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Looking ahead to winter: Snow-Fort City

Looking ahead to winter

It was a good summer. The lake was warm enough to swim for a span of several weeks. I took full advantage of the aqua-recreational opportunities, which I chronicled here. I have no natural love of fall, but this year I am looking at it as what it is: the long, slow, beginning of winter. And since I feel fortified against the coming colder weather, snowfall, and ice conditions, I am making plans.

For one thing, obviously all right-thinking people are waiting for February to see if the lake freezes solid enough for another People’s Free Skate Rink. But what will we do while we wait? One thing I want to do after the first snow sticks: build a snow-fort city in Leif Erickson Park.

Think of the possibilities. Initially I had conceived of a Duluth-wide snowball fight. I told Robot Rickshaw (Troy Rogers, as usual midwifing my ideas) that I wanted to invite the city to a grand snowball fight in Leif Erickson at an appointed time, but actually I would get there early with some confederates and stage an ambush. I also thought it might be fun to stage a Snowball Olympics of some kind, with contests for distance, accuracy, juggling, etc. I had also thought of a snow-fort idea where the ampitheater stage at Leif Erickson could be used a base for an imposing snow-fort from which to base snowball fights; you could call it the Empire, and then the Rebels could build an opposing snow-fort on the lawn. But really, why not do all of these things? And why, why, why if winter is so long, would you want to stop at two snow-forts?

Think of how the People’s Free Skate grew over its three-week lifespan, from an initial layout in a thin cover of snow powder, to a labyrinth through two feet of snow hosting many nodes of activity during those last precious days. A similar growth could occur with a snow-fort city concept as winter drags on. How dense could a snow-fort city get? My mind’s eye swims with visions of ramparts, turrets, igloo provinces, and Harry Welty-style snow sculptures, combining into an evolving maze of children, college students, the arts community, and all winter fun-seekers, collaborating to live winter to the fullest in real time.

What are the logistics? Some things to consider include the fact that we would not want to interfere with the traditional use of the space as a sledding hill. I propose we lay out some sledding lanes first and then build the city around them. The sledding lanes could include snow slides, tunnels, and icy luge-ways. Safety should be a concern, as snow-fort collapses can be injurious, and so we could enlist the aid of engineers and other volunteer enthusiasts to act as city planners and a safety committee. The whole affair would have to remain family-friendly, including the snow-ball fights which should err on the side of good-natured affability as opposed to drunken macho dominance rituals. The egalitarian spirit of the Free Skate should reign supreme with self-policing and an ethic of responsible Snow-Fort City citizenship.

As for snowball fights, any imaginable variation should be encouraged: Empire vs. Rebels competing for territory (replete with spies and traitorous switching-of-sides punishable by snowball firing squad); capture-the-flag scenarios; trench warfare scenarios punctuated with occasional volleys, but also the singing of carols with the opposing side as in WWI. Robot Rickshaw is about halfway to completing a snowball-throwing robot…

We will have to anticipate the destructive action of the pitched snowball battles, midnight vandals, and the weather, and so rebuilding and rebirth are a part of this concept from its inception. We will never really know how long it all will last. If things get too big maybe the city would send in the cops to tear it all down. In that case we could keep moving camp like sno-mads… And of course, any incursion would be met with fusillades of snowballs. We shall fight them on the beaches, with the goal of victory, however long and hard the road may be.

There at Leif Erickson, as we weave and dodge the missiles of December and January, we will also be monitoring the lake conditions up close, watching and praying for the lake to freeze solid enough to migrate our invented culture onto the ice of February.

Additional reading and inspiration:

-Wikipedia on snow forts and snowball fights.

“5 Tips for Building the Ultimate Snow Fort” by Popular Mechanics

“13 Snow Fort Masterpieces You Have to See to Believe” by Family Handyman

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