After I determined that building an igloo with blocks was not realistic, I decided to try the hollowing-out-a-snow-mound method. Fortunately, after all this snow and ice, our backyard consists primarily of snow mounds, so the mounding and packing was already done.
I came up with a method right away. Using a large kitchen knife, I would make crosshatched cuts in the snow I wanted to dig out.
Then I used a garden hoe to dig out the loosened snow and ice. When it got deep enough, I slid my legs into the hole for leverage. By the end of the first day I could fit all the way into the hole, and it was just wide enough for me to sit sideways, legs outstretched. Once I got inside, I took the head off the handle of the hoe, so that I could chop and scrape in close quarters.
Today I continued work, widening and deepening the space. I also worked on raising the ceiling, so that people taller than me could sit up comfortably as well. I gave myself at least one good crack in the head on a piece of ice that was jutting out. These pieces of ice are probably the broken remains of the ice sheet I mentioned in the last post. Rather than simply clearing them all away, I decided to try using a few of the chunks of ice as shelves. You’ll see what I plan to do with those!
The space is a good size now. I can easily sit up straight in the middle or up against one wall or the other, and when I sit in the middle I can stretch out both arms and lay a palm against either wall. Two people can fit inside, but it is tight.
The whole process has felt very meditative. Perhaps not in the usual sense, since I don’t often meditate while squirming in and out of a small hole dragging boxes of snow, or meditate while showering myself in the face and on the head with snow and ice chunks. Meditative in the sense of a working meditation, which I sometimes think is my favorite kind. Simply being present with ice and snow and the weight of those, the immense quiet of being surrounded and muffled by snow. When I’ve been working on the structure, I have found it hard to stop and go in for the day, even as the sun sinks low. There is always a little more I want to do.
It feels good.
Today I packed a perimeter path in the snow, so that one won’t sink up to their thighs if they try to walk around the shelter. I have decided to leave the exterior otherwise unchanged, because I want it to match the environment. Not to camouflage, but to match.
What is it like to be in a snow shelter? Most of us in the Northeast learned that when we were small, but it is easy to forget.
The top of the structure has caught pine needles, small branches, tiny bunches of seed pods you don’t recognize. When you slide in through the small entrance you know these rest over your head.
The walls are thick and muffle the outside world. It is a specific kind of quiet, and you find that it blots out road sounds but less so the sounds in the sky. An airplane overhead, crows in the trees across the street, these find their way to your ears only slightly muffled. The wind in the evergreens, however, is amplified. You can hear every gust, you can even tell the direction of the gusts, where the trees are, even though all you can see through the doorway is snow. That hole acts somehow like an owls ear, the way sound funnels in indicating the direction it came from.
Like us, owls have an ear on either side of their head. Unlike us, their ears are not placed symmetrically. One ear is higher, one is lower. This allows them to place what they hear in vertical dimensions as well as horizontal. This is why they are so skilled at hunting.
A tiny feather has blown into the shelter, gray and downy. There are pine needles and ice chunks embedded in the roof and walls, and the scratches left from carving out the space remind me of cave paintings. The hush inside calms me, almost without my realizing it. I get this feeling that I usually only get when sitting zazen after a long absence from meditation, or when I’m in the woods or on a mountain for the first time in awhile. It is an expansive feeling, a grateful feeling. When I get it this image fills my mind, that I didn’t notice I was parched, but here I am, on the shore of an enormous lake, face dipped into the water, drinking and drinking and drinking.