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.