A week ago Sunday, when the sun rose a little higher, the rose color of sunrise faded and was replaced by the purest white. Frost burned like tiny arctic flames from every feature of the landscape. I went back out to take more pictures. I climbed the tree again and photographed ice crystals clinging to branches, now backlit by the sun.
Seeing that the orchard is even more heavily frosted, I move on to photograph rock stacks in the meadow, along with a few stones I have placed in the apple trees. (Woodwaterstone taking on new meaning in this case, crystalized water pulling me from wood to stone.)
I like to imagine these countess miniature pinnacles of ice erecting themselves over night, molecule by frozen molecule. How does Coleridge put it? “The frost performs its secret ministry / Unhelped by any wind.” Cold condensing moisture from the air, transfiguring it into crystals; erecting crystals into towers. Water now pointing outwards like millions of tiny porcupine quills. As purely white as freshly covered alpine slopes.
I take some photographs of apples still hanging in the orchard, and I can’t resist including them, even though they are neither maple tree nor rock sculpture.
I spend some time reading about frost and its formation, about the differences between advection frost and radiation frost (often known as hoar frost). What I’m seeing is clearly radiation frost, formed from air moisture on cold, clear, still nights, when heat radiates from objects into the unobstructed atmosphere quickly enough that water goes from gas to solid on available surfaces without passing through the liquid phase. It happens all the time down in the valley along the Ompompanoosuc, where the air is rich with moisture from the river, but up in our meadow it is much less common.
I find the edge of a snowbank with larger crystals, feathering out from the snow like little ice ferns. I think of window frost, which also often has a branching structure–in fact called dendrites, from dendron, Greek for ‘tree.’ And dendritic snow crystals are the ones we think of when we imagine the classic snowflake. Each arm tree-like in structure, and fractal: branches emerging from branches emerging from branches, the pattern replicating itself on an ever smaller scale. (As does a tree, less precisely, from trunk to branch to twig.)
Patterns repeating across realms: the vegetative and the crystal; the organic and the mathematical. Branching and re-branching and branching again.
A maple tree. Hoarfrost. Dendritic snowflakes. Fractal replication. Featherfrost. A beautiful sequence. But only one of them has arms large enough to hold a human; so I head back across the meadow to the tree.