Frost-furred

Awoke to a hard frost, but still no snow. Among the chuckling nuthatches, a titmouse whistles his clear song.

This is my day eleven contribution to this month’s River of Stones.

Frosted hydrangea blossoms

Frosted leaf on snow

Green and white

You know you’ve hit the aesthetic wall that is late January when you start shooting photos in your bathroom, it being too frigid outside to allow for much interesting photography. This time last year, I was suffering from snow blindness, a term I use to describe the mid-winter photographic lull you feel when you’ve grown tired of monochromatic monotony: “I find myself growing blind to the beauties of snow, which lies strewn and heaped like last week’s laundry: what seemed so lovely and picturesque in early December has outgrown its welcome by mid-January.”

Even in late January, though, moments of beauty occasionally burn through the inertia of white and gray days, and early this morning, it was this crystal-paisley tapestry that inspired me to bring my camera into the bathroom to begin with:

Close-up:  bathroom window frost-feathers

That’s my bathroom window just before 8 am, before I was ready to wake up for good; by 9 am, Jack Frost’s handiwork had melted like last night’s dreams.

Back-lit:  bathroom window frost-feathers

Frost feathers are an ephemeral phenomenon in a season that feels never-ending; that’s why we so often miss them. What normal person brings a camera into the bathroom on a frigid Saturday morning before she’s ready to wake up for good? And yet, why does Jack Frost go to the trouble of painting windowpanes with such delicate brushstrokes if nobody will notice, marvel, and find a way to remember?

Frost-feathers are always ephemeral, and feathers of any sort are more difficult to find these days than during the hot heyday of summer. I cherish the down in the long, quilted coat I wear when walking the dog on cold and windy winter days, and I’m cheered to see juncos, sparrows, and an occasional robin flush at our approach, each of them warmed by a natural down coat.

When you’ve seeded your dreams with visions of frost-feathers, you’re more likely to find this same plumy shape elsewhere. And sure enough, on this morning’s cold and windy dog-walk, there were sparrows chirping and a robin clucking as I shot this image of ornamental grass frizzled into feathers.

Ornamental grass

Frosted berry

It’s brilliant and bright outside: the kind of chilly day that deceives you with light. Why haven’t we learned over all these years that the brightest days are often the coldest, as if the light refracted through the remnants of a hard frost is even brighter than light unadorned?

Oak leaf

Reggie and I saw a hen pheasant this morning: she was hunkered in the leaves next to a fence skirting one of the factories along the railtrail, and I was stopped taking a photograph while Reggie was sniffing dead leaves. Had the hen not moved, I’d have never seen her, as she was exactly the color of dry leaves. Had we both–Reggie and I–not stopped, I’m guessing this bird would have let us pass, not stirring the slightest to betray her presence. But with both a snooping person and nosy dog in close proximity, the hen first walked and then flew away, wanting to have nothing to do with our impertinence.

Frost-studded

I don’t think I’d ever seen a female pheasant at close range and indeed didn’t recognize it at first, initially thinking we’d stumbled upon a female grouse. But the bird’s pointed tail and stiff, skittering flight were both indicative of pheasant rather than grouse, as was the fact that she flew to a nearby field rather than a neighboring row of trees. But my first startled impression belonged to no particular species: just the sound of leaves rustling, then the startled realization that one particular patch of dry-leaf color was vaguely bird-shaped and moving. In the split second before my mind could apply the category “pheasant” or “grouse” to that moving, bird-shaped patch of dry-leaf color, the only thought I could formulate was “some sort of brown, gallinaceous bird.”

Frost glow

Had I been a Stone Age hunter with a slingshot, that would have been enough for me to toss off a shot or two, as brown gallinaceous birds are tasty, regardless of whether you tag them “pheasant” or “grouse.” Instead, I raised my camera, had the presence of mind to switch the setting from “macro” to “auto,” then snapped several shots in the general direction I knew the bird to be, not being able to see foot nor feather of her on my camera view-screen.

Some of our best shots, I’ve learned, are blind ones, taken with an air of “what the hell?” J recently mentioned he’d like to try his hand at bird photography, and I’ve been slow to stick my birder’s foot in that open door. I think J would enjoying birding, as I do, and I think it would be something fun for us to do together…but I also know how difficult it is to watch birds with nothing but bare eyes and binoculars. Knowing how elusive birds can be, and knowing how challenging it can be spot them in any light much less the prime conditions needed for photography, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be go birding with a camera. As much as I like birding and photography as their own separate pursuits, I’ve always been too lazy to try to combine them.

Frosted fronds

For this reason, whenever J expresses his budding interest in bird photography, I find myself thinking, “Oh, you have no idea what you’re getting into!” But then again, most of us don’t know what we’re getting into on any given day, and we don’t let that stop us. Without having much of a clue but with an air of “what the hell,” we simply point our cameras, aim our slingshots, or stick our feet in doors, trying to have the presence of mind to switch our settings before taking a blind shot.

Click here if you want to play “spot the pheasant,” or here if you want to see a cropped version of the same photo. Enjoy!

Frosted

The devil isn’t the only thing in the details; in fact, I’d argue that everything dwells there.

Frosted

One of the things I love about frost season is the way a morning coat of crystal transforms even the most mundane things into jewel-bedecked lovelies. Rain dampens and darkens the things it falls upon, and snow covers them. But only frost outlines the objects it touches, etching them with a fine white border that makes even an ordinary shrub look lacy.

A hard overnight frost makes litter look like fine crystal, a fallen leaf look like a jeweled ornament, and a castoff sofa look like a venerable antique. Finely divided leaves look particularly detailed when frosted, and furry mullein leaves look even furrier. Frost, in other words, doesn’t add anything alien to the objects it covers; instead, it highlights an object’s essential outline.

Yesterday morning, I tweeted the sight of the diamond-glittering fallen leaves that sparkled in my flashlight beam when I took Reggie on a predawn walk. The night before, those leaves were simply litter, but with a touch of Jack Frost’s magic brush, they gleamed like gems underfoot. A layer of frost worked wonders simply by encouraging me to look again, and deeply, at the details of something I had previously trod upon.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, …is in the details.

Frosted shrub

One of the benefits of walking the dog early is the phenomenon of frost. Although the thought of a cold, early morning walk might not immediately rouse you from warm covers, once you’re outside and moving–once your inquisitive dog is outside and pulling–you find that frosty morning walks offer their own reward.

Winter banner in front of Margarita's

Jack Frost is an interesting imp. He can take the most mundane thing–a neighbor’s neatly trimmed hedge, for instance, or an abandoned couch, empty beer bottle, or lone leaf–and transform it into something artful. The mere act of adding icing to an otherwise ordinary cake makes all the difference, but ice is an impermanent genre. The frost that edged a neighbor’s neatly trimmed hedge one morning this week had disappeared by midday: if you don’t walk (and watch) early, you’ll miss it. Jack Frost, you see, is a shy guy: he dashes all over town, painting the town white, but allows his handiwork to melt into obscurity as the sun rises. Jack is the kind of artist whose work you want to grab while it isn’t hot.

Winter banner

Jack Frost’s artistry is so popular these days, the city of Keene has commissioned him (or his photographic emissaries) to decorate Main Street’s seasonal banners. Featuring rime-rimmed leaves, spiraling ice crystals, and snowy landscapes, these banners boast of Keene’s natural beauties. If you oversleep and miss Jack Frost in the flesh–if you tarry until midday, when all that’s left is the bare, frigid glare of a wintry sun–downtown Keene’s Main Street banners will remind you of what you missed. “The weather, even in winter, is beautiful,” these postcard-like banners seem to proclaim. “Wish you’d been here.” Unless you have a dog pushing you to get up and walk early, you just might miss Jack and his overnight magic act, coming soon to a scene near you.

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