Fern frost gallery

[slickr-flickr id=”12687067@N00″ type=”gallery” tag=”fernfrost”]
It’s too bad we have to worry about energy efficiency. As new windows replace old ones in our homes, fern frost is becoming a lost memory. Fern frost is the stuff that forms on glass when humid air inside meets cold air outside. The first two images in this gallery show the enchanted sapphire forest I found on my bathroom window yesterday at dawn.

We used to see it in the windows of the house where I grew up. After I left home, I forgot these fanciful visions from childhood. Many years later I moved into a flat in an older building. The place was poorly maintained, in fact it declined during the years while I lived there. It was hard to keep the place warm in winter. One benefits of living there was seeing the winter window displays.

The structure of the formation depends on dirt or other particles or imperfections on the glass. One of the windows in the apartment featured distinctive striated feathers like those in the fifth image. Sometimes it looked more like strings of pearls. The dark third image shows the same window one night, back lit by the streetlight. Another window in the same apartment usually had a pattern of jagged plates like a jigsaw puzzle (sixth image). Every window has a unique way of expressing itself. The glowing fourth picture appeared on my office window at dawn on February 20, 2008, the day my mother died. It reminds me of milkweed seeds.

Some people call these patterns frost flowers, however that term may also be applied to a different phenomenon. When the weather turns sharply cold over unfrozen ground, it may cause plant stems to squeeze out, by capillary action, layers of ice resembling leaves or petals. I have yet to observe this peculiar beauty.

I was glad to move out of the old dive, but sorry to say goodbye to those windows. My current apartment has mostly newer ones. Fern frost can form on double-paned glass when the air outside is extremely cold, but this seldom happens. This place still has two old windows in the bathroom and hall, and I was delighted to discover this glass attracts foliage patterns much like fern fronds. It’s a nice sight to discover when I crawl out of bed on a winter morning and head for the toilet.

I must pay for the show. A lot of heat must escape through these windows. Maybe I should petition the landlord to replace them, but I’d rather not. Continue reading

Urban conservation

Here are two stories about people working to protect wildlife in urban setting (with apologies for the advertisements attached to these BBC news clips). The city of Austin, Texas, has protected its two million free-tailed bats, while generating $10 million in tourist revenue every year. Meanwhile hundreds of people in Hanoi are working to make a lake in the city more hospitable for a giant turtle nearly two metres long.

Creating time and space

Nothing feels better than time and space to work. Creative people crave it.

Weekend pleasuresI have an oak library table from the 1920s. It belonged to my mother’s great aunt, a rare career woman of that generation. In those days, only old maids had time for such things. She worked in a legal office. The desk came down to me. As a boy I stripped off the dark stain and applied a clear finish to bring out the natural aged golden colour. I like to set the desk with a view of the outside world. Even a busy street lined with ice and snow will do.

Fresh flowers used to seem too much a luxury. For years I wandered wistfully past the florists’ tables at the farmers’ market. A week ago Saturday I had the gall to ask. One bunch of deep red tulips cost only $2.50. I brought them home and retrieved a vase from a high shelf.

Recently I have been writing a nature journal to cover the winter season. I walk by the river and reflect, then come home to recount the experience. I habitually light a candle for every session at the desk. The amber flame casts insufficient light for the work, so some lamplight is required, yet the candle guides my psychological journey through the dark of the year.

Excessive clutter curses creativity. It comes hand in hand with depression. Garbage and papers distract us from the pure, clear sea in which we must swim to create something new.

I can give myself few gifts better than a clean kitchen. When I arrive home from the shop late afternoon, a clear work space invites me to spend 20 minutes assembling an interesting and nutritional meal. Then I can launch into my evening writing routine with gusto. More often than not, I find instead a pile of dishes with no open space to prepare anything. A single pot of pasta must suffice, with sauce from a jar. Then a few more things go on top of the pile.

A while ago osodecanela began eliminating clutter from his home. He made a habit of taking one unneeded object to the garbage every day when he went out. In March I will attempt the same process. I pass the dumpster en route to my car each morning. Some items can be recycled or donated. Shall we attempt this challenge together, you and I? We may need to address other kinds of clutter, too: temporal, virtual or psychological. Let’s start with physical junk as an icon of a deeper process to clear time and space for ourselves.

Not all clutter is bad. Natalie Goldberg wrote she mistrusts an excessively tidy work space. Sometimes we go too far in limiting our defintion of what is useful. A candle or a vase of tulips on a winter day may not seem like logical writing tools, but they offer an invitation. They dispel sterility, engage the senses, help escape from a purely rational process and facilitate a deeper level of consciousness.

With the right combination of elements, the desk feels like a magic wardrobe, a time machine, or a rabbit hole. With just a little effort, I can plunge into Earthsea, Lilliput, or even a real place in my mind’s eye, perhaps a quiet dock on my favourite faraway lake. Let us keep the windows and doors of the mind clear.