Winter Carnival in a Western Town: Identity, Change, and the Good of the Community

Winter Carnival in a Western Town: Identity, Change, and the Good of the Community

Winter Carnival in a Western Town: Identity, Change, and the Good of the Community

Winter Carnival in a Western Town: Identity, Change, and the Good of the Community

Excerpt

At 8:00 A.M. on Friday of the last weekend of January, the mountainous, snowbound, and remote village of McCall, Idaho (approximately 2,554 residents in 2009) is cold and silent. The temperature is eleven degrees below zero, and all signs of activity have ceased. The early morning sun casts long shadows on strange objects, sparkling and glinting in the pale light. Drawing closer, one realizes they are sculptures made of snow, the results of preparations by local people for their annual Winter Carnival, which officially begins that evening. Some sculptures are gigantic, as tall and long as the buildings in front of which they sit. Smooth, pure white, they look like they have been coated in ice. Here is “Hedwig the Owl,” there, “Darth Maul.” There’s a scene from Where’s Waldo (gallery fig. B) or a statue of a cow’s skull. There are also animals, particularly bears, frolicking over fallen logs or picnicking on wooden benches.

The city sculpture occupies the most prominent position. It lies at the edge of Payette Lake just before the two-lane highway makes a sharp lefthand turn to the west. It is called the city sculpture because it occupies the most visible location in town. Years ago, the chamber of commerce made the sculpture on behalf of the city; today sometimes a consortium of realestate agents creates it. It could be a god of fire (gallery fig. C), a laughing Buddha (fig. 1), or an ice castle (fig. 12). And always every year, there are sculptures of serpentine, dragonlike creatures with humps and scales and fins, all representing imaginative and playful versions of Payette Lake’s own legendary lake monster, Sharlie.

Signs of Winter Carnival activity are visible weeks beforehand as people begin to collect snow to make sculptures, which are the festival’s main attraction. Piles of snow are guarded and moved from one place to another to create gigantic stockpiles. Snow also may be obtained by ordering it from the city, which delivers it to all registered participants free of charge. People

1 This population figure is based on 2009 U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates. Avail
able online at http://www.factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en.

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