Back in late December, I was spending part of a brisk morning exploring some frozen wetland sloughs in our Platte River Prairies. The sloughs were covered with thin ice – just thick enough to slide carefully across in some places, but not in others. As a result, my boots and lower cuffs of my coverall legs were wet, but my feet were still dry and warm. Ok, to be honest, the front of my coveralls were also wet, and getting dangerously close to soaking through. Also, my feet were a little damp and cold. A sane person would have retreated to the nearby warm truck and turned the heater on high.
But you see…
…all across the treacherous thin ice, there were tiny little stalks sticking up above the ice, each covered in frost. They looked like so many tiny white evergreen trees and I was determined to get some good photographs of them. I was running out of time, though. It wasn’t going to be long before I was soaking wet and at risk of more than just a little discomfort.
The challenge facing me was that most of the little ‘trees’ were relatively close to the edges of the sloughs where the ice was thinnest. When I tried to lie on the dry banks and point my camera toward the frost, I was too far away. To get closer would mean putting my elbows on the thin ice – and that would mean both breaking the ice beneath the trees and getting wet. If I could get safely out onto the thicker ice in the middle, I could approach from that side and maybe get my shots. But that had its own set of risks. In my head, I had a vision of me lying on that ice as it cracked and sent me (and more importantly, my camera gear) into the shallow water below.
But the cute little trees…!
Getting desperate, I finally found a path out onto the thicker ice in the middle of one slough and slowly slid myself toward the edge and my tiny targets. In most cases (not all), I was able to get close enough for reasonable photos before the weight of my elbows started cracking the ice beneath them. I worked as quickly as I could to get a handful of shots before finally succumbing to common sense and retreating to the truck.
Now, nearly a month later, I can look at these photos and appreciate the dainty beauty of the little frost trees without thinking too much about my cold wet elbows and the smell of damp outerwear all the way home. I was pretty lucky not to have gotten a lot wetter (and colder!) than I did, and even though it wasn’t a life threatening situation, it could have been a pretty uncomfortable ride home.
Still, it would have been totally worth it. (Did you see those little trees?? They’re so adorable!)