Feb 23 2009
You can always count on finding ice in the Adirondack Mountains during the winter season. Ice isn’t welcome when it coats electric transmission lines, roads, or sidewalks, and ice storms are among the most destructive of natural calamities. But in more benign circumstances, ice is fascinating stuff, and perhaps that’s why I was attracted to ice climbing when I was young. When your life depends on the few millimeters of contact your points make with a frozen waterfall, you gain an appreciation for ice’s brittleness or “stickiness.” Some ice shatters into shards when struck by an ice axe, while other ice grabs the point with a satisfying CLUNK. Ice climbers learn to handicap the integrity of ice by its color. Blue ice is really nice, milky gray ice can be difficult, black ice is full of tiny particles that makes it hard and brittle. And so on.
The physical properties of ice at the molecular level are fascinating, too. When water hardens into a solid—ice—it becomes less dense, and this sets ice apart from other natural substances. It’s also why ice floats over the top of liquid water. If solid water was like other solids, it would be denser than the liquid form, and ice would sink. Think how much different our world would be if ice sank. Bodies of water could freeze solid. The geologist in me enjoys ruminating on the physical properties of water and ice, but the artistic me likes ice because of its beauty.
With my new DSLR along for winter trips I’ve had plenty of chances to shoot pictures of ice in its many forms—crystals of ice drifting in the cold breeze, solitary small icicles, soldierly parades of icicles, skim ice on stillwaters, bulgy ice on mid-river boulders, ice-slicked trees at water’s edge, and frosty tree limbs in the misty cloud kicked up by waterfalls and rapids. What follows is a sample of the many forms of ice I’ve found this winter. I think you’ll agree that for photographs, at least, ice is nice.
You don’t need to go far to find ice. These icicles grew from the snow covered south-facing roof, until their weight began to pull ever so slowly on the snowfield above. Eventually the snow avalanches off the roof, clearing it for the next storm’s burden.
Rank and file icy stalactites
Melting snow drips down the sides of a steel structure and freezes in its march to the ground, but new melt eventually joins up with the shallow stream below.
Ice crystals on the wind
As the thermometer struggled to rise above zero, a bright sun made airborne ice crystals wink in the light breeze. I could feel them as tiny prickles on my cheeks. Photographing them was a challenge, but here they are highlighted against the dark maple trunk.
The day warmed up to just above freezing, but melting snow dripping froze onto the pine limbs in shade lower down a tree. Look closely at these pencil-thin icicles and you find bubble trails, wavy reflections, and subtle colors.
Stopped in their tracks
More small icicles, this time on the very ends of pine needles. See the bubble tracks?
I can’t resist these small icicles. More air pockets and bubble tracks.
However much I liked shooting photos of the small icicles, The River’s rapids called out. Every limb at water’s edge was coated with a layer of ice, some thin, others thick.
Across The River, rapids roar and kick up spray to coat every living and non-living thing in a thick crust of ice.
Back to The River, ice grows across the areas with slow current, but a boil prevents thickening ice from forming. A brick building reflects warmly in the open water.
Reflect on this
And here’s the same building reflecting in a different part of the troubled water, but ice persists in extending further toward the retaining wall. Eventually the ice will win—for now.