When I was young in West Texas, the occasional ice fog occurred when just the right temperature and atmospheric conditions coincided. For us on the airport, it meant the ubiquitous and relentless wind ceased for a short time and airport activity ground to a halt as no one could land or take off. We would make popcorn and hot chocolate and sit around telling stories. The silence of no wind was eerie and wonderful.
When we lived on the gulf coast of Texas, the winter fogs were less ice fogs than temperature inversions—but they lasted much longer and gave a magical look to the bayous and flats. You could imagine dragons and unicorns cavorting in the ever-shifting fingers of the fog.
Here in Michigan, it takes a series of cold nights and warming days to create the conditions for the early morning ice fog. It softens the landscape and city outlines into a scene from a Victorian picture book. Traffic sounds are dampened and you can study the outlines of trees and shrubs and reimagine them leafed out in spring. It creates a sense of peace in an otherwise chaotic world.
The first real snow of the season seems to come in more gently. Large, lazy drifting flakes dancing together in the light of houses and streets. The snow is coating, not clumping and resting on just the grass and beds—leaving the well-defined street and sidewalk and stone paths to contrast with the soft white. Leaves and plants can be seen below the covering and when you look up at the white sky, the dark branches of the trees are defined by the light touch of snow emphasizing their shape and number. The snow on the roofs is light—shingles still show– but the effect is perfect winter. Daylight will come and the ephemeral snow will melt. The next wave may be similar or be the heavy, wet deluge that we all despair of moving. But there is only one 1st snow and it shows the magic of winter.
It stays so dark as the days shorten to winter solstice that when there is light, you want to wander. The cold, crisp air and palest blue sky beckon. Pale yellow like fresh butter, the sun rises through the trees slowly, almost reluctantly. Its gentle beauty radiates through the dark trees and punctuates the pale sky.
Snow crunch and rims of ice
I love walking on the snow when there is just a light coating on the leaves and grass and the temperature has been in the 20’s. The crunch of the ice breaking through to the leaves and grass is so crisp and satisfying. The stream is still flowing but there is a rim of ice around the edge where the water meets the bank. It seems odd to me that when the temperature doesn’t get above 30, there is still evaporation—so the rim of ice is a few inches above the actual water line.
Snow crystals in early morning
It snowed last night, with light, fluffy dancing snowflakes feathering out on the ground. No compression into ice sludge, the dry snowflakes were still stacked at all angles and made the trace of snow look like a half inch. On flat surfaces, it stood out in individual flakes. Before dawn, with just the lights from the porch and garage, the individual flakes on the drive and walks caught light and shone like a pavement of diamond dust. Each snowflake at a different angle, catching the light and reflecting both the colors and the white light in a flash as I walked slowly past. Like tiny flashbulbs from every direction, it was the best light show I have seen.
Sunset near winter solstice
The day before the winter solstice, the sky cleared and there was a beautiful sunset. Not like the hot, vibrant sunsets of summer, but a pastel version as befits the lower angle of the sun. The pale yellow of the sun was complemented by the palest aqua swath of color. Then, surprisingly, a small stripe of hot pink, and another large swath of a pale lilac. The entire show lasted only a few minutes, but was breathtaking.
It rained off and on during the day and then turned cold enough to snow. These were no shrinking violet snowflakes. They were large and wet and made chains in the air as they met. Some of the strings were almost like silly putty they were so long. They danced in the light on the porch and just kept getting thicker. There was so much snow in the air that it was surprising how little actually accumulated on the ground.
This year we had the best white Christmas. The snowflakes were large and floated down lazily all day. Occasionally they would be caught in an air draft and would swirl and dance in the pale light of the winter day. They sifted down so gently that they looked like sand grains between grass blades. The covering on the walks and street was so light that it blew away in places and barely registered the foot prints of dogs and people enjoying the calm day. The cold, crisp day kept the snow fluffy and pretty on all the landscape.
We had two days filled with snowflakes drifting down. There was no wind and light fluffy flakes danced down slowly and then more quickly. The 4 to 5 inches softened every angle and covered every imperfection. The hemlock, pine and spruce tree limbs were covered in snow and bending to the ground. The sun and wind will clear them off later, but they look the perfect winter trees like this. Each limb and branch of the oaks, birches, maples and elms is outlined in snow—always a slight angle to each branch that allows the still snow to cling and cover. The clear sight-line back to the edge of the property and the houses beyond is filled with white, crossing branches—making the house and yard a snow globe just for us. Walking in the pre-dawn stillness on the fresh snow is quiet and peaceful—the moon is out and everything shines like daylight—but softer, with no glare.