Last Friday, Anh-Thu Thi Pham stepped out of her office building at the University of Minnesota for a mid-afternoon coffee run. She glanced around the campus mall and saw something that stopped her in her tracks.
There, seeming to look right back at her, were the remnants of what had been a group of snowmen. Melted down in the mild February temperatures, they were an eerie sight: carrot noses, black eyes, and little else. What had been stick arms had tilted upward, as if the snowmen were begging someone to grab their stick fingers and rescue them from drowning.
<!——StartFragment——>Pham doesn't know the backstory of the melted men, whether they were deliberately made as deconstructed figures or built whole and disappeared naturally. <!——EndFragment——>
The first thing that came to Pham's mind was Calvin and Hobbes. The comic strip had a recurring joke with different snowmen, often constructed with strange or dark purposes in mind. Calvin once assembled snowmen modeled on his enemies.
Effigies, he explained to Hobbes, so that he could "watch their features slowly melt down their dripping bodies until they're nothing but noses and eyes floating in pools of water."
Snowmen were also often depicted protesting, or carrying a message. In one strip, Calvin says his snowmen are "prophets of doom."
Pham, too, thought these melted snowmen were trying to tell us something. Born in Vietnam, Pham, who works in the university provost's office, moved to Minnesota with her parents as a one-year-old. In her lifetime, she's already noticed the effects of a warming climate in Minnesota.
"As a person who has historically cared a lot about climate change, this has been an unreasonably warm winter for Minnesota,"Pham said. "The thought that came to me was, this is Calvin and Hobbes protesting climate change."
It's the rare case where an instantly arresting, haunting image only gets scarier the more you think about it.