Bryhanna Greenough does some fortin’ around.
It is grudgingly I take a shovel in hand. I’m happy enough hoofing through a goat trail to my door, and, really, if it weren’t for honoring thy mailman, I’d probably just let it melt on its own.
In the summer, when I first met my downstairs neighbor Marty B, I thought of him mainly as a BBQ guy, cooking up fine meaty smells on his propane portable night after night. (Word has it he makes a killer club sandwich at Not Just Desserts, where he works in the kitchen. He’s also in the band City Council.)
In the winter, however, he develops a new obsession. One that involves a lot of shoveling.
For weeks now I’ve been hearing scraping noises down there, and have watched as the back yard has been transformed from a vacant, white landscape to something from a kid’s fantasy. In fact I’ve been talking with the neighborhood kids about Marty B’s creation and I can tell they’re not sure whether to believe me. But standing fifteen feet high and about twenty-five feet wide, Marty B’s snowy dome falls somewhere between the snowy wormholes I wiggled through as a kid, and a fully inhabitable quinzhee or dug out snow shelter.
That being said, the idea of “comfortable” varies from person to person. The Booze Fort, as Marty B calls it, certainly isn’t on par with Quebec’s luxury ice hotel which boasts a marrying chapel, a movie theatre, and martini glasses made of ice.
But what the Booze Fort lacks in luxury, it makes up for in rustic charm. And loyalty to its name.
Removing the tabletop side hatch, Marty ushers me into the snowy dug-out dome. Once inside, we can both stand tall and even walk around the spacious interior. Looking around, we estimate you could fit about eight people on chairs comfortably. Up to twelve, but it would be tight. With obvious pride, he gives me the complete tour, showing me the inset drink cooler, and spots where the candle and drink holders will eventually go. A dramatic second entrance is in progress which will require guests to crawl on their hands and knees through a 30 foot tunnel.
I can’t think of a better place to down vodka lemonades on a Friday night.
Marty and I pull up some retired old kitchen chairs and get down to the nuts and bolts of building a ginormous snow fort such as this. He says he started shoveling snow into a pile to get some exercise and to get his mind off smoking. Once the mound reached a critical mass, Marty, armed with the little chipper on the back of a hammer, began scratching out the interior. The hammer claw is his tool of choice because as you’re constructing the fort, you really don’t want to get too close.
I understand what he means. Looking up, I can see the sun’s light penetrating in a few spots, and a wave of claustrophobia rolls through my stomach. Marty assures me it’s still safe – there’s probably a few centimeters between us and the other side. He figures it can hold about 70 pounds – about the weight of a small kid. At the end of a shift in the kitchen, he usually goes around and throws more snow on top to cover the thin parts. Overnight it hardens into a strong ice shell.
He estimates about 200 hours have been put into the thing, and although he says it’s the biggest snow fort he’s ever done, it’s definitely not his first. He’s been making them since he was a kid.
“Winter seems a lot more fun when you’re a kid, when you’re so small,” he says. “When you grow up it’s hard to get more width and height to it.”
The dome is becoming noticeably warmer, probably with body heat. The icy walls are aglow with the sun’s light much like a chicken’s egg when it passes over the factory candle. It’s so tranquil inside I don’t feel like moving.
“When it’s really bad outside, like when it was storming, it was really peaceful out here,” he says. “There’s no wind, there’s no snow coming down on you or anything. It’s a good little escape.
“It’s my snowy island getaway.”
Illustration by Kira Sheppard.
Photos by Bryhanna Greenough