Magical Frost On My Toronto Windowpane

Magical Frost On My Toronto Windowpane

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In 2014, the province of Ontario had one of the longest and coldest bouts of winter weather to be experienced in recent years, decades even, and along with the pristine beauty of fresh powdered snow that had fallen into every crack and crevice came the magical frost on my Toronto windowpane.

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How enchanting it is to look out upon a wintry scene framed by swirling curlicues of feathery frost that edge the panes of glass. Window frost forms when below-freezing temperatures chill one side of the glass while moist air warms the inside of the pane.  This causes the water vapour in the air to condense and form a magical frost on the inside of the window.

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Many factors influence the formation of frost patterns; things like scratches in the glass and residual cleaning solution affect how the ice crystals join to one another and multiply.  That is why window frost is made up of many different elaborate patterns.

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Window frost is also referred to as “fern frost” and looking at this closeup of frost recently formed on my patio door, I can see why.  When water vapour condenses into a liquid, raindrops and dew are the result.  When water vapour condenses into a frozen state, we get snowflakes and frost.  But, snowflakes are not frozen raindrops nor is frost frozen dew.

window frost from dr zhivago

One well-known and poignant image of a frosted window was utilized in the Hollywood movie Dr. Zhivago to represent the dire situation of forlorn Yuri and Lara as they gaze from the window of the abandoned Varykino Estate.  It looked more like an ice palace.

frost flowers on a water-logged tree - deep bay - vancouver island - bc

When Bob and I visited relatives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia in early January, we were very fortunate to have a woodlot close at hand, near Deep Bay, in which to take frequent walks.   My brother-in-law, Martin, has a keen eye, and he drew our attention to some very interesting frosty formations that occurred on a variety of pieces of wood along the trails.

frost flowers on water-logged tree - deep bay - vancouver island - bc

We didn’t know it at the time, but that intriguing formation of ice crystals is called “frost flowers” according to Caltech’sKenneth G. Libbrecht.    Typically, the clusters of thin, curved ice filaments grow a mere few inches along a water-logged stick of wood.  It is very rare to come across “frost flowers” such as this because very specific conditions must exist before it can form.

frost flowers formed on a water-logged tree - deep bay - vancouver island - bc

It is believed that the fragile ice filaments are frozen water that has been pushed from the pores of the wood as it freezes.  Technically, then, it is not frost since it is frozen water and not water vapour that has frozen.  Frost flowers are considered a highly unusual phenomenon, and yet we saw multiple examples of it as we walked the dogs one very nippy morning.

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Some people refer to window frost as “ice flowers”.  It certainly does exhibit the diaphanous qualities of dainty, gauzy blossoms.

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Bob and I actually tried to preserve the artistic work of Jack Frost as it transformed the window pane into a fine work of art.  For several days, we refused to use our patio door when accessing the backyard.  It was too beautiful to gaze out on our feathered friends through equally feathery plumes of ice crystals.

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As Joseph Horatio Chant so aptly describes it in his poem The Frost on the Window:

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Feathery frost on the window-pane,
Who placed you there? “I cannot explain,”
Each little feather at once replied;
“But this I know, I’m the children’s pride,
As they think I fell from an angel’s wing,
And coming to earth must rich blessings bring.

“I once formed part of a lovely bay;
The sun shone out, and I turned to spray,
And rose aloft on the ambient air,
To the regions high where all is rare;
Then I mingled with my old friends again,
Who were my neighbors in the haunts of men.

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“On the blustering wind, I rode along,
Sometimes hard tossed by the tempest strong,
And then at rest, as when in the bay,
Though much enlarged, the wise savants say;
Though I cannot tell you how long my sleep,
With a chill I woke and began to weep.

“And my ample form much smaller grew,
By the cold compressed to a drop of dew;
Then down I fell, swift as bounding deer,
And knew no more till I fell right here;
But how I became so like a feather
Is problem I can unravel never.

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“But, oh, how the sun begins to burn!
I think I must to the clouds return.
Farewell, my boy! but you must not fret;
We meet again, as we now have met,
If not as a feather, perhaps a tree,
Or whatever the Wise One may make of me.”

mr chant - poet

Joseph Horatio Chant was born at Stoke Underham, Somersetshire, England on August 19, 1837.  His family moved to Canada in 1840, where they settled in Niagara-on-the-Lake, here in Ontario.  It is there that he penned this ode to frost.

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I think that Joseph’s poem splendidly puts into words the magical frost formations on our winter windows.  Both capture the imagination.

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Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean


  • That first photo is quite stunning. It looks like a fractal. Frost flowers? I thought those growths from the wood was a type of fungus. It’s quite common out here and I see it every winter. It’s happening again right now as we’re getting a nice cold snap. It’s all the way down to -10C at ocean side and winter is expected to return next week on the coastal mountains.

    • I know what you mean. When first I saw the white filaments on the twigs, I thought they were a weird type of fungus as well. The artistry of nature is always surprising me and teaching me new things.

  • These are exhibition worthy images, Jean! Have you thought about that??? Amazing.

    • You humble me, Elizabeth. No, I have never given thought to exhibiting my photographs. As usual, I am my own worst critic. Your compliment means a lot, and I thank you for that.