The Ice Queen

Yesterday, we had an ice storm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Schools and many businesses were closed, but for the most part, little harm was done. The power surged just once in our neighborhood.

The ice coated everything from the ground up with at least a quarter inch of ice. There was more ice in some places, while others received much less. The ice accumulation depended on elevation, air temperature, and the amount and types of precipitation in any given area.

One thing was sure at our location. The layer of ice created a crystal palace appearance to all it embraced. It was joyous to look out and see nature’s beauty enhanced all the more.

I was surprised to see so few birds at our many feeders placed strategically around our front and back yards. But by mid-day, they apparently got hungry enough or felt safe enough to venture out from the security of their perches to come to the feeders.

I was ready for them with my cameras. I captured a brilliant red male Northern Cardinal sitting on a branch of a frosted evergreen. But it was his female companion that stole the show.

The female Northern Cardinal perched on an ice-incrusted limb of a young tulip poplar tree we had planted earlier this year. The photograph embodied the whole of the day.

The encasement of the ice is clearly visible, while the thin ice pellets pepper the background. With its burnished tulip-like blossoms frozen in time, the dormant tree beautifully accented the Cardinal’s lovely muted red and olive coloration.

This female Northern Cardinal earned the title “The Ice Queen.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Finding the good in the bad weather

Snow scene by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowy scene in Holmes County, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Weather is one of my favorite hobbies. Living in Ohio’s Amish Country affords me plenty of climatological variety to enjoy.

That is especially true in the winter. We never know what winter will bring here when it comes to weather. It could be mild. It could be cold. It could be dry. We could be buried in snow. And all of those scenarios could happen in the same winter season.

I especially like an occasional heavy snow. I love the beauty, the peacefulness, the serenity an abundant snowfall brings. The landscape comes alive, green pine boughs heavy laden with a snowy burden, fire engine red Cardinals searching for seeds, chestnut horses romping in the white, fluffy playground, children bundled up to build snowmen.

Cardinal and corn by Bruce Stambaugh
A male cardinal at an ear corn feeder.

Of course, such a snow causes headaches for travel and unwanted expenses for municipalities expected to clean every last flake from the roadways. Tow truck drivers, on the other hand, revel in the bounty of pulling vehicle after vehicle out of ditches.

For my part, the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to snow. I can’t say the same thing about an ice storm, however.

Our most recent experience with a widespread ice event is example enough. Ice-coated trees crashed onto power lines and highways. I both pitied and admired the road and utility workers who braved the dangerous elements trying to restore order out of the icy chaos.

Stores lost valuable business. Schools altered schedules, academic and extracurricular alike. People who lost power and didn’t have access to a generator had to wait it out, sometimes for days.

Ice clogged by Bruce Stambaugh
The ice storm clogged roads and gutters alike.

Eventually, though, some good managed to find its way through the gloom and dismay of the ubiquitous ice. Ice-coated branches sparkled, even from nighttime’s artificial light.

Moon crescent by Bruce Stambaugh
Even the light from a thin creasent moon reflected off of the icy landscape.

But often it takes us awhile to see the glimmering light of an ice storm. The most obvious benefits came in the first light of day. Once the clouds diminished, the low angled rays of sunrise and later sunsets ricocheted across the icy landscape. Even the light of a thin crescent moon slid its tiny light across the shiny, slippery iced-over acres of fallow fields.

The light came in other natural forms, too. A kind neighbor sauntered over to sprinkle calcium on the inch thick, hard blanket of ice that covered the walk and parking pad. After a few minutes, he began chipping the icy glaze just because it needed to be done. I joined him, and a congenial conversation brightened the otherwise dull day.

A township resident called to say that he and his neighbors had cleaned up the downed tree limbs save the one they couldn’t reach that still dangled above the roadway. The lone highway worker would not have to clear that section of the road of debris thanks to their thoughtfulness and commitment to doing the obvious for safety sake. Why wait on paid personnel when a volunteer effort gets the job done just as well?

As we saw again last week, an ice storm can be devastating. Urban and rural commerce and individual residents alike suffer the cold consequences.

Conversely, an ice storm can also be a bright ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismal winter. I enjoyed the enhanced scenery and the visit of the friendly neighbor.

However, having experienced this most recent icy incident and the one in late 2004, the next one can wait awhile as far as I’m concerned. That weather is a bit too extreme, even for me.

K Hertzler Art

Artist and nature journalist in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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