Tag Archives: ice

Acanthus Ice

iPhone image processed in Camera+ (clarity + vibrant effect + square crop)

It’s just about a week on from my last post, and I’m still fascinated by the effects of the continuing cold weather. I’ve seen ice in countless forms – transparent, opaque, smooth, rough, brittle, solid, airborne, waterborne, shaped by the sun, the wind and by infinite crystalline forms.

Today’s ice treat was discovered on the (large and numerous) windows of a classroom where I was supervising an exam this morning. The rising sun was casting its weak, wintry rays obliquely across the grassed area outside the room, and this highlighted the most amazing patterns in the ice – amorphous blobs where it was beginning to melt at the edges, geometric arrangements reminiscent of school experiments with magnets and iron filings, and ornate, delicate leaf-like displays that were sometimes like ferns, at other times like acanthus leaves in a medieval book of hours.

The picture you can see here started life as a pale but detailed study of some of the acanthus-like patterns: blue, white and grey with just a hint of something reflecting the golden sunrise in the background, quite a long way away from the window. An interesting piece of documentary evidence, but not really very eye-catching.

A bit of bold experimentation with my camera app soon transformed it into the image shown above. Yes, its transformation was in technical terms pretty skill-less and arbitrary, merely a case of selecting certain presets to ham up saturation and contrast, and the image has been greatly denaturalized as a result, losing most of its photo-like quality.

But in this case I rather like the abstract effect that has resulted, mainly because it seems to allow a multitude of interpretations. I can see fire and ice, water, foam, clouds, rock and mud all at once. The brown-green shapes could be trees in a nightmarish Expressionist landscape, or peacock feathers, fountains or grasses. The colours and brush-stroke-like forms remind me of the painting styles of Turner and Munch in some kind of unlikely but not displeasing combination.

A slightly different crop with a (probably too heavy) frame can be seen on Flickr.

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The incredible dryness of cold

Frosted gingerbread roof

I’m not about to express surprise at the fact that it’s cold in winter. By the standards of a LOT of people I can think of, the temperatures we’re facing this week – an average of about -7°C during the day – are temperate, mild, even balmy by comparison with quite extensive other parts of the world.

But what never ceases to amaze me in Southern Germany is just how dry cold can be. Having spent my formative years in the insular climate of lowland areas of the UK, especially on the coast, I’m used to cold being accompanied by wet. I expect a daytime thaw even when there’s snow on the ground, and so the fact of the snow just staying the same for days on end, simply because it remains frozen and can’t go anywhere or change its consistency, is quite weird. It strikes me as eerily Groundhog-Day-like, so maybe it’s appropriate that I’m writing this post today of all days!

What’s struck me particularly today is that even though there is absolutely no snow or visible patches of ice on the streets here in the middle of the city (the picture above is of the North-facing roof of the house), the street surfaces nevertheless have an odd look to them, a pale, dusty, almost mildewed-looking grey. It’s like a thin salt crust or sprinkling of talcum, very dull and matte, and not in the least slippery. I’m guessing the tiny moisture droplets in the air are simply freezing on contact with the frozen ground and causing this strange effect. It’s definitely not salt as it darkens and then disappears if you warm it.

It’s odd how little details of a place’s climate can astonish you even after many years of living there, but at the same time it’s pleasing to be able to marvel at something that must strike many other people as ordinary or insignificant.

Postscript: Following on from a discussion of this with Rolf on Twitter, I have now been reminded that this phenomenon is called deposition or desublimation – in this case the direct transformation of water vapour (i.e. gas, not droplets) into ice in sub-freezing conditions. Thanks Rolf!

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