Snow and Hoar Frost
“The snow is falling, and the world is calm.” Reading these words in Robert Bly’s recent poem “Sunday Afternoon”, a line so reassuring to Bly that it opens and closes his poem, I was inclined to shout: “What kind of dream world do you live in, Mr. Iron John?”
Especially on days like today when the wind is howling, the snow is blowing sideways into three foot drifts, bombs are exploding in Iraq and Afghanistan, talk radio hosts are braying about trivial matters, and wary travelers are grumbling in long lines at the world’s airports.
Today’s storm may not officially qualify as a blizzard (we have our standards here, and it’s probably not cold enough or the snow accumulation may not be sufficient), but we’ve got freezing, white-out conditions that do not induce calm or comfort.
Yet Bly has captured something essential about snow. Christmas-card snow or what a (female) friend of mine calls “cute snow” – the kind with big fluffy flakes wafting gently to the ground – can both soften and quiet even the ugliest cityscapes. There’s hardly a winter city in the world that wouldn’t benefit from a one or two inch dusting of snow once a week or so. Winnipeg, by no means a beautiful city (are there any left in the world?), looks remarkably prettier after a fresh snowfall. Snow often replenishes the spirit and in reasonable doses calms the nerves of even the jumpiest grumblers.
Not as much as ice fog and hoar frost, however. Ice fog days are winter’s gifts. They can turn drab landscapes into Impressionist paintings in subtle shades of grey, black and white.
We had an ice fog one day last week. If we’re lucky, they happen a couple of times per winter. The conditions have to be right: no wind, 100% humidity, and air temperatures well below freezing. This allows millions of tiny ice crystals to form in the air and then settle onto cold surfaces. The effect is magical.
Hoar frost looks best on bare deciduous trees and bushes because entire branches and trunks, not just the topmost surfaces, are coated with sparkling white fluff. My elms look like they’ve been reconstructed out of glittery, over-sized pipe cleaners or stiffened Christmas tree garlands.
Since most ice fogs form overnight, you can wake up in an almost entirely new place in the morning. And as the wind freshens, the hoar frost gets blown into small flurries of “cute snow”. Winters, though long and cold, ain’t so bad.