Ingenuity inspires

Jill McKenty makes jewelry out of old fishing tacking, like this necklace she’s wearing. (Provided photo — Ken Youngblood)

To the editor:

I love touring by bicycle. My old Cannondale puts me within reach of the people along the way. I’ll never forget the first time I bicycled down the Baja Peninsula back in the ’80s. The Federal Republic had built three or four new El Presidente hotels strategically placed along the 1,645 kilometers of the only north-south paved highway.

 If paved is what you can call the patchwork of shovel and tamp patches snaking its way to Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip. It was a scary trip back then, over a high, winding road, too narrow for the 18-wheelers loaded for the U.S. border or flying home. Memory of that Baja journey is lined with a steady stream of forlorn cars crumpled and abandoned in canyons far below. Other than the El Presidentes built to reassure motoring tourists, places to eat were few and far between. So, hungry and thirsty along a desert stretch, this bicycler had no choice but to stop at a mud-waddle hut and ask the senora for replenishment. I was taken by her cook stove, three progressively bigger fire pits fashioned from clay to provide low, medium and high heat, depending on where she moved the pot. I complimented her on Mexican ingenuity; she answered with a tired smile, “A little bit of dirt, a little water and much sweat.”

That same determination to make a life for oneself Is necessary to survive in the North Country, unless as they say, you have a government job. Life here demands ingenuity and lots of grit. I’ve always admired Mexicans for the creativity born from the necessity of making something out of nothing. That is what artists do, and perhaps besides the natural beauty of the Adirondacks, necessity is what is driving a burgeoning artist colony in Saranac Lake and surrounding communities.

Because the arts are enjoying a renaissance, Third Thursday Art Walks have become a popular outing for lots of visitors during the summer months. During the August walk we stopped at a venue set up outside the Downhill Grill. To my surprise, Jill McKenty, a student of mine at North Country way back when, was displaying the jewelry she creates out of bits and pieces of fishing tackle. Fishing tackle! How indigenous to the North Country. And how like that Mexican woman, taking advantage of the little around her to survive through her own creativity.

But the best part is how this story ends.The other night, while enjoying a glass of wine at Downhill, where Jill makes a living waiting tables, she shared with us her latest creation — a tie clip sporting a goldfish spoon lure. A friend sat down with us and marveled at Jill’s art. Laurel drew his attention to the al-lure-ing necklace Jill wore. Our friend was so taken he insisted on buying the necklace for his wife, waving more and more twenties until Jill finally relented, “All right, I hate to part with it, but let me wear it just a little longer.” Moments like that are what make me love my hometown so. 

Ken Youngblood

Saranac Lake