Ghosts

_C1_9921.JPGThe past few days have been a battle between air, water and light. The recent cold snap that broke today kept northwest Arkansas below 20 or so degrees, freezing over creeks and ponds pretty easily. But even that kind of cold yields to the warmth of daylight. Water, meanwhile, is good at retaining its heat and can stay liquid in lakes and stronger streams for days of subfreezing temperatures. But the sun sets and the cold air can triumph over some of those waters, at least for a few hours. Back and forth the energy goes.

The constant exchange of heat molds the area’s water into all sorts of ice. I think it helped grow the frost flowers.

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These ghostly ribbons grow from the stems of certain plants. I never expected to see them on a morning hike around Lake Wedington, but whichever plant grew these is apparently all over that area, especially on its dam.

The water in the plants’ stems freezes and expands, splitting their sides. Water from the roots keeps coming out and freezing, slowly pushing through the cracks like icy noodles. The process leaves delicate bundles that seemed to glow in the early light. Though they’re made of ice, these flowers can only bloom if water in the plants and the ground under them is still warm enough to be liquid. Without all of that warm sunlight, in other words, they might not have formed.

I probably have that warmth to thank for my other discovery this morning: singing ice. Turn up your volume for this one:

 

The layer of ice along just one corner of the lake trilled, like dozens of frogs singing to each other, as liquid water jostled it from beneath. I suspect the cause for the trilling is the same as the one behind the strange noise that sounds when you throw a pebble or stick onto a frozen lake. A smack or a cracking sound contains higher and lower pitches that travel at different speeds through the ice layer, so they reach the ear at different times. The result is a chirp. (The same principle is behind the sound of “Star Wars” blasters and the rainbow created by light through a prism.)

This all goes to show how much the characteristics of ice depend on where the water is and what it’s doing when it freezes. Flowing water, for example, might freeze clear and smooth but often becomes opaque white from bubbles if it’s tumbling down a fall. Peaceful water freezes into sheets that sometimes overlap in abstract patterns or fit together like angular puzzle pieces. Wedington and Lake Fayetteville provided examples of them all.

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_C1_9939.JPG(Lake Fayetteville shots begin here:)

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_C1_9754.JPGIce’s variety and beauty will forever mesmerize me. Thanks for looking.

Dan

On the Hunt

IMG_2100Temperatures fell below freezing for 48 hours this weekend, and you know what that means: Some weirdo was wandering around when it was 12 degrees taking pictures of frozen grass.

The weekend’s cold came exactly one year after another cold spell here in Fayetteville; I wrote a post then rambling about how cool ice is and how many different forms it can take (blobs, beads, shards, blades, name it). Ice is just as neat and surprising now, and for lingering any doubters out there, I’m going to prove it right here on this blog. There’s beauty in the small.

I gave everything a good night of freezing before heading out Sunday morning. The sun was shining and the sky was almost cloudless, but that didn’t stop a continuous flurry of perfect snowflakes that glinted in the light as they tumbled silently down. Some landed on the first plates of ice on nearby streams or on the ice accretions at the base of every stick and stalk.

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IMG_2082(Two of these birds, maybe red-shouldered hawks, sat side by side on this branch, but one flew away before I lifted my camera.)

All of these ices were great and all, but I was really hunting for one particular type that appeared a year ago, a strikingly angular, geometric surface ice that looks as if it’s made of shattered glass. (If anyone out there knows the actual names for these things, I’d love to hear about it.) This kind seems to require stillness and a good day or two of real frigidness to form, and it fans out from anything breaking the water’s surface. I could see the beginnings of it on some of the ponds around my apartment, but no luck Sunday morning or evening. Lake Fayetteville didn’t have any, either.

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IMG_2136Just as the sun was setting I caught one sample of it in the smallest, stillest pond. One more night, then.

IMG_2141The morning was quiet and clear. Frost spike-balls sat like tiny urchins or Christmas trees on the surface of frozen puddles.

IMG_2152Half a mile from my apartment, I finally found it: The geometric ice stretched across a nearby pond, along with some nice frozen bubbles and a new (to me) type of surface ice that looked like fans or brachiopod shells stacked on each other.

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IMG_2162I headed home, but nature had one more gift, another first for me: The grass was coated with frost, but instead of being made of the usual little pellets or spikes, it was made up of tiny, perfectly etched crystalline plates, as if snowflakes were growing out of the leaves.

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Thanks for looking.

Dan

Deep Freeze

_C1_5739The polar vortex, a cyclone of cold air constantly spinning around the Arctic Circle, has struck again, leaving the eastern half of the country under glacial temperatures. Fayetteville hasn’t been above freezing in four straight days, leaving fountains, ponds, creeks and lakes encased in ice.

Lucky for me, this isn’t your freezer’s ice; this is a rock-hard jewel, a crystal-clear substance that can molded into a limitless array of forms: jagged, geometric, cabochon, ropey, wavy and more. I found examples in my apartment complex, in the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks, at the square downtown and along Lake Fayetteville, which today was almost completely frozen over. All of these varieties fascinate me, particularly because I have no idea how some of them form.

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_C1_5919Icicles work just like stalagmites and stalactites in caves, with frozen water accumulating down or up instead of solid calcium carbonate. Icicles even have the same lumpiness as cave formations and form columns in the same way when they meet.

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_C1_5954These curves mystify me, especially because they stack on top of each other like stairs, and all of them are enveloped by another, perfectly clear layer of ice. All I know is formations like these build gradually, one layer at a time.

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_C1_6094With Lake Fayetteville frozen several inches deep, we were treated to a phenomenon I’ll dub chirping ice: Throw something on the frozen surface, and a sharp, clear chirrup will ring out with each bounce. Here’s one example (start around 4:27). Here’s another. Rocks are good for the effect, but tree limbs or hunks of wood can be better, and chunks of ice are the best, skittering across the lake for a good 15 seconds with a sort of high-pitched, electronic-sounding hum. Today was my first time hearing that amazing sound in person.

A man wielding binoculars pointed out a bald eagle nearby, too as. Fish were hard to reach today, but there were a couple open patches of water the bird might’ve used. I don’t know — I didn’t see it move in several minutes’ watching.

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_C1_5959I’ve got one last consequence of the weather to show you: The waning Moon a few nights ago was ringed by an iridescent corona.

_C1_5697Circles of light and color like this ring the Moon and Sun when there’s a thin, translucent layer of clouds between us and them, especially when those clouds are made of tiny ice crystals — just one more beautiful form of ice to add to the list.

Hope you’re staying warm! Thanks for looking.

Dan