Just around 8 a.m. on a clear day, the sun rises above the treeline behind our house. Suddenly all our east- and south-facing windows begin to glow, and long puddles of sunlight appear on the interior spaces of my home. My cats know which bed catches the first rays of sunlight, and they are often curled up on blankets in those warm puddles by 8:05. Outdoors where the sun is, it can be 20 below zero. In a puddle of sunlight on a quilted bed, it can feel like 70 degrees on your toes. Staying inside next to a window can be a nice way to spend some quality sunny winter mornings.
This dragon carving is located inside the Saranac?Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace in Saranac Lake.
(Photo — Randy Lewis)
Having been raised by a morning person, I can't imagine waiting for sunlight in order to start my day. So much more can fill my days if I use the first parts of it wisely. Early morning moments can be quiet in a luxurious sense. Nothing has erupted into the unspoiled day, so anything is possible. If we avoid television and radio, we don't need to care about politics or international news or impending snow storm number nine. Not yet, anyway. We can practice meditation, do some yoga or writing practice. When I was younger, I would go for a 6 a.m. swim at the nearby college pool. I always felt so much richer than other people, because of the gift of time I was giving myself every day.
Today, I have a houseful of visitors here for Winter Carnival. They all got up early and had afun day yesterday at the parade and parties. We'd made sure our visitors from warmer climates had plenty of layers, charged cell phones, and a free ride home if they called before 9 p.m. We just wore a cockeyed grin when asked why people march in a parade in the middle of winter when it was only ten degrees outside. We said once you see it, you'll understand.
A palace made of ice is impressive, both when rays of sparkling sunlight filter through the huge blocks of ice, as well as when colored lights illuminate the turrets and dragons after dark. It is a piece of temporary architecture, and it is built under some hardship, as the building of palaces has been often known to do. The crystalline palace we celebrate every February makes an incredible backdrop for firework displays and family photos. It is an impermanent monument to our winter fortitude and creativity, and we all are proud of this fun respite from the doldrums of a long winter. And we know for a fact we who live here are unique because of it all.
Post Carnival let down
When our carnival is over, it takes a while before we take down our palace, clean up the site, and put our pictures on Facebook or Instagram. We make plans to get together again with folks we'd run into, either in the summer, or next year's Carnival. The big furry coats worn by the carnival court are put away for another year. Our Winter Carnival buttons get added to our Winter Carnival button collection. Some people now take down their holiday lights, often left up until after the last Carnival fireworks explode over the palace walls. When Carnival is over, it's over. And winter still looms long ahead of us.
Even if the groundhog saw his shadow, and promised us six more weeks of winter, up here we can generally get up to eight more weeks, and that's after Carnival, not just Groundhog Day. That sounds like an exaggeration to some, but it's a talking point. Even with our strangely unpredictable weather patterns, we know, we remember, that March is a winter month, and often much of April is also snow blown and hard on the spirit. But for us, waiting for Carnival, then enjoying its festivities, breaks up our long snow-and-cold season into more manageable bites.
Here's a big thank you to all the Winter Carnival planners and volunteers. Here's to the workers and the dreamers. Here's to the builders of the palace, the members of the Court, the organizers of events-and all who pulled on wool socks and long johns and participated in our town's glorious mid-winter party. We become a part of Saranac Lake's history when we celebrate Winter Carnival, and as it's done for over a hundred years, this carnival rewards us with a feeling of belonging to a crew of hardy souls with a great sense of humor all around who just enjoy building palaces of ice to lift our spirits. I thank you all.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.