Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ice Bow

Lakeside Marsh in Winter, 8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
The painting above was done in the same area mentioned in an earlier post, "Sporting Art...Sort of". This plein air painting shows a small inlet through a marsh into frozen over Utah Lake. Across the lake are weather shrouded mountains of the Basin and Range. The stories that follow took place on this same lake on cold but sunny days. These are some of the kind of "gifts" mentioned in an earlier post. I wish I had a camera with me then, but I didn't. All I have are these stories.

Utah Lake often freezes over in winter. When it does, the ice can be a foot and a half thick, although that can vary near inlets and underwater springs. I do my best to be certain the ice is strong enough to hold my weight before venturing out onto it, but there aren't any guarantees. The lake ice gives me a new place to walk and even hike when the season is cold enough, a place not only different in location from my usual trails, but different in kind. The expansive flatness is in extreme contrast to the steep and dramatic mountains that surround the valley. Windblown patterns of snow, feathery formations of frost, jumbled ice blocks of a pressure ridge, are only a few of the things that draw me out onto the ice. The frozen surface of a big lake is a very different place.

The frost and ice crystals on the frozen lake refract light more brilliantly than any place on land I’ve seen, and I’ve been treated to some wonderful displays of colored light. On a day in January of 2004, my walk on the ice took me northward for a mile or so. The sky was clear, although some haze could be seen along the base of the mountains. When I turned to walk back, the brightness of the early afternoon sun was strong, so I put on a hat to shade my eyes. Then I saw the colors. It looked as though glitter of all colors had been spread all over the ice! The most intense area of color was centered six or eight feet from me in line with the sun. From there, the “glitter” extended from me in two directions for thirty or forty feet, in bands approximately thirty or thirty five degrees from the direction of the sun. As I walked, the colors sparkled dazzlingly. The most intense area of color followed me around on the ice, always keeping between me and the sun. I was fascinated by what I saw that day.

But a few years later, it got even better!

In February of 2008, on a sunny day after a strong and fast moving snowstorm had passed through the area, I walked out on the frozen lake as I often do in cold winters. There I saw a show of light and color such as I’ve never before seen on the ice! What I saw could be described as an upside down rainbow on the ice! To my right, the ice bow extended miles away to the west shore of Utah Lake, near the Lake Mountains. Off to the left, the ice bow stretched to the jetty at the marina. The part of the bow closest to me was full of bright sparkles of clear color: violet, blue, green, yellow, red – all the colors of the rainbow! By comparison, the snow-covered ice seemed a dull blue-grey. As the bow stretched off in both directions, the colorful sparkles became diffuse color, like a normal rainbow. The “warm” colors were on the inside of the ice bow and the “cool” colors were on the outside of the bow, all the way to both shores. This was as clear and bright and colorful as any complete rainbow I’ve ever seen, only it was upside-down, and on the snow covered ice of a big lake. Besides this complete bow, there was a less brilliant partial bow closer to me. The ice bow followed me around on the frozen lake. I couldn’t help myself – I walked back and forth on the ice several times just to see it follow me, my shadow on one side of me and the ice bow on the other. This was amazing! I had never seen a complete bow on the ice, nor had I ever heard of one! For a few days following this, I went out on the frozen lake hoping to see the ice bow again. The weather conditions seemed the same, and there were some colorful sparkles on the snow, but no more than usual. The ice bow was there only for a day, and I haven’t been able to catch one out there since.

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