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The low angle of the sunrise ignites the delicate crystals, greeting early risers with a show of sparkling diamonds

Jack Frost

When Jack Frost comes, there's always fun. He, plays his pranks on everyone. He pinches ears, and cheeks, and toes; but, where he's standing no one knows. He paints upon the windowpane: a flower, a bridge, a vine, a train. He nips the leaves upon the trees, this busy fellow no one sees.

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When the temperatures dive in Winter, frost-works may paint intricate portraits on our windowpanes, but we may be too numb to notice. Jack Frost, the elusive elf said to bring Winter's nipping cold, is a mysterious and often overlooked, artist.

Jack Frost gets the credit, and the blame, for much of Winter's intricate art. When a cold, clear night decorates every leaf with sparkling frost crystals, Jack Frost was there. On cold Winter nights, he sometimes paints window panes with ferns, strings of pearls, paisley prints and ostrich plumes. Although we never see Jack Frost, his distinctive art tells us where he's been at work.

Jack Frost was born of Winter's nipping cold and our need to explain nature's phenomena. Years ago, cultures in cold northern climates invented tales that personified and explained Winter's mysteries. Russian storytellers told of Father Frost, a mighty blacksmith whose chains bound the earth and waters with the tight grip of Winter. In Germany, snowfall came from old Mother Frost in a sparkling white robe, shaking her bed and making the white feathers fly.

Jack Frost is said to come from Scandinavia. The Norse god of the winds had a son named Jokul, meaning icicle, or Frosti. Of course, the American version became Jack Frost, the elusive elf responsible for tracing patterns of frost on plants and window panes.

Frost isn't too popular with some folks. Farmers and gardeners watch for frost in order to protect tender plants or bring in the last tomatoes. Frost prediction today is a job for meteorologists, but years ago farmers had little more than an almanac and their weather wisdom to forecast the coming weather. Observing signs from nature and the weather patterns that followed, weather watchers formulated little proverbs that were handed' down through the generations, such as "clear moon, frost soon."

A frosty sunrise has a crystalline beauty all its own. The world glitters like polished jewels as the sun's rays creep over the horizon. Frost outlines the edges of leaves and wildflowers, illuminating their familiar shapes. The low angle of the sun ignites the delicate crystals and greets early risers with a show of sparkling diamonds.

Toward the end of the growing season, it's a pretty accurate sign, especially if the evening air is dry and still. A clear moon means the. night sky is cloud-free, allowing the earth's heat to radiate without clouds reflecting any heat back. As the atmosphere cools quickly and plants give up their heat, the air surrounding plants condenses, forming dew or, if it's cold enough, frost.

Ice flowers or frost works are another surprise from Jack Frost. On cold Winter nights, he's been known to paint intricate pictures of frost on-some window panes. Modern windows are made to seal in moisture and heat, but older windows may have all the right ingredients to grow a variety of ice crystals. Moisture from inside the home collects on the storm window, and the extreme cold outside can turn that' moisture into frost. Usually a plain, sugar-coating frost forms, but sometimes the frost creates amazing pictures resembling underwater landscapes, lace doilies, climbing vines or fir trees.

If you have such a window in your home, you may have noticed frostworks only form when the thermometer dips close to zero. A weather watcher's proverb for frostworks might be: "When frostworks on the window pane grow; the temps tonight will drop mighty low.

Scientists have some interesting theories about frostworks' elaborate patterns. W.A. Bentley, a Vermont farmer and pioneer in ice crystal study, conducted an experiment in which he scratched his initials into a window and photographed the crystals that formed W.A.B. He concluded frost gathers first along abrasions, because scratches create tiny concave surfaces that slow evaporation and have a slightly cooler temperature.

The overall design of the frostworks on my kitchen window sweeps across in long curved strokes, much like the motions made when washing a window. But could tiny scratches account for all the intricate formations? Probably not.

We know the basic shape of ice crystals comes from the hexagonal structure of ice molecules, but what causes crystals to branch out in complex patterns? According to physicist James Langer of the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, Calif., crystals' branching patterns may be caused by their need to reach out. In order to a grow, an ice crystal must stay cold, but water gives off heat as it freezes. The crystal reaches out its arms or dendrites to find colder space to disperse heat.

Like snowflakes, each ice crystal is a unique creation, because they're extremely sensitive to changing humidity and temperature. Colder temperatures and ample moisture make the. dendrites grow faster, longer and sharper. Warmer temperatures and dry air slow a crystal's growth, producing smoother, less intricate shapes. For example, 18 degrees to 10 degrees. produces smooth hexagonal plates, and 10 degrees to 3 degrees creates fancy fernlike starts.

Even with research and theories, we still haven't unlocked all the mysteries of Jack Frost. His unique artistry decorates nature's season of rest, but we're often saddened by his coming. Winter's cold and forced enclosure makes us as reluctant as children postponing bedtime. Despite the inconvenience and discomfort, Winter is not without its beauty and purpose. Blanketed in, white silence, the world awaits in a frozen cocoon, preparing for the magic of Spring's renewal.

Helen and D.J. Hendrickson are readers from Chardon, Ohio
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Author:Hendrickson, Helen
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 11, 2001
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