I’ve been thinking about cold recently.
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.
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.
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.
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.)