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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Needles’

1-first-snowOur first snow was just a dusting and didn’t amount to much, but it did grease up the roads and remind people that it was time for snow tires and windshield scrapers. There were a surprising number of car accidents for a seemingly small amount of snow, but the temperature dropped over night and it turned to ice on the roadways. There’s nothing worse to drive on than black ice.

2-frosted-mosses

Where the snow didn’t fall the frost did, and it coated this juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) one cold morning. The mosses and other plants looked like they had been dusted with powdered sugar.

3-ice-needles

Ice needles have started to form in places where there is plenty of groundwater. For them to form the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 2-4 inches long I’d guess.

4-ice-needles

Ice needles start growing slightly below the soil surface and lift the soil as they lengthen. They also lift pebbles, as this photo shows. Though these examples are just pebbles, frost in the soil can heave quite large stones to the surface. When water in the soil freezes and expands, the ice grows into a kind of lens shape and pushes against everything above it. Large objects like rocks are pushed upward, sometimes as much as a foot. When the ice melts, the mud and sediment collapses in the space under the rock. This leaves the rock sitting at the height the frost has raised it to. Over time the rock eventually reaches the surface. This is also the way that frost breaks water pipes that aren’t buried deep enough, and heaves and breaks apart our roads each winter.

5-broken-stone

Frost can also break stone. This stone cracked somehow and water got into the crack and froze, breaking the top of it right off. This, along with wind and rain, is what turns mountains into sand.

6-monadnock

The side of Mount Monadnock that I see on my drive to and from work has shown a snow capped peak, but this side at Perkin’s Pond in Troy gets more sun and most of the snow had melted by the time I got there. Monadnock is at its most beautiful with a dusting of snow, in my opinion.

7-snow-on-monadnock

There was snow on this side of Monadnock but you had to have a zoom lens to see it. I’ve been up there when the snow was so deep you almost had to swim through it. And that was in late April.

“Monadnock” in Native American Abenaki language means “mountain that stands alone,” and over the years the word has come to describe any isolated mountain. In 1987 Mount Monadnock was designated a national natural landmark. It is the second most climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan.

8-lake-sedge-aka-carex-lacustris

The wind was blowing this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) around when I took this shot and that accounts for the blur, but I didn’t care about that because it was the color I was taken by. I thought it was very beautiful.

9-winterberries

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native holly that gets its name from the way that its bright red berries persist throughout most of the winter. They persist because birds don’t eat them right away and the reason they don’t is thought to be because of the levels of toxicity or unpalatable chemicals in the berries declines with time. Winterberry makes an excellent garden shrub, especially near ponds, streams and other wet places. Many birds will eat the berries eventually, including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. There are several cultivars available, including dwarf varieties. If you’d like to grow them make sure  that you buy both male and female plants or you won’t see any berries.

10-juniper-berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them.

11-sapsucker-holes

The horizontal rows of holes made by the yellow bellied sapsucker cause “phloem” sap to dam up and accumulate in the plant tissue just above the wounds. The bird enlarges the holes over the course of several days and then adds another row above the first, eventually resulting in square or rectangular patterns of many holes. Sapsuckers have a kind of brushy tongue that they lick up the sap with.  The kind of sap that we tap maple trees for is “xylem” sap, which is much thinner and less sweet than phloem sap. Because phloem sap is so much thicker and stickier than the watery xylem sap that we make maple syrup from, scientists can’t figure out how these birds get it to flow so freely. Insects, bats, other birds, and many animals also drink sap from these holes. I usually see sapsucker holes in trees with sweet sap like maples and birches, but these examples were in an eastern hemlock.

12-tree-down

Anyone who spends time in the woods knows that the number of fallen trees is high right now. Trees that  were already weakened by insects or fungi, sandy soils, road salt, or other stresses were hard hit by the ongoing drought and they continue to fall. The question is; for how long? For now, I stay out of the woods on very windy days.

13-full-moon

I went out to get some shots of the super moon on the 13th, but it only looks super when there is something else in the photo like trees, mountains or buildings to relate a sense of scale. In this shot it just looks like any other full moon.

14-maple-dust-lichen-on-stone

I didn’t know that maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) grew on stone until I saw this one doing just that. There were several of them on the stone and some were quite large. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter, but up until now I’ve looked for it on tree bark. They are usually the size of a penny but these examples were bigger than quarters, or about an inch in diameter.

15-pinkish-brown-turkey-tails

I haven’t seen many turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) this year and the ones I have seen have been in shades of brown rather than the brilliant blues, purples, yellows and oranges that I know they can wear. Though I can’t see it my color finding software tells me that there is salmon pink in this example, which is a new color for turkey tails in my experience.

16-mushrooms

These mushrooms grew on an old stump and then froze. I don’t know their name but they sure were peachy.

17-striped-wintergreen

Our native striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has foliage which in winter turns deep purple where the darker areas are on the leaf and stays that way through the winter. It’s hard to tell from a photo and hard to explain why but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have looked right at them many times in the summer and not seen them. They are one of our rarer native wintergreens, and also one of our prettiest.

18-bobcat

A friend sent me a photo of a bobcat that he took with his trail camera recently. I had a bobcat walk right in front of me, maybe 30 feet away last summer. They’re about 3 feet long and weigh about 19 pounds on average. They’re bigger than a housecat but smaller than a Labrador retriever. It’s said that bobcats are doing well because their prey; turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and rarely deer are also doing well. Rabbits, for instance, are doing very well. I saw a lot of them this summer. I was interested to see that this one had all 4 paws on that fallen branch. I wonder if it did that so it wouldn’t rustle the dry leaves and alert any prey to its presence. I also wonder if Native Americans learned how to walk through a forest so stealthily by watching animals like this one.  It isn’t easy to walk silently through a forest, especially at this time of year.

19-johnny-jup-up

Since I started this post with snow it seems odd to end it with a flower but though there haven’t been fields full of them I’ve seen a surprising number of flowers this month, including goldenrod, yarrow, meadowsweet, false dandelion, and this cheery little Johnny jump up I saw just last week. It’s almost enough to start me thinking we might have another mild winter, but I’ve seen flowers fooled by winter enough times to really believe it.

The snow was too light to stay, the ground too warm to keep it. ~Shannon Hale

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1. Dim Sun

The old saying says that you should make lemonade when life gives you lemons, so when life gives me cold I take photos of the ice. The one above shows what a little glimpse of sun on a cold, cloudy winter day looks like. There seems to be little real heat coming from it but I suppose if it wasn’t there we’d know what cold was really all about. We’ve seen the temperature fall to as low as -12 °F (-24 °C) so far, and there’s a lot of January left.

2. Window Frost

In the old house I grew up in the curtains would blow in the breeze even when the windows were closed and frost grew on the windows all winter long, so I grew up admiring all of the different shapes that can be seen in ice. They can be very beautiful and I still admire them.

3. Window Frost

Ferns, flowers, trees; window frost can take on almost any shape and I’ve always wondered what made them grow in the shapes that they do. I finally found the answer at Snow Crystals.com: “Window frost forms when a pane of glass is exposed to below-freezing temperatures on the outside and moist air on the inside.  Water vapor from the air condenses as frost on the inside surface of the window. Scratches, residual soap streaks, etc., can all change the way the crystals nucleate and grow.”

4. Streamside Ice

Fingers of ice suspended above the water of a stream revealed how much the water level had dropped since they formed.

5. Riverside Ice

The same drop in water level can be seen along the river, but the ice here shows it in a different way. In rivers and streams ice always seems to start forming on the banks before working its way toward the middle but on lakes and ponds it is just the opposite; it starts forming in the middle and works its way towards shore. I’m sure that the movement of the water in rivers and streams has a lot to do with it, but there must be more to it than that.

Last winter the river rose higher than I’ve ever seen it in this spot due to down river ice jams blocking the flow, and thick ice covered everything that can be seen in this photo. It was like an ice covered wasteland and you couldn’t tell where the land stopped and the water started. Best to stay off that kind of ice.

6. Ice on Rocks

I thought it was strange that all of the larger stones along the river were coated with ice but the smaller stones weren’t. I would have guessed that it would be the reverse, because it seems like the larger stones would absorb and hold more heat from the sun and keep the water from freezing. Could it be that the larger stones take longer than the smaller ones to absorb that heat?  Just another of nature’s mysteries to add to an ever growing list.

 7. Ice Needles on Stream Bank

Along another small stream I saw more ice needles than I’ve ever seen in one place. There were many millions of them growing out of the gravel, all along its banks. Usually I see ice needles that are coated with the soil that they grow out of but these were surprisingly clean because of the gravel.

8. Ice Needles on Stream Bank

They were also the longest ice needles that I’ve seen. Many were 6-8 inches long. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remain thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons like those seen in the above photo.

9. Ice Needles on Leaf

Ice needles are very fragile, as you can imagine. I wanted to move a leaf so I could get a better shot of some needles but when I moved it the needles went with it. You can see how they’ve attached to the underside of the leaf along with some hoar frost that has grown there. I was surprised to find that ice ribbons weigh next to nothing-little more than the dry leaf they were hanging from, so it must take very little water to make them.

 10. Ice Patterns

The whiter the ice, the more air bubbles were trapped in it when it froze. That explains the color, but what explains the long, needle like crystals and the strange pinging noise it makes when it breaks? There might be answers to those questions out there, but I haven’t been able to find them.

 11. Frosted Fern Leaf

Hoarfrost grows whenever it’s cold and there is a source of water vapor nearby. When it is below freezing the water vapor from unfrozen rivers and streams often condenses on the plants all along their banks and covers them in hoarfrost, as this fern leaf shows.

12. Frost on a Leaf

More examples of hoarfrost.  It looks so very delicate that I often have to remind myself to breathe while I’m taking its photo.  One touch of a warm finger, a ray of sunshine, or a warm breath and they’re gone.

13. Ice Patterns

Ice can be very abstract. This streamside example had a lot of large bubbles frozen in place and it showed a surprising amount of depth as well as abstraction and it reminded me of the old black and white Twilight Zone TV episodes from the 60s. I can see an eye and a set of teeth and a flying bird and a fish skeleton and several other things in it so you see, ice can even give us the imagination of a child again, at least for a little while. I can’t think of many gifts greater than that one.

14. Icy Rocks

Ice can also reveal the hidden groundwater that seems to seep out of the soil year round but is nearly impossible to detect until it freezes. Once winter shows us where it is if we can remember to return to the spot in the summer we might find some interesting plants there. Some orchids, certain liverworts, and other fascinating plants like to grow where water constantly seeps. In this spot the liverwort known as greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) grows in abundance.

15. Frozen Waterfall

In this photo the ice seems to be letting us see into the future. I can see a couple of large boulders and even a tree or two being toppled by this stream before too long.  Of course because of the way ice expands it might set things to tumbling before it even has a chance to melt.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt,

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1. Hole in Stone Wall

I was going to do this post on the day before Thanksgiving but then it snowed so I got a little off track. Anyhow, here is another forest mystery for all of you mystery lovers out there.  See the hole in the stone wall? There is no way the wall was built with that hole there, so how did it get there and what is holding up the stones above it that appear to be floating in air? Move one stone and they all go.

2. Barberry Berries

Japanese barberry berries (Berberis thunbergii) couldn’t seem to figure out what color they wanted to be. This shrub is one of our most invasive and it has been banned here in New Hampshire but there are so many in the woods, all covered in berries, that it is close to impossible to stop its spread.

 3. Bear Claw marks

Up in Nelson, New Hampshire the black bears like using telephone poles to mark their territory and they bite and claw them to make sure everyone pays attention. They can take quite large chunks of wood from a pole with their teeth.

4. Chipmunk on Log

Does the chipmunk live in that hole in the log? He wasn’t about to go into it while I was watching so I can’t answer that question. They usually live in stone walls in these parts so I’m guessing no, but he could have a food stash in there.

5. Larches

The larches (Larix laricina) went out in a blaze of glory this year. The wood of larches is tough but also flexible and Native Americans used it to make snowshoes. They called the tree tamarack, which not surprisingly, means “wood used for snowshoes” in Algonquin. They also used the inner bark medicinally to treat frostbite and other ailments.

6. Larch Needles

Larch needles are very soft and quite long compared to many of our other native conifers. Larch is the only conifer in this area to lose its needles in the fall.

7. Deadly Galerina Mushrooms on a Log

There are good reasons why expert mycologists want little to do with little brown mushrooms, and this photo shows one of those reasons. Deadly galerina mushrooms (Galerina autumnalis) are, according to mushroom expert Tom Volk, so poisonous that eating even a little bit can be deadly. It is common on rotting logs in almost all months of the year and can fruit in the same spot several times. If you collect and eat wild mushrooms it is one that you should get to know very well.

 8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Orchids might seem fragile but many are actually quite tough, like the evergreen downy rattlesnake plantain shown here. I get as much enjoyment from seeing its beautiful silvery leaves as I do its small white flowers. I was pleased to find these plants in a spot where I’ve never seen them before. According to the USDA this native orchid grows as far west as Oklahoma and south to Florida, though it is endangered there.

9. Striped Wintergreen

In the summer when there are leaves on the understory shrubs striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is almost invisible, but at this time of year it’s easier to see and I’ve found more and more plants each fall. It is still quite rare here though; I know of only two or three small colonies. It likes to grow in soil that has been undisturbed for decades and that helps account for its rarity.

10. Pipsissewa Seed Heads

Pisissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is another native wintergreen, though not as rare as some of the others. Its glossy green leaves make it easy to see in both summer and winter. It prefers cool dry sandy soil and I always find it near conifers like pine, hemlock and larch. The large colony where this photo was taken usually flowers quite well, as the many seed pods show. This plant, like many of the wintergreens, is a partial myco-heterotroph, meaning it gets part of its nutrition from the fungi that live in the surrounding soil. Odd that a plant would be parasitic on fungi, but there you have it.

11. Starflower Seed Pod

Five chambered starflower (Trientalis borealis) seed pods look like tiny soccer balls and are very hard to get a good photo of. Luckily the chalky white color makes them easy to see against the brown leaves. I bent one over this penny so you could see how small it really was. You can imagine how small the seeds inside are. Seeds are carried here and there by insects and don’t germinate until their second year. Germination is so rare that it has never been observed in the wild and, though they are easily grown from seed in nurseries, most of the plants found in the forest have grown vegetatively from underground tubers.

12. Lichen Number Six

This powdery goldspeck lichen (Candelariella efflorescens) had a tiny number 6 on it.

13. Ice Cave

Tiny ice stalactites and stalagmites grew and pushed up a crust of soil covered ice. This formed a small cave, and I had to get a look inside. The penny gives a sense of scale.

14. Tiny Ice Formation

This bit of ice looked like a tiny trimmed Christmas tree.

15. Swamp Wite Oak Leaf-aka Quercus bicolor

This salmon pink oak leaf with violet red veins was a very beautiful thing, but I had a hard time identifying it. I think, because of the leaf’s shallow lobes and color, that it might be a white swamp oak (Quercus bicolor.) I can’t remember ever seeing another one like it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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1. First Snow

I’ve been working on a difficult post that needs a lot of research and I knew I wouldn’t have it done in time to post today, so I thought I’d do another to show you what winter is doing here in New Hampshire. So far we’ve had plenty of cold but only a dusting of snow, as the above photo shows.

2. Foliage on First Snow Day

This photo was taken on the same day that the first one was. That was how fast the snow melted.

3. Puddle Ice

But as I’ve said, we’ve had plenty of cold so winter is creeping rather than howling in this year. This photo is of the kind of puddle ice that is paper thin and full of oxygen and makes tinkling sounds when you break it. This example had the silhouette of a flying eagle in it, and I’ve circled it so you could see it. All I have to do is hear this kind of ice breaking and I’m immediately transported back to when I was 9 or 10 years old. I used to love riding my bike through puddles with this kind of ice on them in the spring. It was always a sign that, before too long, school would be letting out for the summer.

 4. Stream

Streams freeze from the banks in toward the middle and this one has started doing just that.

5. Icicles in Stream

Anywhere water splashes, ice will form.

 6. Ice Formations

Rising and falling water levels decorate the edges of stones with ice baubles.  When you see this happening you know it won’t be long before the stream has frozen over. The stones have lost any heat they might have had stored from the sun.

7. River Ice

It’s no different along the Ashuelot River; anything that water splashes on is coated in ice.

8. Ice Needles

Ice needles are poking up out of the soil. A lot has to happen for ice needles to form. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remain thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. Often these needles freeze together to form ribbons, and that is what this photo shows.

9. Deep Cut

One of my favorite places to find winter is in this man made canyon, hacked out of the rock when the Cheshire railroad was built in the 1800s. It’s an endless source of fascination and wonder for me because of the unusual plants that grow there. Winter had already started before I got there.

 10. Icicles

The sun doesn’t reach down beyond the tops of these 40-50 foot high walls in very many places but even where it did it didn’t throw enough heat to melt the ice.  The ice here can be very beautiful and is often colored in shades of blue, green and yellow, stained by minerals and vegetation.

11. Icicles

When you walk through here in summer you hear the constant drip of groundwater, and in winter you see as well as hear it.

12. Ice Formations With Spider

I’ve put a red circle around the spider who found his own Everest. He’s just to the lower right of center. As often happens I didn’t see him until I saw the photo.

 13. Icy Liverworts

There are thousands of liverworts living here and many are slowly being entombed in the ice. There’s a good chance that they won’t be seen again until spring.

14. Ice Covered Moss

Mosses too, are being encased in ice. Life on these walls is tough, but these plants can take it.

15. Fallen Tree

For those who might be thinking big deal-a few icicles, this photo from last year shows what those few icicles will have become by February. They grow as big as tree trunks, and people come here to learn how to climb them. For me it’s interesting to see how they start, and then how they grow.

What a severe yet master artist old Winter is…. No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Swanzey Lake is a place that I visit quite frequently because of the easy accessibility of the surrounding forest. Like most lakes in this area there is a road that goes completely around it. Off this road, near a huge boulder covered with rock tripe lichens, is another road that I’ve wondered about for years. I was able to finally hike it recently.

 1. Class 6 Road Sign

This is a class 6 road which means, unless you know someone who has traveled it, you’re better off walking it than driving it-at least for the first time. I know of another class 6 road with two old timber and plank bridges out and nowhere to comfortably turn around.  I had no idea where this one might lead, but I was determined to find out.

 2. Class 6 Road

It wasn’t long before I was regretting leaving the Yak Tracks behind, but as it turned out the icy spots were relatively easy to avoid. I’m not in a Yak Track frame of mind yet, but I’d better get in one soon. Some of these old roads just end in the forest and others connect with networks of other old, forgotten roads.  There’s really no telling where they lead, and that’s part of the fun. Fun that is, as long as you carefully note any detours onto other roads that you might have to take. In some cases it’s possible to get seriously lost out here if you aren’t paying attention. I haven’t heard of any lost hunters yet but it usually happens every year at about this time.

 3. Ice Needles

I saw the longest ice needles I’ve ever seen along this road. The ones in the photo were at least 6 inches long and had frozen together to form thick ice ribbons.  Since they are extruded from the ground by hydrostatic pressure, they are almost always covered with sand or soil.

 4. Ice Pillars

Instead of curling like they usually do these ice needles grew straight up and brought stones along for the ride. Several of these ice pillars were capped by tiny pebbles.

5. Stone Wall

Stone walls mean this land was cleared once, and somebody lived out here. In 1822 the New Hampshire State Board of Agriculture suggested what farmers should do with all of the stones they found in their fields:  “Almost all farms have stone enough to make a wall for every necessary division and enclosure. Labor used in this way answers a double purpose; it secures the fields from the ravages of stock, and improves them by removing rocks which are not only useless, but inconvenient and injurious in their natural situation. A farmer ought to consider it his proper business, as he has means and opportunity, to secure his lands by stone walls.”  All he needed was a horse, a stone boat, and a strong back. And a couple of sons would have come in handy, too. By 1871 there were an estimated 252,539 miles of stone walls in New England and New York, enough to circle the earth 10 times at the equator. Today it is almost impossible to walk through these woods without finding them.

 6. Hilltop Wood Lot

Somebody is still cutting trees here. None of these are very old and most are hard wood.

7. Hoar Frost Almost every inch of this hemlock twig was covered in ice.

8. Puddle Ice

It must be wind that makes waves on mud puddles-even small ones-this one couldn’t have been a foot long.

 9. Birch Log

Puddles weren’t the only things displaying wave patterns. This fallen birch was as big around as a truck tire and might have made some interesting lumber. Spalting is a caused by fungi growing on dead trees and the wood is prized by woodworkers due to the unique colors and patterns that can form in the log. I was wishing that I could cut a slab or two just to see what the grain pattern would look like. This could be a very valuable log.

10. Sugar Maple

Next to the birch log stood a nice old sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) I don’t know why sugar maples are so often found near roads, but I’m guessing they were planted there so the sap buckets would be easier to get to. A paper titled Relationships between Soil Salinity, Sap-Sugar Concentration, and Health of Declining Roadside Sugar Maples by Graham T Herrick says that scientists all over the country are seeing dying sugar maples along roadsides. Road salt residue in soil inhibits plant water uptake and tips of branches in the crown start dying off. Before long the entire tree is dying. The strangest part of the study shows that the amount of sugar in the sap actually increases as the tree dies. The tree in the photo has probably never seen salt used on this old road, so it has had a chance to live a long, healthy life.

 11. Hemlock Varnished Bracket Fungus aka Ganoderma tsugae

I found several hemlock varnished bracket fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on an old eastern hemlock stump (Tsuga canadensis.) It has a white outer edge and underside when it is young and looks very different than those in the photo. They are annuals that grow new from the mycelium each spring, and these examples were at least a year old, I think. This mushroom is said to be among the most valuable medicinal fungi. The Chinese have used it in their medicine for over 2000 years.

 12. Jelly Fungus

It was cold enough to freeze this orange jelly fungus but the sun must have thawed it out.

 13. Frosty Hole

This hole in the ground was about as big as a quarter-just right for a snake. Judging by the hoar frost around its rim there was plenty of moisture of coming out of it.  At this scale it looks like a cave.

 14. Icy Road

I won’t be leaving those Yak Tracks behind again until March, I guess. Snowmobile and four wheel drive clubs do a great job of keeping these old roads open, but there’s nothing they can do about the ice.

 15. Suburbia at End of Road

Suburbia. Not exactly the wilderness I was hoping for and not what I was expecting to find at the end of a class 6 road, so back I went the way I came. At least now I don’t have to wonder where this road leads and I know where I can go for a short walk that has plenty of interesting things to see.

An old road always looks richer and more beautiful than a new road because old roads have memories. ~ Mehmet Murat ildan

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We haven’t had any measurable snow yet, but our mornings have been frosty.

Ice coats everything on some mornings. 

Ice needles will only grow when the temperature at the soil surface is below freezing and hydrostatic pressure forces cooled, unfrozen water to the surface. Though they often grow in bundles like those in the photo, each individual needle can be as thin as a human hair. If you’d like to learn more about them, just click here

Ice crystals are forming on my windshield each morning, and I wondered if I could get pictures of them.

Like snowflakes, each one is different. Our ponds are freezing and staying frozen during the daytime, so we won’t see much open water here until spring. This pond is called Perkin’s Pond and the mountain is Mt. Monadnock, a well-known local landmark.

Alongside the river, ice forms on anything that comes into contact with its water. 

Even tree sap froze as it dripped from a wound. 

Our sunsets are colorful but deceiving; any heat they hold lies only in our imagination.

Frost grows on the window glass, forming whorl patterns of lovely translucent geometry.
Breathe on the glass, and you give frost more ammunition.
Now it can build castles and cities and whole ice continents with your breath’s vapor.
In a few blinks you can almost see the winter fairies moving in . . .
But first, you hear the crackle of their wings ~Vera Nazarian

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Last Sunday I decided to climb Tuft’s Mountain in Ashuelot, NH. Tuft’s mountain is in Pisgah (pronounced piz-gee) State Park, which is over 13,000 acres of very rough terrain in old growth forest. It was one of the coldest days of the year, with temperatures in the mid-20s and a biting wind that made it feel more like zero. It was sunny though, so when the wind wasn’t blowing it was bearable. What was unbearable was the ice on the trail.

It was easy to see that this was a wet area even though the wide trail was frozen gravel. On one side of the trail a small stream tumbled downhill and every now and then there was an angled cut across the trail to divert runoff into the stream. The problem was that the runoff had frozen so quickly over night that there were large sheets of very slick ice across the trail. This forced me into the forest to avoid it several times and after a half hour of this, I decided it was too dangerous to climb in such a steep, icy place.

On the way down I saw something I hadn’t noticed going up; the sun was glinting off what at first looked like quartz crystals along the side of the trail. When I got closer I could see that they weren’t quartz but ice crystals. Or, to be more accurate, ice needles. 

Ice needles are special things that aren’t seen too often because several things have to happen before they can form. First there has to be groundwater. Next, the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 1-3 inches long I’d guess. 

Just down from the top of this photo you can see small pebbles on top of some of the ice needle bundles. This is because the needles start growing slightly below the soil surface and lift the soil as they lengthen. I’ve seen pictures where they have lifted quite large areas of soil, mosses and stones.

 The upper left corner of this photo shows ice needle bundles joined into larger flat, wide bundles and curled like ribbon, while the center of the photo shows the same curling with smaller ice columns that haven’t joined. The sun, which is the enemy of ice needles, can be seen slowly creeping into view.

I was wishing for a real camera with a macro lens and tripod rather than the cell phone camera I was trying to hold steady as I shivered.

 Ice needles are so fragile that just the slight touch of a fingertip destroys them, yet they have the power to lift large areas of soil and stones. You can see sand and gravel that have been lifted by some of the needles in this photo. You can also see that they are now almost in full sun which means they are near the end of their very short lives.

 When the sun shines brightly melting happens quickly, and that is why ice needles are so rarely seen; you have to be at the right place at the right time. If you are ever walking on a cold morning and the soil crunches underfoot, stop and look down-you are probably walking on ice needles.

To learn more about ice needles and other unusual ice forms click here.

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