“Cold is the colour of crystal the snowlight
That falls from the heavenly skies”
— Annie Lennox, “Cold”
The first successive days of sub-freezing temperatures have transformed the landscape on scales both minute and grand. An early morning walk revealed the ironically soft and whimsical designs pulled forth by the first hard frost.
Weeks of rain have provided a canvas for hoarfrost, and it’s made many things its muse. Ground cover plants, giant fallen maple leaves, and clusters of tiny mushrooms now wear sparkling crowns of white. The most mundane objects become magical in moonlight when glazed: concrete, rocks, weeds, grass and windshields. All are the fuel of fairytale when covered with diamond dust.
Frost is not nature’s only medium. The cold has created complex sculptures of ice on the north-facing rock wall of Diablo Dam Road. There, water seeps readily and consistently through cracks in the rock, and the dripping water has created its own vast exhibition. On one of my more dangerous self-imposed photo assignments, I stood on a steep, narrow, and winding road under huge daggers of ice on roadway that was more like a skating rink. Only the rusty metal guardrail stopped me from falling as I moved to avoid a Seattle City Light maintenance truck as it cruised down to the dam. It was worth the risk.
Tiny bare trees held massive amounts of ice, their fledgling burgundy buds holding fast under the weight. Christmas arrived early there, with icicle adornments to rival the most accomplished tree trimmer. The ice seemed luminous, glowing in the shadows. Winding branches were molded into modern designs. The entire mountainside was transformed into a gallery of light.
My fingers froze in the bitter wind in this area of perpetual shadow, of which there are many in the mountains these days. A forlorn look crosses subtly over the faces of my graduate cohort as the sun dips behind the peaks at 2:30 PM. Despite the daily draining away of sunlight, I am heartened by the changes the cold weather brings. Even the migrating water fowl is frosted these days as the white-bellied Goldeneye and vanilla-dipped Bufflehead ducks grace the surface of Diablo Lake.
As I stroll down the trail after my school day, sunset well in progress at 4:00 PM, I look up at newly painted Sourdough Ridge as it changes from bright white to pink then red as the sun fades into the Skagit Valley. I feel not dread, but exhilaration and welcome the oncoming winter.
Elissa Kobrin is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is a co-editor of Chattermarks. When not tracking down moose, she is keeping the world safe, one Band-aid at a time.