As Long as Winter Holds Its Breath

Clear arctic air came screaming in from the north this week, riding a penetrating, relentless wind. A swirl of damp, mild air made a brief appearance, a lost visitor from warmer climes, but it was quickly torn to shreds, squeezed dry by winter’s cold bony hands, and sent back southward with a mighty blast. For hours and hours the wind blew until, somewhere in the middle of the night (it’s hard to know exactly when because the power was out), it stopped.

The fullest, deepest, coldest part of the season was here and, in the morning, it seemed to be resting. Not a breeze stirred. The sun shined bright but the blue sky was deceptive — it was cold out there. I usually say it ain’t cold if your boogers ain’t froze, but I didn’t feel like actually checking myself. I did notice, though, as I drank my coffee and watched the birds at the feeders, that a little puff of steam came out every time a blue jay pooped and that’s good enough for me.

With surface temperatures matching that of the still air, at well below zero (that would be well below zero to our metric friends), and the extra moisture left behind by that silly warm front, there was only one appropriate thing to do.

I got dressed, went out, and looked for frost.

If I lived in the Caribbean I’d take pictures of sand, but I do not. It’s January in Vermont so I take pictures of frost. Window frost is nice, and hoar frost on the willows is lovely, but there are a few spots I know where the combination of damp and cold is just right for the formation of really impressive frost.

The slightest breeze is too much for these delicate structures to bear. I hold my breath, or breathe to the side, hoping they will last long enough for a few shots. The tops of the trees moan and sway as the wind picks up, and a thousand icy feathers vibrate and shake.

The shady side of an old stone dam, where brook trout fry were once raised by the hundreds, provides all the moisture and shelter needed for these large plumes. The mosses stay green all year.

Even icicles, once their flow has stopped, collect frost back here.

Conditions have to be just right for frost like this to form. Even if the cold lingers (and it looks like it will), and things remain just so, these delicate formations of crystallized air can only last as long as winter can hold its breath.

More Photos of Frost: Temporary Embellishments; Like Dew, Only Frozen

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “As Long as Winter Holds Its Breath

  1. Fantastic pictures! Very informative too!

  2. Buggyd

    Winter never looked or sounded so good! I think we had a good thick hoar frost this morning but I only noticed it on the rail fence out front as I backed out of the driveway in semi-darkness to wend my way to the office (where there was no frost to be seen).
    Thanks Quill!

  3. Poetry in prose and pictures. That such a frost exists is a tiny miracle.

  4. Up in these hills, I don’t get enough humidity to make frost happen. Thanks for bringing some my way…

  5. Those blue jay farts might look warm and cozy, but that’s just one more bit of methane that our atmosphere could do without. If I’m expected to hold them in at the dining room table (and, says my wife, I am), then I think it’s not unreasonable to ask the same of the blue jays.

    Very interesting photos, though.

    • It is obvious that, like so many others, your wife just doesn’t understand. You can tell her I said so. (I apologized for a series of silent gas emissions the other night and wound up with an appointment to get my hearing checked.)

  6. LouF

    Pretty damn cool…I still maintain that it should be illegal to have a “job” like yours

    • Aw, thanks, Lou. Your words kept me warm on the tractor this afternoon while I was trying to keep up with the snow drifts, and I will remember them in a couple of months when I am back to making beds and cleaning toilets …

  7. Nancy Spivey

    Isn’t nature pretty!

  8. For the last couple of days, with our new 6 or so inches of snow, I’ve been trying to get excited about going out and taking pictures. I appreciate what I’m looking at, but not enough to raise the camera.

    I need more color.

    Amazing how feather like frost can be.

  9. Pingback: Reader Approved Outdoor Blog Posts

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