Plans On Ice

Melting spider web. Photo: Jo Sinclair

A brief spell of magic amid political and pandemic dread. Stay at home. Take local daily exercise. Lockdown number 3 seems easier to accept when it's cold, dark and rainy; January's a drag. But on Sunday there was a window onto another world when the sun shone after days of inanimate grey. Outside, I witnessed a kinetic wonderland. Freezing fog the night before had rimed the trees with white frosted icing, and there was a tinkling, metallic sound as the warmth of the sun dislodged it. Ice fell in sparkling showers.

The temperature rose rapidly. Ice turned to slush and slid off the branches, dripping and splashing and on the move.

At first glance I'd assumed that the crystals decorating seed heads, spiderwebs, twigs and chicken wire was hoar frost, but rime frost is created overnight when drifts of freezing fog descend on sub-zero surfaces. Hoar frost arrives on fine, still nights.

I follow landscape photographers on social media for encouragement to get out and witness phenomena like this. Most of us cringe and hunker down inside when we hear the forecast but with a weather eye on photo opportunities they emerge pre-dawn, braving highs and lows. I always regret missing a superb sunrise or spectacular frost. The secret to atmospheric impact this season is temperature change. There is magic five minute's walk from my front door in the arable fields when the tractors plough deep furrows ready for seed potatoes in early spring. Cold air meets warm soil in a misty vapour: enthralling white horses race side by side along each furlong.

Stay at home. It comes more naturally in winter. I recommend reading Wintering by Katherine May. This book was written pre-covid, but seems made for these times. It takes a look at the phases in our lives where we must resign ourselves to slowing down and hibernating for a while. 'When you start tuning into winter', she writes, 'you realise that we live through a thousand winters in our lives - some big, some small.'

In Norse mythology, Nott, the goddess of night drives her chariot through the dark sky. Her steed, Hrímfaxi leaves ice crystals in his wake as he gallops, frothing at the bit. So Hrímfaxi means 'rime mane'. We'd like more magic please, be it from gods or spuds.