Tuesday, January 14, 2014

HOARFROST MORNING – A Study In White

Heading up to Bemidji, in north central Minnesota near the headwaters of the Mississippi, is always a nice drive. Up there, it’s a mix of pine, birch and aspen forest, the occasional open field and, of course, our state’s ubiquitous lakes.

Winter applies its own kind of beauty, stripping most trees of foliage and blanketing both land and lake in snow. It’s a challenge to find any color but shades of gray and white.

        It is a weightless, translucent white 
        not dumped from above as much as  
        breathed onto the landscape.

To the thirsty eye, though, there are, indeed, sips of colors to be found. Raw umber and burnt sienna oak leaves unable to let go their attachment to summer. The vividly lacquered bark of dogwood and other small, bare shrub stems striating snowy fields in airy patches of gold, burgundy, crimson, rust and even chartreuse. The quick, crimson check mark of a flitting cardinal.

CATCHING WINTER’S BREATH
But this time the drive home is different. Not for a coming out of those grudging colors, but for their further retreat. Today they are even more muted, everywhere veiled in white. And not the solid, hefty kind laid on by snow, but the weightless, translucent white of hoarfrost—a coating not dumped from above as much as breathed onto the landscape.
 

The pines seem to wear the sheer medium most elegantly. Each tuft of needles is rendered rounder, fuller, by frost’s airbrushed highlights. Pure dazzling white on one side wraps to light pastel green on the other. The clumps huddle as boughs, set off against the deep recesses between, places beyond reach of white.

                Birches, without the weight 
                of dark trunks to hold them 
                down, seem to hover...

While the pines seem sculpted, other bare, willowy trees are sketched in fine line. The crowns are consumed in luminous white; the trunks still black but for the frosted windward edges.

And the birches; without the weight of dark trunks to hold them down they seem
to hover, from base to branch a subtle fusion of white on white.


FROM MAGIC TO MYSTICAL

All the while, occasional leaks of sunlight pierce the mottled gray sky, their pools of light slowly sweeping like spotlights across this magical treescape. They turn up what already seems pure white to a brilliance one would think impossible if not lit from within.

Just as we’re thinking it couldn’t get any more glorious, specks of white seem to lift out of the treetops into the gray clouds. First there are a few; then dozens, rising, coming toward us. As they get closer we realize they are trumpeter swans, perhaps just taking off from nearby Itasca State Park.


The birds are huge and, as if intended to be the finale of our wintery wonders show, pure white except for black eyes, bills and feet. We watch the tandem of graceful, paired wingbeats pulse from each bird’s body to its wingtips in perfect mirror-image waves. The swans keep coming, right over us, in groups of five to fifty, for ten minutes.

We are left in awe, speechless.

6 comments:

jean said...

So beautiful! Thank you for sharing that!

TALON said...

Saw a family of Trumpeters on the nearly frozen river here last month... a teenage cygnet dutifully following Mom and Dad. Seemed they were late taking off for warmer climes. And it's so true how there is a feast for the eyes beyond the white when the world is covered in frost and snow. Gorgeous shots and thoughts.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Many thanks for the comment, Jean

Jeffrey Willius said...

THanks, Talon -- How fun to watch a family and their behavior! I'm not sure if the ones we saw actually leave for warmer climes, since it's the middle of a pretty cold MN winter and they're still around.

Bern Krausse said...

We have not had much snow this year, but we recently received some hoar frost too. When there is a breeze, it delivers to us some truly designer snow flakes.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Bern - We've had a pretty hefty winter so far here in MN. Still, don't you feel sorry for folks who've never seen some of these winter wonders?

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