I would tunnel in snow,
carve out a frozen world
of passage way,
I would shovel snow into a large pile in the back yard, or make use of a pile my father had made as he shoveled out the alley behind our garage. I had friends, but this was my time to play alone. Seldom would those I did invite show necessary enthusiasm and endurance.
stiff wool mittens or jersey gloves
to the radiator
where melting balls of snow
turn today's mittens
to limp and wet
to warm and dry
to wear back out
after bowl of soup
for afternoon tunneling.
A coal shovel was the tool no bigger than I, but big enough to make my work productive. I would do finer work with bare hand or coffee can, but my work was never fine enough.
I never made the perfect tunnel,
nor perfect igloo,
nor finished castle.
for so long
as cold and snow and mittens held,
I went out most days to try.
Some days I overworked my quota of dry clothes and mittens. Some days there was too little snow, or the Minnesota cold was too bitter. I did not object when my mother bade me stay in.
Perfection came imagined
during inside days
on bed or living-room rug.
I could play with toy figures
across snowfields visible only to me.
I could make believe my way
to architectural perfection:
snow walls carved thin
to let sun in
like cathedral window.
Outside imagination is different from inside imagination. Snow and cold are quite real. They were my immediate environment for a few months each year. My clumsy skills at tunneling were real but improving. I only need imagine that the world outside my snow tunnel was free of back doors leading to warm kitchens, hot bowls of soup and motherly protection.
During outside daydream time,
alone in a snow tunnel,
I would imagine my life
if real life included the tunnel.
How fun it would be
to be an expert
among people who live in snow.
When I grew big enough to be in fourth grade I found out about children who actually lived in the snow. They were Netsook and Klaya of Baffin Island, north of Canada and west of Greenland. I read about them in Visits In Other Lands, my 4th grade geography book at Saint Columba School. Yes, I had always remembered them, but, yes, I had forgotten the name of their book until my sister found a copy in an antique store during a visit to our home in Colorado. It had been her introduction to the world also, but she gave the book to me, sensing that I would treasure it and even read it again. This time around, I read the Foreword To The Teacher and discovered that these were imaginary children. The brother and sister in each chapter were created by the authors to give us an idea of different environments that challenge peoples of the earth and shape their cultures. In fourth grade I did not know these lofty goals, I only wished I could learn and use what these children knew to do.
I lived among people who look out
to snow, rain, fog, and darkness
from warm, bright kitchens.
In the world of my people, I often became bored with my figures and their perfect snow structures, or found myself satisfied with plans for tomorrow's tunnel. During such days I would spend hours under kitchen furniture.
Inside our kitchen
I became an expert in chairs.
Four wooden, high-back chairs
became cockpit, wings and fuselage.
I would build airplanes
and fly the sky.
My mother seemed content to work around my obstruction. Now, I realize that as long as I was under foot in my airplane she need not worry about what trouble I was making. Back then, I just knew she was patient and kind. Mostly, I did not notice her.
Kitchens require concentrated imagination.
Chairs look nothing like airplanes.
Linoleum floor is neither cloud nor sky.
Nor should there be radio,
I am sure I spent more time in my kitchen airplane than in my backyard snow tunnels. The airplane was as good for a rainy day in summer as for a winter day that was too mild or too bitter.
I know I loved my kitchen-chair airplane.
I know I gave piloting more time than tunneling,
yet, I remember snow tunneling better
and miss it more.
When my daughters were four and six years old we lived in a house with a picnic table out back. This was an unusually snowy winter for the island of Martha's Vineyard. As the table became a mound of snow I saw an opportunity. My daughters could experience some of what I had experienced. I wanted to play again.
For my children,
I shoveled snow
on top of snow
on top of table,
a marvelous mound
for a marvelous igloo.
I tunneled part way in
before putting them and friends to tunneling.
I was out of scale
and a damper to fun.
From inside the house,
at a window,
I could watch,
catch a glimpse now and then
of their tunneling and their play.
It was my day for joy and envy.
That day came before our move west, and before rediscovery of Netsook and Klaya. In Colorado I discovered the joy of summer in the back country. For a long while I thought I would also enjoy snow camping. It would be fulfillment of my childhood fantasy. Away from back doors and warm kitchens, I could live for a few days each winter in and around a snow cave a snow tunnel I would make out of necessity in a real world of snow. I held to that fantasy of winter perfection until a friend reminded me that the winter night is fifteen hours of darkness. For Netsook and Klaya a winter day would be all night. Would they if they had a choice choose to spend even fifteen hours, night after night, in their igloo? That is not for me to know, but question alone was enough to make up my mind. I would learn how to make a snow cave for a real emergency, not fulfillment of fantasy.
a winter day,
among fantasy of youth
and practicality of adulthood,
I look out into cold and snow
wishing dining room chairs to be large enough
a good airplane.
(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins