Saranac Lake was beyond crowded this past weekend when the annual Winter Carnival activities culminated with the downtown parade.
The skies had dumped more than three feet of snow on my hometown, which is nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, and that made it even harder to maneuver the sidewalks and streets.
The natives had every right to blast car horns, shout expletives and raise their middle fingers in anger at the tourists who crossed streets in front of moving cars, stood in the middle of the road (in the dark) shooting photos of the lit-up ice palace and stopped them constantly to request that they take photos of themselves with their significant others.
But they didn’t.
Sure, I heard the word “tourist” coupled with the word “idiot” breathed once and a while, but it was usually breathed lightly with a giggle or a hearty laugh and a beer in hand. Instead, native Adirondackers (and those who have lived there long enough to earn an honorary title), stopped their cars and waved on people were waiting to cross the streets.
They paused to let other drivers pull out in front of them. They paid their police force to set up a crosswalk in front of the ice palace along with reflective barricades that created a safe area in the middle of the roadway for photo opportunities.
Of course, they are smart people.
They realize that without tourists their economy would suffer.
That requires a certain level of tolerance.
But in Saranac Lake this past weekend, I saw more than tolerance. I saw a community that embraces its identity and prides itself in all that makes the Adirondacks so valuable in so many ways, and that has an intense desire to share that.
(Well, there were a few exceptions, like the owner of the upscale pizza place who berated his employees in front of his waiting customers. He doesn’t count though. He’s not from there and clearly has not acclimated. No honorary “native” title for him.)
My hometown is even stronger than it was when I left it 27 years ago and the only people who can take credit for that are those who stayed or moved back to uphold and strengthen its foundation, and those who fell in love upon visiting and made Saranac Lake their new home.
I don’t want to move back. I am happy raising a family here in northern Pennsylvania (and much warmer). Saranac Lake is for a hardier and more durable sort than I have become (In other words, I am wimp now.). But I am proud –and always will be — of where I am from.