Ice Art in the Winter Swamp

For a few days each winter, the swamp here at Mingo Woods becomes a fairyland. A layer of ice covers the way to the creek and cracks away from itself as the morning sun slips through the leafless tupelo and cypress trees. Cypress knees look like people standing and waiting, frozen in space and time. My favorite part of this fairyland is the Ice Sculptures hiding in leaf debris at the base of white Crownbeard, a wildflower that blooms at the edge of the swamp in summer.

When this happens, the ice layer in the swamp presents some additional opportunities for beautiful pictures of the trees, the Saw Palmetto, and the Cypress knees. As I stand taking these pictures, I am captivated by the only sound in the swamp: ice breaking under the warmth of the sun. I wonder where the White Tail Deer go when the swamp is frozen.

I’ve been photographing Ice Sculptures each winter for nineteen years now. To get good pictures, the temperature must drop below 26,˚ and a really good rain has to come before the freezing temperatures. When these two weather phenomena occur, the Swamp Fairyland comes to life. On these days, my old “snow socks” from college days in the mountains of Tennessee come in handy again.

I don layers of clothes, neck warmers, hats (Yes, more than one!) and gloves on those mornings and spend several hours trekking the edge of five acres of swamp, camera and a thermos of Gevalia coffee in hand. I wait until 8:30 or 9:00 when I know the sunlight will strike the ice formations in interesting ways.

These sculptures have intrigued me since I first spotted them from my front door many years ago. At that time my husband Stephen and I were on winter vacation from teaching. One morning I stood, as I often do, with my first cup of coffee, taking in the early morning sunlight as it sliced through the trees in the swamp.

That morning I noticed what appeared to be trash, balled up pieces of white paper, scattered across the front of the property. After closer examination I discovered, not trash at all, but what I have come to call Ice Sculptures. For the next seven years I continued to take pictures of the ice formations each winter and attempted to learn what they really are. I sent pictures to people, looked in science books, and searched the Internet to no avail. These days on the Internet, one can find many stories and photographs of this winter gift of short-lived ice art, called by a different name.

My father, who has since passed away, looked at my first ice pictures in 1998 and called them “Jack Frost.” He said he had seen them when he went duck hunting in Mingo Creek on very cold mornings. A few years ago, on my third morning that week to take pictures, I waited until almost noon to go out. The weather was so cold I knew they would still be there. I had come out of the swamp to check the mail, when my neighbor, a forester, passed by on his way home for lunch. He stopped his truck to greet me and commented, “Patricia, you have leaf trash all over your forearms.

I explained that I had been leaning my arms on the ground to get close to the Ice Sculptures. One was on a little mound of earth and I could see the sky behind it. I showed Brad the image in my camera and he acknowledged he sees this ice sometimes as he works in the forest. 

Twelve years ago I noticed information and pictures of this phenomenon on the Internet. Some writers call them Frost Flowers; others call them Ice Ribbons. I like my name for them because they are so different from my experiences with just plain frost, and their shapes are much more than ribbons.

How does this ice occur? In the beginning of my experience with it, I could find no scientific information.  I began an intense personal observation, and the best I could figure out is that when we have a good winter rain followed by a good freeze, I’ll find Ice Sculptures. Sometime during the night, water in the roots of the dried white Crownbeard will rise through the root to the stem above.

The outer casing of the stem will split and is usually seen lying close, draping on the ice. As the water spews out and away from the stem, it freezes in these interesting layers and shapes. As soon as the sun hits them, they begin to melt away. If more than one night is cold enough, another formation will appear on the same stem, perhaps in a very different shape. Although we have hundreds of wildflowers here, the white Crownbeard is the only one to boast an Ice Sculpture.

I have photographed Ice Sculptures that look like boats, spirals, hearts, doughnuts, an angel’s wings, roses, an owl, cups and saucers, and even one question mark. The folded layers of ice often remind me of a favorite childhood ribbon candy. This phenomenon of Nature captured my attention nineteen years ago and continues to draw me to its annual exhibition in the swamp at Mingo Creek. Today I am looking forward to colder temperature following a heavy rain.

ptc

8 comments

  1. Ptc,

    You take the reader there. Until reading this article, I had never seen such a thing.
    I can see it clearly now. The photograph is a treasure. It makes me think of a white
    rose. Not just any white rose, but one the was created to depict purity and grace. I
    see dancers skating around it and angel wings embracing the lot. The photograph
    you took with your camera is breathtaking and so is the one you painted with your pen.

    In addition, I enjoy the history you share. As I glance up from this text box, I see the
    last line of your bio:

    “Hopefully, you will recognize the joy, passion, commitment, and awe that I experience when I lean in with camera, pen or brush to learn from nature”

    It is for sure, Dear Artiste Extraordinaire; you have brought that to bear. My thanks to you.

    Sarah

    Reading your article is a grand finale for a beautiful Thanksgiving weekend. Wishing you and yours many blessings.

    Like

    • Your words always inspire me to do more. I was going to publish a slide show but couldn’t remember where the selection for it is. I loaded the images but didn’t finish it. Is that still an option?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ptc,

        Top o’ the morning to you. Slide shows are still an option. Just click on the circle with the plus sign in it (in text box tool bar,) click on add media, then select all the pictures you want to include, then click ‘layout’ and scroll down to click ‘slideshow’.
        Then post as usual.

        If you hit a snag, let me know. Leaving for church now but will be back by two.

        s

        Like

  2. Now, looking at your Ice Sculpture again, I see a dove swirling out of the bottom right side of the rose.

    I shall ever think of Mingo Swamp as a magical land of blessings.

    Like

  3. Dear Ptc,

    This article is amazing as it draws each reader close to your surroundings–ah, Mingo Swamp, that wondrous place. You, dear writer, are an amazing one. Continue to share, & we’ll catch the overflow of blessings as we read. Thank you! I shall reread & enjoy this each time I venture here. You just keep doing what you do. And—share. 🙂 Blog it, & we’ll read it.

    Jan

    Like

  4. Hi Ptc.

    Not only publish a slide show, — do a picture book with thoughts and poetic quotes beneath each image! I love the ice art you present and the article above is fascinating. I admire what you are doing and am greatly engaged in the way you explain your journey with this and purpose. I can understand how these “ice sculptures” haunt you. Each one has a character that calls out to be noticed and reflected upon. With me, as a child into early adulthood, it was the formation of driftwood and branches. I found one that resembled a parrot, sea dragon, fish and mourning dove. They spoke to me and I am always drawn to the way Nature naturally shapes and carves out these beautiful sculptures.

    Thank you so much for sharing,
    my best
    Wendy

    Like

    • Wendy, your words are so encouraging. Thanks for sharing the connection with your driftwood. I hace considered doing a set of cards. I will think about your suggestion. Thanks again.
      ptc

      Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s