This is how traffic freezes to a standstill in front of Dave and Marzell VanVlaenderen’s home: It trickles down the snow-packed street until the cold-hardened tires emit a final crunch or skid nervously to a stop.
Each car is stopped by the inertia of the one in front of it until a line of panting cars with frosted windows tapers down Valleyway Avenue. They come to see the VanVlaenderens’ mountain of ice, a pyramid of bonded icicles so thick its core is glacier blue.
“It kind of looks like Superman’s cavern,” Marzell Van-Vlaenderen said.
There is a striking resemblance between the icy knoll, crafted by countless nights of leaving water in a hose running when temperatures dipped into the teens, and the arctic Fortress of Solitude built by the Man of Steel in the 1978 movie.
Deep in the glacial yard display at 16609 E. Valleyway Ave. is a tenant. Dave VanVlaenderen, the artist behind the ice, puts a plastic Frosty the Snowman inside every sculpture. A floodlight in Frosty’s hollow belly lights the sculpture in the evening.
Before the water starts flowing, the snowman sits five feet in the air on a PVC pole with guy wires wrapped around his neck. A lawn sprinkler surgically grafted to Frosty’s skull mists the guy wires, which soon hang heavy with an icy fringe, sometimes unevenly if there’s a cold December wind. The effect is a cool-blue stalactite appearing to have captured minerals from a dripping night sky.
Marzell VanVlaenderen laughs at the notion of Superman living in her front yard, as the first cars of the evening roll to a stop outside her home. Soon there will be a chain four-vehicles-long in front of the VanVlaenderens’ house, then five, then a knock at the front door by someone wanting to know just what the hulking mass is supposed to be.
“What do you think it is?” Dave VanVlaenderen will answer vaguely, like some snow-boot-shod Christo at an outdoor art exhibit.
For Dave VanVlaenderen, the hulking structure, which eclipses the street from his living room window, is about restoring Christmas to the holiday of his youth, a time when main streets were dressed to the nines in lights and garlands and shopping centers constructed elaborate mechanized displays. Christmas, Dave Van-Vlaenderen says, should be as magical as the mysterious blue light that emanates from the frozen mountain in his front yard.
The explanation of the color is that thick, frozen water absorbs the red and yellow wavelengths of light but allows the blue to scatter. But who drives the back roads at the dawn of winter searching for scientific truths?
The VanVlaenderens will tell you the color stems from the nature of the freeze. They’ll tell you that when the sprinkler comes on in the evening, the mountain in their front yard crackles like dry kindling.
And as they tell you, the crunch of cold radials on snow is replaced by the moan of disc brakes, and then frozen silence.
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