Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Art in Ice

 As I watched TV last evening, the water which had collected in the field behind our house was undergoing an amazing transformation. Between programs I'd look up at the thermometer and see it lazily sliding towards freezing. Finally, as I readied for the bed, it broke through that magical line where water changes from liquid to solid. It was a quiet transformation from where I sat and yet it is sheer magic.

The hydrogen bond between individual water molecules obeyed a natural rule: they stopped sliding randomly around and fell into lock-step. All the while the water literally expanded, pushing up and out. As I walked this morning, I could see where the receding water, still liquid below the crust of ice, left contour designs, as though a topographical map were being etched in the dark on this barren field.

 A closer look and we see an intricate pattern left behind, now hollowed where the water has flowed away. This thin crust would snap like glass if I placed my shoes anywhere near it.

 And now a wider view where the texture of the ice, reflecting blue sky, seems no more than waves frozen on an Arctic ocean.

 Why these straight lines, perfect-sided triangles? What experiment is nature conducting here? Here's the reason behind the lines:

 Where weed stubble rises above the ice, it leaves straight lines in its wake. Lines seem to radiate out in all directions from some stubble and yet other lines follow a similar, singular path. The wind might have something to do with this? This morning, though, the air is 22° and the air is perfectly calm. But freezing took place many hours ago and the current conditions have nothing to do with it, besides how tightly I snug my coat.
 My walk was punctuated by sights such as these. I stayed warm by stopping and looking every few steps. It is not a way to get exercise. But I like better to see nature's art, driven by hydrogen and oxygen's desire to slide into a comfortable, familiar  slot when the temperature is right.

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