A Winter Ritual / by Brandon

One of the first things I did with a digital camera was photograph ice: specifically, ice that forms on forest pools and is left behind as they empty, as thin and brittle and rich as old parchment.

This is an explorative and appreciative rather than creative act. The ice is common, but largely hidden: without a camera’s lens, I would be aware of it dimly, from a distance. Certainly I would be less apt to lie on a forest floor and lose myself in a liberating thoughtlessness of contemplation. I am, however, still half-aware as I shoot. The tiny camera-screen versions give a sense of geometries and light; only later, on a computer’s screen, do I fully see what I saw.

The patterns in the ice -- the geological fractals and topographical curves, the refractions of light, especially when the sun is low and gold -- are beautiful to me. They also appear inexplicable as products of the gradual process that is freezing; instead they seem caught in mid-air, mid-transformation, mid-dynamo.

From a different perspective, perhaps, they are. Time flows at many speeds and many scales. And through these patches of ice, which last for a few weeks or even days, and are so delicate as to snap from the stresses of a footfall yards away, one can glimpse a different current of time than our own. From within that current our own time’s passage may seem so rapid as to render our world fleeting and unnoticed, like the ice.

This has now become a winter ritual, albeit a short one: my fingertips are usually numb after a half-hour or so. I go through the pictures while lying on the couch, hot tea in hand, picking a few of the best compositions and adjusting their colors to match those in my mind’s eye. With time I’ve found myself needing to do this less, though better cameras are largely to credit. Sometimes I’ll set an image as my computer desktop background; most, though, I don’t look at again. A momentary dip into that other time is plenty. If I need to find it again, I need only a cold snap and a puddle.

Image: From this set

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