Icy hot Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Celebrants sipping hot cider and checking out a snow castle are seen through the heat waves rising from a central ceremonial fire during the Ice on Fire winter festival Sunday at the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier. Story and photos, page B1.
MONTPELIER — Some people warmed up around a bonfire, others navigated a labyrinth made of small pine trees, and still others — kids, mostly, though also some adventurous adults — crawled through igloos.
More than 175 people attended the Ice on Fire winter festival Sunday at the North Branch Nature Center, an event that has come to mark an annual celebration of the cold with seasonal activities, storytelling, food and games.
Five-year-old Monroe Swift eagerly showed off one of two igloos, a castle with windows, to his dad.
“Can you guys move? My dad wants to come in,” he said as he entered through a small opening, soon followed by his father, Jeff Swift, who managed to squeeze his way in.
The two igloos took somewhere between 30 to 40 hours to create, according to Montpelier Parks Director Geoff Beyer. Seventeen Norwich University students, rooks and cadets, led the icy building effort which began Tuesday.
As part of the opening ceremony, a group of people formed a large circle around the bonfire pit with torches, signs and large, imitation white birds. Leaders stopped and spoke while facing all four points of the compass — east, south, west and north.
The torches were made from toilet paper contained by old wire hangars, which were dipped in used cooking oil. Erik Gillard of Plainfield, who helped out with the event, said he used leftover grease kept in Dumpster buckets, donated by the Positive Pie restaurant.
As the torches were placed on the bonfire, smoke quickly billowed as the fire rapidly spread, and participants in the opening ceremony sang.
East Montpelier resident Clarke Jordan said the festival marked its 18th year Sunday. It was started by the late Tarin Chaplin, the well-known and beloved dancer, choreographer, writer and activist who passed away in 2009.
Jordan said the festival was created so people would have another reason to enjoy winter, especially a month after Christmas, rather than grumble about the cold.
Leading the opening ceremonial procession was Moretown resident Meredith Muse, dressed in white clothes and a ceremonial headdress mask. She said afterward that she made the costume, when her ill sister was in the process of dying, to act as a “spirit beckoner” — one who helps people cross the divide between the physical and spiritual worlds.
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