Ode to the Schoolyard Snow Boulder

(title image “Wheatley Public School” by flickr user allispossible.org.uk used under license CC BY 2.0)

Why isn’t there a snow boulder there? The ever-present schoolyard snow boulder… find me a schoolyard in Canada after a packing snow fall, and I’ll find you a snow boulder. Maybe children in the UK (where the picture was taken) don’t get enough snow to know that rolling snow boulders is what’s done.

Especially when it is packing snow. Look how it sticks to the tree. Perfect.

There’s something really childish and lovely and wondrous about the Snow Boulder. It starts out solitary, perhaps in partial rebellion against the draconian snowball prohibition. Quickly it becomes — has to become — a matter for many. Packing, rolling, steering, pushing, slipping.

Other kids try to make their own but can’t quite catch the same celebrity. That other boulder down by the baseball diamond isn’t half as big. Popularity contest judged by size of snowball.

Then, eventually, inevitably it becomes too big to roll. It stands there, daring for someone to try. The harsh reality of the square-cube law means it just isn’t possible to fit enough kids on one side to push it any more. The geometry of the angles of everyone’s hands compacting into the side just doesn’t provide the torque.

And by next recess it has compacted flat, in place.

And by next day it has frozen.

This isn’t the end of the snow boulder. I sometimes think it ought to be. To me it is all about the journey: it is something that is to be built. Once there, it’s… what? A memento of the better kind of building snow that you won’t see until the temperatures rise on the other side of the season? When the snow has become filthy with months of roadsalt and wind-fallen twigs and boot grime?

No, better for it to just disappear somehow. Be cracked asunder by the older kids, or melted away in an odd early-December thaw.

Then maybe another packing snow fall will come — another chance at reclaiming the magic. It doesn’t come often, and that might be part of the charm: its rarity.

Or maybe it’s just me.