages near their homes so they could care for the TB patients.

Just down the street from Perch Cottage, where the two were enjoying their cocoa, Mary rented 12 Shepard for cure patients — providing a nurse and two maids to help four patients. It was clear to Sara the mettle Mary was made of was pure hospitality.

Sara met Mary briefly in 1898, the first year the snowy owl flew into Saranac Lake, but they spent more and more time together in the years since. Part of this was due to the fact that Mary was so much healthier than when she arrived in the village by the river. After taking the cure, Prescott became the same ball of fire she had been as a kid. By 1911, Mary had also become a pillar of her adopted community, much like the pillars in front of the Reception Hospital. It was easy to say Saranac Lake was a better place because of Mary's presence.

Mary always made sure to have Sara up to the Perch when the two were in town. It was a great place to sit, talk and take in the view of the village. Mary was involved in so many projects in Saranac Lake and Sara loved to hear about them. The newest 'Prescott Project' was Village Improvement Society, which formed the year before. The VIS had a mission to create parks around the village.

From their roost, Mary and Sara could see Lake Flower. They could almost see ice blocks being cut and moved. These blocks would be heading to storage in ice houses for use in ice boxes during the summer, since owl's carnival home was already complete. The ice blocks for Sara's Ice Palace home had been cut from the same area of Lake Flower and hauled up Slater Avenue to what was known as 'Slater Hill.' After Winter Carnival was over Sara's majestic manor would be taken apart and also put into storage. In the summer, when the ice was sold for refrigeration, companies would advertise with the slogan "Put a Palace in your ice box."

Sara was picking out little bits of marshmallows from the cocoa with her beak and chewing them up. The big snowy owl loved how they floated like ice cubes in her hot drink. The two 'girls' were talking about changes in the village. Sara mentioned how she wondered where they would build the Ice Palace next time she visited, since it was clear there would soon be a hospital on Slater hill.

"Seems like building it by Pontiac Bay, where they harvest the ice, would be the smartest thing to do," Mary said.

Sara agreed, adding she could become a mini Chamber of Commerce and welcome people when they came to town.

"Plus, there on the lake is a nice view," Mary pointed out.

"It seems like it would be a great place in the summer for a beach," Sara suggested. "Not that I would wear one of those new bathing suits. Some of them actually show girls' legs above the knees."

Both laughed and wondered if they were a few years younger if they would wear such suits.

Inside Mary's house a grandfather clock chimed three times.

"O, I need to head to the library," Mary said. "The Saranac Lake Free Library was just built last year and it is beautiful. Would you like to come along?"

Sara politely said no, but in a way that Mary had to ask her feathered friend, 'why?'

Sara told her it was a long story, but to make it brief she had gone to the library when it was the "Franklin County Library." She had wanted to donate her collection of H.G. Wells thrillers, but the clerk there turned her away.

"I will never forget. Her name was Missy Blackyard," Sara said. "She said that the library would never accept books from a bird — who knows what condition they might be in."

Sara added that when Missy said "who" she was really being mean, clearly making a joke at the snowy owl's expense.

There was little Mary could say, she also had run into the contemptuous attitude of Missy.

"But you have to meet William McNeil, he is the new head librarian, and a very pleasant man," Mary pleaded. "Besides, if I know my friend Sara, she doesn't hold a grudge."

Sara knew Mary was right and plus it would give the snowy owl a chance to spend more time with her friend, not to mention to meet another person who loved books as much as she did. Sara must have owned about 200 books at the time, not that she had much time to re-read them, since great new books were coming out every day it seemed.

When they arrived at the Saranac Lake Free Library, Sara noticed it had pillars out front just like the Reception Hospital. It should not have been much of a surprise since the architectural firm of Scopes and Feustmann had designed both buildings.

Inside Missy was at the counter typing up cards to put in the card catalog. Missy looked up and snarled.

Mary interrupted, when Missy started to say something: "We have an appointment with Mr. McNeil." With that Missy pointed her nose back to the typewriter.

Once again Mary was right, as cold as Missy had been at the reception area — Mr. McNeil was warm and cordial in his office. Of course the conversation quickly turned to books, then to space invaders. Mary, Sara and Mr. McNeil had all read "The War of the Worlds," and were of different opinions if it was possible for aliens to invade earth.

The talk of books and adventure eventually turned to some of the Winter Carnival events and the three made a small bet on the Coasting Contest. It was decided that the person or bird who coasted the shortest distance would have to buy the sarsaparilla to be shared at Perch Cottage during the fireworks.

Then the conversation turned serious. Bill, as he was now known to Sara, mentioned that the library was in good shape now, with several backers, but he was looking for ways to allow the community to be more invested in the library.

"We want every school boy and girl to feel like the Saranac Lake Free Library is their second home," Bill said looking straight at Arctic owl. He knew she had always gotten along with the children and if there was anyone who could lure young minds to the shelves, it was Sara.

Sara was up to the challenge. She knew there were lots of folks who would help her, but she also knew that many children were afraid of Missy at the counter. What she didn't know was, what the plan would be.

"Do you have an idea?" Mary asked.

"I think I will just wing it," Sara hooted.

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