Vantage

By Pennsylvania standards, we had some very cold nights early in the week. By the local Vermont standard, I suppose the real cold is yet to come. In any event, the chilly weather has required that we have the wood stove running and, although I have a small reserve in the basement, that has required frequent trips to our pile of cord wood. Yesterday, while getting wood in, I heard Joanna call. She had obtained a copy of Mark Elbroch’s book, Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species, and was searching the woods for evidences of animal visitation. Bring your camera with the snow-and-ice lens, she said. I set down the wheelbarrow and, because I didn’t know what she meant by the snow-and-ice lens, got my full camera pack and headed in her direction. She said, It’s up here, the sun was on it earlier, I hope it hasn’t gone away. There is a small stream which meanders through our place. It originates, to the west, as a swampy spot. It wanders and then joins with other small tributaries to form Charles Brown Brook. We are unaccustomed to perennial water flow at our place. There were two ponds at Pairodox, one was up the hill and fed by mountain springs, while the other was in the hay field and filled only when we had rain enough to do so. The run had water in it some of the time but slowed to a trickle in dry weather. We are certain that our new stream is perennial and we like to know that there will always be water feeding the pond and the animals which depend on it. Although the watercourse is now iced over, I know there is water flowing because I can see bubbles and rivulets where the covering has been thinned by the warmth of the sun which penetrates gaps in the canopy above. Look, she said. I was delighted by the delicate ice formations that spread out before me. My immediate reaction was to step out onto the slippery surface, and I did. I immediately fell through the thin layer and into water which was, thankfully, just below the upper most part of my boot. Any ice that wasn’t fractured by the event was drowned by the ensuing seiche. I had destroyed my subject. What was I to do? I couldn’t photograph the tiny formations from the side. I needed to be directly above them. I placed my feet on a shallow bank at a particularly narrow part of the watercourse. I shifted all of my weight to my left leg, lifted the right leg, and pushed off with the left such that my right foot landed firmly on the other side of the stream. There I was, straddling the stream bed. A perfect vantage. I suppose Joanna had a good laugh as I waddled down stream, but no matter I think I got some nice shots. Although I have seen ice terracing before (though none so exquisite as I was lucky to see on this day) I have never observed the sort of lacy patterning you can see in the left photo, in the middle. Beautiful and unplanned, nature at its best.

Ice6

Ice2

34 thoughts on “Vantage

  1. We had a bit of a thaw the past few days and your experience with the ice would likely have been similar to what many might have had over the weekend. Tonight’s blizzard will bring things back to normal though. I suppose you’re quite snowed under at this point.

    1. Actually, we’ve had quite a mild winter which has been fine with us. Living in temporary digs has made many things difficult. So, not having to deal with too much snow has been a blessing. Having said that, I officially will go on record as telling Nature that it’s totally fine to ‘bring it on’ NEXT year!

  2. Your comment about destroying your subject reminded me of all the perils of participant observation. Put an anthropologist into the middle of a tribal village, and you run some of the same risks.

    The photos really are extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like them. Frost, ice, and snow photos seems to emphasize crystalline patterns: for good reason, I suppose. They’re no doubt much more common, and less fragile. Like BeeHappee, I saw ribs. We have coastal patterns, you have costal! Beyond that, any of these photos would make great cover art for Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

    1. Something tells me there is academic training lurking not far away! I have always been intrigued by the patterning left by tidal movements. This is from Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker) … If you walk up and down a pebbly beach, you will notice that the pebbles are not arranged at random. The smaller pebbles typically tend to be found in segregated zones running along the length of the beach, the larger ones in different zones or stripes. The pebbles have been sorted, arranged, selected. A tribe living near the shore might wonder at this evidence of sorting or arrangement in the world, and might develop a myth to account for it, perhaps attributing it to a Great Spirit in the sky with a tidy mind and a sense of order. We might give a superior smile at such a superstitious notion, and explain that the arranging was really done by the blind forces of physics, in this case the action of waves. The waves have no purposes and no intentions, no tidy mind, no mind at all. They just energetically throw the pebbles around, and big pebbles and small pebbles respond differently to this treatment so they end up at different levels of the beach. A small amount of order has come out of disorder, and no mind planned it. I like this description of how order may arise from disorder and ‘play games’ with our senses! Thanks for the (clearly) thought-provoking comment! D

      1. Yes, I’ve spent a little time in academia. My initial degree was in medical social work, followed by a master’s in theology. I’ve worked with medical teams in Houston, done public health work and teaching in Liberia, and parish ministry in this country. Now? I varnish boats and mess around with blogs. Go figure.

        That’s an interesting passage from Dawkins. There are a few points where he and I part company, but I still enjoy his observations on the natural world and science. We don’t have pebbles on our beaches, but the kind of natural arrangement he talks about is mimicked n the ways shells arrange themselves. What’s especially interesting is what onshore shells tell us about the shape of things farther out, and the way the seasons bring differences in which shells arrive, and how they’re arranged. After a good, strong norther, shelling can be fantastic. I’m hoping for an opportunity or two this year.

        1. The way in which near-shore-shell-accumulations tell you something about conditions further out is very much like the way in which animal tracks and sign can tell you about an animal and its condition. It’s fun to learn to ‘read’ nature … isn’t it?

  3. Woo-hoo. What great forms and patterns and you have captured them beautifully, David. I have yet to see that kind of ice here, but there’s still plenty of winter left for such things … I hope. 50° yesterday was not encouraging, but 28° today holds some hope. Although there are great similarities from spot to spot, ice in many ways can be like snowflakes and the patterns we find are almost always different and intriguing. Nice shots! Would have been worth splitting the trousers for these … or sitting on the water. Good eye, Joanna!

    1. Thank you Steve … I will accept a ‘Woo-hoo’ from you as high praise indeed. As the text indicates, I was moving wood while Joanna had gone for a bit of a walk. If it hadn’t been for her keen eye, I would have ended up back inside rather than out with the camera. Indeed, I have her eye to thank.

  4. These almost look like lace or webs or degraded leaves … like cellular structures. Who would believe this is ice! So gorgeous. I like the black and white. Can you imagine what these would look like blown up? Sounds like you’re right at home … wading into water … tempting fate to get your prize! These were well-worth the risk. PS: Joanna has a keen eye! 🙂

  5. You continue to amaze me with your magnificent photography and wonderful prose. It is a pleasure to see and read your postings. Jim

  6. Lovely! I had no idea what I was looking at before I read the text … it looks like you paid someone to take you up in an airplane over a flood plain! You should do more of those ‘what is this a photo of’ quizzes you used to post …

  7. Still falling through the ice, I see. You have a keen eye. Thanks for bringing us along on your walk.

  8. Although I’ve never regretted moving away from the frigid winters of the Northeast, as a photographer I envy you the chance to play with ice patterns like these. Also as a photographer I empathize with you about the contortions we go through to get the camera parallel to the plane of a subject.

    1. There were a number of times (before I had chest waders) that I would walk into a stream … with tall boots … and then squat down for just the right vantage. There’s nothing quite like that instant when you realize that you’ve just sat your bottom down into the water!

    1. Thanks so much Charlie. I like these as well. I was going to go out today and try and capture a few more formations, but we had snow over night and I’m sure these beautiful sculptures are now buried. I guess that’s a lesson in seizing the moment – wouldn’t you say? Thanks for checking in.

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