Red, blue and green blocks of ice illuminated by a single lightbulb, light the night air on Blackstone Street, a beacon radiating joy despite this year’s cold and dreary winter. The multi-colored igloo sits in the front yard of Jamie Ballinger and Jerry Gorman’s home in the Little City neighborhood of Bangor and is a plaything for their son 7-year-old and his many buddies.
Made with more than 300 ice blocks dyed with food coloring, the igloo is also symbolic of the neighborhood’s closeness and sense of community.
“Since all of us get together, that eases the path toward more meaningful interactions … you may recognize someone on the street because you had a conversation at the [event] a few months before,” Ballinger said.
A few years ago she and a friend decided to do a project in the snow every year in an attempt to combat winter blues. The first year, they built a giant snow sculpture resembling the Moai statues located on Easter Island, a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. They called it a “Nor-easter Island” god.
“I think we intentionally and unintentionally try to get [our son] thinking about the outdoors as a place to be and have fun,” Ballinger said of herself and Gorman. “It’s so easy to get stuck inside … but there are so many things you can do in the snow.”
After reading about a multicolored igloo built by a man visiting Canada for several weeks with his family, Ballinger and her friend started planning one for their neighborhood. It took more than a year, but they finally collected 320 paper milk cartons which they then filled with water and food dye before freezing.
Ballinger said they had to wait for the mercury levels to drop low enough because the ice blocks took more freezing time than expected. They also needed access to slushy snow to use as mortar.
Finally, when the conditions were right, they put the call out for volunteers.
“We had a whole pile of moms, kids, dads [and] grandparents. Everybody was here,” Ballinger said.
The gathering was indicative of the neighborhood’s sense of self and pride and not uncommon for the community of modest, multi-story homes built on wide, quiet streets. Little City is considered bound by Center Street to the east, Kenduskeag Avenue to the the west, Jefferson Street to the south and I-95 to the north. Ballinger is quick to talk about how close she is with her neighbors, how much the children of the area play together and how it’s more than a place to live.
“This is the best neighborhood,” she said. “We call [our children] the ‘free-range kids’ … for us living here is about bringing neighbors and community together.”
The neighborhood has a formal Little City Community Picnic each year on the last day of school at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. It’s a chance for new neighbors to meet the long-timers and a kickoff to summer vacation. Ballinger said it’s events like the igloo building and the picnic that give the streets an identity.
“There’s a sledding hill, and a park, you have these touchpoints throughout the neighborhood that make fun in an outdoor environment,” she said.
Want to make your own igloo? With below-freezing temperatures predicted for the next several days, now is the perfect time. Several online resources exist, including how-to videos, blogs and illustrated instructions. The best igloos have small entrances designed to keep heat in and the inside of the dome is allowed to melt a bit and refreeze for increased strength.
Keep in mind, the diameter will need to be within 10 feet so it isn’t necessary to create a perfect dome.