The Alchemy of Water: Ice Magic Part One

Given a Saturday of quickly-changing photographic ice-opportunity, the dog and I had both dawn and dusk sorties along the creeks–increasingly silent as less water flows and more of what does is muffled by a thickening layer of morphing ice.

And it is the latter feature that mystifies me–how the structure of ice can assume so many different forms, even over the course of just a few hours.

Morning Ice Jan 4 2014
Morning Ice Jan 4 2014

The first image, obviously from the morning around 9 am when the light finally crests the eastern ridge and hits the treetops behind the barn, shows ice–smooth, rounded, clear–cascading in crystal stair-steps as Goose Creek loses elevation from near its source (2700 feet) on its way to ZERO feet above sea level, of course, at the sea.

Afternoon Creek Ice 4 Jan 2014
Afternoon Creek Ice 4 Jan 2014

The second image taken a bit before we lose the sun over the western ridge around 4 pm shows the same approximate view (footing was a little precarious, obviously, in the middle of the creek). By later in the day, the smooth clear had become white-opaque, frothy, and granular. I can’t explain why, but I bet somebody can enlighten us.

I have more creek-ice images coming. And tomorrow and Tuesday promise to be the coldest we’ve seen here in some years, so I’m expecting the creek to appear frozen solid. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and aquatic insects and even the usual coterie of small fish will survive, amazingly enough.

My thanks to my focal point model, Gandy, who both times found something very sniff-worthy at exactly the same place as a reference point. She is on a retainer for the duration of the winter for other such photographic uses.

I only hope The Wife is not so concerned about the three hens freezing overnight that they end up in bed with us. A three-dog night I could tolerate, but…

Find other Goose Creek Ice images at these links:

Ice Embryos: Where Snowmen are Born

Hold the Ice Winter 2009

Goose Creek Ice Part One 2008

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. That afternoon ice pic is fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like it. It reminds me of the unstable ice structure we got as the ice on a pond we once owned melted in the spring. Usually all in one final day the ice would morph into vertical crystals like pencils and then disintegrate. But just now we see no ice at all; all the streams are frozen and deeply covered in snow.

  2. I hope your night didn’t turn into a three-chicken night! Yuk!
    I wish I knew something about ice forms so I could enlighten you. I hope someone among your readers does, or that you are motivated to do the research. The mopst fasconating ice phenomenom I ever sawe was in the Smokies at Christmas years ago. Each flat piece of gravel on a path was elevated about an inch above the ground on its own tiny column of ice.