Cold Lonely PlaceI’m from the South, where a dusting of snow means that schools close, life comes to a standstill, and everyone stays home until it all melts. It had been a rude adjustment to move to the Adirondacks, to live somewhere so cold that lakes freeze into solid masses that people walk on, cut holes in for ice-fishing, and drive sled-dog teams across. It took my first long winter here to learn to gauge the weather and dress in layers so I wasn’t cold to the bone most of the time.

It isn’t all that rare here for vacationers to get stranded in a sudden snowstorm on what they had thought would be a pleasant afternoon hike and freeze to death before anyone could find them. Far too often a local would drink too much on a Saturday night and drive off the road and die in a deep ravine. And sometimes, in the middle of a jobless, loveless winter, someone would write a note, put his mouth around a shotgun barrel, and thumb down the trigger. Or go out for a long walk and never be found. Someone cried for them, or no one did. Someone cleaned up the mess, and life went on.

And with all the lakes here, people find plenty of ways to drown. In winter they’ll take a Ski-Doo out when the ice isn’t thick enough and go under. Maybe they have the time and presence of mind to toss a child or grandchild to firmer ice before they sink, maybe not. Or in spring someone goes boating without a life jacket and drowns under a bright shining sun, in water so cold it saps your will to keep moving until you give up and slide under.

* * *

I don’t much like going to bars. I’ve never seen the logic in drinking to excess—it makes people act stupid and feel bad later. But plenty of locals here drink hard and regularly, and many vacationers seem to think it’s a requirement for stepping foot in town. More than once I’ve hollered out my bedroom window at two a.m. at firemen here for a convention and so drunk they couldn’t find their way back to their motel. Maybe visiting horse-show people got plastered as well, but didn’t wander the streets being loud about it. Maybe they sat around in their trim riding jodhpurs and neat buttoned shirts and got quietly, desperately, privately drunk.

But this was Saranac Lake, where I’d worked at the newspaper, and these bars I’d been in occasionally, snapping photos of the winner of a darts tournament, interviewing players after a softball championship. And many of these guys knew me—I’d taken photos at their ball games, covered their kids’ or younger siblings’ sporting events.

In a corner I saw Eddie Whitaker, grin flashing, looking much as he had on the Saranac Lake football team a few years ago. I didn’t think he was twenty-one, but around here getting a fake ID was a rite of passage, like hanging your first deer in your yard. I chatted with some of the guys, and then sat down by an older fellow I knew named Armand. He tipped his head to acknowledge me. We sat in silence for a bit.

When he spoke I had to lean in to hear him. “No one should die that way.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. “You mean drowning? Freezing?”

“Cold,” he said. “Cold and alone.” A long pause. I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there while he finished his beer.

Maybe that’s every Adirondacker’s secret fear, dying cold and alone.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one (1) copy of A COLD AND LONELY PLACE to give away. Contest open to US residents only and ends February 10. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. Book will be shipped directly from the publisher.


Meet the author
Sara J. Henry’s first novel, Learning to Swim, won the Anthony Award, Agatha Award, and the Mary Higgins Clark Award – the day chronicled here takes place in that book’s sequel, A Cold and Lonely Place (Crown, Feb. 5). Sara, like her protagonist, Troy Chance, lived in the Adirondacks and was a sports editor on a small daily newspaper. She’s from Tennessee, and now calls southern Vermont home. Website: www.SaraJHenry.com; Twitter

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