Posts Tagged ‘ice’

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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These are all common objects photographed at the Falls of the Ohio on a single cold day in January 2011.

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Presently, the ice and snow are gone at the Falls of the Ohio.  A warming trend the past few days has pretty much taken care of that.  Over the last several years, snow at the Falls has been a relatively scarce event and we have been limited to a couple dustings now and then.  It will be interesting to see how this winter plays out.  Will there be more of the white stuff or was that it for this year?  Certainly, there is this love/hate relationship with snow.  In Kentuckiana, we really don’t receive much snowfall, but when it’s in the forecast there is all kinds of anxiety that manifests itself in bizarre behavior.  The suggestion of an inch or two of snow can cause a run on certain grocery items and the local school systems fret about whether they should close or not!  I confess that I like the snow.  I appreciate its transformative power in an otherwise drab and dull season.  I also like that it can cause you to pause and reflect on what’s important and that’s beneficial.

My last few posts have shown some of my artwork in relationship to ice formations at the Falls.  Following are some other shots I made out here that I thought were interesting images.  Water defines this planet and to see it behaving in its frozen state is a beautiful experience.  Many of the best formations occur closest to the river and hang on the smaller willow trees that exist there.

Don’t these shapes look like ice “jellyfish”?  I marvel at how these formations build up.  I’m guessing that these shapes are created from several things happening in quick succession.  Melting that occurs from the sun shining on the ice higher in the tree causes a drip to run down these narrow branches.  At night, the fog and mist generated from the warmer rivers coats the terminal end of the branch and then refreezes.  The ice finds it easier to build up on preexisting ice.  Anyway,  I like the way it plays with light!

Here are a few pictures of ice-covered willows near the river’s edge.  It’s been awhile since the river itself was frozen and is something I’ve witnessed only a couple of times.  It’s not a routine event.  If memory serves me, the last time that happened was 1996?  Maybe someone out there remembers?

That car tire has been half-buried in the mud for over a year!  Here’s another tire I came across.  This one, however, is coated in ice creating a frozen circle.

There are a few months more of winter a head of us and so if it snows again…I will be sure to come back out here with my camera.  I’ll end with this last image of snow covering the driftwood at the Falls of the Ohio.

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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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From the world of sports, have you ever heard the expression describing an accurately thrown ball as being a “frozen rope”?  I believe that means it was hurled in as straight a line as possible?  I know in the old days, that to make rope, often a space designated as a “rope walk” was necessary to braid the individual strands together.  In New Harmony, Indiana ( one of my favorite places and the site of two 19th century utopian community attempts) a rope walk is preserved.  On a recent walk around the Falls, I came across several frozen lengths of rope, photographed them, and now I’m splicing them together in this post.  While being frozen, none of them was found in a straight line.  The first rope, pictured above, is your average clothes-line quality rope.  There is something interesting to me, about how the rope meanders from solid water and back out into the air.  Then again, I’ve been accused of finding something interesting about nearly everything!

Frozen rope #2 was located stuck to the riverbank.  It’s a relic from the last bit of high water we had.  On many instances of visiting the park, I will come across something or group of somethings that then become a theme for that day.  So it was with these ropes.  While pursuing other interests, these ropes inserted themselves into the day.  And now, frozen rope #3.

This bit of barge cable is wound around the base of a small willow tree.  Unless someone removes it from this context, it will slowly unravel over the years.  Or, as I showed in my last post about bird nests, it might disappear strand by strand and become something else!  I like the ice formations on the right.  Here’s another ice shot I think looks like a miniature set design.

More willows have snagged a bit of plastic netting and I like the way the grid affects the way the ice looks.  It appears that ice and cold will be on the agenda for the near future.  The temperatures are in the single digits, but I’m hoping to go out tomorrow to experience a place I love during one of its extremes.  One last ice shot to go.  Stay warm everybody.

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When the coldest of the cold air drops down from the frozen north, spreads over Canada, and then plunges down upon the U.S.A., then sights rarely seen may be glimpsed at the Falls of the Ohio.  Riding the cold wave, small groups of Arctic Hummingbirds move south to feed upon the Ice Blossoms.

Styro-Trochilae polystyrenus or the Arctic hummingbird is among nature’s most extraordinary and poorly studied birds.  Much of that has to do with the forbidding place that this creature calls home.  There is speculation that this hummingbird must be able to regulate its body temperature in the manner of other Trochilidae in order to live in such a cold environment.  Perhaps, its rarity is due to remaining hidden during its torpid state which might define most of its existence?  Hummingbird metabolism has always been amazing, but for this species to go from nearly zero heartbeats to a thousand a minute when active defies credulity!

I came across this beauty and through high-speed photography was able to steal these images of this bird with its bright orange bill feeding.  It is thought that the Ice Blossoms refract the energy of the sun and transmits that into a form of “solar nectar”.  The bird would need an energy source as unique as it is to exist!  The conditions at the Falls were just right this past weekend to bring out both the bird and its blossom.

There is very little more I can add to the known literature on this ornithological wonder. This species is larger than the more familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but didn’t seem to beat its wings as rapidly.  I did observe it flying backwards.   It seemed like I watched this bird for a long time, but in reality,  it was probably a couple minutes or so.  I can say that being in the moment made time stand still.  I wonder as the climate changes particularly in the Arctic, whether this hummingbird will share the same fate as other animals that have evolved in such a specialized place?  With hope, the Arctic Hummingbird will prove to have some resilience.  One last image of this bird feeding from a blossom near a piece of fiberglass that was caught in the branches of a tree.

Epilogue:  The Arctic Hummingbird was made from materials found on site at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  The materials include:  Styrofoam, plastic, wood bark, coal, its beak is a combo of hypodermic needle cover and the tine from an old comb.  The Ice Blossom is Styrofoam,  river-polished glass, and wire.   All images by the author and shot at the Falls of the Ohio.

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At the beginning of the New Year, I was warm and cozy and in no hurry to do anything.  And then, the telephone rang.  Through my hand set I could hear the sound of the river and the wind blowing through the tree limbs.  After dressing, I grabbed one of my collecting bags and my camera and I jumped into my car.  By now, my family knows I’m crazy, I know I’m crazy, and so little is said of the matter of my leaving anymore.  I’m pretty well bundled up since it’s somewhere in the high teens on this first day of 2010.

It may be cold, but at least the sun is out and this has an enormous cheering effect on me.  I decided to check out a place that I don’t investigate as often, the riverbank just east of the dam and bridge.  The prevailing winds and currents do push materials along this shoreline, some of which beach here until the next flooding.  Among the many items I found this morning include an especially large and nicely shaped hunk of Styrofoam.  I set it on end and took a photograph of this polystyrene stelae with the river and bridge.  Even I have  a hard time guessing how big this hunk looks in the photograph and so I dragged it back to my car and created this other image!

Well, here’s the crazy part I alluded to earlier.  I decided to take this big piece home and amazingly, it just fit across the back seat of my Honda Civic.  I have other materials cached at home in our incredibly  shrinking basement.  As of now, I don’t have a particular idea for it, but it will come.  After wrestling with the Styrofoam block, I drove to my usual spot to check out the scene from there and to see how older works were faring.

There was a lot more ice just downriver from the dam and coated the willows closest to the water.  There is also more wind and turbulence which I can feel on the exposed areas on my face.  It’s not quite “Elmer Fudd” hat weather, but very close.  I reserve that unflattering head-gear for temps below zero.  The television weather prophets are saying my area will be chilling in the twenties for highs the rest of the week.  With hope, this will be the coldest it gets this year.  Last year’s winter, with the great exception of the infamous ice storm, was a comparatively easy and warm one.

I looked up two old friends and they were still hanging in there.  Lorraine had slumped over, but it was easy to prop her back up to join her beau, Pot Belly in standing guard over my spot under the willows.  I wandered around and very few birds were to be seen or expected.  I did run into a small grouping of drabbly-plumed American Goldfinches and stray Song Sparrows and Mallard ducks.  Oh, I did photograph a rare hummingbird and came across another interesting nest, however, in the interest of future posts…I will withhold those for now, but check back later this week.  I did come across one other image I recorded that is a bit more ironic than unusual and is not intended to be an endorsement of this product.  I like my beer with a lot more body, and flavor, etc… Happy New Year everybody!

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