Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ply visible

Another marvel from Nan Shepherd...

The freezing of running water is another mystery. The strong white stuff, whose power I have felt in swollen streams, which I have watched pour over ledges in endless ease, is itself held and punished. But the struggle between frost and the force in running water is not quickly over. The battle fluctuates, and at the point of fluctuation between the motion of water and the immobility of frost, strange and beautiful forms are evolved. Until I spent a whole midwinter day wandering from one burn to another watching them, I had no idea how many fantastic shapes the freezing of running water took. In each whorl and spike one catches the moment of equilibrium between two elemental forces. (29) avid reader, I've learned, of Daoist and Buddhist texts!

Since then I have watched many burns in the process of freezing, but I do not know if description can describe these delicate manifestations. Each is an interplay between two movements in simultaneous action, the freezing of frost and the running of water. Sometimes a third force, the blowing of wind, complicates the forms still further. The ice may be crystal clear, but more probably is translucent; crimpled, crackled or bubbled; green throughout or at the edges. Where the water comes wreathing over stones the ice is opaque, in broken circular structure. Where the water runs thinly over a line of stones right across the bed and freezes in crinkled green cascades of ice, then a dam forms further up of half frozen slush, green, though colourless if lifted out, solid at its margins, foliated, with the edges all separate, like untrimmed hand-made paper, and each edge a vivid green. Where water drips steadily from an overhang, undeflected by wind, almost perfect sphere of clear transparent ice result. They look unreal, in this world of wayward undulations, too regular, as though man had made them. Spray splashing off a stone cuts into the slowly freezing snow on the bank and flutes it with crystal, or drenches a sprig of heather that hardens to a tree of purest glass, like an ingenious toy. Water running over a rock face freezes in ropes, with the ply visible. Where the water fell clear of the rock, icicles hang, thick as a thigh, many feet in length, and sometimes when the wind blows the falling water askew as it freezes, the icicles are squint. I have seen icicles like a scimitar blade in shape, firm and solid in their place. For once, even the wind has been fixed. Sometimes a smooth portion of stream is covered with a thin coat of ice that, not quite meeting in the middle, shows the level of the water several inches below; since the freezing began, the water upstream has frozen and less water is flowing. When a level surface has frozen hard from bank to bank, one may hear at times a loud knocking, as the stream, rushing below the ice, flings a stone up against its roof. In boggy parts by the burnside one treads on what seems solid frozen snow, to find only a thin crisp crust that gives way to reveal massed thousands of needle crystals of ice, fluted columns four or five inches deep. And if one can look below the covering ice on a frozen burn, a lovely pattern of fluted indentations is found, arched and chiselled, the obverse of the water's surface, with the subtle shift of emphasis and superimposed design that occurs between a painting and the landscape that it represents. In short, there is no end to the lovely things that frost and the running of water can create between them. (31-32)

Copying this out word for word was my own act of attention; the congealing of her words is as mysterious as the processes she describes.

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