|Posted by Stuart DiNenno on February 27, 2013 at 10:00 PM|
Image: Christopher Najewicz
The range of meaning that frozen, crystallized water molecules can take on is quite amazing. A few cubes of the stuff, when slipped into a beverage on a hot summer afternoon, is worth its weight in gold. On the other hand, if ice forms earlier in the fall than expected, it can mean the decimation of fruit crops and unprotected exotic plants, and leave a farmer or gardener's pockets empty. When ice coats roads and walkways on chilly winter nights, its very presence can lead to human injury or death.
As a visual element of landscape, though, I treat ice as a guest that is almost always welcome. When the winter sun peeks out the morning after a storm, crystals of frozen water can shine like diamonds. Where it builds up on leaves, twigs, and other plant parts, it can take on remarkable forms, sometimes even as wild as a glass sculpture from the studio of Dale Chihuly.
Images: Richard Brown, Jeremy Hiebert, and Marcel Bechter
To an art critic, visual interest is that special quality that has the power to catch the viewer's eye and make him or her stop, look, and reflect. In the landscape, visual interest is manifested in nearly infinite moments of color, form, and contrast. There is visual interest in the vivid, unexpected color of a flower in bright bloom; in the bright, rippling flecks of light on the surface of a deep, opaque pond; in the smooth-barked undulations of an ironwood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) trunk; and in the juxtaposition of soft, verdant moss against an otherwise lifeless, craggy garden wall.
Images: Rachid Lamzah, Marijan Mlađan, and Sam Cox
Picture for a moment adding glittering frost or glistening icicles to any of the landscape scenes that I have described above, and you might begin to recall the visual value that ice offers. Landscape admirers are quite fortunate that water freezes, and we should be even more appreciative that when it does it can take on an endless variety of appearances. Ice can be sharp and jagged or smooth and flat. Ice can shine, capture, and bend sunlight, or can have a dull appearance. It can form perfectly flat sheets or it can drip and freeze into organic, sculptural forms.
Where, twisted round the barren oak,
The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
The crystal icicle is hung.
Almost two hundred years ago, the above stanza appeared in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Woods in Winter. At first glance, the juxtaposition of a lush, beautiful plant ("the summer vine") with an icicle may not seem like much of a compliment to the frozen stalactite, but it is pretty clear to me that praise is exactly what Longfellow is going for. The rest of the poem reads as a celebration -- if not an outright endorsement -- of the unique character that winter brings to nature, so it is likely that Longfellow is drawing parallels between the antithetical forms of beauty that hang in both summer and winter.
Ice can be hard as a rock, slippery as oil, sharp as metal and beautiful as glass. Though the cold outdoor temperatures that form the substance are often hard to tolerate, I encourage you to enjoy the last few days of ice that you might have this season. Like all beautiful things, ice is fleeting, and before you know it, the only ice to be found in your garden will be melting in your glass of lemonade.
Image: Jeremy Hiebert
Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP