There aren’t many 21-year-olds who ask for 500 banana bread pans for Christmas. And there aren’t many college freshmen who spend the winter break thinking about building an igloo. But I know one who did both.
The story began two years ago when my son Mitch went off to play junior hockey in Alberta. The winters were cold, and the down time between practice and games left players with plenty of time on their hands. As a joke my wife sent Mitch a photo of an igloo — one that was lit up from the inside; and that was all it took to start the cogs turning in Mitch’s brain.
For two years Mitch tried to build his own igloo, but something always stood in the way of success. For one, he could only get limited batches of bread pans, and that stretched out the time line. Weekend road trips to Edmonton and Calgary also interfered, as did the occasional warm fronts. In short, something always managed to frustrate the plan.
Two years later Mitch is now a freshman at Saint John’s University, and to no one’s surprise he plays hockey. With classes and other activities his life is even busier than it was in Canada, but as the winter break approached, the stars seemed to fall into alignment at long last. The hockey team would be on campus, and there would be plenty of down time between games and practice. Even better, a sustained freeze was in the forecast. So with time on his hands and cold weather on the way, the last ingredient needed for success was enough banana bread pans to do the work in a hurry.
On the last Friday of winter break Mitch returned to campus with two five-gallon buckets and 500 pans, bought from a restaurant supply store for $60. He also came with the determination to make it all happen, at long last.
By Sunday the thermometer had dipped to -20, and Mitch was set. He filled the 500 pans with water, and to some he added drops of colored dye. Then began the wait, but it wasn’t a long one. After fifteen hours of construction, there it stood — the perfect igloo, complete with a rechargeable LED shop light that illumined it from inside. The igloo was done at last, but the bigger story was just beginning.
At first the igloo showed up on a few Facebook pages, and then the CSB/SJU Facebook page posted a link to a picture and a story. From there it went viral. Locally The Saint Cloud Times featured it, and a video appeared on the WJON radio website. Next came the ABC News Nightline web site and NBC News with Lester Holt. Mitch must have been surprised to get calls for several radio interviews, and we all were amazed to see the story pop up in news markets as far afield as Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, Washington, DC, Florida and Norfolk.
So what does all this mean? First, the Breuer buildings at Saint John’s need not fear losing pride of place. Both Stick Works and the Igloo that Glows sparked the imagine, but they were pieces of art created for the moment. But the whimsy behind both have touch the imagination of millions.
I suppose the igloo is also a symbol of our resilience in Minnesota. When other parts of the country panic at the first inkling of winter extremes, -20 can be like the starting gun. We get out and make the most of winter.
Finally, it’s amazing to realize what an investment of $60 accomplished. The biggest costs here were actually the imagination, determination and action it took to make the igloo. These simple ingredients, along with some water and a few drops of dye, came together to create something special.
So what’s next for Mitch? All he wanted was a photo of an igloo, but now he’s got a ton of memories. Meanwhile a warm spell is in the cards, and his disposable creation is about to melt away, along with Frosty the snowman. But I have a new project for Mitch, and it’s a lesson in recycling. By my count he still has 500 banana bread pans on his hands. Now it’s time for him to learn to bake.