Quiet Cold

comments 19
Abstract / Inspiration / Landscape / Photography

I’ve been thinking about cold recently.

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As with all things, cold is relative. The landscape above shows Fox Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand. That’s cold. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the mid-40s in the daytime is cold for most of us. But I do know cold: I grew up in western New York State, where cold is cold. Sub-zero cold. Quiet cold.

What got me thinking about cold was some recent blog posts by a writer-photographer, a photographer-haiku poet, a nature photographer, another nature photographer, an urban photographer, and a watercolorist. On a few of them I commented that I could hear the silence.

I have childhood memories of getting up in the morning after the first deep overnight snowfall. Complementing the quiet beauty of freshly fallen snow unblemished by human activity, there was an audible quiet. Not silence in a literal sense, but silence nonetheless. A quiet I could hear. A hush. A stillness. The quiet you hear when a blanket is over you. There is sound, but it’s soft. It soothes. When the cold is deftly shown visually, the quiet comes along with it. Check the links above and tell me you don’t hear it.

The first time I was struck by this silence in the visual arts was many years ago when my wife gave me a Japanese print as a gift for my birthday, which falls in a winter month.

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Here are three horses running through a snowy meadow by a wood. Running horses make a noise. But not in this scene. Here you sense, at most, a faint breeze. As my wife and I admired it together, I said to her, “You can hear the silence.” She heard it too.

I’ve been pleasantly aware of it ever since.

Then came these blog posts, all within a few days of each other. As I said, they got me to thinking.

In the early-morning darkness I realized there are two cold silences. There is snow silence and there is ice silence. Soft snow silence comes from the fluffiness of a fresh snowfall. The fluffiness absorbs high frequencies. You hear a muted murmur. Ice silence comes from the long-wave flexibility of sheet ice absorbing low frequencies (a large sheet of ice will bend slightly) while the surface hardness reflects faint high frequencies. You hear a tranquil cold crinkling.

I found myself wishing I had cold silence images of my own to share, and it turns out that despite being a Northern California guy, I do. Listen to these.

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This one, a small rivulet on Fox Glacier, has snow silence. (Yes, Georgia—O’Keeffe—was on my mind as I composed the shot.) As I post-processed this photograph, I felt a soft chill.

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This image, a slight abstraction of a shallow crevasse, has a soft snow silence and a hard ice silence. Between the two, I can barely hear a thing. As I worked on it, the freeze went to the bone.

I hope you heard them.

Thanks to the bloggers who inspired me. I don’t often get to experience the cold that some of them do. But I have my blessings: It’s 55 degrees and partly cloudy right now.

(Nikon D850; Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2, Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD. RAW processing in DxO PhotoLab 2; final editing in Adobe Photoshop.)

The Author

California based fine-art photographer featuring abstract, impressionist, and minimalist seascapes and floral-based images. Fine-art photography can be seen at www.amagaphoto.com All original images on this blog are copyright 2018, 2019 Michael Scandling. All rights reserved. No images on this site may be copied, duplicated, reused, published, or re-purposed in any way without express permission from the copyright owner, Michael Scandling.

19 Comments

  1. as always, I’m fascinated by your posts. I live in the northwest of Italy, in Liguria, now we are at 18 degrees celsius (64 farenheit), we do not know almost the cold because my country is a strip on the Mediterranean sea sheltered behind by the mountains. I felt the real cold in France in January at -30 celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) for me it was intolerable, I felt like dying, the strangest thing for me was to feel myself freezing up from the ground while here it is only the wind that brings cold, never the ground that is always warm. I can not hear the silence of the cold, you know how to listen to it if it’s from where you were born. For me the cold is the whistling of the wind, when it’s the tramontana that refreshes and cleans.
    (and if you want to know another coincidence, I have a picture of Georgia O’Keefe on the door of my study)

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    • Thank you very much. I always enjoy reading your comments. -30°C is way too cold. Brrrrrrr. We had whistling wind as well, but not too much. In the end, you hear what you hear. But try going up to the Alps on a very quiet day and look and listen. Tell me what you experience.

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  2. Perhaps the distance (in time & temperature) from snow has allowed you to really contemplate it, this is very nice writing, and photos too of course, I love the blend of science and poetry. The quieting effect of a snowfall is pretty familiar to me, but I hadn’t thought about the sheets of ice absorbing low frequencies. And your “tranquil cold crinkling” is a perfect description for the almost inaudible sounds/sensations on a really cold day.
    That bluish crevasse, despite being chill-inducing, is beautiful, and after looking at it a while, the image can reverse, and become a watercolor of a flower, maybe a close-up of a stalk of larkspur (? I don’t really know much about flowers).
    For some reason, this essay reminded me that one of my grandmothers used to call a really long scarf a “muffler” and that always seemed apt for something to wear during a quiet snowstorm.
    Very successful post.

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    • Thank you very much. I took some time crafting the essay. I’m glad you liked it. Being half artist and a half nerd is a blessing and a curse. I’ll take the blessing part. The rest, the world will just have to put up with. I’m glad you liked the crevasse. It’s one of my favorites. I can see that it does look like a close-up of a flower. If you would like to see some actual close-ups of flowers, see my art photography website: http://www.amagaphoto.com. I’d be interested in your comments. Stay warm.

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  3. Always heard that silence is golden but you’ve made a great case for silence is white and cold. Next time it snows here, I’ll go outside and see if I can hear all the “quiet cold” lovers enjoying the silence.

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  4. What a great post! I was actually remarking on how incredible the silence was the other night to a friend after one of our snowstorms here in Canada. It always feels like one of those moments you can just bathe in when you notice it. I have also noticed that for some people it can be jarring, but I do love it. I also love that beautiful print your wife.

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    • Thank you. I’m glad you appreciate the post and I’m very glad that you have experienced the silence for yourself. To me it is one of the most wonderful things about her fresh snowfall. At least until I realize that it’s up to me to shovel it.

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    • I don’t recall how I found your blog, but I’m glad I did. I think you showed up in the Reader one day, and I admired your eye. You also did me quite a favor by listing your followed blogs on your homepage. I’ve discovered a number of interesting photographers that way. It’s quite a community, which I am now proud to be part of.

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  5. Terrific post, Michael. I miss the quiet beauty of snow, but I don’t miss having to deal with it. Your blue ice image is spectacular.

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  6. Carolle-Ann says

    I am still thinking about this silence, and the experience I had in Northern Greenland years ago, when we were in Thule. Before that we were in Sonderstrom for a stopover, which was completely different with some vegetation, and we were allowed to walk outside. However in Thule, complete ice and below zero temps made it impossible to be outside more than a couple of minutes. Silence in this landscape seemed probable, but one does wonder!

    With our world today, it’s rare to experience true silence, nor is it possible. Thank you for your unique shots, and thoughts. You are truly an artist.

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  7. And thank YOU for this lovely, thoughtful post. I won’t feel so guilty about complaining about the cold now, since it vaulted me over here. 😉 I love that snow silence, and it certainly is evident in your photograph. Ice silence I had to think about more, but yes, I remembered it once I saw your second photo. The two silences are very different. And then of course there’s a special silence in certain art works.
    I really appreciate the effort that you put into your posts.
    BTW, we moved around a bit so I didn’t grow up in one place, but I spent 2 years in western NY – Orchard Park – a small town then, pretty comfortable. Before that there were 5 years in Syracuse, and that’s more memorable to me for snow, probably because I was there longer and was younger and more impressionable.

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    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. Ice is a different silence. Snow is a soft silence. Ice is harder, but has a bit of a chime-like feel. I grew up in Geneva. Many years ago.

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  8. I am guessing that this might be the, or one of the, image you were referring to in your comment on my post. This is very arresting and one could easily get lost exploring within the frame.

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