Building on Spec

For 110 years, the people of Saranac Lake, NY have taken part in a winter ritual that I absolutely love.

They build a palace out of ice.

The tradition dates back to 1898, when the community held its first winter carnival to raise the spirits of tuberculosis patients who had come to Saranac Lake seeking the fresh air cure in its sanitariums and cure cottages.

We took a drive through the mountains last weekend to check out this year’s creation, and it’s spectacular, as always.  Here I am, grinning like a fool, getting snowed on while I smile at its spectacular-ness.

One thing I love about the winter carnival is how people treat it like any other outdoor festival, despite the fact that it’s often below zero here in the winter time.  Last Sunday, amidst blowing snow and rapidly dropping temperatures, there was a guy selling fried dough and cotton candy out of a little booth right next to the palace.

Here’s another thing I love about this tradition. Ice is never a sure thing.  It’s slippery, you know?  Some years, workers start building the palace only to have a big thaw before they finish.  Sometimes, they wait until the very last minute to start because the ice on Lake Flower isn’t thick enough yet.  And the whole time they’re building, they never quite know if it’s going to work out or not. 

It’s a lot like writing.  You have an idea and some building blocks for a story, so you start stacking them together.  But then one slides off.  And another one melts.  And some kid comes by and pushes another one off the pile and it lands on your toe, and you start to think the whole thing might have been a big mistake.  But usually, you keep on stacking and putting things back, and trying new blocks and new spots for the old blocks until things fit.  And eventually, you stand back and see that it really is looking like a story after all.

I admire the guys who build the ice palace.  It’s never a sure thing.  But they plow forward on faith.  And usually, when all the heavy lifting is done, it’s downright stunning.

The smell of autumn…

My weekend was full of gushy pumpkin guts, fresh-baked bread, ripe red apples, and yellow river leaves.  For this, I am thankful…

Montreal’s Atwater Market — always a feast for the senses!

This bakery (above & below) was the model for the patisserie  in my MG Contemporary novel that’s making the rounds right now.  Needless to say, my research was extensive!

On Saturday, we took advantage of the warm temperatures to hike Mount Baker in Saranac Lake.

On one bright fall hike each year, we always collect a few leaves to press.  These are sleeping between the pages of my phone book now.  On Thanksgiving, we’ll shake them out to decorate the table and remember the smells of late October…