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Etchings By Jack Frost

( Originally Published 1907 )

"When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail."


IN ZERO weather, in mid-winter, when the earth is frozen to a great depth below the surface, when in driving over the unpaved country roads they give forth a hard metallic ring; when the trees are all stripped of their coverings, with the exception of a few forlorn brown leaves, which cling tenaciously to the skeleton branches, which crack and sway in the chilly blasts; then indeed we may be fully assured that nature has utterly succumbed to the advances of the Frost King, and that " Jack Frost" himself has arrived in earnest.

How he tweaks and nips exposed ears and noses, and how they tingle and ache because of his stinging caress. Jack Frost, we read, is "the very personification of frost and cold." All of us are more or less familiar with the mischievous pranks of Jack Frost, and they are quite separate and apart from those of the gentle white hoar frost, which is frequently seen early in autumn, upon the first still, cool mornings.

" Jack Frost," as the great Frost Spirit is familiarly known the world over, is a most important, if rather mythical person-age, and very few of us are really familiar with the works which he creates in his more serious moods, and the really wonderful methods which he displays. For, with all his mischief-making, he finds abundant opportunity to work out and display much really fine artistic ability in his choice etchings and decorative schemes.

The night time seems to be most favourable for the finest efforts of Jack Frost; usually in mid-winter or early spring. He prefers to select a still, cold night, zero weather, for his best out-of-door display, but it is usually in the coldest winter weather that he applies his very choicest designs upon the glass of our windows, and just how charming and interesting they are, you may judge by the photo-graphed designs herein shown.

Upon a still moonlit night, when Jack Frost is astir, if you chance to be out of doors, especially in the open country, you will be made aware of his presence in many ways besides the tingling of your ears. Suddenly a sharp mysterious report will occur in the forest, and a great tree trunk is cleft mysteriously in twain. Again an ominous cracking, as loud as a rifle report comes from the still ice-covered pond. It is merely jack Frost indulging in a bit of rifle-practice.

That barren field, brown and unattractive by daylight, how it glistens and scintillates as the moonlight floods it. All last summer's withered seed pods and grasses; the fluffed-out goldenrod, and many others are rejuvenated and hung with sparkling, pendent ropes of jewels, all the creation and work of the Frost Spirit, who has simply paused to caress them with his icy breath, in passing, and lo, they are beautiful. Later, when the morning sun touches them, they all, like Cinderella, are shorn of their finery, and become as before, just mere commonplace, brown and withered seed pods again. But with infinite patience, as soon as it is twilight the following night, the Frost Spirit steals forth again and restores once more his magic, fantastic pictures by the rays of the wintry moonlight.

The heavy frosts are a recognised and most important factor in creating remark-able changes in rocky formations of the earth's surface. Large masses of rock are constantly being split and reconstructed by its mighty blasting powers, and great sections of solid material are converted in the same manner into soil by the secret action of the frost, which works continually with the other elements of heat and water to effect these changes. These powerful agents working year after year cause vast and important changes to occur in the formation of mountains and valleys. So great is the power of frost, that it has frequently been utilised in blasting; when water being poured into the crevice of a great rock, and allowed to freeze, the rock was readily split, as desired.

All vegetation succumbs readily to the withering blight of the frost with the exception of the evergreen varieties. The cause for this is, that the juices of plants naturally expand when touched by the frost, and at last burst, which destroys the vesicles or life of the plant, which soon blackens and dies. Of all the pranks in which jack Frost indulges, his wholesale destruction of the beautiful flowers and plants is the greatest to be deplored. But with all the marvellous works of the mighty Frost Spirit, nothing is quite so fascinating and interesting as the curious phenomena or frost formations which he creates and deposits upon the window-panes in mid-winter, Jack Frost is a finished artist, I assure you, and his etchings are dainty and attractive beyond words.

If you have entered an unlighted room, and seen the moonlight filtering palely through a frost-etched window; then you know its charm. How it glittered and sparkled, the delicate frostwork. You were attracted no doubt and marvelled at the dainty tracings, but few of us have really had an opportunity to study the detail of these frost designs minutely, or have considered that there were more than three or four designs at most.

It is only quite recently, in fact, that the beautiful etchings of Jack Frost have been classified and photographed in all their perfection. Happily this has now been accomplished, by the aid of a compound photographic camera, and it opens up a new and fascinating field to the camera expert as well as to the student of frost crystals. Marvellous indeed is the variety and detail displayed in these attractive window-pane etchings furnished by the Frost Spirit, and if one is housed some day, in mid-winter, zero weather, one may watch the entire growth and development of these exquisite frost etchings from start to finish.

To do this, place a lamp or candle before a frost-covered window, in a cold room, or unheated by furnace, of course not near enough to the glass to crack it, but just close enough to melt the heavy frost curtain which may have formed previously upon the glass. After this has been allowed to dissolve gradually, you will observe a thin water film or formation which has been left upon the outer edge of the glass, the centre of which will be clear. Do not disturb this film, for it is in part from this that the frost crystallisations form and develop.

As soon as you move the lamp away from the glass, the pictures instantly begin to grow and develop. Delicate, feathery etchings of ice crystals first appearing around the outer edge of the water film, and according to the temperature of the room, form rapidly or slowly. Exquisite tracings, and fern-like leaves shoot out as by magic toward the centre of the glass, but as soon as they reach a dry place upon the glass, they instantly cease. If you observe very closely, you will discover that meanwhile, in the little open spaces, between the bolder fern-like designs, more delicate feathery forms are gradually appearing, formations which sometimes resemble fine coral branches. As soon as the water-film ice crystallisations are completed they are closely followed by the true frost crystals, which form upon the various dry places upon the glass, delicate lines and stars and also in a thin, dew-like deposit, which rapidly freezes, and assumes a granular, snow-like form. This granular frost develops very rapidly, and soon covers all the unoccupied, clear, dry places; but one curious fact worthy of observation: it does not intrude upon, or approach near to the separate and individual designs or masterpieces, of the frost already formed upon the glass, but rather draws away from their immediate vicinity. This strange habit of the granular frost is well shown in the photographed illustration, where it will be observed that the granular frost acts merely as a background or sky effect for the real frost pictures, as in a painting.

Classified, there are about ten distinct types of the window-pane frost. Representatives of each and all types never appear at any given time upon one window; and strangely enough the designs are never precisely alike on any two panes of glass. Reduplications of any previous design are extremely rare, and would only occur when a multitude of identical conditions occur.

This is rather singular, when we consider the different factors which go to form the window-pane frost. Certain panes of glass vary in thickness and in surface topography, also in the arrangement of minute, invisible scratches, and the accumulation of dust particles which collect from day to day, all of which affect the arrangement and collection of the frost crystals. It has been observed that double windows and furnace-heated apartments are not favourable to frost formations; but in rooms which are allowed to cool off at night, and in rural dwelling houses which are not heated by steam or furnace the Frost Spirit loves to work, and decorates their windows with his choicest etchings.

The beautiful frost studies illustrating this chapter were photographed in northern Vermont, where the winters are long and the cold very intense; affording the very best opportunities possible for the development and study of the frost etchings. These studies are, of course, some-what magnified, yet you will have no difficulty in recognising many familiar frost designs.

No. 35 is a linear type, and of rather common occurrence, easily recognisable.

In No. 36 the photographer scratched his initials crudely upon the window-pane; instantly jack Frost began to elaborate the crude work, with much better effect.

No. 37 is easily suggestive of a strip of very costly hand-made lace.

No. 38 is a very beautiful arrangement showing two distinct types of window-pane frost. Observe how each type never intrudes upon another. The white fern-like type is raised from the glass, and was formed in a very cold room where it slowly developed and grew for days.

No. 39 is another striking arrangement of the two types; observe the very delicate fleecy patterns of the frost which forms a background for the fern-like scrolls.

No. 40 shows a perfectly developed fern; while in No. 41 we have a strikingly beautiful example of a group of ferns; this type is heavily laid upon the glass, and develops in zero weather.

No. 42 shows very clearly, in detail, the granular formation of the frost which has drawn away from the true frost crystals forming in detached places. in order to give them room to complete their elaborate patterns.

No. 43 shows an extremely graceful feather effect, with beautifully curved scroll like tips.

No. 44 is a very striking arrangement of window frost, showing exquisitely arranged branches, resembling evergreens, shooting out into the clear spaces upon the glass.

No. 45. One of the most beautiful and striking masterpieces of Jack Frost.

No. 46. Singularly suggestive of a mass of white feathers thrown loosely upon the glass.

No. 47. Another masterpiece from the brush of the Frost Spirit, a perfect oak-leaf design.

No. 48. This is a largely magnified specimen of window-pane frost, showing examples of frost crystals greatly magnified and in detail.

No. 49. Another arrangement of leaves, showing also branch-like twigs.

No. 50. A very delicate pattern. Note the perfectly formed leaf design with its delicate background of feathery tendrils.

No. 51. A remarkably fine feathery design.

No. 52. Two very freakish specimens of frost etchings. Suggesting somewhat the artificial "flies" used by fishermen.

No. 53. Like a delicate bit of seaweed.

No. 54. Like a delicate powdering of small flowers, scattered over the window-pane.

No..55. Perfectly formed leaf designs. No. 56. A design worthy of study. Find the spider.

No. 57. Two types. Suggesting gray moss clinging to rocks.

No. 58. A very rare design. An almost perfect spider's web, formed of thick, granular frost, with beautiful moss-like ornamentation in lighter design.

No. 59. One of the choicest and most delicate designs photographed which might have formed in the ocean instead of upon a window-pane.

No. 640: this beautiful etching was made in northern Vermont, and is very like a white forest of fir trees.

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