Anna McLoud Gibbs

The Igloo

When evening comes, a heavy blue has fallen over the valley where we are renting a house. From where I wash dishes in the kitchen, I look out over a wide field. On the far side a stream runs along the base of a small mountain covered in pine trees wearing coats and hats of snow. In the center of the field stands an igloo. 

The igloo was built by amateurs, whose only qualifications are childhoods spent dealing with snow construction. It’s made of snow, not ice, and it slopes oddly on one side. It’s clear from the outside that the builders were originally intent on creating a vertical circular wall, as might be used in medieval warfare or modern-day snowball fights. On the right front side, however, there’s a clear divergence from this original plan: the wall, which had been reaching for the sky, suddenly turns inwards, rapidly perpendicular. After a foot or two of gravity-defying lean, the wall gently slopes back upwards to eventually meet the rest of the gently-sloping hemisphere. One might suppose that the builders eventually guessed at the futility of a flat ceiling, but more likely it was the result of trial and error, and the gentle slope was, in fact, the mark of several failed attempts at what had for some reason succeeded on only the right front portion of the igloo. The outside of the igloo is smooth and unmarked: the result of two snowstorms and a dozen days of flurries. No one can see the messy glove prints from the actual crafting of the structure, nor the handprints that were gently pushed into the wetness of the original snowfall as a signature. 

The sun has slipped away entirely now, and the clouds have gathered not far above the field, shielding the stars and moon from sight. I decide to stop by the igloo. After crossing half of the field and reaching the igloo’s entrance, I stoop to inspect the interior before entering. It occurs to me that perhaps someone else may have found this shelter and trusted its construction enough to venture a peek, or that perhaps the possum that ate the frozen pizzas we left on the porch might have curled up inside for a nap. My mind flickers, briefly, to the image of a polar bear and a cub occupying the snow den. But beyond being far from the range of polar bears, I remind myself that it’s unlikely one could fit in such an entrance as this, which is rather small. A careful inspection revealed that no one was home, and I crawl into the igloo on my hands and knees. Though a polar bear might struggle to enter, they could, I imagine, fit comfortably on the inside, which is rather large. 

The gravity-defying wall attempt juts out across the entrance, creating something of a foyer, until quickly widening into a globe shape. During the day, the walls are translucent, and blue light filters through to the interior. But now in the darkness, my flashlight shines from the inside outwards, and there’s no hint at the thinness of the walls. Rather, they sparkle like the coal mine of an old animated movie: gemstones glint as I move my head, and my eye catches a new glimmer as it moves on from the last, and I can never see them all at once. My flashlight’s light gathers at the top of the igloo because of the hole in the roof, the hole being not shoddy workmanship but a purposeful practical and aesthetic decision. A haphazard circle the size of a full moon has been covered with a thick slab of ice, keeping snow off the floor and letting in broad sweeps of broken light during the day. At night, the material allows my flashlight to glow visible form the outside like a lighthouse.

It’s silent in the igloo. I know there is the small half-frozen stream humming no more than 200 feet away, but I cannot hear it here. Despite this fact, and the fact that perhaps no one is around to hear it, as the birds have flown off, even the songbirds, and the only footprints we’ve seen have belonged to our possum, I know that the stream is still going along on its constant business, singing. Just as I know that the cows we stopped by to say hello to yesterday are still hunkered in their snow-flooded paddock. Just as I know that that one particular paper birch tree on Route 1 is still shuddering its leaves in the wind as if drawing a cloak around itself; just as I know that the boulder that gets swallowed and spit out by the tides on Crane Beach holds it post, day in and day out. And the bushes at my grandmother’s house that formed tunnels for my kid cousins and I to crawl through – their branches exist still, and so they do each moment, even when I am brushing my teeth or meeting a deadline. 

So much changes. It is no longer my grandmother’s house. Perhaps that birch tree I thought about as it flew past my car window has been jostled by a storm and now leans on its brothers. So much changes, but these things continue to exist outside my scope. I cannot hear it and yet the stream stumbles over stones and makes music, like the torrential raindrops tapping their fingers outside the restaurant in Brazil; like the waves running up and down each shore, these things are happening at this very moment. 

A car hisses along Route 100A, cutting the silence. I sit in the center of the igloo, my legs burning on the cold floor. The igloo has frozen solid by now, fortified by the soft drop of snowflakes and made more permanent by frigid temperatures. Something that was built uncertainly is now sure and steady, and it may last a few months. After I’ve left this place, the igloo will stand, and I may think about it from time to time, or not, and it will continue. But the time will come where it will melt and won’t exist in anyone’s universe: not the landlord of this property, nor his three-year-old daughter, nor the snowbirds who have returned, nor the possum. It will exist in another form; it will evaporate and take up residence in a cloud which will rain on a town nearby; but this is not what I am saying; what I am saying is, it will no longer exist in the form that I knew it in my life. It will not be known as I had known it, and this is sad. 

Outside the igloo, my breath melts in the air. The stream sings even from here, outside my scope. Even if I forget this place, I will think of it often, as I regard each breath, and each drop of water, and each clear, sharp note of music hanging in the air like an icicle.