Not Always Warm Inside Mother Earths Womb

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For us humans who view earth as a living thing, we often like to use metaphorical language to help shape our understanding of the mysteries of the natural world.  Of course, for me, taking a winter jaunt into the frozen landscape is just another seasonal variance to expand my consciousness into other realms of mystery.

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At this time of the year, in my neck of the woods in Idaho, that be Riggins area more specifically, high pressure has brought sub-freezing temperatures. That spells hunkering tight for wildlife and scraping out a means of survival when conditions get tough, but also some particularly interest works of art written by some unseen hand of nature.

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Just yesterday I had this urge to go out looking for nature’s artwork.  Locally, there is an unusual rock (limestone maybe) formations that contains a cave hidden behind a curtain of waterfalls. It requires a steep hike to gain access to the entrance, then a rope for the last pitch to actually get inside the cave.

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But on this day, the upper portion of the rope (a permanent one left behind from climbers of long ago) was frozen under a slab of what looked like a micro river frozen in time. And the lower section of the tilted wall was so slippery, without crampons it was impossible to negotiate. I thought my chances to get inside were over, so I settled for photos from the outside only. But, I began thinking maybe there was another way in, so scrutinized nearby potential routes. Never had I needed or even seen one before, but soon saw some potential. It was not easy and required some serious moves in two places that came with the risk of a near vertical fall of about 30 feet, as a consequence of a mistake.

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Why didn’t I bring a rope?  Of course, I didn’t think I would need one, but how many times do these sorts of things happen that by now I should have known to come more prepared. So, the next best thing to do would be  put  my “what would MacGyver do”  thinking into play and entertain another solution from my bag of mindful tricks.  I did have a tripod with straps for carrying it on my back to free my hands for climbing. Flash, that was my light bulb.  Take the straps off to use for anchorage, (expert climbers use petons in solid rock for a good foundation) albeit shakey, to be sure, but better than nothing all the same. I really didn’t want to give up too easily.

So I managed to get a 6′ cam strap around a giant icicle for self-belay (granted, a little marginal) but reasonable with careful negotiation. Whew, I made it.  But, it did remind me of the fact that often times it takes degrees of risk to find deeper rewards offered by nature. While certainly not an expert,  I did rely on some of my semi-serious rock climbing days to make the harder and very calculated moves required to gain entrance.

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I knew my chances for success were actually high, if I did the precise moves required. All it took was seriously focused attention. No distractions, just unadulterated laser beam concentration. But having the experience of using this technique to negotiate serious rapids by boat when the river is not frozen gave me a high confidence level.

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I knew it would be worth the risk, and it was. Inside was a room full of magic-land. The shapes and formations of ice reminded me of entering a well kept secret of enchanted fairy land, where I could run rampant in fantasy world. The sound of dripping water that contributed to building all the little elf and pixie like figurines also created a surreal feeling of being able to see and listen to the heartbeat of mother earth from the inside out.

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There I go again with that metaphorical thinking and anthropomorphism. Such is the inspiration  of natures beauty and mystery. And such is it to be merely human. Ah, the birth of a new year.

Note: for those who would like to see video of this awesome place, go to our facebook page:



Ice Is Nice – Dendritic Fractals Anyone?

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There is no escape. Nature is everywhere. Even on a cold morning, its form can take shape on the window of your car. This time of year, which is also the beginning of a brand new one, (2014) nature expresses itself in the language of cold. Ice more specifically.  Interestingly the architecture of nature’s design, so eloquently translated as the real art for which  it is, is a marvelous sight to behold. How curious it is  that a sense of order can been seen in nature’s randomness. That is, each particular shape is different individually, but design wise, similar collectively. Self-replicating, fundamentally.

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When ice forms on panes of glass, it is sometimes refered to as window frost, fern frost, or ice flowers.  Some actually remind me of the symmetry seen of a large watershed when looked at from far above, like from an astronauts view point.  All the rivers branch like limbs on a tree and similar to patterns seen in the intricacy of a feather. This dendritic pattern is a central theme of nature in many formative processes, and is sometimes referred to as a fractal.  Such reoccurring  patterns, seen from near or far, are a visible form of math, in terms of how shape and scale materialize.  From bird feathers, geologic landscape formations, to ice crystals, nature has an orderly signature. Or at least, a very distinctive one, and easily recognized immediately for the hand that makes it.

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There are many types of snow and ice, all of which have certain characteristics common during the formation process. Snow crystals take the shape of a 6-sided dimension, similar to lava that also solidifies into columnar basalt matrix with the same number of  sides.  Yet, ice crystals take shape into a more dendritic fractal form.  Dendritic simply means a multi-branching tree like form, while fractal refers to a mathematical pattern that is common to much of the structure throughout nature. But why the different number of sides or patterns that give rise to each creation, and what mechanism causes them?  Hard to answer with variables stacked on top of variables that can affect the causation of such magnificent architecture.

Despite whatever explanation might describe why, the essence is Nature’s signature seems to indicate math as the main language for communicating the spirit of anything and everything that moves through nothing and all things.  While all this descriptive  ice nomenclature that provides us humans the words to communicate beauty in nature is fascinating, its formulation is still always a number’s game. But beyond that, a more pragmatic question –  why is ice slippery? I’m going to let that one slide by for now and go ice skating. Oars not needed.

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Salmon Rivers Winter Voice

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For those of us who live so close to the river, it seems the river talks to us in its own language. It doesn’t use words to speak to us, but events that communicate to us, all the same.  Such is all natures language, and the best story ever told, for those who choose to look and listen. And this time  of year the river reveals a message written in the beauty of what colder weather has to offer.

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When air temps get cold enough to freeze water, ice begins to form in variable patterns and dimensions.  Eskimos and people who live with natures extremes have developed acute appreciation of this natural communication with the elements.  They have advanced knowledge and have come to recognize many forms and meaning of ice and snow, that those who live removed from such events, have lost or never had. Each condition of a snow flake or ice crystal can mean different things. Survival depends on such recognitions, to know when it is safe to travel or not over rivers during winter months.

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Wish I had possession of such knowledge, but don’t. But I do have appreciation for at least some simple events the river throws our way this time of year. A couple of things, come to mind, anchor ice and rosettes.  Some of the shallow shoals of the river bed get ice forming on the very bottom of the river, before ever freezing over the top of it. Why? Naturally, it is colder in those areas in order to freeze, but why there, and not somewhere else of similar dimensions?  Amount of shade in those areas? Hard to know, but interesting to see.


The Salmon River drains a huge expanse of geology and therefore is a big river, in itself.  That means lots of pools, in this pool and drop type river, that are 50-60 feet deep in many places.  So only the few areas that are less than 5 feet deep, in the form of shoals and tail-outs, get the anchor ice. Although, the deeper sections between rapids sometimes freeze over entirely, with rapids getting travertine like formations that dam up water into bowl like fountains  to make  wonderful eye candy.

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In the bigger eddies with the right morphology, ice rosettes form. These are round islands of ice that are formed and trapped by the eddy that has created it. Normally, ice fingers extending out from various shorelines serve as barriers to capture downstream chunks of ice as they float downriver. These chunks then get caught in the middle of the eddy, and collectively get larger as more ice joins the slow spinning circle. Eventually the round motion causes a round circle of ice that gets so big that it barely remains separated by surrounding shoreline or mainstream ice blankets.

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Of course, sometimes the rosette joins at the edges and disappears as it becomes one with the entire blanket of ice created by extreme conditions that last for a longer time spell. So it is at the edges, of formation or melting that ice rosettes appear or disappear. It takes a mix of spin and cold to keep them alive as rosettes and the natural event that speaks to us in the winter. Thank you river.

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