I awoke last weekend to an amazing winter wonderland.  The air was cold and still and everything was coated with white hoarfrost.  The tree branches were outlined in frost, each individual leaf was outlined, and everything was shining white.  I wandered the nearby roads and saw pine trees and shrubs, oak trees and weather vanes, all outlined in white.  Even though our snow pack had gotten old and not-so-white, the hoarfrost brightened the entire landscape and gave it a magical look.

Hoarfrost sunrise_Staats 11721I’ve just returned from a weekend with a collection of girlfriends – time spent relaxing, sharing, and getting caught up.  We were outside of Alexandria, Minnesota in the central part of the state.  The seasons are changing quickly and while we have no snow in the Twin Cities, there is snow on the landscape in Alexandria where the temperatures have remained below freezing.  Gravel roads that once gave up dust are becoming hard and frozen.  Lakes are forming ice from the shorelines inward, and the progress is noticeable from day-to-day.  I awoke early this morning to photograph, and stepped out into a wonderland of hoarfrost.  The trees and vegetation were covered with frost – all outlined in white, and the colors of the sunrise shone on the eastern horizon as day was breaking.  A boat had been hauled out of the lake and was in its winter’s resting place, far from the shoreline.  In the distance I could hear geese as they were headed south in search of open waters.  The change of seasons was clearly noticeable this morning as we are moving closer to the heart of winter.

This past week we’ve had mild temperatures at night coupled with unusually high dew points resulting in a few mornings of fog — the kind that hangs around all day, never burns off, and makes the day gray and gloomy.  It’s not a very usual occurrence here in Minnesota, so it’s always noticeable when it’s foggy for a day or two.  That was the case until Friday night when the temperature dropped down to 24 degrees and the air was still thick with moisture.  Even before daylight on Saturday it was evident that Mother Nature was gracing everything with hoarfrost.  The moisture that was clinging to trees, plants, and even fences had frozen in the air.  It was a wonderfully beautiful sight — our brown grass was dusted in sparkling white, and all the trees and branches were lined in frost.  Even more unusual was that it remained this way until midday.  The sun tried to break through the low clouds, and when the wind picked up ever so slightly there was a cascade of ice crystals that would fall down from the trees overhead.  I hiked through a local park and the landscape looked like it was photographed with infrared film.  I loved the way the frost outlined the individual links in this chain-link fence and the leaf that was captured within its squares.

This past week I headed south to the Kansas City area to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  I left the Twin Cities with two inches of snow on the ground and a temperature of about 24 degrees.  After an hour or so the sun broke through the clouds and I found myself looking repeatedly at the landscape and trying to understand what I was seeing.  With the low angle of the sun and some of the distant dark clouds the trees seem to take on a white appearance.  I knew it wasn’t snow and yet it seemed that it was too late in the day for frost.  After about 30 minutes of craning my neck from side to side I pulled off the interstate to look more closely.  As I got out of my car I realized there was a thick layer of hoarfrost coating the trees and other plants.  It was beautiful the way the sun was glistening off the frost.  I was in the farmlands of southern Minnesota and the browns of the fields and the golden grasses all made a wonderful contrast to the sparkling frost.  Within about 30 minutes the sun disappeared, the winds picked up, and the beauty that I had stopped to appreciate was gone.  This was my start to a week of thankfulness:  for nature’s moments that are given if we only stop to notice, for health that we too often take for granted, for family and for friends, both near and far.

I am excited to share with you the cover of the November/December 2010 issue of Northern Gardener Magazine.  This is a publication of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, and is crammed full of information for those of us living and gardening with the weather extremes in the USDA plant hardy Zones 3, 4, and 5.  I am thrilled that they chose one of my photographs for their magazine cover.  This image was taken on a morning last February when we awoke to a beautiful coating of hoarfrost covering our trees and plants.  The white ice crystals clung to each stem and seedhead, accentuating their beauty and impermanence.  For those of you that might be interested in Northern Gardener Magazine and/or the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, please check their website at www.northerngardener.org.

Just when I think I’ve gotten tired of the cold and the snow, Mother Nature puts a new spin on winter.  Yesterday morning I woke up to a beautiful scene.  The fog that had crept in during the overnight was freezing and coating everything with a wondrous layer of white.  Within a mile from the house I found these lovely flower heads that had been leftover from summer.  On any other day I would have walked right past them.  But with a frosting of frozen fog and their delicate arching, I became mesmerized and photographed for over a half-hour.  It was as if each small snowflake was layered ever so gently, one on top of another.   And yet this was all short-lived, as within a matter of hours the sun broke through the clouds and the wind picked up, eliminating any remnants of this morning scene.