The Cold Facts About Frost: by Kathleen Scavone

Although it seems that frost arrives at a later date each year, a frosty, frozen Lake County morning is reason enough to celebrate with a cup of hot, steaming cocoa. Of course, if you are a vintner or gardener you will take measures to prevent frost before harvest, with special fans, plant coverings or other tender care to prevent the inevitable damage to delicate plant tissue, when temperatures fall low enough to freeze. Frost damage protection sometimes involves wrapping expensive trees while some areas deploy smoke as a method of cold-reduction. Surprisingly enough, some plants are sprayed with sprinklers in order to form an ‘igloo-effect’ as the water aids in releasing underlying heat to keep the plants from harmful freezing.

When minuscule ice crystals appear as though by magic on ground, grass and windows, an artist’s palette of wonder can be found in our own backyards in the form of frost.  Then, the delicate and fleeting structures created by frost leave their fanciful sculptures and swirls all across the landscape. But the star-shaped crystals seem to melt away with such speed, you are left wondering if they ever existed in the first place. Frost begins during wet, winter conditions when moisture freezes up, clinging to branches, leaves and your car’s windshield.  Patterns which frost deposits can range from symmetrical and mathematical, like fractals, to an even layer of sugar-like crystals. Since frost comes in many varieties, it stands to reason that the different types of frost have specific names, like  hoar frost, also called crystalline frost, rime frost, black frost, advection (wind) frost, white frost and window frost to name a few. Advection frost creates minute ice spikes on leaves and flowers and is formed against the wind-direction, during night or day, during extremely cold temperatures.  Hoar frost appears as lovely, icy crystals upon the ground or surrounding objects upon which ‘Jack Frost’ has touched, and crystallizes due to the water vapor in its surroundings.  Hoar frost derived its moniker from the old English word for  ‘ancient’ and was linked to the white hair of old age. Window-frost forms on windows and other smooth surfaces, while black frost shows up when there is scant humidity present, while white frost relies upon much more humidity in the surroundings. Rime frost, which can be either milky in its appearance or clear as ice, clings to its surface of choice.

Jack Frost,  the mischievous 19th century character in literature,  is said to be a variation of Old Man Winter and responsible for nipping your fingers and nose. Jack Frost had a place in Norse and Anglo-Saxon winter traditions, while in Finland an ancient oral tradition named him in the epic poem, Kalevala. In Russian culture Jack Frost is named ‘Grandfather Frost’.    

In these colder months as plants slow down and rest from photosynthesizing to make their food, all the while aiding in their survival,  we can take a hint from nature and slow down while we restore our own stamina and take in the simple phenomenon that is frost.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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