Showing posts with label ice patterns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ice patterns. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

More of Nature's Art in a Backyard Minipond

The highly gifted fillable-spillable backyard minipond that receives water from the roof created more art a couple nights back. I did the best I could to give it suitable framing.

This scale-like pattern seems to be an innovation, with morning sun tinging portions with gold. The scale pattern can be seen as a miniature version of the backward "L"'s in the image above.

The artist-in-residence is content with its humble dwelling, needing nothing more than an occasional rain to keep it full.

Those flat spaces between the crystalline lines are open water, and the whole pattern could be rotated in the bowl without breaking it.

Sunlight and rotation of the photo made for a jazzy effect.

Leaves collecting in the tub hint at collage or mixed media, and may add a subtle tinting to the water over time.

An hour later, the crystals had melted away, leaving open water. Thanks goes to Leo, our dog, for getting me out in the backyard first thing in the morning.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Lake, Carnegie Minipond?

New York has some pretty impressive temples to the arts, this one being Carnegie Hall. These structures reach for the sky, but remain enveloped within nature's eternal Play of the Elements, with performances ranging from symphonic sunsets and cloud patterns to the crystalline miniatures of snowflakes. Light sets the mood, with water as the endlessly creative molecule so at ease in earth's temperature range, shifting effortlessly from gas to liquid to the solid state where it can really show off its range of expression. As long as there's cold weather, a breeze, or a sunset to reflect, water will offer performances at Princeton's Carnegie Lake, as well as smaller venues across NJ.

Easiest for us to access are the rainwater-fed "Carnegie Miniponds" in our backyard, which have been offering an ongoing series of exhibits.

The day after the backyard "etching" photos were taken (previous post), the fillable-spillable minipond had gained a pock-marked appearance, thus far as inexplicable in origin as the etchings.

another had these rich designs.

How does some water sitting in a tub overnight develop such a variety of shapes?

Another slight thaw and overnight freeze brought back more patterns 
like those from two days prior, 
etched by a most mysterious hand.
Thus far, no patterns repetitive enough to call "Philip's Glass".

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Exhibit of Nature's Etchings

(Preface: 2018 was a special winter in our backyard, due to the remarkable patterns and rich colors that appeared in our "fillable, spillable" minipond.) 
Our backyard artist in residence program has been going very well this winter. The artist, content to remain outdoors without lodging, has been working long hours, often overnight and in freezing temperatures, using nothing more than rainwater and a few leaves to achieve remarkable effects.

I did my best to capture the work, and give it adequate framing.

Asked how she achieved her unusual effects, and if these etchings, so different from her past works, represented a new direction in her art, she shrugged and said nothing,

then showed me a composition with etchings superimposed on what appeared to be a large bubble.

Some were more subtle than others, relying on rich undertones.

Wondering if the etching style was unique to the fillable-spillable miniponds that catch rainwater from the roof, I went to the other miniponds in the yard, created years back by digging down into dense clay. Here there were etchings as well, in a multimedia context using leaves.

Impressed, I suggested we host an exhibition, but there was no time to plan, or send out invitations. Nature, ever the restless artist, had already moved on, with rain and then snow in the forecast for overnight.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Graupel--A Special Form of Snow

All snow is special. Like children, except more numerous and lower maintenance, no two snowflakes are the same. As we know, snow that falls in Princeton's coveted 08540 zip code is extra special, and on the last day of January, there fell a particularly special kind of Principitation. Instead of flakes, the snow looked more like small beads of styrofoam.

When it fell one day two years ago, thinking it needed a name, I coined what seemed like a new term: snubbins. A recent google search, however, revealed that the word "snubbins" is sometimes used to refer to medium sized breasts. Who knew?

A less conflicted name came out of the blue during a trip to the Whole Earth Center, when longtime employee Bill excitedly showed me a printout from Wikipedia, describing this special snow as "graupel". To quote: "Graupel, also called soft hail or snow pellets, is precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2–5 mm balls of rime." These supercooled droplets, suspended high in the air and still liquid down to -40 F, collect and freeze around the snowflakes as they fall towards earth. The behavior of supercooled water came up in another recent post admiring the patterns the minipond water makes when it freezes.

In this photo of the graupel collected on our backyard fillable/spillable minipond, or mini-rink this time of year, you can see their shape. In the middle of the photo there's a snowflake still visible, only partly covered in rime.

In this photo, some of the graupel takes the shape of corn kernels.

Favorites from the archive:

Principitation: Coins and defines useful terms for various kinds of snow and snowy objects, e.g. snirt, snoodle, kerfluffle, and we-cicles (plural of i-cycles).

Snowbound Language: A Victor Borgesque story about what happens when snow blankets the english language.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Water: Our Backyard Artist in Residence

Even in the winter, or maybe especially in the winter, there's a lot of creativity and beauty in our backyard, thanks to a fillable-spillable 35 gallon black tub that catches runoff from the roof. If the night dips below freezing, the open water becomes a canvas for elaborate 3-dimensional designs.

Why the water doesn't freeze flat is hard to fathom. Sometimes, if the night's freeze has been light, these geometric shapes will frame miniature pools of open water that jiggle when the tub is tapped.

Cold brings out an unexpected beauty in water, and sometimes in ourselves, if we have clothes to match the weather, and take the cold as a bracing stimulant rather than, as Garrison Keillor would say, "nature's attempt to kill us."

These images were first posted at as News Flash: Nature is a Geometer, in a post that links to an Exploratorium exhibit that shows how supercooled water can freeze over in a flash.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

I Like Ice

This being an election year, I'm going to resurrect the "I Like Ike" campaign slogan from the Dwight Eisenhower 50's, with a slight twist to make it relevant to climate change.

One of the most expressive features of our backyard, in addition to the duck, the four chickens, and all the native wildflowers, is the collection of miniponds that capture runoff coming in from the neighbors up the hill. One pond in particular, eight feet wide, a foot deep, changes almost daily as temperatures range above and below freezing. Thaw serves as the eraser, and each freeze brings a new creation.

On Feb. 18th and 19th, the pond became a canvas for some particularly unusual patterns. Because the pond is unlined, water can slowly seep down through the semi-permeable clay underneath, creating stresses in the ice as it loses the support of the water beneath it. In one of these photos, one can see how on these particular days the ice actually had two layers, one a couple inches below the other, with ribs creating chambers between them.

The photos should expand for a better view if you click on them.

There were swirls and dots,

feathered edges and interactions between plants and ice,

bearded stars, and lines radiating out from a central point.

This breakaway shows the double deck ice, suspended over the slowly falling water level.

Some patterns were like suture lines in a stitched wound,

ice like sinews, or sinew-like ice,

more swirls and stars,

and a bending 'round the remains of sensitive fern.

From a distance, it looks far less impressive, and would have been missed altogether if I hadn't needed to make the daily morning jaunt to the coop to let the birds out.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Carnegie Ice Before the Snow

Though there are cross-over recreationists who love both skating and skiing, you know you're in the skating camp if an approaching snowstorm brings wistful thoughts of all that gorgeous Carnegie Lake ice about to get covered up.

It wasn't thick enough to skate on, but most of the lake was covered with a glistening smooth initial layer. The winter's brief history, about to be buried under two feet of snow, could be read in the rough ice that got blown into a southeast corner, on the left in the photo.

It told stories of how frozen waves formed, seeming to lap at the hibiscus-lined shore, like a Seward Johnson sculpture,

and of water's restless shifting from solid to liquid and back again, that gathered these chunks together for one in winter's long progression of still-lifes.

Our backyard minipond caught some runoff to make a miniature version of Carnegie Lake, with similar patterns of dark and light ice.

Nice to have H2O as the artist-in-residence in the backyard, with a new snow exhibit about to open, up and down the east coast.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ice Can Be Naughty or Nice

Work with nature, or it can work against us. That's a truth whether the nature is inner or outer.

This backyard minipond swelled in recent rains, then froze to make attractive patterns.

A different scenario plays out on Linden Lane, where a sump pump discharges into the street, creating a hazard. Meanwhile, the high school's sump pump, a few blocks away, plays the role of ecological hero, discharging serendipitously and safely into a detention basin we converted into a wetland that sustains native plants, frogs, and crayfish.

A shrub like buttonbush can grow right in the water of a backyard minipond. The ice patterns arise from the slow seepage of pond water into the underlying clay, causing the ice to sag.
There's a tendency to want to get rid of sump pump water and runoff as quickly as possible, often adding to downstream flooding. More fun, and beauty, comes from a collaborative approach with nature, finding ways to use the water in the landscape.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

When Snowmen Take Over the World

When snowmen take over the world, they will lounge comfortably on the patio in snow-cushioned chairs, munching on snowburgers.

Having had their fill, they will venture out to mend snowfences,

practice up for the next game of snowlax,

take a dip in the snow-lined minipond, ever so briefly so as not to melt,

and, when there is sno more for a snowman to do, take a snooze and dream of snowstorms to come.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Backyard Minipond In Winter

A backyard minipond, essentially a dugout area strategically located to catch runoff from the house or neighbors' yards, serves multiple functions. There's the hydrologic aspect, in that it contributes a tiny bit to controlling runoff in the community. It's greater gifts, though, come in many forms. This pond has attracted an occasional great blue heron and even one time a wood duck, along with robins wanting a bath, and a wayward turtle or frog now and then. Compared to the static nature of the rest of the landscaping, a minipond is particularly dynamic in winter, when it may be open water one day, then frozen into beautiful patterns the next.

Even in a pond just a few feet deep, the experience of peering down into clear waters can evoke a sense of mystery, complexity and depth, which may awaken awareness of similar properties in our minds.

The other day, when the pond ice was an inch thick, my neighbor came over with his two young boys. While we talked, the boys did what boys love to do, which is break the ice, pull the chunks out, drop them on the ground and watch how they broke into pieces. What other material do they encounter that they can break without consequence? As they explored the pond, they tested the ice's strength, assessing the consequences of putting their weight on it. Without even realizing, they were exploring the nature of risk in a place where they could do so safely. They ended up with wet feet, but home was just one door away.

Later, like shaking an etch-a-sketch, a thaw melted the broken ice, leaving a clean slate for the next cold spell to work its frozen magic.

These are some of the beauties of a backyard minipond.

(Note: Beginning in April, I'll be teaching a mini-course on miniponds and other ways of utilizing runoff in the landscape, at the Princeton Adult School.)