Posts Tagged With: frost

Hoar Frost

Sometimes, even winter holds its breath and, in the cold stillness of a winter night, water vapor changes from gas to solid on contact with chilled surfaces, constructing crystal matrices resembling feathers that last until the sun hits them or somebody coughs.

The adjective “hoary” is sometimes defined as “gray or white, as with age, and in some cases worthy of veneration”. It can also mean “old, overused and trite” but with frost it supposedly refers to the appearance of an old man’s beard.

Old and overused, maybe, but trite?

Old and overused, maybe, but trite?

Tomorrow will have one minute more light than today, and when tomorrow becomes yesterday there will be one minute more as we begin tilting slowly back toward the sun. Meanwhile, it is winter, and even winter can hold its breath.

Yukon Jack, “The Black Sheep of Canadian Liquors” and purported to be the regimental liqueur of the South Alberta Light Horse regiment of the Canadian Army, claims a “taste born of hoary nights…” which probably means it was too dang cold out to go find some better whiskey, so someone mixed what they had with some honey in an old turpentine barrel and hoped for the best.

Something else born of hoary nights is the poetry of Robert Service. There are worse ways to spend the next nine minutes of your life than watching this video recitation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”:

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

On the Inside, Looking Out


Embrace it, endure it, or leave. Winter doesn’t offer many choices and for the better part of this past week the best option has been to endure, hunker down and hope for the best.


The sun shines brightly, through a lens of frigid arctic air, but the wind cuts like a razor and going out to do chores is, at best, a chore. Numbers on thermometers tell incomplete tales, unfeeling statements of fact, and over the years I have developed my own crude methodology to quantify cold. Completely unscientific and more than a bit subjective, it involves such things as the speed at which boogers freeze and the distance I can travel across the dooryard before I find myself doubled over and cussing. Based on those measurements, the cold this week qualifies as “pretty darn freakin’.”


It’s also darn freakin’ pretty.


After six days of hiding indoors, there’s an urge to go out, not so much to embrace the season as to defy it, so when the full moon comes up the armor goes on for a trek in the moonlight. Among popping trees and over thumping ice, coyotes howl and wind-blown snow sparkles like diamonds but after a couple of hours of that nonsense, there’s a serious urge to go in and embrace the stove.

The mixed flock of chickadees, nuthatches, and redpolls have been working the feeders through the cold. The seed they knock to the ground feeds mice and voles, which a pair of coyotes has discovered, but most other creatures in the neighborhood spent the week curled up in a hole, trying to stay warm, just like me.

Just like me, they’re also ready to get out again and this morning I saw a fox trotting down the road, looking ahead for a meal while also looking back, aware that it could just as easily become someone else’s meal. Everyone is hungry out there, after a deep snap like this, and the search for food goes on for as long as it takes. The fox risks death, taking what the coyotes consider theirs, and night creatures will work all day if that’s what it takes to survive.


With coffee in hand, I sat in my blind (which is cleverly disguised as a house) and watched a flying squirrel this morning, a rare treat. Both shy and nocturnal, I can count the flying squirrels I’ve seen on two fingers. Continue reading

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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.

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

Temporary Embellishments

There is a stillness to a calm winter day that no other season can match. The profound, stunning silence can make you believe you’ve gone deaf — at least until a tree pops from the cold, shattering the quiet — and the frigid, crystalline air can seriously create the impression your nose has caught fire. Days like this are part of the price to be paid to live in a place like this, but they are also part of the reward.

I joke in the fall about seeing the pretty leaves twice; once in their autumnal glory on the hillsides and again, a few days after they drop, as they clog the grates across the spillway. I also joke about waiting for the last oak to drop its leaves so I can be done with clearing those grates, but I never know just when that will be so I try to keep my sense of humor when those leaves are still coming out from under the ice.

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Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Like Dew, Only Frozen

On mild days, moisture is drawn from the snow pack into the air. Relatively speaking, warm air holds more moisture than cool so as temperatures drop at night some of that moisture is released as condensation. And if the object upon which that moisture condenses has been chilled to below freezing, frost will form on its surface.

Freezing fog (Beware the Pogonip!) can create frost and has its own eerie beauty but the best examples of frost are seen when the sky is clear and radiational cooling seems to suck the heat out of everything, hurling it out past the stars and into deep space. Delicate filigrees disappear quickly when the warmth of the sun takes over and by the time most people get up the show is over. Continue reading

Categories: nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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