Positively Flocked!

You can’t get too much winter in the winter.

~Robert Frost

I recently sent my mother a picture of the view out of our living room window. It showed a tall spruce heavy with what appeared to be snow, but deciduous trees in the background were also coated in white. She replied, “You are positively flocked!” I had NO idea what that meant, so had to Google it. She was, as I’m sure many of you know, referring to the artificial Christmas trees that look like they are covered in snow or frost. I also learned that “flocking” means sticking little bits of fiber to a solid surface with glue…like those little hard animal figurines that are fuzzy. Supposedly flocking goes back to 1000 b.c.  #themoreyouknow.  Back to the real stuff–it’s been occurring since the dawn of hydrologic cycles and sub-freezing temperatures. Take that early civilization!

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A sometimes Frost Chime…taking a break from the wind.

That, my friends, is a chain link fence!

That, my friends, is a chain link fence!

In other chilly news: earlier today, my family and I made the fairly long drive out to Palmer, where we lived before moving into the city. Evan drove, and as he expertly maneuvered the car down the highway in nearly white out conditions, he exclaimed, “I love driving in weather like this, it means that we are going to have more winter!” The last few winters have been fairly disappointing with their lack of snow.  We are a winter loving family. Being from North Dakota and Minnesota we have heard people complain about the winter for decades, but it doesn’t faze us. Bring on the snow and cold! Evan is even excited to walk to work on Wednesday when it is forecast to be -25. What a guy!

Frost-ffiti

Frost-ffiti

Of course all of the seasons have their perks, but winter has a little something that makes us long for it when it’s over and lament its scarcity when the snow and cold don’t put on a good show. First, there are the snow sports—skiing, skating, and sledding! What is better than moving at high speeds on slippery things? Not much…maybe chocolate? Coincidentally, hot chocolate and snow sports are a likely duo often encountered during fantastic winters. Even shoveling becomes enjoyable when there is a hot chocolate reward at the end. Secondly, the northern hemisphere’s winter night sky is outstanding. It is often clear, and the illuminating and sound muffling properties of snow add a little magic to sky gazing. Orion looms above the eastern horizon after dinner and greets those out for an evening ski or dog walk. Sometimes he is the only one I see when walking or skiing with Moki. In Alaska and other northern climes we are blessed with aurora displays. There are numerous other perks: sweaters, scarves, holidays, fires, cuddling and warm nourishing foods.

Ava is a natural skier! This is from her first time on skis!

Ava is a natural skier! This is from her first time on skis!

Snow-ga

Not natural: Snow-ga

After a few disappointing winters, this winter has been stellar (dendrite)! We’ve had consistent snow fall, temperatures have remained largely above zero; and, best of all, we have had a lot of hoarfrost! Have you heard of hoarfrost? it’s an incredibly beautiful winter phenomena that happens in sub-freezing yet humid places. The Old English dictionary (c. 1290) describes it as “expressing the resemblance of white feathers of frost to an old man’s beard.”  This is an excellent description.

Frosty pup after a long ski.

Frosty pup after a long ski.

I remember seeing hoarfrost while walking near rivers or when inspecting snow conditions while back country skiing, but I have never seen anything like we’ve had in Anchorage this winter.

LED lights don't get warm, so frost can grow on them.

LED lights don’t get warm, so frost can grow on them.

Let me take a moment to brush off my rarely worn snow science hat.  My knowledge is limited as I’ve only taught these concepts to seven year old students and used them a bit when checking avalanche conditions in the mountains.  But, I think I have the basics.  Yay science!

This is about four inches across, the twig it is growing on is smaller than a pencil!

This is about four inches across, the twig it is growing on is smaller than a pencil!

 

Hoarfrost occurs when gaseous water collides with a below freezing surface, causing it to solidify without going through the liquid phase. It is similar to dew collecting on grass, trees, fences, etc., but instead of the water liquifying it solidifies into frost. Anchorage is a port city on the Cook Inlet which contains “warm” Pacific water.  Tidal changes are pretty huge in the inlet, causing this water to move pretty rapidly.  The combination of “warm” water and consistent movement allows the surface water to evaporate quickly, creating fog.  Almost miraculously, water droplets suspended in air can remain liquid at temperatures down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit!  As the fog “burns off” and returns to its vapor (gas) form, much of it interacts with solid surfaces and sticks. The result is beautiful feathering, fractal-ly, delicate frost. Some of what we see might also be “rime ice” which is created when supercooled water droplets freeze on surfaces.  Alas, my snow science skills are akin to those of a second grade student, so I don’t know the difference from sight alone (although some second graders probably do know…). Some of the fog also freezes and stays suspended in the air, creating a sparkly, magical scene swirling under street lights.

Nature's beauty

Nature’s beauty

 

Perk of city life: trails that are lit at night!

Perk of city life: trails that are lit at night!

We have experienced about a dozen foggy days over the past month, many back to back, causing some huge displays of hoarfrost.  Chain link fences appear solid, twigs on trees have “grown” tenfold, some trees sag under the weight of inches and inches of frost. The scene is a veritable winter wonderland. It is astounding what can be built off of the smallest branch. Then, in a matter of minutes when the wind picks up–Poof! it’s gone and starts again in a few days.

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Getting out in the winter wonderland with snow dogs!

Getting out in the winter wonderland with snow dogs!

While it can be difficult to get outside to enjoy all of this beuaty during the short daylight hours between baby naps, we try to get out when we can.  Luckily, the trails near our house are lit at night, so we don’t have that time crunch.  Winter is hard enough without being cooped up inside all day.

Maybe we are a winter loving family because 3/4 of our birthdays are in the winter? We just celebrated Opal’s first birthday.  The last year went so quickly.

Happy Birthday, snow girl!

Happy Birthday, snow girl!

Cupcakes for a snowy birthday: Orange with raspberry frosting and S'more (chocolate cupcake with "marshmallow" frosting and graham cracker dust). YUM winter treats!

Cupcakes for a snowy birthday: Orange with raspberry frosting and S’more (chocolate cupcake with “marshmallow” frosting and graham cracker dust). YUM winter treats!

 

How is winter in your neck o’ the woods?  What are your winter activities of choice?

I hope this finds you well and warm, maybe with a hot beverage.

Sending Peace and Love from Alaska,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

 

Leave a comment 18 Comments

  1. Sandi King says:

    Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow! I miss the snow we used to get. Our Ohio River froze solid back in the 70’s I believe or maybe later. People walked across it. A barge was trapped in it. Anyway we haven’t had that kind of winter for a long, long, time. I always loved winter with snow, less rain, less ice, but now we get mostly rain, mostly warm temps. Like yesterday was 60 with warm balmy breezes. Not right for winter. Other states get lots of snow and keep it, we get a little snow and it doesn’t stay around long. Everything melts and turns to slush and mud. I would like to see a winter that stays white for at least two months again. Oh well, I will enjoy the warm temperatures while I get them.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Where do you live, Sandi? in Ohio? I can see the benefits of warmer temps but love the winter! I hope you get some two month long winters in the coming years. Best to you!

  2. Linda says:

    We are having such a cold winter in Idaho that I told the postmaster we need an Alaska zip code! Have had unheard-of -22F! Inversion (warm in mountains, cold below) with fog which paints every twig white has treated us to that awesome sight many times this winter. Even the icicles “had sweaters on”. My winter activity is taking hundreds of pictures. And hot chocolate! And boring family and friends in warmer climates! Love your stories.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks for the giggle, Linda! Today we had -20 and lower in places. Brrrrrrrrr! There is something a bit empowering about being out in those temps…though limiting them to two or three days per year is fine with me. I was checking out temps from last week and we had an inversion, too. Over 40 degrees at 4500 ft and in the single digits down low. Mother Nature is pretty great.

  3. Denise Ross says:

    Hi Alex,
    Loved your post and photos, simply beautiful. There is a delicate beauty to frosted and icicles on branches. I love looking a these pictures and those cupcakes look so good! I bet they tasted yummy! Happy birthday to Opal. One already?! Goodness the time flies by so fast.
    I love looking at winter land pictures because I’m in Australia and we swearing our butts off here. Yesterday was 40 deg C which is 104 F and its is horrible! Too hot to do anything! I can’t wait for winter to get here, to cool down a little. I love in a moderate temp climate so we don’t get snow here and the temps don’t usually drop below 0 deg C which I think is about 40F.
    Enjoy your winter

    • Denise Ross says:

      Sorry sweating not swearing our butts off – oops forgot to spell check

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Denise! Always good to hear from our Australian Farmgirl sister. 40 C sounds truly terrible! I hope you felt a faint chill seeing my photos. It’s hard to imagine living somewhere that experiences summer December and January. Take it easy in that heat!

  4. Marilyn says:

    HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY OPAL. Wishing you a year of fun and blessings.
    Marilyn

  5. Joy Pascarella says:

    In New York near Lake Ontario can bring lake effect snows and changing weather, so we never know what to expect. Right now warm and rainy with a little flooding going on. We did have a nice white Christmas and when it gets cold and snowy, we love clearing the path to the chickens and shop but then it is soup and knitting and Netflix for us. Good time to clean closets and small neglected jobs. Thanks for sharing that beautiful hoarfrost with us. Didn’t know it had a name. Love Nature’s art work. Love reading your stories. Keep it up! Your family sure looks cute all dressed warm and active. Even the dogs.

  6. Karen Pennebaker says:

    Brrr… I got cold reading about hoarfrost, snow and 20 below…brrrr… My favorite winter activity is reading a book, wrapped in a blanket, inside where it’s reasonably warm!! I am NOT a snow bunny…snow is beautiful to look at (through the window!!)… I live in West Virginia where we sometimes get snow that lasts a week or so – one winter the ground was covered from December to March here where I live, but that’s rare. We basically have two seasons here: mud and dust!! Right now, it’s MUD…rained off and on for days and is overcast today.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Snow in WV from December to May? I never would have guessed that was even possible! I, too, love snuggling up and reading during the winter. Hope this finds you warm after reading about the cold :).

  7. Krista says:

    We have been having a pretty cold and snowy winter here as well. It is actually snowing outside as I write this. I love how beautiful the snow and frost make everything look but I am not a fan of the cold. You would think I should be since I’m a December baby but I’m always freezing! Your cupcakes look super yummy! Happy birthday Opal!

  8. Dori Troutman says:

    Dear Alex,

    I loved this post so much. And now I’m thinking I really need to come visit Alaska in the winter time again. It’s been years and years since we’ve been there in the winter! It is so completely gorgeous – I love your pictures. And I’m SO GLAD y’all are getting a good winter this year.

    And I’m totally looking forward to following along on the Iditarod (my favorite sport to follow!!!) and I hope its a really good year for all the mushers with the snow! Better than mushing on rocks, huh?

    Happy Birthday Opal! Where did the year go?

    Hugs,

    – Dori –

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Dori! The winter just keeps giving. I went skiing yesterday and stepped off trail to see how deep the unadulterated snow was–nearly up to my hips with skis on! Incredible. You should definitely come to Alaska!

      I’ve heard updates on a few of the other dog sled races and it sounds like mushers are excited for the snow. They save energy directing the dogs, but use more energy kicking and helping out the team in deep drifts. It also sounds like moose are more of a threat with all of the snow because they take advantage of the packed trails. One musher also said the whole experience is better because they don’t have the constant sound of metal scraping along ice/rocks/bare tundra. What a sport!

      The year went by far too quickly :).

      Hugs to you, too, thanks for checking in!!

      Love,
      Alex

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