Rare, Beautiful, Ephemeral, Glittery and Very, Very Dangerous and Destructive


Last week was a pretty funky week weather-wise here in Northwest PA. It ended with the blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on us, but it began with abnormally warm temperatures--it was 65F on Monday, March 3, well over 20 degrees above average.

And then on Tuesday, March 4, we had an ice storm. It started raining in the afternoon, and then temperatures dropped sharply, and precipitation continued to fall, not as snow, but as rain, which froze when it hit just about any surface--in particular, roads and sidewalks. It's really hard to control a vehicle when you're driving over a surface entirely coated with an inch of slightly bumpy but still very slick ice, which is why ice storms can be one thing that entirely shuts down an entire city used to cold temperatures--in Iowa City, when there were ice storms, buses and so forth quit running and people did their best to stay home. Here, apparently, they just called out the cops and the ambulances to deal with all the people who ended up in traffic accidents because schools and businesses didn't shut down.

Anyway, I am not writing to complain about the ice storm--I'm writing to praise it, or at least to tell you how astonishingly beautiful and strange it made everything. And I'm not asking you to take my word for it; I'm going to include photos.

Here's what my porch looked like Wednesday morning:


Pretty funky! (If you want to know what my porch looks like in the summer, go here and scroll down.) It looks like the glass in a shower door or a bathroom window, which I guess is why they call that stuff "frosted" glass.

Keep in mind, this


is a vertical surface, so you can imagine what the horizontal ones were like. I was VERY glad I didn't have to drive anywhere Wednesday morning. And while I was out taking these photos, I kept hearing this weird clacking sound, which I eventually realized was the noise made as the wind blew the ice-covered branches of the trees against each other. It was a very alien environment.

Wednesday afternoon, however, the sun came out, and that's when things got downright gorgeous. Thursday morning things got even better. The sun was out, but the temperature wasn't high enough to melt much. I went for a walk early, and saw things like this:


It's a neighbor's tree, entirely encased in ice, and backlit by the sun, so that it positively glittered. The photo doesn't capture its brilliance.... And I'm surprised that it turned out as well as it did, because I couldn't see a damn thing--I just aimed the photo in the right direction and hoped for the best.

As I walked, I kept seeing these little partial tubes of ice


which I eventually realized had fallen off powerlines. I was also intrigued by the way ice-coated blades of grass poked out of the snow like strange little antennae.


Here's my favorite photo I took, of an oak branch (acorn caps still attached) coated in ice:


Of course, I also saw things like this:


Plenty of trees snapped under the weight of the ice. One of my colleagues walked out Wednesday to find a great big branch on top of his car. And surfaces stayed slick and slidy as the ice melted, because chunks of ice would fall of the trees, so that the area under one might look like this:


I burst into astonished tears several times at how gorgeous and strange it all was.... The world creates these scenes of profound and passing beauty, and they're a gift. I've seen ice storms before but the aftermath was never this lovely.... I feel lucky that I got to witness this rare confluence of the elements. I wanted to stay in that environment for hours, but I had professional and personal obligations to attend to.... And even if I had the entire day at my disposal to wander around that winter wonderland, it wouldn't have lasted. The sun moved up in the sky and the scene wasn't as striking--the trees were more dramatic and glittery when the light was behind rather than above them. And there's always the fact that as the sun got warmer, the ice melted.... It just couldn't last.

And I also kept thinking about all the damage the storm had done, and could still do: I had to guard my head from falling ice. It all reaffirmed for me the basic truth that nothing is an undiluted good, everything costs, has its drawbacks. Even--especially?--beauty.

I'm still glad I saw it.


I love that tree - it's pretty awesome in the picture, so it must have been really quite a sight in real life. I also love the powerline tubes- like finding little naturally occurring test tubes.

Hey there miss R--good to hear from you! I'm glad you liked the photo of the tree--it really was pretty damn cool.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on March 15, 2008 9:26 AM.

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