Sara the Snowy Owl 2013

Inside out
Sara the Snowy Owl parade
photo by Andy Flynn

SARA THE SNOWY OWL fable - 2013

Inside out

Sara the Snowy Owl rode the cool western breeze into Saranac Lake. She was early, the 1961 Winter Carnival started on February 9th, but she was a few days early. There was so much to see and do, no way could she squeeze it into the four days of fun. It was her belief that Winter Carnival should last at least a week or more.

Every year more and more activities appealed to the owlet in Sara. She loved the sled derby, skating racing and ski races to the woodsmen's exhibition and long parade.

Every year for the past 14 years, more and more children came to the event. Since 1947, Winter Carnival was held annually and every year there were more and more children. Sara called it the baby thunder because the roar of children could get as loud as thunder. After World War II everyone seemed to want to have a family.

Also, Saranac Lake was getting smarter and smarter. So many of the returning veterans were using the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (also known as: G.I. Bill) to attend school. People were getting so smart that Sara predicted that someday a college would be in the area. Where she didn't know.

One thing was for sure, the folks moved the location of her winter home in 1924 --- the Ice Palace -- to make room for the General Hospital of Saranac Lake. They were thinking ahead. Since then, the Ice Palace was built on the shore of Lake Flower.

Sara was pleased to see that the ice harvesters were already in Pontiac Bay sawing ice. It had been a decade since the men cut the ice to fill the Ice House on Pine Street, since modern refrigeration had replaced the need for ice in the summer, but the ice crew used their skills to make Sara a fortress and a home to live in during Carnival. Though the town had official royalty for the event, the snowy owl always felt like a queen to have such a luminous lodging.

The men working on the Ice Palace were the children and some were even the grandchildren of the first men who had first built a Palace for Sara in 1898. There would be great grand children doing the skating and ski races. Just as the big bird was a friend to the current Palace Workers, she was a friend to all the future palace workers --- and there were a lot of them.

Sara circled the town and noticed a little girl sitting in the Pine Ridge Cemetery. With the owl's keen eyesight, she could see tears rolling down the girl's cheeks and she swooped down to sit next to her. She gave a little feather therapy in the form of a hug and a chance to talk.

The girl -- Susie Norris --- had come to Saranac Lake a year ago when her family moved to the village by the river. Sara was surprised that many of the school kids would tease Susie because she was new to the area.

"They make fun of me because I wasn't born here," she sniffed. "Well, not right here, but in the village."

Sara and Susie were in a special section of the cemetery, where the graves of the Norwegian sailors were located. There were 15 men and one woman buried in the section. They had ended up in Saranac Lake during World War II, after Hitler invaded their country while they were at sea. Many Norwegians took refuge in the United States and several were found to be suffering from tuberculosis when given a medical examination in New York City. From there they were sent to Saranac Lake to cure.

Those who did not survive were buried in the Pine Ridge Cemetery.

Sara knew what it was like to be an outsider, she wasn't from Saranac Lake, though the village now felt like home. She was surprised at Susie's treatment since everyone in Saranac Lake had always treated her like family.

The Snowy Owl did not know what to say, but just warmed the girl with a wing and invited Susie to visit Sara the next day at the Ice Palace for story time.

* * *

Many children of the village were gathered in the Palace to listen to Sara regal them with stories. Their favorite story was the first Ice Palace, a story that the large snowy owl loved to tell as much as the children liked to hear it.

She would tell the young audience how men would hand saw the blocks of ice. The youngster all had seen the gas-powered saw that was used to slice through the ice since before they were born, but before that men cut the huge blocks of ice using saws that were pulled back and forth across Pontiac Bay.
Just as amazing was how the early Palaces were constructed on Slater Hill, at the site of the hospital where most of the children had begun life. Sara would describe how burly men would harness horses to get the blocks up the ill and then stack the blocks with a series of ramps made of snow. The hill seemed more suitable for sliding down not up.

Sara would throw in names of the men who built the structures she would live in. Those names were the names of the little tykes' grandfathers. And their grandmothers were there to serve up coffee and homemade donuts.

The big-feathered friend was just at the point of the story where she had flown into Saranac Lake when Susie arrived.
"Here comes 'No-No' Norris," Davey Dupry.

Though Sara heard the boy, she acted as if she hadn't. The owl was glad that Susie sat down and ignored the boy as well.

"So I flew into Saranac Lake. I was tired and cold. Men were cutting ice and I stopped in to take a look," Sara continued her story. "When I said hello to the mayor perched on the ice, he jumped like someone had poked him with an ice pick!"

All the children laughed.

"You laugh, and so did the mayor, which was good," the owl said.

"Why?" asked little Nancy Burke.

"Because, I was a stranger. You might not know this, but sometimes people who are new to an area are not welcomed," Sara explained. "Had everyone been mean to me, and not offered to build me an Ice Palace for lodging. Had they teased me or chased me off, I would not be here today."

Sara took a dramatic pause and let all the children think about a winter without Sara or Winter Carnival.

"Had that been the case," Sara began again, "I would not have been inside this Palace with my friends, but outside - - - in the cold."

She went on and finished the story, while the children thought about friendship.

At the end she heard Nancy invite Susie to go to the sled derby and was pleased to hear many others ask to tag along. It looked like Sara was going to have a lot of competition in the derby.


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