Some time ago, finding and photographing ice crystals became a winter project. There’s a story to my discovery of ice crystals, but first the images:
And here’s the story of how I got into tromping out into 5 degree Fahrenheit weather to photograph ice crystals.
1. Snowflakes – The prelude to my crystal story. Snowflakes are perhaps the most familiar ice crystal form – a hexagonal shape. Snowflakes form in the sky, but the most of the crystals that form on terrestrial objects have a recognizably hexagonal form. These snowflakes fell on a slender branch and are highly magnified.
2. The leaf and the star – The real start for my story is this image of stream ice. I’d been photographing the swirling, curving patterns on steam ice – but what was the spiky star at the bottom of the beech leaf?
3. Ice stars – When it gets quite cold, under 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the icy surface of the stream sprouts stars: crystal spikes that radiate from a center. Sometimes there are clusters of them, sometimes the spikes overlap, *matting the stream surface* with crystals.
4. Crystals on snow – When it gets colder, zero to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, crystals can accumulate on the snow by a stream. Some of the crystals have feathery shapes. The feathery crystals are the ones I love best. They are relatively rare, and need a combination of conditions to form. Lack of wind may be a factor. If it’s windy at night, stars and spikes can form instead.
5. Crystal feathers or ferns – An extreme closeup of a fern-like shape on snow at the edge of a stream. It looks like a snowflake, but it crystallized on earth from water vapor from the stream.
6. Feathers and ferns – The feathery shapes can form on twigs and other objects. This twig was above a brook.
7. Leaf crystals – A leaf on the stream surface with crystals at the edge. The ice crystals can be diverse – a combination of feathers, spikes, and rays.
8. Crystalline pipes – These hollow hexagonal pipes formed on a stem. This was taken in a field near a wetland.
9. Pipes on a frozen drops – Crystals can form on frozen drops if the temperature drops quickly from near freezing to a much lower temperature.
10. Plates on a grass blade – From the same field near a wetland. Crystals can form in clear hexagonal plates.
11. Foxtail frost – More plates on a foxtail in the same meadow near a wetland.
I keep going back in such ridiculously cold weather because of the variety of the crystal forms. They are like flowers, but unlike the more or less predictable succession of wildflowers, I only can only guess what I’ll find when I go out on a cold morning.
Crystal stars are one of the types of crystals that form on really chilly nights (less than 10 deg F). On this morning, instead of a few isolated stars, there was a mass of crystals:
The bit of sun lends some shimmer to the stars – and I left this in color, instead of converting to B&W as I often do for ice images. The scene is perhaps six inches wide.
Spirit Falls isn’t a single waterfall, it’s a series of cascades that course through a steep slope covered with boulders. I was lucky to see it again recently when it was in good flow and decorated with ice:
If you live in Massachusetts, Spirit Falls is in Royalston, in the Trustees of Reservations property Jacob’s Hill. It’s a mile or so from the trail head to the falls.
A selection of images from this year:
This year I rediscovered beach scenes – it’s been a long time since I’ve photographed them. Muir Beach and Rodeo Beach were eye opening (and very foggy, as was my visit to the oaks in Helen Putnam Park). It was a good year for finding beautiful flowers, but not so for insects. As the year winds to a close, I’m wishing for colder weather and new frost discoveries. Thanks for all of your thoughts, comments, and likes – have a happy holiday season.
Here’s a spikelet of the grass Little Bluestem:
It’s complex and curious when you get close to it. As read about how to describe this pretty thing, I found some of the special terms for the floral parts of grasses. The slender spike on the top is the awn. With more time with the botanical diagrams I’ll be able to tell a lemma from a glume. A USDA plant guide I read says that if you want to harvest the seed of little bluestem you need to “debeard” it (remove the tufts).