Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Our water still remembers how to freeze

with 33 comments

With great anticipation I awaited the rain, sleet, and perhaps even snow predicted in central Texas for the night of January 15th into the morning of the 16th. I figured I’d finally get another shot at ice-encased plants like the ones from 2007 you’ve seen in the last two posts. The rain came right on time. The temperature promptly dropped below freezing and ended up staying there for a day and a half. Alas, the morning light on January 16th revealed that practically no ice had stuck to any vegetation. I decided to wait till the 17th to go out and see whether at least the prolonged cold would have produced some things for me to photograph. As I walked along the creek that runs through the southern part of Great Hills Park, the line that is the title of today’s post sprang into my mind.*

Both of the pictures included here from that day look straight down at places where the surface of the creek was turning to ice. The abstractness of the first image appeals to me. In the second photograph, notice the amphibian in the water beneath the ice. I was so intent on capturing patterns in the congealing surface of the creek that I didn’t see the animal till I looked at my pictures on the computer screen later, and even then it took me a while.



* I find the line has several virtues. The thought is poetic. The meter is iambic pentameter. As far as Google can tell, no one has ever written down that sequence of words. Thanks, mind, for the inspiration.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2018 at 4:50 AM

33 Responses

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  1. Those look great.
    We didn’t get any precipitation here. My only picture of ice rain are from 2006 [https://wp.me/P107Dr-K8].


    January 19, 2018 at 5:01 AM

    • What great snow, for Texas, you showed back then. Sorry you didn’t get anything picturesque this week.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2018 at 8:46 AM

      • Well, maybe some other year. Or, as we did quite often for Christmas and/or New Year, visit with our cousin in Denver.


        January 19, 2018 at 11:31 AM

  2. I like the iambic title – and the frog – and the folded water!


    January 19, 2018 at 5:41 AM

    • An iambic title, a frog, and folded water are a unique combination, aren’t they? I didn’t even have to leave the neighborhood. What fun.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2018 at 8:55 AM

  3. Artistic as well as abstract images, Steve!


    January 19, 2018 at 7:15 AM

    • What better subject for abstraction than ice? As much as I don’t like the cold, I still wish we had more ice in Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2018 at 9:01 AM

  4. Love the poetry as well as the images!

    Marcia Levy

    January 19, 2018 at 7:51 AM

  5. Looks like a leopard frog. Isn’t it amazing what they can survive? I believe they have some sort of antifreeze in their system, as I recall, but it has been a long time since biology class. I remember seeing little chorus frogs swimming about in a small pool of water that had briefly thawed this time of year.


    January 19, 2018 at 9:05 AM

    • Thanks for the lead. I checked and found we do have leopard frogs (genus Lithobates) in central Texas. Don’t know that a frog would need antifreeze this far south; I’ve never seen any creek here get more than a crust of ice on it. Now that I think about it, though, when I was out two days ago I found that the water in one small depression in the limestone of the creek bed seemed to have frozen solid. When I stepped on it, it supported my weight and didn’t crack like the rest of the ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2018 at 9:19 AM

  6. Your title is great and the pictures are wonderful! Thank you and greetings.


    January 19, 2018 at 9:13 AM

  7. I am drawn to the abstractness of the first image, but I have to admit as I scrolled to the second image I saw the frog first thing! What an amazing capture! Isn’t it great when one stumbles on something even greater than they set out for?


    January 19, 2018 at 10:08 AM

    • Including something I didn’t know was there happens to me often enough that I assume it’ll keep happening. I always look forward to the next one, having no idea what or when it will be.

      If I’d seen the amphibian while I was still out at the creek, as you no doubt would have, I’d have taken closer pictures of it, framed it better, and focused on it. It’s not in ideal focus in this photograph, but it’s tolerable, especially at the size shown here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2018 at 10:37 AM

      • I’ve decided that in situations where I saw something after the fact, that it’s simply a pleasure to get an image at all. In December I was ironing – looking out over our back porch and the canyon below. A Cooper’s hawk swooped to the bird bath on the porch railing and took a robin, carrying it south a bit to the backside of the pool. Through a bathroom window I photographed the hawk. The images are all lousy – I hadn’t cleaned windows since last fall… but I was happy. I had the story of what I saw, and photos, though not the greatest, to document it. Your frog is the bright diamond of the photo… just because it was there!


        January 19, 2018 at 1:32 PM

        • Right. Some photographs, while not technically good, serve as documentation for an event that would otherwise go unrecorded. (Think of the chaotic, shaky, incomprehensible videos from police bodycams you’ve seen in the past few years.) Still, in cases like the frog shown here, the photographer in me wishes I’d done better. There have been plenty of cases where something happened so quickly that I came away with no pictures at all. We get what we can get.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2018 at 6:00 PM

  8. Steve, your title certainly has some layers of meaning and cadence. Our minds are a testament to the joy and mystery of being human.


    January 19, 2018 at 10:09 AM

  9. Great photos! I’m happy to see that you are getting enjoyment out of what we pretty much take for granted here.


    January 19, 2018 at 11:36 AM

    • Yeah, we’re in different worlds, that’s for sure. Ice is rare enough here that I never take it for granted, but look forward to seeing what magic I can find whenever we do get a good freeze.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2018 at 12:20 PM

  10. Shapes, colors, water and stones! I love the atelier of nature so much! Beautiful pictures! Wish you a wonderful 2018, Steve! Simone


    January 20, 2018 at 2:12 AM

  11. […] Yesterday you saw the sideways way the surface of the water pulls and folds and stretches on the rare occasions when it freezes in our creeks. Another sort of freezing that we rarely see in Austin is the kind that turns the dripping-dropping movement of cold water into textured downward columns made of ice. Sustained temperatures in the 20s from the night of January 15th through the morning of the 17th did the trick. Both of today’s photographs show you icicles that had freeze-dripped down from the roof of the picturesque limestone overhang in the southern part of Great Hills Park. […]

  12. I read recently that alligators push their nose up through the ice in order to breathe and go into suspended animation. The photo from Florida’s harsh winter showed the gator’s nose frozen into position above the ice. Is your frog doing the same? I couldn’t tell at this resolution, but it seemed as though he might be. This is a stunning shot. I love it when I get little unlooked for surprises in my photos.


    January 20, 2018 at 12:16 PM

    • Who doesn’t love surprises? I never know where or when or what the next one will be. I assume there will be one.

      I didn’t know that about alligators. To check your hypothesis, I looked at the original version of the photograph, which is much larger, and I didn’t see any indication of a snout poking up. As far as I can tell, the frog was completely underwater. If I’d noticed it at the time and stayed around to observe, perhaps I’d have seen it come up for air or move around.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2018 at 1:41 PM

      • My alligator recollection was in North Carolina, not Florida. I looked. Anyway, here is the very same gator I referenced in an article from the Dodo. And brumation is the scientific word for what is taking place under the water. Interesting stuff happens around us all the time and thankfully, there are people like you who find and capture it for us… even if unwittingly. 🙂
        LOOK HERE: https://www.thedodo.com/in-the-wild/alligators-stick-noses-through-ice-survive-winter


        January 20, 2018 at 11:23 PM

        • Thanks for the link and the introduction to that phenomenon and the word for it. We could say brumation is to reptiles what hibernation is to mammals. We have no alligators in Austin but there are plenty near the Texas coast. Maybe someday I’ll see some.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 21, 2018 at 8:18 AM

  13. I enjoyed your title. We talk so much about human muscle memory: fanciful as it is, perhaps nature has an equivalent memory that allows long-unused capabilities to emerge.

    For me, the abstractness of the first photo resolved itself rather quickly into a Modigliani-like vision of four elongated humans behind an icy picket fence. It also brought to mind the opening verse of “In The Bleak Midwinter”:

    “In the bleak mid-winter
    Frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron,
    Water like a stone.”

    At first, I missed the frog in the second photo because I was so taken with the image as fire and ice. The combination of cold, blue shards and golden light certainly does recall Frost’s poem. As for the frog, he’s probably just on the hunt for a little warmer mud.


    January 20, 2018 at 10:15 PM

    • “Fanciful” is a good word for it. Or maybe the concept isn’t so fanciful, as atoms “remember” how they’re supposed to behave. All my adult life I’ve been baffled by the transition from inanimate to animate: one moment there’s supposedly no consciousness, and then miraculously and forever after there is. Metaphysics for a Sunday morning.

      Modigliani: how apt a referent for those elongated forms of ice. He lived to be only 35.

      “In The Bleak Midwinter” is another good connection. For whatever reason, during the recent Christmas season not once did I hear that song, which is a favorite.

      And you’re three for three with the connection to “Fire and Ice,” by the appropriately named Frost.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2018 at 8:02 AM

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