Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Canvas

 We have a certain window - the north-facing window in my mother's bedroom - that seems of particular interest to Jack Frost. It's protected from direct sunlight; that's part of the equation, of course. And yet there are other windows on the north of the house (three the same as Mom's and the large bay window in the kitchen) and none of them serve as the same sort of icy canvas.

As I stepped out of the shower this morning and opened the bathroom door, this is the icy scene I saw. Brrr! I later walked to the window and saw the familiar etching: masses of ice crystals blooming here, lines etched at odd angles there. And what is there that causes this molecular pattern to begin? A minuscule bit of dust? A rivulet where a drop of rain fell across the pain? Nucleation, scientists would say, randomness at its best.

 In the background the pines serve to darken the scene and give the ice added life. The snow still lies about three inches deep. But it was last night's 10° low that gave the impetus for the fractal patterns I see here.

 Take a closer look:

 While the window does not seem to leak air - I feel no cold air wafting around its edges - there is moisture in the night air that loves to collect at this spot and to solidify as the temperature drops. At the top of the frame, as you can see, liquid droplets of water lazily collect.

 And while this window always holds the favorite spot for Jack Frost's work, my own bedroom window - the south-facing one, yet - also has some icy structures grown upon it while I slept.

 But the sun is already shining there and the ice will be gone by noon. The other windows in the house are devoid of ice. They show only a hint of fogging at best.

 And so on winter nights, when the air is right, when the moisture fingers itself onto glass and stretches across the pane to wait for sunrise, it is captured there through temperature alone. Quantum physics does the rest: an atom comes to rest here, another forms there, a random cascade begins. Soon fractals are written, curving in among themselves  forever repeating until the structure is large enough for human eyes to see. Atmospheric moisture made visible, as a spring fog is accustomed to do.

 My only job is to arrive at the right time, admire nature's singular artistry, dabbed without brush while I slept.

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