More Hair Ice!

After an unusually mild January, we just started a bit of a cold snap. That means hair ice (frost flowers)!

Larger sticks can “grow” longer hair ice, but small sticks sometimes have especially pretty formations — especially if it wasn’t especially cold. This was a fairly small stick.

This is a much larger stick — really a branch, maybe 3-4″ diameter. The length of frost grown is comparable in this case, but the result isn’t as spectacular. However, it shows off the way the frost grows quite nicely!

Sometimes the tiniest sticks produce the prettiest formations — because you can actually see them! In a big, fluffy formation, it can be hard to see the individual strands of frost. This formation is on a tiny stick at the side of the driveway.

By contrast, here’s a frost flower that looks like a piece of cotton wool. It’s neat, but also hard to see enough detail to truly appreciate it.

I’ll close out with one that puts the “hair” in “hair ice”. They really do look like powdered ringlets! That’s because as the ice grows, it has a slight curve in one direction, resulting in a curl 🙂


Rob and I were lucky enough to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for a few days. We were even more lucky because KÄ«lauea had resumed erupting a few days before, and had a lovely lava lake in the crater!

We got up well before dawn to see it before dawn, and it was well worth the effort. It truly felt like looking into the heart of the earth.

Glowing lava lake, with brilliant lines of incandescent red split by black
KÄ«lauea lava lake, taken from the KÄ«lauea overlook

Note that we didn’t have a good camera, so this was taken with my iPhone. It gives the right impression, but doesn’t do it justice. In reality, the “cracks” in the cooled surface lava are crisper and cleaner, but the incandescent light tends to overwhelm even a decent camera.

It probably takes a really good camera and maybe some filters to really capture it. As dawn broke, it was easier to catch a somewhat representative picture.

Dawn over the KÄ«lauea crater. The crater is still vivid.
KÄ«lauea crater at dawn. The level of incandescence is more accurate at this point. The bright points are lava fountains.

This was at 6:42 a.m., well into dawn. I’m really glad we arrived in full dark, but people arriving at this point still got a good show.

However, people arriving after full light got a completely different experience!

KÄ«lauea crater, the inner crater steaming and black. There is one visible spot of red, which is a lava fountain.
KÄ«lauea crater at full light. The inner crater that is steaming is the lava lake. The temperature hasn’t changed, but the liquid lava is no longer clearly visible. One lava fountain is visible at the top/center of the crater.

It was still amazing, but not nearly as awe-inspiring as clearly seeing the liquid lava.

Highly recommended, if you are lucky enough to get the chance!

Frost Flowers with Snow!

We’re lucky enough to live in a region that gets frost flowers (hair ice) several times each winter.

On the morning of the solstice, for the first time we had both frost flowers and snow. I was initially disappointed, because I expected the snow to ruin the frost flowers, but it was a very light dusting of cold, small flakes — so it actually added an interesting dimension to the frost flowers.

Curving strands of frost support a delicate snowflake
Closeup of hair ice holding a perfect snowflake.

Frost flowers (hair ice) form when there are sodden sticks that dip below freezing overnight. Around here, the sweet spot is ~28-31 F. It needs to be cold enough to produce frost, but not so cold as to freeze the stick solid.

The ice forms on the surface of the stick, and is extruded as it freezes to form “hair” which can take beautiful forms that look like silvery locks or silvery flowers.

 Curving threads of ice that look like parted white hair, coming from a stick
Characteristic hair ice formation

There is a fungal association with Exidiopsis effusa. Around here, there is also a clear preference for alder twigs and branches. I’m not sure whether that’s what the fungus prefers, or whether the wood somehow favors frost flower formation.

Frost flower and hair ice are two terms used semi-interchangeably. As far as I can tell, the distinction is mostly based on the type of formation. If it’s a burst formation (e.g. from the end of a stick), it’s a frost flower. If it looks like hair growing out of the middle of a stick, it’s hair ice. Even though most of what we get is probably more hair ice than frost flowers, I like the latter term better 🙂

Frost flowers and hair ice are relatively rare worldwide. They require specific conditions to “grow”. In climates with cold winters, you might be lucky enough to see a few in the autumns.

Here in the Puget Sound area, the winters are mild and tend to only dip below freezing occasionally. We also have an abundance of alders. That gives us the ideal conditions for hair ice and frost flowers.

White frost formations growing from a branch against a leafy background
Frost flower in the wild

To see them, go out on a cold morning and check any local alder groves. They tend to be more common at the edges of alder groves, where the sticks are a bit more exposed… but that depends on the temperature range. On a very cold morning (25-28F) there may be such formations deeper in the woods.

They are most common on mid-sized twigs and branches (~1/2-2″ diameter), but occasionally they grow on larger or smaller branches.

Garden Update

It’s mid-summer here, and the garden is blooming.

The garden got a bit of a slow start, since we had an unusually cool and rainy spring. We had at least a little rain every couple days into the second half of June. It was much better than last year’s sudden and brutal heat wave, but it definitely slowed the garden down.

For quite a while, the only things flowering in the garden were German Chamomile and borage. The German Chamomile is now mostly done, but the borage will keep on trekking until autumn.

Borage can get a little funny looking and leggy late in the season, but I’m a fan. The pollinators love it!

The bread seed poppies got a bit of a slow start — the very first bloom opened July 2nd. They’re in full swing now, though, and should hopefully bloom gloriously at least to the beginning of August.

I’ll have to try some extra clusters scattered at the edge of the trees next year. The deer completely leave the bread seed poppies alone, and they make a wonderful clump of color!

I have a nice variety this year: red frilly, red with a purple tinge, purple, and purple-pink.

So far, I’m fairly pleased with how the garden is doing.

I set up a thorough caging system starting at the beginning of July, since last year I had so much trouble with things tipping over. The setup (wood stakes with holes drilled through, and hoops of heavy wire) is working well, but at 3′ tall may not be tall enough. We shall see!

Next year I’d like to inter-plant the potatoes more with borage and edible chrysanthemums and other tall things. This year I just planted a couple sunflowers in the midst of the potatoes, and so far it has worked well… the deer didn’t chomp it off! We’ll see how well it flowers.

I like having the feverfew and bread seed poppies clustered on the sides. I like having some mullein at the back.

I’d like to work a bit more on the plants at the front of the beds. I have some Tiny Tim sweet alyssum, which is nice but too sparse. I have some marigolds; again, nice but too sparse.

I saw some adorable Little Gem marigolds at the nursery, but they were taken. I’ll definitely try to get my hands on some of those next year!

I do think I need some more mid-height things to go between the front of the bed and the massive green potatoes, though….

Cosmos might be an option. I planted some at the back, but slugs took a toll, and they aren’t actually that tall (especially not the yellow/orange/red ones).

I’m still waiting to see how late summer goes. I have sweet peas just starting in baskets, and I have tall coreopsis growing and growing, but no sign of blooms yet.

Last year, the lambada monad and coreopsis dominated the late-summer garden. I’m hoping they come into their own!

I will report back next month….


We had been wanting to visit the big trees of California for some time. I visited Muir Woods when I lived in the Bay Area, but it was many years ago.

Since this was to be our first roadtrip since the start of the pandemic, we decided to do a relatively short roadtrip, just as far as Redwood National Park in far northern California.

We meandered down through Eastern Oregon. Along the way we saw many volcanoes…

We also ran across a rather wonderful rock formation popular with rock climbers.

We saw the largest living Ponderosa at LaPine State Park.

And we swung by Crater Lake.

Our first introduction to the northern redwoods was on highway 199, which actually cuts through Jedediah Redwood State Park. There were a number of incredible trees visible from the road, plus the unexpected bonus of a fair number of blooming rhodies.

The next morning, we went to see big trees in earnest, starting at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the southernmost of the four clustered parks.

We started with Big Tree.

We then continued on the Cathedral Tree Trail. This was a wonderful and incredibly peaceful trail. You had to watch your footing: there was a fair bit of up and down, and lots of roots.

In exchange, we got to see some truly amazing trees, as well as acres of peaceful forest.

The sheer scale of the big trees is hard to capture.

The thing that impressed us wasn’t any single big tree, but the sheer number. 6 foot diameter trees are commonplace, whereas in many parks they would be a crown jewel.

We then looped back on Foothill Trail, which was very flat and easy. It still had many beautiful redwoods, as well as some of the biggest California Bay I had ever seen.

The next morning, we ventured farther north to Jedediah Redwoods State Park. Our route cut from the highway up Howland Hill Road, a wonderful narrow gravel road that zigzags through some absolutely gorgeous trees.

It’s really a one-lane road, and slow going, but it doesn’t matter because the surroundings are so beautiful.

We didn’t encounter a single car between the south end and the Boy Scout Tree Trailhead. After that, it started to get busy.

Our target was the Grove of Titans.

It was very beautiful, with trees that rivaled or exceeded the largest trees we saw at Prairie Creek. There were also a lot more people… we only encountered a handful of people tromping around Prairie Creek, whereas we were often in earshot of other people when walking the Grove of Titans trail.

However, the trees were incredible, and the path was very well maintained. We’re glad we went, but it was interesting to see how variable the people-pressure was.

The understory was different: vine maples and rhododendron and Tanoak and maidenhair fern — none of which we had seen at Prairie Creek. It was fun to see the impact of the added elevation, and the resulting extra moisture.

All in all, the redwoods were awesome in the old sense of the word.

They made me feel small, but in a comforting way. These were trees that had seen many centuries of little humans pass them by.

May they see many more!

Bird List May 21, 2022

I’m continuing to enjoy the Merlin bird app. I also enjoy watching the birds around the house. We have robins nesting in a big rhodie; I think the eggs have hatched, since I’ve been seeing the robins come in regularly with worms.

We also have Juncos that fledged recently. The parents come for the suet and black oil sunflower seed. The babies, who look more like finches at this point, cluster around begging. They’re starting to pick and peck on their own, at least some.

This week’s bird list (unverified audio ID in italic; newcomers in bold):

  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Barred Owl
  • Black headed Grosbeak
  • Brown Creeper
  • Chickadee, Black-capped
  • Chickadee, Chestnut-backed
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Crow, American
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Flycatcher, Pacific Slope
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Junco, Dark-eyed
  • Mallard
  • Nuthatch, Red-breasted
  • Pine Siskin
  • Red Crossbill
  • Robin
  • Song Sparrow
  • Stellar’s Jay
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Towhee, Spotted
  • Warbler, Wilson’s
  • White-crowned sparrow 
  • Western Tanager
  • Wood Duck
  • Wren, Bewick’s
  • Wren, Pacific
  • Vireo, Warbling

Unlikely IDs by Merlin:

  • Spotted Sandpiper

Birds who were here last week who I didn’t see and Merlin didn’t hear this week (any in italics were just based on Merlin, and could be mis-IDs):

  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Finch, Purple
  • Goldfinch, American
  • Warbler, Hermit
  • Warbler, Yellow-rumped

Birds, Birds, Birds

Last week, one of the authors I follow on Twitter (Ursula Vernon) mentioned a birding app that could ID birds based on song.

I promptly downloaded Merlin, and have been having a blast.

I can just stand in the morning chorus, and it picks out what birds it hears. You can also explore the songs of birds, or look up birds based on appearance and other characteristics. It’s quite wonderful!

I’m going to start doing a weekly bird list. Many of these will be from auditory ID (thanks, Merlin!), but I’ll also include any that I identify visually.

  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Barred Owl
  • Brown Creeper
  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Chickadee, Black-capped
  • Chickadee, Chestnut-backed
  • Crow, American
  • Finch, Purple
  • Flycatcher, Pacific Slope
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Goldfinch, American
  • Junco, Dark-eyed
  • Nuthatch, Red-breasted
  • Pine Siskin
  • Robin
  • Song Sparrow
  • Stellar’s Jay
  • Towhee, Spotted
  • Warbler, Hermit
  • Warbler, Wilson’s
  • Warbler, Yellow-dumped
  • Western Tanager
  • Wood Duck
  • Wren, Pacific
  • Vireo, Warbling

We have had some ups and downs with birds this year, but I was happy to see a Junco feeding its baby yesterday!

Occasional Chronicle

I’m going to start keeping a chronicle of the goings-on around here: birds, plants, etc.

This is a time of year when a lot of birds pass through. Today we had two new arrivals!

Wilson’s Warbler (I think):

It’s hard to be sure, because it keeps flitting around, but as far as I could see it’s the only little yellow bird with a black cap.

And Western Tananger:

Who knows how long they will stay, but I’m happy to have them!

Rhodie Species Garden

Yesterday I met up with Mom, Dad, my brother, and his wife to wander the rhodie species garden in Federal Way, WA.

If you live in the Puget Sound region, the rhodie species garden in Federal Way is well worth a visit. It’s at its peak in May and June, but they have done a good job with the garden structure — it would be a nice meander year-round.

The walk into the gardens has a concentration of really lovely rhodies! The jolly pink one is Rhododendron oribiculare SW China

They had a wonderful glasshouse! I think of rhodies as being temperate, but there are some sub-tropical rhodies.

Although the gardens are at their peak in May and June, they do a good job of making them appealing year-round, both with a variety of plantings and with good structural design.