Come play with me: Warming up with memories of Adirondack springs

photo by Karen Arnold

My body ached for spring this morning as I dashed outside in sub-zero temperatures once again to start the van for the trek to school.
The ache was familiar, but this time, new sensations came with it — sensations of spring in the Adirondacks, where I grew up.
They were so welcome, those memories, and they awakened  in me hope for warmer days to come.
I’d like to share that hope with you:

Pussy willows.
The dance of extreme temperatures brushing against my skin as warm air swoops over the icy remains of snow, lifting the cooler air and swirling with it.
Tapped maples.
Building dams with pebbles and stones in the road-side creeks formed by run-off from the banked snow.
T-shirts and sleds.
Car horns beeping at my young frame as I squat in the road for better access to those temporary creeks.
Racing twigs in the miniature white-water rapids, eliciting more beeps as I run along the road, following them on their journeys.
Wet, squishy moss.
The joy of walking from home through downtown, touching only pavement with my shoes.
Kicking up dust on pavement fringed by receding snow.
Pussy willows.

Allison, the mice and the mushroom

When I was a teenager, I accompanied a friend to an arts fair in our hometown of Saranac Lake, where she had rented table space. She brought an assortment of mice intricately crafted from construction paper and made durable with a clear coat of something that appeared to be shellac.
The mice were posed in various occupations with the instruments of their trades, but the one that impressed me the most was the rock band. She sold that set to a local music store that displayed the rocking rodents in its window. Not bad for a teenager with a bunch of construction paper.
But that was her.
Always creating.
I reconnected with my friend, Allison Moore, on Facebook last year and was thrilled to see that she had pursued art as a career. Allison lives in Seattle now, where she is a tile designer and a potter/sculptor. Her work is amazing. She makes a variety of detailed, high-relief clay images using intricately designed plaster stamps. Some of her designs require a good deal more scuplting to bring them to life and most of her pieces are one-of-a-kind functional art that is dishwasher and microwave safe.
They are original, just like Allison, and she was the first person I thought of when I recently experienced an art emergency.
It happened like this:
My sister had hosted a family reunion at her home outside Kingston, N.Y., this summer. She had lots of artwork on the shelves in the living room and my 3-year-old twins were immediately drawn to the ceramic elephant collection. By the end of the weekend, one elephant had lost its tail. The elephant had sentimental value. It had belonged to my sister’s mother-in-law, a wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who died too young more than a decade ago.
There were other young children at the reunion and some of them possessed the same kind of destructive curiosity as my boys, but I think it would be a pretty fair assumption that one of my guys broke the elephant, given the attraction.
No, wait.
Knowing them, they probably broke it together.
My sister was wonderful about it.
She didn’t get upset and she didn’t ask for compensation.
Still, I felt bad.
I could not replace that elephant and the memories it triggered.
But I wanted to give her something that might someday hold equal sentimental value. I immediately thought of Allison. I told Allison that my sister has a backyard garden that she would like to fill with little surprises — earth-tone creatures and faces peeking out from behind trees, from around rocks and from within beds of flowers. I wanted to give her something for that garden, something different.
Here is Allison’s creation:

The mushroom is 13 inches high and 11 inches in diameter. She even made it extra heavy, so it won’t tip. Allison just recently shipped it, so my sister hasn’t seen it yet. Hopefully, it will arrive before she views the photo here. I’m guessing I got a friend rate because her work is worth far more than I paid her.
I feel like I did that day at the fair almost 30 years ago, like I am experiencing someone on the verge. Like something exciting is going to happen any moment. Maybe it is, in part, because she is a friend. Maybe it’s because I am particularly drawn to her style. Maybe it’s because I sense the complexity of the mind that could create such things, but that’s what her art does for me.
For me, Allison and her work will always be on the verge.
And, in my opinion, that’s a wonderful place to be.

Here is a little more information about Allison:
Allison is a member of the Moshier Community Arts Center in Burien, WA . Visits and order pick-ups by appointment. Allison is a crafts vendor at Seattle’s Pike Place Market and also a 10-year member at the Redmond Saturday Market, which runs from May 1st through the end of October. New website link will be available at; Send request to the above email address to receive email notifications of show dates. Photos of her work are also avaialble at Please include note indicating interest in her ceramic art with friend request.
Many thanks~ Allison


Originally posted Jan 11, 2009

If I took the long way home from school—out the front entrance of St. Bernard’s elementary instead of cutting through the church parking lot—I could see them working.
Volunteers from the village and inmates from a nearby minimum-security prison worked side-by-side each day for weeks, lifting 2-by-4-foot blocks of ice from Pontiac Bay with giant tongs and then sliding them onto a large conveyor belt. Depending on how deeply cold the winter had been so far, the bricks could be up to three feet thick.
I tried not to look too often, maybe twice a week. I didn’t want to spoil the effect—the surprise at the appearance of yet another layer of slushy mortar and crystal bricks; the recognition as the architecture began to make sense and the random bricks became towers or castle walls; the thrill of counting down the days with each brick that the crews sawed, pulled and jiggled, dripping, out of the dark water.
Before my eyes, it rose.
Slowly, methodically, majestically. Until one afternoon near the beginning of February, I would step out of school, walk down the street just a bit and realize that it was done. The crews had slipped the last block of ice into place and the ice castle was complete, somehow even more awesome and more spectacular than the year before.
It is during this time of the year that I get homesick, when I know that the ice castle is under construction and that Winter Carnival is only a few weeks away in my hometown of Saranac Lake, N.Y.
The ice castle is the icon, the foundation, the symbol of the weeklong celebration deep in the Adirondack Mountains. It is a week of sled races and cross-country ski races; a week when prominent grown-ups rule as king and queen, college students reign as prince and princess and the popular clique in high school is elected as the royal court.
It is a week of snow sculptures on front lawns and in the park; of parades and fireworks; of snowmobiles storming the ice castle; and, in the old days, of ice skaters competing to see who could jump the greatest number of barrels.
And a week of alcohol, of course.
Nothing is celebrated in my hometown without lots of alcohol.
I miss my hometown in the spring when the sight of concrete through the hard-packed snow where the sidewalk had been the previous October could send a thrill through me. I miss the gulch in the summer and the natural water slide and Champagne Falls. I miss the smell of wet leaves in the fall and the long hikes free of mosquitoes and tiny biting black flies.
But those are memories I have to myself or with small groups of people. Winter Carnival is different. Winter Carnival pulls everyone in from all income levels, age groups, professions. It brings people back, even those who believed they had torn up their roots and vowed never to return.
It is the truest sort of community celebration, the likes of which I have never experienced anywhere else. Locals even get along with the tourists for a bit: no giving false directions; no selling pine cones for $5 a piece as souvenirs; no lying about the names of the peaks when they assume you know all that stuff just because because your mom gave birth to you there.
Heck, what other community enlists prisoners to help build its ice castle? So I’ll be missing Saranac Lake Feb. 6 when the king and queen are crowned, kicking off the festivities. But don’t worry. I will be back someday with four kids and a husband in tow.
And, maybe, with a little peppermint schnapps in my purse.