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.




_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.



_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.





_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.





_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.


A Fayetteville Christmas Story

_C1_9718 smallThis picture looks ominous, but believe me, the story I got to write for today’s paper to go along with this photo is a happy one.

That’s what remains of Paul Pannell’s car after a major fire destroyed most of his home Monday evening and Tuesday morning. All of those icicles are from fire fighters’ efforts to dispel the blaze.

Pannell is 92 and lives toward the northeast edge of town. His son-in-law, Bill Meissinger, lives next door.

From my story here (requires a subscription):

Meissinger said he grabbed an extension ladder and smashed it through Pannell’s bedroom window. Gray smoke billowed out and he couldn’t see, even with his flashlight. He hollered several times for Pannell but got no response, he said.

Then he said he remembered Pannell fought in the Battle of the Bulge and still dreams of it. Meissinger called out his rank: “Command Sgt. Maj. Pannell!”

“‘What, what’s going on?’” Meissinger said he heard immediately. “I said, ‘You gotta get to this light!’ As soon as I felt his hand the war was on.”

Meissinger was able to pull his father-in-law to safety, and he was shortly taken for treatment of minor injuries. Meissinger said nurses told him Pannell was likely a dozen seconds from death.

Just an astounding story from here, and it’s really a coincidence only that I got to be the one writing about it. I’m sharing it also because these are the first photos I’ve been able to take at my job here, though they aren’t much to look at. Meissinger’s on the left:

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Thanks for looking, and if you celebrate Christmas, I hope it was a merry one.


Welcome, Winter

_C1_9951There was almost a reverence to the muffled hush that a soft snowfall brought here, like when no one wants to whisper too loudly in the church. My breathing took the place of the earlier day’s wind. No one’s footsteps mingled with the crunches of mine. Police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck rolled past, their sirens silenced.

_C1_9959 smallYesterday brought the first wave of winter to much of the lower Midwest. Here it included a dose of freezing rain, more sleet than I think I’d seen in my entire life, then hours and inches of soft snow. The snow and cold are unusual here, and nearly everyone retreated to warmth. Even the highway was quiet when I took a stroll.

_C1_9940 smallNow and then the sounds of a few oddities broke the apparent solitude, like the beeping of the bulldozer backing up in the Wal-Mart parking lot (because why not?) or the sound of a ghostly flock of geese against the sepia sky.

_C1_9995 smallIn a nearby neighborhood, four deer darted ahead of me, quiet as the snow. They were fast. I only got their hoof prints.

_C1_0010 smallMany parking lots had that one car, that one single vehicle that surely must have carried some intrepid customer or stoic employee. Others were empty.

_C1_9975 smallAnd then there were the lights, shining on snowflakes that danced like sparks beneath them.

_C1_9996 smallFinally I came to a small graveyard near here, where the reverent stillness seemed most appropriate. The grave markers would’ve been invisible without the snow, but there they were, dotting a hill that overlooks the western edge of town. _C1_0016 smallMy nose and cheeks protested the cold, but I stood for a moment, thinking about all I didn’t know about these graves. The snow kept falling.