Posts Tagged ‘ice formations’

Winter view at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 2015

And just when we thought we were winter-proof…the cold descended.  Literally, one day it was near 60 degrees and a few days later came the snow, ice, and record-breaking cold.  Although it has been a mostly mild winter in the Kentuckiana area…it has also seemed like a longer than necessary season.  Everyone I know is winter weary.  Cabin fever has me out venturing among the frozen willow trees at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  From winter’s past, I know that when conditions are just right, I can expect to see some interesting ice formations near the river.

The Artist at Exit 0 in winter time, Feb. 2015

The right conditions are also cold conditions and you need to dress appropriately.  I find I’m in good shape wearing my vintage pair of Wind-Dodger goggles to keep my eyes from getting all watery.  An old treasured scarf across my face and an all wool, German, military surplus, submariner sweater add to the many layers I have on.  I bring along my trusty walking stick which I use frequently to test the thickness of the ice over frigid water-filled puddles.  Outfitted in my best polar garb I feel confident as I venture forth over a hibernating landscape covered in snow and ice.

Ice formations on the dam's wall, Feb. 2015

In the eastern section of the park, ice has formed on the dam’s wall.  This wall is all that separates the full force of the Ohio River from impacting the lower levels of the park that I am familiar with.  The true height of the river is many feet above my head.  The more swiftly flowing water keeps from freezing.  Debris of all description and the trunks of washed away trees build up on the upriver side of the dam.  More than likely, all the pent-up driftwood will find release when the spring floods come and even the walls of this dam can’t keep the river from rearranging this area once more.  It is a dynamic environment ruled by the river.  If I were to contrast the scene before me with the way this spot will look like in six month’s time…you would think you were on a different planet altogether.  I try to appreciate the variety before me which also has a way of keeping out the cold.

geese tracks in the snow, Feb. 2015

I find there is a surprising amount of life out here.  Although I’m the only person around, I have already spotted several species of birds that don’t seem to mind these conditions.  Geese have left there meandering tracks in the snow.  In the air, I watched both a Peregrine falcon and a nice flock of Ring-billed gulls engage in aerobatics over the river.  I come across other tracks in the cold mud that has me momentarily frozen in place.  I sort of recognize them, but there is also something not quite right here that I can’t put my finger on?

beaver tracks in the mud

To my eye, they appear to be beaver tracks, but they are too small.  I run all the possible candidates through my mind’s mammal filter, but I’m drawing a blank.  I chalk it up to my inexperience.  Try as you might, you can’t learn everything from books and there’s no substitute for doing the fieldwork.  I left the tracks and headed towards the spot on the river where I’ve seen good ice formations before.  Along the way, I find many chewed up willow branches and cuttings near a stand of willow trees.  Something has been dining fairly regularly in this area and with luck I may find other evidence identifying my mystery animal.  As you may have already guessed…luck was with me!

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

If it hadn’t moved, I doubt that I would have seen it and I would have missed the first recorded occurrence of the Polar Beaver (Castor arcticus) at the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  In size, this remarkable rodent is about the size of the common house cat.  I stood transfixed as this all-white animal concentrated its intentions on the ice-covered willow trees near the river’s edge.

Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I wondered if the Polar Beaver could appreciate the varieties of shapes and forms that frozen water can take?  In the background, the Ohio River seemingly “smoked” as the surrounding air is much colder than the water.  This vapor or steam gradually coats the structures nearest the river.  As the condensation freezes it creates the many shapes that I like to describe as ribbons, sausages, and candles in this beautiful wonderland.  During these special moments, one can appreciate water as it exists in three different states of matter…gaseous vapor, flowing liquid, and rock solid.

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Historically speaking, the Polar Beaver is a fairly new animal to be described by science.  Although its beautiful snow-white pelt has been a valuable and prized trade item by the northern indigenous people…it was thought these rare white furs were taken from albino morphs of the common beaver.  Ironically, crypto-zoologists looking for the legendary Sasquatch, instead brought to light the existence of this very rare rodent.  DNA testing confirmed that the Polar Beaver is a truly unique species.  Some of the first observations about this animal documented that this beaver’s coat turns white as autumn transitions to winter.  This is a trait it shares with other polar animals like the Arctic hare and Stoat.

Polar Beaver with willow branch, Feb. 2015

During this time at the Falls,  I was able to observe the Polar Beaver feeding.  Deftly, the beaver chose just the right willow twig and with a quick bite, severs it from the parent tree.  Holding the stick with its front paws, the beaver than carefully chews away the surrounding bark revealing the ivory warmth of the wood.  “Tool marks” left behind by the beaver’s teeth are recorded in the wood.  Willow makes up a significant part of this animals diet, but it is now known that other tree species and plants are eaten “in season” as well.

Polar Beaver feeding in its ice shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Polar Beaver feeding on willow branch, Feb. 2015

If the Polar Beaver noticed me at all…I couldn’t tell because it seemed so intent upon feeding.  I watched this animal carry a willow branch to a small “ice shelter” where it focused on the task on hand.  The muddy Ohio River gently lapped the shoreline.  When the beaver finished its meal, it continued to explore the immediate environs with its many ice formations.

Polar Beaver at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I noticed the beaver sampling willow it had already chewed upon as it moved down along the river’s edge.  I stood transfixed by this nearly mythical animal.  I finally lost sight of the beaver when it went behind an ice formation and unseen by me…slipped back into the water and disappeared.  I searched around for a couple of hours hoping to have another glimpse of this Polar Beaver or any others that might have been around, but ultimately was unsuccessful.  I returned during the next two days, but this beaver apparently moved on for good.  I was lucky to have seen it, but can you blame me for being greedy and wanting more time with this magical animal?  Wouldn’t you wish for the same if you were me?  When my reverie lifted, I realized that I could no longer feel my toes and my digital camera was also feeling the cold and not operating properly.  It was time to go home and I will leave you with one final image from this trip.  Here is a view of a favorite old willow tree as it appears during the heart of winter.  Spring will soon be around the corner and I will see you again at the Falls of the Ohio.

Old willow tree in winter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

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willow trees and ice, Jan. 2014

Polar vortex…that’s the new buzz words for us this winter.  The Kentuckiana area has tasted this Arctic gift twice so far and we haven’t had a winter this cold in many years.  It manifests with the temperature bottoming out around 0 degrees Fahrenheit…colder still with the wind chill.  Snow and ice also accompany this blast of icy weather.  Once under the spell of the polar vortex…all one can do is ride it out.  It’s going to be bone-chilling cold for several days in a row.  Even if you know it’s going to happen, you really don’t feel prepared for it.  People tape plastic over their windows to trap heat and foil wind.  Shoppers rush out to purchase bread and milk.  Folks let the faucets drip throughout the day and night to prevent freezing and bursting water pipes.  Still, the plumbers are busy.  Extra layers of clothes are needed however,  you still feel cold around the edges.  If there is a weakness in a machine…the extreme cold will find it and this happened to my trusty rivermobile.  School may be out, but otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual.

ice formations, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Jan. 2014

The part about “business as usual” also strikes me as being a bit sad.  I am of the opinion that the reason the Earth has winter is to slow everything down and that’s vitally necessary.  It’s meant to be reflective and allows a moment for a deep breath before moving on again.  We all have more than enough pushing us to accomplish tasks at increasing breakneck speed.  The polar vortex challenges us to slow down if we can.

Ice formations, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

Ice formations on willow trees, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

In an effort to foster personal wonder for the world, I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio on a day that wouldn’t risk frost bite.  Over the years, I have prized coming out here on cold winter days especially if it meant seeing different ice formations.   There are ice ribbons, sausage-shaped icicles, frozen homemade candles, and just plain ice blobs on display.  I love the variety of forms and the play of light through the magic of solid water.  The most interesting ice formations are near the water’s edge where the willow trees catch the rising steam off of the river.  The water is warmer than the surrounding air temperatures and this “fog” helps coat the roots and branches with glassy layers of ice.  I thought I had the place all to myself when I was joined in this frigid landscape by a new friend.

The Ice Tourist, Falls, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist following my tracks, Jan. 2014

He described himself as being a fellow “ice tourist” and so that’s how I remember him.  He said he was curious about the ice, but also wary of stepping through thin ice and feeling the burn of extremely cold water.  I’ve had this experience before and so I could relate.  The Ice Tourist told me he had followed my tracks into the ice field and so far I had kept him out of danger.  We spent about an hour together before parting.  Here are some more pictures of him posed next to the ice formations we encountered.

The Ice Tourist, Falls, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist among icy willow, Jan. 2014

Ice Tourist and ice formation, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist had to check out everything as closely as possible.  He would climb upon the willow branches and roots to get the best view.  As it turns out, he was a local guy who like me, likes to hang out near the river whenever he can.  He was wearing a very thin and worn out t-shirt that said something about the town of Jeffersonville on it.  That’s the next town over from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I mentioned something about the poor condition of his garment and how it didn’t look substantial enough to keep him warm.  His response was that feeling warm was as much a mental state of mind and he was far too engaged by this novel environment to feel the cold.

The Ice Tourist, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

The sun was rising.  The day was warming and the ice was beginning to drip and lose its strength.  Today’s show was at an end.  The image of a hot cup of coffee or cocoa was starting to have great appeal to me and so I said my farewell to the Ice Tourist.  Perhaps we will run into one another again at the river…we shall see?  Leaving my new friend behind, I walked the riverbank  and could see that the Ring-billed gulls that had been absent during the polar vortex were once again in residence in the park.  I wonder if the groundhogs will see their shadows tomorrow?

Ring-bill gulls and mallard ducks, Jan. 2014

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Come along on this vicarious adventure to the Falls of the Ohio.  The seasons and river help make this a dynamic environment.  I stole a couple of hours during a very cold day to visit the park and was rewarded with a riverscape transformed by ice!

Right at the river’s edge was where I found the ice.  The driftwood, logs, and living willows looked as though clear glass had encased their forms.  I love being a witness to all the transformations that happen in this relatively small place.  It literally can change before your eyes.  Ice at the Falls is always a magical event and one that doesn’t last very long.

Ever wonder what it takes for ice like this to form?  The conditions need to be just right.  First it takes a river where the water is warmer than the air around it.  The river appears to steam and fog can form.  The warmer water vapors come in contact with the colder trees and rocks, condenses, and turns to ice as the temperatures fall below freezing.  You also need one other element and that’s an engineer or architect to direct the action.

If you look closely you can see the architect of this scene in the center of this low growing willow tree.  Here he is seen from a different angle.

The little fellow I was observing was a true artist and had such mastery over his materials.  All he had to do was simply point and wave his arms around and an ice fog would cover the trees and other structures within reach of the river.  In this way he painted the Falls in ice…take a look.  Here he is again doing his thing along the riverbank.

Judging from the slightly mischievous smile, he seems to be enjoying his creations.  I followed along and recorded him in action.  He never slowed down and moved from tree to tree in a methodical way.

The architect made ice that varied in appearance.  Some trees he thickly covered and others he decorated with frozen sausages and jellyfish hanging from the slenderest of branches.

I watched the architect will the ice into place according to an intention and plan known only to him.  I suppose if one were to study this…there  probably are some mathematical equations that can explain all this?

But when it’s this pretty and magical…who cares what the numbers are doing?  It’s nature exhaling and gathering itself before the next big breath restores and awakens the land.  As I left the architect to finish doing his work.  I walked alone admiring what he had left behind.  To end, here are three images my camera recorded along the river.  The last one in particular was lucky…and ducky!

Bottoms up everyone, till next time!

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The snow we had several days a go hung on over the weekend.  It’s still cold, but that is due to change as temperatures begin to climb again this week.  Experiencing the Falls of the Ohio during these conditions is one of my favorite things to do because the landscape is transformed so evocatively.  The snow changes sound quality.  I feel as though I hear things better.  Even the notion of time seems different, but that’s harder to explain.  It is more of a feeling of rearranged priorities and participating in something elemental and ancient.  Fewer people are out and the park feels like it’s mine.  I have materials in my collecting bag and I’m going to make something today.

Near the river’s edge the ice formations are wonderful.  I spent a good part of my visit just admiring the many shapes that frozen water can take and the way it can bend light.  I took many photographs and plan a future post on just ice formations.  The willow trees serve as armatures for the ice to build upon.  Mist generated from the constantly moving and warmer water from the river seems to coat the willows in successive layers of ice that get bigger and bigger the longer the days stay below freezing.  Ice stalactites and stalagmites, frozen candlelabras, and what I describe in my mind as ice sausages, candles, and ribbons hang from the delicately thin branches of the willows.  Everything seems dipped and coated in glass.

Because the snow is covering up my usual sources of Styrofoam, I reach into the old collecting bag and begin the first of two figures I made on this day.  I usually start by matching shapes.  For example, this hunk of Styrofoam seems like it would make a good head to go on this chunk of Styrofoam which will serve as the body.  I look for expressive sticks or branches that will become the limbs.  I also spend more time on the details of the head since it will act as a focal point.  On this figure, the eyes are pieces of river-shaped coal, the ears are wood chips, the mouth is the cap from some tube of something, the nose is off of a fishing bobber. I topped him off with a plastic toy element I found that features what looks like a man blowing air from his mouth.  I imagine he’s a zephyr or old man winter.

As beautiful as these conditions can be…there is also a very real hint of danger.  You don’t want to get wet.  I remember last year stepping through the ice of a snow-covered puddle that was maybe 8 inches deep.  There was that initial rush of incredible cold followed by a painful, burning sensation!  I immediately started walking back to my vehicle and by the time I reached it, my shoes and the lower part of my trousers were frozen solid.  My feet, however, felt oddly warm, but I didn’t want to take any chances with frost bite.  I took a nice shower and changed clothes once I reached home just six miles away over the 2nd Street Bridge.

When I was a boy, one of the short stories that impressed me for its realism was Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”.  It’s a winter tale of life stripped bare to its essentials.  For me, it was an early inkling of what I would perceive as nature’s indifference towards man.  I remember the character in the story who also became wet,  struggling valiantly to build his fire to warm his frozen body, and just when he was on the verge of success, falling snow from an overhead tree limb dooms him, his fire, and the last of his matches.  Back in grade school, reading stories about people who didn’t make it seemed especially profound on my impressionable mind.

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