It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6945acsIt’s a marshmallow world in the winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6807acsWhen the snow comes to cover the ground

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6547acsIt’s the time for play

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6759aIt’s a whipped cream day

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6930acsI wait for it the whole year round.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6562acsSince we began exploring the Wissahickon Valley earlier this year, I knew it would be a wondrous place in the snow. So I’ve been waiting.

Alas, unlike last winter, the snows have been late to come, and meager. More waiting.

In the midst of a severe cold snap, we finally got a few inches of snow, followed by a crisp blue sky day. At last! No more waiting! Valley Green Inn.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6600a*SIGH* There goes Don, straight onto the ice in the middle of the stream, without a thought for his own safety. He’s old enough to know better.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6624aI’m old enough to know better… than to go first. I let Don test the ice, clamber down the steep and slippery stream banks. If he survived, then  I followed. Do you think I’m going to let him get all the good shots? Wissahickon Creek, down on the ice.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6679acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6744acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7049a150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7153aIn winter it’s a marshmallow world.

Old Man Winter

150201_PA VF Betzwood_4847acs bwThe Winter Queen, beautiful and imperious, does not always condescend to trifle with us in person. Last year we were bound in her glacial grip, locked in snow and ice for weeks at a time. This year Her Majesty’s attention has been drawn elsewhere, and she has delegated her duties here to her henchman, Old Man Winter.

150201_PA VF Betzwood_5040acs bwOld Man Winter has an artist’s fickle temperament; warm days follow cold, and snowfalls are light. Not that we escape his touch. Rivers freeze, trees shiver when he passes by. His palette is white and gray, and his brushes are the biting winds that accompany the most frigid days. See how he blows water into ice!

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5313acs bwIslands in the stream, bearing not palm trees, but ice blocks and frozen stalactites.

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5375acs bwIce forms, melts, then freezes again, into ever more fantastical shapes. Icicles may drape an entire cliffside in cascading curtains…

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5369acs bwOr dress twigs in chunky nuggets like rock candy on a string.


150201_PA VF Betzwood_4865acs bw

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5251acs bwOld Man Winter paints in abstractions made of seemingly random lines, textures and patterns.

Look closely at his artwork; perhaps you will see waves crashing upon the shore, doves in flight, a duck swallowing a fish…

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5242acs bw150201_PA VF Betzwood_4896acs150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5206acd bw150201_PA VF Betzwood_4866 acs2 bw

Look! Old Man Winter is feeling frisky!150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5236acsOn a sunny day, even the old master is tempted to reach for a spot of color. In a playful mood, he blows ice bubbles in cobalt and blue.

Can Lady Spring be far away?

Variations on an Icy Theme

RCSP Ridley Creek Snow_ 0740 The old cliché says that the Inuit have fifty different words for snow. Around here this winter we have come up with some words of our own, none fit for polite company.

Philadelphia’s average snowfall is 22.2 inches, for a whole winter. So far this year we’ve had 58.4”, and there are still four weeks until spring.

Taylor Arboretum Creek Ice_ 1147acsAll that snow, combined with a long stretch of sub-freezing temperatures, has created some magnificent ice formations, especially near moving water. Dripping moisture builds strange sculptures on Ridley Creek, above.

Intricate patterns etch cold surfaces on Crum Creek, below.

Smedley Crum Creek Ice_9957acs

TX White Rock Lake Frost_7282acsHoar frost on a leaf in Texas.

Ridley Creek Geocaching_9610acsLoyal readers of The Wild Edge will remember this photo from our Ridley Creek geocaching adventure. This is called “needle ice”. It forms when the air temperature is below freezing, but the ground temperature is above freezing. Water forces its way out of pores in the ground by capillary action. When it reaches the air, it freezes. As more water keeps pushing out behind it, it forms into a growing column of ice. Needle ice is most common on steep slopes with seeping ground water, which is exactly where we found it.

07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2696a 07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2697acsSome ice formations are man-made. Bubble-wrap shaped ice on the wall of the Valley Creek dam, Valley Forge National Historic Park.

01 Valley Forge Farm_ 2350 Whoops! Who left the water running?

FUN FACT: Snowflakes form when water vapor condenses into ice.  Snow crystals all start as simple hexagonal prisms. But as more water vapor condenses onto them and they continue to grow, they begin to grow branches. This creates an amazingly large variety of snowflake shapes, including columns, needles, plates, and dendrites. The classic six-armed shapes with side branches, like we cut from paper in school, are stellar dendrites.  Stellar dendrites with an abundance of side branches are called fernlike stellar dendrites, for their resemblance to ferns.

RCSP Ridley Creek Snow_ 0663The dry powdery snow we had in January showed off several different snowflake shapes to good advantage. Which shapes do you see here?

Blue Snow_2768a

FUN FACT: What color is snow? Actually, snow crystals individually look clear. When they get together with their friends, the incoming light is reflected by the crystals and bounces around before scattering back out. Since snow generally scatters all wavelengths equally, it usually looks white.

But, it also happens that red wavelengths are sometimes absorbed by the snow, making the snow look blue or aqua. The deeper you look into a hole in a snow bank, the bluer it will appear. Since heavy, wet snow absorbs a lot of red light, we’ve seen a lot of blue snow in February. This is a close-up of a snow boulder left by a snow plow.

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0444

Also resplendent in shades of blue and aquamarine, the dam on Ridley Creek at Sycamore Mills was spectacular in late January. Bubbles and stalactites and little ice daggers, oh my!

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0440 There’s a lot of water flowing behind the spikes and icicles formed here. More and more of it froze every day. In only one week, the ice would grow into the thick solid curtain seen below, dusted with a recent snowfall.RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0689

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0432

Fifty different words for snow? At the wild edge where the water runs, there’s just one word:

BEAUTYRCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0450

Unsweetened Iced Tree

Ice Storm_ 1453 acs The wonderful thing about weather is that it’s never the same from day to day. Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, this was one variety we could have done without: ice.

Ice Storm_ 1484aLast week we had a significant ice storm. Ice coated the branches and twigs of the trees, and many of the older, larger trees lost limbs or came down completely. Downed wires led to over 700,000 power outages in my area of Pennsylvania, and many homes and businesses were without power for days. It was just hours for me, and I’m counting my blessings for that.

Ice Storm_ 1533acsAfter the rain stopped, I tried to capture the beauty in the beast before the ice melted away.

Ice Storm_ 1471acs Ice Storm_ 1455acs Ice Storm_ 1493acs Ice Storm_ 1539a Ice Storm_ 1523a Ice Storm_ 1490aA friend said that the patterns in the ice remind her of crackled glass, and I realized that is why I have been so fascinated with the ice this winter. I love glass in all its forms. Really, anything transparent or reflective. I must have been a raven in a former life – I love shiny things. (The image above is worth clicking to see the intricate ice patterns.)

Ice Storm_ 1575acs This has been the winter of our discontent. As I write this, a Nor’Easter has once again buried us in snow, and wind and sleet assault my windows.

Yet, this too shall pass. As the ice of last week melted away, this winter will melt into our memories. Underneath the snow my crocuses sleep, well-watered and warm, waiting for the Spring yet to be.Ice Storm_ 1556a