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Living the dream on a surprise day off

Armed with shovels and bursting with energy, these bundled-up boys tunnel into a large snowbank, creating another section of snow fort Tuesday on a surprise day off school. Story by Joe Buttweiler.|By Joe Buttweiler

Two boys scampered into their dugout as another gust of frigid wind hit them.

Swirls of snow chased them into their shelter of ice and snow, looking like little Army dudes in a desert of white sand.

Safe again from danger, the young adventurers resumed their digging, putting the new-fallen snow — and lots from past snowfalls — into useful form, at least until the next melt.

Ah, an unexpected day off from school … Freedom to play, create and laugh at their own pace, to get together with friends, pester parents, drink hot chocolate, listen to loud music, play video games and who knows what else?

“No! Don’t dig a tunnel there,” one of them shouted to a man with a shovel. He was digging into a mound of snow near a tree. The mound on the other side of the big ash had been excavated three days ago to create a cavern big enough for two crouching kids. Eventually it will be connected to the fort at the other end of the driveway, creating a tunnel system better than the one built during Christmas vacation.

After a group consult it was decided the man should keep digging, creating a tunnel that loops around the tree.

This guy knows about snow forts. Nearly 30 years ago he was among the hardy college guys who dug into a huge snow pile ñ think Hy-Vee East parking lot — that had been created in the lot across from their fraternity house.

At night, between classes and on weekends, the crew members would trudge out to “The Dig.” By the time they were done it was big enough to house several students, and even had a skylight.
So helping his boys with their forts is natural, even educational.

And what kid doesn’t like a good snow tunnel? These two and some of their friends have been at it for years, enjoying the challenge a few times each winter to outdo their last fortress or tunnel system.

Depending on the weather, they’ll roll up sticky snow into stacking balls, use choppers to carve out blocks, scrounge boulders left by the plows … “Hey, don’t bring that over here. We’ve got enough snow already,” a dad has said often to a kid hauling home a boulder from elsewhere.

They’ve used boards for roofing and dug escape hatches that they’d hide with boulders. They’ve punched air holes into the walls so they could breathe and hear better. They’ve stacked ammo at strategic locations. And they’ve hoped ñ maybe even prayed ñ that the plow doesn’t get too close to their forts, which parents have repeatedly warned should never be built too close to a street or be occupied when plows are coming by.

The “Take cover!” kids used to long for bedtime stories of twisting, turning tunnels that led to underground chambers with swimming pools, sports fields, bowling alleys and other recreational venues.

They’d savor tales of secret shafts that rose up from hollow trunks to treetop forts, or to landings from which rope swings could take them all over the neighborhood, or where water slides or snow slides would descend.
“Tell us more. Tell us another story,” they’d beg.

“Another time,” the man would say, sure that the eager explorers would dream up and create their own passageways.

They sure do.

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