Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Variations on a Theme of Ice

Brrr! Cold and windy today. But the sun was shining bright, so I bundled up and headed up to Moreau Lake State Park to walk across the frozen lake. Park naturalists have hauled a roadkill deer out to the middle of the back bay, and I wanted to see what carrion-eating critters have been feasting on it. There was just a dusting of snow last night, so I thought I might see lots of tracks, if not the animals themselves.

As soon as I stepped onto the ice, a gust of wind scoured my face and almost blew me backwards. What kind of brave (or crazy!) folks could be sitting out there fishing, I wondered, as I scanned the frozen expanse and saw not another soul on the lake except this group of three.

Hoping their luck was as strong as their endurance, I put on my Yaktrax and minced across the slick ice to check on their catch. Not a nibble, they admitted, and yet for all that, they seemed to be quite cheerful and having a grand old time. We had quite a lively chat. I found out that all three were professional firefighters. Maybe after spending their working hours in blazing heat, they really enjoyed the cold.

Despite that cold, I sure enjoyed my walk across the lake. The ice was singing and groaning and pinging like rifle shots, and at one point it let out a boom as loud as a cannon shot. This flock of ducks, huddling near a small area of open water, suddenly took to the air at the sound, the vibrations of which even set the surface of the open water aquiver. But the ducks just as quickly settled back down on the ice.

I had always understood that such noises are the result of ice expanding as it freezes, a process that also causes cracks to shoot across the lake. These next two photos show evidence of those cracks. In the first photo, you can see right through the transparent ice and determine how thick the ice is, in this case about eight inches.

In the second photo, it looks like the crack actually opened to let water rise to the surface, turn slushy, and then refreeze as a textured seam, rather like raised scar tissue along an old cut.

In a shallow area where the ice was opaque and snowfree, I found these ice "spiders." I think they are called ice dendrites and are formed by some kind of melting from beneath. Even though they were frozen solid to a considerable thickness today, I still felt leery of walking too close to them.

I also stayed far away from the swimming beach on the west side of the lake. I'm not sure why this area often remains wide open when ice on the rest of the lake is as much as a foot or more thick. Perhaps there are upwelling springs. It's also an area where thick plates of ice slide up and over each other. I was fascinated by the interior texture of this slab (about six inches thick), with its clusters of tubular structures encased in clear crystal. Be sure to click on the photo to see those structures more clearly.

So many different textures and patterns of ice! These next two images seem to be negative/positive versions of each other. The first photo is of white frost outlining the crinkles of the translucent black ice below.

The second photo is of crinkled black ice showing through the dusting of white snow above.

Either one of these patterns would make a beautiful print for a silk fabric, I thought.

Here's another lovely pattern. I could imagine it was made by a fairy trailing her wingtips as she swooped and glided just inches above the ice.

Not exactly a fairy. But close.

So what about that dead deer and the carrion eaters that I came here today to see? Well, I'm not going to show a photo of what those carrion eaters did to that deer, especially after having been marveling at all this beauty. It certainly wasn't pretty. But the footprints of all the feasters were kind of pretty.

So what do we have here? Crow, for sure. And some kind of canid, I think. The prints seem a little small for coyote, a little too big for fox. But then I remember that crows have pretty big feet, so maybe coyote is right. Any other guesses?


Ellen Rathbone said...

I'd lean toward coyote. We are so used to seeing them in snow, where they look larger than they are. On just a smattering of snow, or thin mud, we see tracks as they really are - the minimalist view. Don't supposed you took a measurement?

Lovely ice shots! Such variety.

June said...

The two "crinkle" photos fascinate me. I can see them being useful in a psychiatrist's office.
I knew a sculptor (who taught at Skidmore, incidentally) who drew all kinds of things that he saw in his bare plaster diningroom walls. Those pictures are that kind of inspiration.
Do you have any idea what I'm trying to say here??? I'm not sure I do.

catharus said...

A very interesting post! I love the shots of the ice with the very abstract patterns -- especially the rather blue one. Also, I could get lost in photographing those fascinating seemingly random patterns you describe as looking like where a fairy's wings touched down. Yeh, even those patterns simply caused by the leaves as they're blown over the snow and ice are awe-inspiring!

Louise said...

That slab of ice, with its inner structure is fascinating. As are the "fairy prints."

That is a very fascinating use of road kill. I wonder if they do it around here also? I'll have to shoot off an email to my local DEC and see.

Sigh, you know that I now have to trek out onto Irondequoit Bay to see if I can find some of these things for myself, don't you?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Ellen, thanks for weighing in about the coyote prints. I do carry a measuring tape in my pack. Why don't I think to use it?

Hi June, I wonder who that Skidmore artist was. I can think of one or two who might have benefited from visiting a psychiatrist!

You're right, catharus, I often get lost in awe at so many wonders around us.

Louise, I am glad that you feel inspired to trek out onto the ice. Ice is ever changing and magical to behold. But do be careful. I wear Yaktrax when walking on ice, because once I slipped and slammed my head.

June said...

It's all that right-brain stuff that makes artists seem wacky, I think. But then, I think EVERYBODY would benefit from counseling.

The man I knew was Bob Davidson. He retired long before your time, I think. He and his wife, Marietta, had a summer house up the dirt road from my childhood home.