Sidewalk art

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Now that we’re getting above freezing during the day and dropping below freezing most nights, it’s starting to feel like a normal Arkansas winter up here. You all might recall my being dazzled by the delicate and varied forms ice took down south; something I didn’t appreciate fully there is that many of those forms depended on this cycle. When weeks go by below freezing, ice becomes monolithic — sheets of ice and blankets of snow. But when the process can start fresh each night, its results are more fleeting and more interesting. 

For whatever reason, I’ve had the easiest time finding beauties like these this season in the humblest of places, sidewalk puddles. So I like to call them sidewalk art, crafted not with chalk or spray paint but with bubbles and H₂O.

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Soon very different shapes will dominate the outdoors; some are already emerging.

Thanks for looking!

Dan

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Spring thaw

_MG_2492.JPGThis has been a winter unlike any I’ve experienced — a cold blast in the minus 20s before wind chill, several feet of snow, weeks below freezing. And all of a sudden it’s gone.

I know we could still get a snowstorm in the next month or so, but it’s hard to look around at all of the dripping and gushing and not conclude winter has lost its grip. We’ve had some moderate flooding around the Cities, including near where I work, and catastrophic flooding to the south in Nebraska and elsewhere that’s directly affecting old friends of mine and their families.

We could get some of the same, but for now, things are just soaked. This past weekend I went down to Minnehaha Creek to see the back and forth between freezing and thawing. It was a good bookend to my visit back in December when the freezing was really taking over. Streams of snowmelt have carved channels and miniature canyons in the snow and ice, and the creek is gushing.

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One of my favorite things with the thaw is watching water and bubbles flow under ice and take on a lava-lamp-like mode. I also found a kind of ice that’s new to my repertoire: etched with wiggling lines as if shattered but whole and smooth to the touch.

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_MG_2459.JPGI also went further along the creek than last time, all the way down to where it joins the Mississippi River. An orange bluff there seems to be made of the softest sandstone. People have carved names and designs all over it, of course, but I was more impressed with nature’s own contribution. The rock is covered in tree-like, branching tufts of sandstone powder that crumble to nothing at the slightest contact. Nature always one-ups us.

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_MG_2482.JPGHappy spring, everyone! I’m as glad as anyone to see it.

Dan

The depth of winter

_MG_2314.JPGThis is something like the Minnesota March version of that standard image of a bent-over palm tree. Instead of being on a white, sandy beach, this one’s hunched over something like 2 feet of snow. We’ve gotten significantly more than that in recent weeks here in the Twin Cities without much thawing; I’m thinking the weight of each new snow blanket is simply compressing the snow underneath. There’s just a lot.

I’m not thrilled with the “bold north’s” winter at this point, but I have been getting a feel for its details: the knocking of several woodpeckers at once on still days, the ice on my face and inside my nose, the bulldozers and dump trucks loaded with snow, the ever-deepening valleys of sidewalks. Somehow only short segments of the Mississippi River freeze even now, but those that do genuinely resemble the surface of the moon.

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A downy woodpecker surrounded by its handiwork.

I took these yesterday at Hidden Falls Regional Park in St. Paul. The falls are indeed hidden, frozen solid and covered in snow, but the rest of the park gave a nice opportunity to follow snowshoe trails, which are a little easier than raw snow to negotiate, down to the Mississippi and back.

Speaking of wintry details, I’d like to circle back to something I caught a glimpse of in this blog post back in November: odd root- or fractal-like patterns that appear in pond and river ice around here. I’ve since found a lot more of these shapes and actually wrote up a story for work about them here. There’s a few guesses out there, but they might form from warmer water trickling up from below or from water on top of the ice flowing back down through a hole or break.

Here’s some examples:

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IMG_1053.jpgThere are little treasures to find even when it seems like nothing but ice and snow outside.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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.

_MG_0419.JPGThanks for looking!
Dan