Minnehaha on the rocks

_MG_0364.JPGSome of you might remember my first visit to Minnehaha Falls in June, when it was tumbling over a verdant cliff in a lush valley. Six months later, a good snowfall and a week of freezing temperatures have given the 50-foot falls a set of icicles almost as tall.

I went Minnehaha Regional Park last weekend right after that snow arrived and saw miniature snowmen and snow-plastered trees. But the creek itself was almost completely clear of ice.

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_MG_0348.JPGSo I went back today to see what the cold had sculpted since then. Minnehaha Creek has frozen itself into narrow channels and ice tunnels. The ice’s surface often looks topographical, forming stair-step terraces, sometimes a few feet tall, that remind me of terraced rice fields or canyon walls. Instead of wearing away at these canyons, the water has built them.

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_MG_0395.JPGThose white blobs are bubbles that continuously flowed through what looked like a 4-foot-long, crystal-clear ice straw.

_MG_0425.JPGIt can be hard to see with transparent ice, but the shot above shows a good example of the terrace sets I saw: maybe 3 feet tall and stepping down from the upper left to lower right, with water gushing on the left side.

This last shot is what looked to be another set of terraces somehow under the water, giving them a distorted and unreal appearance.

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Dan

Marching on

_MG_1416.JPGSaturday afternoon was misty, dreary and below freezing, and it turns out it takes more than that to stop Fayetteville’s Mardi Gras parade. This one was the city’s 27th and my fourth. The weather certainly cut down the size of the crowd from past years, but everyone who came out cheered extra loud, decked themselves out in extra color and dove for thrown beads and candy with extra enthusiasm in spite of the gray day.

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_MG_1581.JPGHere’s to a happy official Mardi Gras this week and a happy Lent after, for those observing it.

I meant to end here, but all of that mist and drizzle spend the evening and overnight freezing to every surface. Roads and sidewalks this morning around my apartment were too slick for much more than slow hobbling. The grass was crunchy. This wasn’t frost; it was a half-centimeter or so of solid, unadorned ice. I had to see more.

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_MG_1692.JPGThanks for looking, and stay warm out there.

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