Here in central Virginia we’re in the bull’s-eye for winter weather today. Maybe I’ll go out and snag some new pictures; in the meantime, here are some old snowy scenes. Here’s to hoping the power stays on; the low tonight is in the teens!
Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.
Elijah strapped the packages and foodstuffs to the sleigh. When they were secured, he went and fed the dogs. It would be a long day for them tomorrow. It was the hard time of year. It was time for the Melt. Each year their small community packed onto sleds to escape the floods of the spring melt. One who left too early faced oppressive cold and winds in the high country. One who left too late faced mud and run off and risked the sudden floods. This winter’s weather had been tumultuous, and Elijah felt uneasily that they might both be too early and too late. This year, perhaps nothing would be right.
In the morning, Elijah and his neighbors left their communal home. It would not be there when they returned. Ahead of them stood miles of whiteness, the great fertile flood plain. The world was silent but for the creaking of the ice under the sun. All day long, the dogs pulled the sleds. Elijah and the stronger men and women skied alongside the sleighs. The children and the elderly rode the sleighs.
Late in the afternoon, the party came to a river.
“This ice is no good,” Elijah’s sister Elta said. “Look, cracks run deep into it, and the color is not right.”
“I said we left too late,” someone said.
“We’ll have to go around,” Elijah said, trying to force an air confidence he did not feel. “This has happened before.” It had happened before, but never without death and suffering. The fickle sun shone down, weakening the river further.
Here in the mid Atlantic, last week’s snow melts and compacts on the ground. It looks great when it falls, but it grows messy and treacherous quickly. But it is February, and the days grow longer. Soon they must grow warmer too. But in the meantime, this time of year, I like to fondly review photos from warmer places.
Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.
“Red” (this prompt was inspired by my science fiction group’s monthly theme. Red was chosen relating to February and Valentine’s Day, but we know there are other themes red suits as well.)
I woke to fresh snowfall outside my window, but it wasn’t the glittering field of white that caught my eye, it was the speckles of red in the white. I woke up and pulled on my robe and slippers and blundered into the brilliant glare. There in the snow, not thirty feet from my house, I found the red in the snow. It was clearly blood, and a lot of it. I felt a cold that had nothing to do with the snow. I kicked at the snow. Perhaps, somewhere, there was a clue to what had happened in the field, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to touch the sullied snow.
My dog, Clover, ran out from the house, through the door I’d left standing wide open. He bounded over, initially happy to see me, but after a moment concerned himself with the patch of snow as well. He didn’t have my compunctions about the blemished snow, and instead buried his face into it, seeking the heart of the problem.
He brought his face up, smeared with red and frost. And in his mouth was a pendant, with the sign of a saint I didn’t know.
“Good job, boy!” I said, and Clover dropped the chain in my hand, and proceeded to kiss me with his scarlet smeared mouth. I screamed and ran back into the house, someone or something’s sticky blood all over my hands. Clover cocked his head to the side and followed behind me. I washed my hands and then I went to the computer to look up this saint.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of a snowflake up close, you know how beautiful and intricate they can be. People say “no two snowflakes are alike”–this is true, because of the way snowflakes grow. Each snowflake grows according to the crystal structure of ice and the conditions it experiences as it falls to the ground.
What is an ice crystal?
A snowflake is a single crystal of ice. Many substances are crystalline, but most of the ones we encounter are polycrystalline, or composed of many crystals. Some examples of crystalline materials are metals, bone, ceramics, and jewels. Different kinds of crystals grow in different ways– some are cubic and some are hexagonal. (You can see great crystals in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC. Some pictures are in this link.) Table salt, for instance, is cubic.
Ice has a hexagonal crystal structure, which is why snowflakes have hexagonal symmetry. A snowflake tends to grow along six vectors (or directions) separated by 60 degrees each. Some particle of dirt nucleates, or initiates, the beginning of a snowflake. The exact mechanism is not known. But once growth has been initiated, the snowflake grows. (If you have ever made rock candy, you create a supersaturated mixture of sugar in water. Then you add a sugar crystal, onto which more sugar crystal grows.)
Snowflakes are unique
Snowflakes are so varied because each snowflake experiences a slightly different environment. Tiny differences in temperature, pressure, and moisture change how each snowflake grows. In the snowflake above, you can even see flaws in tiny parts of the hexagonal symmetry. Even across a snowflake, tiny differences change how the crystal grows. Snowflakes as big as a dime have been documented, but theoretically, there is no size limit.
One of the first photographers of snowflakes was Wilson Bentley. He photographed over 5,000 flakes from his home in Vermont in the 1800 and 1900s. The children’s book Snowflake Bentley describes his life and work.
Ken Libbrecht, a professor of physics at Caltech, also maintains an awesome website about his research on snowflakes. In his lab, he studies how to grow snowflakes, to better understand the conditions under which they form. He has grown crystals up to an inch wide. His Field Guide to Snowflakes is a beautiful and informative resource on snowflakes, accessible to all audiences.
I normally post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but yesterday we got about a foot of very wet snow. (To those who are saying this storm was overhyped: it delivered, just not in DC. Proof below!) Branches everywhere are down. My house has been out of power for 36 hours now. This morning it was 49 F in the house; cold but totally manageable. The cats have been hunting us for our warmth. They are stuck at home now while we get respite at the university.
So I’m going to skip yesterday’s post, and just show some pics of the snow. Here’s hoping I have power by tomorrow!