I've had to search for sparkle this brown winter. Regular trips to the lakefront have yielded ice in many forms: countless different icicle formations, air bubbles in ice, ice crystals cantilevered over the sand, ice encrusted grass and trees, ice splashed rocks, ice spicules etc etc. But it just occurred to me that what I'm actually missing is hoar frost. I have never seen hoar frost in Chicago. The closest we get is when the cement-heavy lake-effect snow weighs down tree branches. But there's no sparkle. Often branches break. It's mostly bleak.
Waking up to an Alberta morning where literally every single branch and blade of grass is outlined in sparkling feathery ice cystals that glint and shimmer in the winter sunshine against an intense blue sky is pure magic. For a few hours there is a complete transformation from drab winter into a glittering wonderland, like living in a snowglobe.
I've always wondered about the unappealing name. "Hoar" comes from an Old English adjective which means showing signs of old age. If I were naming it, I'd call it "metamorphotic" frost for it's profound transformation of objects and landscape--or something more poetic like "ethereal" or "gossamer" frost. As a kid, hoar frost seemed like a random phenomenon but I'm sure my Dad could predict hoar frost conditions. It takes a clear, cold night where objects become colder than the surrounding air while a light wind circulates more humidified air allowing ice crystals to form and grow. Their size depends on temperature and humidity levels.
Gradually, the ice crystals fall away and it's back to winter normal. But there's always the chance of waking up in that sparkling magical place again tomorrow.
*Hoar Frost (2010) courtesy of the seriously talented photographer Adrian Michael based in Saskatoon, SK. You can see more of his fabulous images at www.adrianmichael.ca. I am particularly drawn to the familiar canadian landscapes made otherworldly in Adrian's 'Rockies' and 'Prairie' portfolios.