DULUTH — If you can’t spot it from the street, you might see heads bobbing up from the mass in Norm and Kay Boucher’s yard.
“It’s not an igloo. It’s a snow fort for grown-ups,” said family friend Kathy Collins.
They’ve named it “Snowhenge,” a reference to the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England — and it fits.
This winter, the structure stood 7 feet high and it spanned 20 feet wide, creating a circular, roofless space with a fire pit in the middle.
This became a go-to for safe and relatively warm winter gatherings during a pandemic.
Because it’s round enough and the circumference is big enough, people can easily sit 6-feet apart, Norm Boucher said.
The snow fort allowed the Bouchers to host a dinner, a meeting with their financial adviser, and several low-key catch-ups around the bonfire.
It would be 17 below outside with a wind chill of 30 below, but inside Snowhenge, it would be 22 degrees, Boucher said. They'd be comfortable in snow wear and blankets.
Snowhenge allowed the Bouchers and their loved ones a chance to continue a tradition.
“We’ve come over here for years. It’s a place of comfort, friendship, comrades getting together,” said neighbor Richard Stewart.
This has been “a healing and magical place” during COVID, Kay Boucher said.
Norm Boucher started constructing Snowhenge around early January. He said they had perfect snow this year — a lot of it, several feet thick and packed tightly in a drift.
“You have to have that stiff, Styrofoam-like snow to be able to support the structure,” he said.
Boucher began cutting larger blocks of snow, about 1.5-2 feet wide, and placing them as the base.
“The Inuits use a knife, a stiffer blade. I suppose a machete would work. I just used a coarse-bladed saw,” he said.
Boucher then stacked the snow blocks in a row and shaped them to fit. He’d fill the cracks with packed snow, repeating the process until it was as high as he wanted.
Snowhenge took two days to build, with some help from Kay and a young neighbor.
The retired physician and clay thrower has built about 10 snow structures before — snow tunnels and 6-by-8-foot igloos — most often when his kids were young.
“People say, ‘You live in northern Minnesota. What do you do?’ I say, ‘We build snow walls and we have fires outside,’” he said.
Snowhenge had melted about a foot last week when a reporter paid a visit to the Hunters Park home.
Around the fire pit sat several patio chairs with extra cushions, a tree stump and a makeshift seat made of a metal table with a plastic bin lid. A wreath sat on a mound near a cedar Snowhenge sign, made by Stewart, who is responsible for the name.
The snow fort reminds him of Stonehenge, “and the great power that circles always bring in healing and comfort,” he said.
Norm Boucher sat with a glass of wine, near his wife, Collins and Stewart. Two neighbors stopped by with dogs in tow, ready for a regular walk with Kay and the family’s canine.
The air smelled deliciously of burning wood, a bittersweet reminder of campfires past and a hopeful promise of more gatherings to come.
Kay has mixed emotions about the snow fort melting.
“It’ll be a little melancholy. It’s going to disappear, and it was just a nice part of our winter,” she said, adding that it also means spring is on its way.