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Finding Frost Flowers

Sunday, November 22, 2020



It was a typical crisp blue morning walk, November 18, with Curtis in high spirits and me following his lead. I love how his bells give a Doppler effect as he comes tearing by like a tiger train. 


 I never know where we'll end up on beautiful mornings like this. We often end up in strange places on gray mornings, too. 

It was a rare morning with the temperature around 28 degrees in this beautiful, protracted autumn. I was drawn down a trail I've recently re-opened, one I last cut when Phoebe was in a backpack on my back! I remember swinging the boltcutter style clippers as her sweet drowsy weight shifted from side to side. I was a pack mule then, and I still work like one. I have this idea that I'm going to cut trails to all my favorite places on our land. It's rather a big job, but oh what a delight it is to be able to walk without getting whipped and snagged! I'll git 'r' dun!! The trick is taking tiny bites of the 1,000 pound pumpkin,  not trying to eat it all at once. 

We came out into a badly overgrown gasline cut and my eye was drawn to white structures in the weeds.
First I saw one


and another, and another...


and it's fitting that this one is shaped like a heart, because I love love love finding these little things on a frosty morning!

Frost flowers! FROST FLOWERS!!
blooming only when the nights dip into the 20's (Fahrenheit)
followed by bright sun (or not, as I think about it; I don't think the sun has much to do with it, except that sudden dips of temperature like that generally are followed by bright sunny mornings)


The best ones look like ribbon candy. Far as I can figure out, frost flowers form when very cold temperatures shatter the cells in a still-moist plant stem, creating thin fissures through which water and
sap ooze. The liquid freezes as it is extruded, and the plant just keeps taking up water, probably through capillary action, because at that point, like the Wicked Witch, it's not only merely dead; it's really most sincerely dead. 

Now, I've seen people claim that the only plant that makes frost flowers is wingstem Actinomeris alternifolia, and I've seen them on wingstem, but I've also seen them on asters. And these were a first for me, because they were all on pennyroyal Hedeoma pulegioides!


This is pennyroyal, after frost, of course. It smells divine, even then. A very potent inhabitant of dry  clearings. 


My father Dale Z. pronounced it "PENnaroyal" and, as was his way, sought out herbal drops containing it, many decades before that was considered a cool thing to do.  He was fascinated with horehound, too! My dad, man. What a guy. So I knew the smell of "pennaroyal" somewhere in my bones, knew that's what it had to be the first time I ran into it in this clearing back in about 1993. "Huh!" I sez to meself. "That must be pennaroyal!" And it was. 


 I'm so curious now, to know what makes a plant eligible to produce frost flowers. Wingstem and asters are composites, but pennyroyal is a mint. I looked and couldn't find frost flowers on anything but pennyroyal in this clearing. More data needed. More data is always needed.


Frost flowers, to be quite honest, look at first glance like Styrofoam packing peanuts scattered in the leaf litter, and I'm sure many people don't even think twice to wonder what they are when they see them, but do please think twice, and get down and admire them before they're gone.


The best ones look like ribbon candy, spun silk. You have to get down on all fours to shoot them properly, on elbows and stomach to shoot them best

and I am happy to say that I am still vulnerable to dog bombing while trying to make photos of them.


This dog is not as liable to step on my subjects as the first one was, but like The Bacon, he seems to linger in the background longer than might be expected or even proper


and what are the chances that a photographer would end up with two dogs in a row who are terrible camera hogs


who know exactly what they're doing and even leer a bit as they zip through my careful compositions




two dogs who are shameless, deliberate photobombers


unless that first little photobomber somehow arranged to have another sent my way


or perhaps is coaching him from his pile of fleecy blankies inside a Dogburger of softness in the Great Beyond?


It's thoughts like this that flit through my mind when certain dogs do certain things that fill me with joy 

and make me wonder if somebody somewhere is pulling strings so I won't miss him so terribly on those cold crispy mornings that Chet, having practically no fur on his undercarriage, wasn't so keen on



the mornings Curtis loves like I do.


6 comments:

I always learn something when I come here. Do you grant degrees?

I always think my animals photobomb me because they can tell my attention isn't on THEM and need to correct that obvious oversight!

My heart warmed and a little tear came to see a couple of photos of your beloved Chet Baker. We Zick-followers miss him too ... and love Curtis and his zooms and antics.

Yep, shed a few tears remembering my Penny. Love never dies. I've never heard of snow flowers, I have a new mission. Thanks for sharing such love and beauty!

Awww, thanks for making all of us Chetfans who are now Curtisfans get a little teary-eyed. And I love it that you haven't taken down the "Click on Me!" link to the random Chet posts. There are times when a person just needs to read "Chet Baker Rolled" and the like.

I love the frost flowers. I have this vague memory of finding some way back when. Will be on the lookout for them for sure. Loved the dog bombers! Chet did a good job when he discovered Curtis for you.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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