My memories of building snow forts as a child have to do with enormous piles of snow. Were my childhood winters snowier than my adult winters? It would seem so. Even so, I remember a snow-filled Saskatchewan winter (1998?) when my young children and I were completely absorbed building a snow fort on the 5 meter high snow mountain created by our makeshift snow plow. This fort had stairs and rooms, stained glass windows (frozen blocks of ice with food colouring), thrones, tables, and a flag. The fort consumed our energy for days on end. A few years later, my kids were too old to have their mum build snow forts with them, but I remember the happy times they had with friends creating caves and tunnels in big snow drifts around the farm.
Since having an ice rink, I have returned to building with snow, usually in later winter when snow drifts form, and can be sliced just so with a shovel . At a recent winter PLAYshop (A WInter’s Day at Kerry Farm), my inspiring friend, Barbara Mader, built a small igloo like structure – too small for a person or a big dog, and with no door to get in. It is meant to be lit inside and you can see the beautiful results in the photos. I am always inspired by Barbara’s love of playing with snow – creating unlikely and narrow winding paths, walls for no (apparent) reason, or beautiful designs.
While Barbara was shovelling, I was hollowing out a part of a curved snow drift thinking it would be an inviting spot to crawl into when the world (the news!) got to be a little too much. A few days later, along came my art buddy Emora who loved my little cave, but really thought it should be a tunnel. Ten days later it became a wonderful curved tunnel with different views from either end.
I loved digging inside that tunnel. It was quieter than quiet in there. It was warm. It smelled like snow. The wind howled outside but all was still within. Carving away at the sides and roof of the tunnel reveals different kinds and qualities of snow – sedimentary bands of tightly packed crystals, icy pockets, maple syrup season snow (big hard granules), and snow soft as soft can be. A white, bluey, purple, gray cave. It was like crawling right into the heart of winter and resting a while. Part of me wishes I had left it a cave, but there is something compelling about finally breaking through to that light at the end of the tunnel! For my efforts, I received great joy and delight as well as the sorest abdominal muscles I have ever had – digging and carving while on your stomach or back is more of a workout than I would have guessed.
If the forecast is right, tomorrow I welcome more snow, which we desperately need in drought stricken Eastern Saskatchewan. I also welcome snow because when the North wind blows (as it surely will), more drifts will be created, and curved blocks of snow are cut easily from drifts where they make their own lovely shape. It is so fun to slide your shovel into a drift and see which way a crack forms and what shape your next piece of snow will be.
Barbara Mader, with her slick shovel, creating a secret path, 2020
Barbara Mader’s beautiful snow structure lit from within by “Larry’s Lantern”
Outside view of tunnel, Kerry Farm Ice Rink 2020
The other side
Curved blocks of snow cut from drifts
Ice Lantern and snow design by Barbara Mader
from 2013 when the drifts were THIS high