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Ever since single-pane windows have given way to their double-glazed cousins, frost patterns have widely disappeared, but these icy coatings can still be found on other surfaces, like car windows. They used to be common on windows of trains traveling across icy landscapes. Appearing where inside and outside meet, they are always threatened with melting. The frost consists of crystals produced when moisture in the air comes in contact with a smooth surface that is colder than the freezing point of water. The moisture thus goes directly from gas to solid.

The sparkling, glittering patterns, growing from below, are delicate, complex, often fantastic. They immediately capture our attention and divert our thoughts into other directions. Seemingly painted by an invisible hand, they can both delight and irritate. They may even suggest a story. Among the most-heard comparisons are with leaves or ferns. Some observers see coastlines, mountain ranges, fig trees. A spider’s web or a peacock’s tail. Of course, frost patterns never look exactly the same, and the interpretations are almost endless. More… “Crystalline Botany”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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Down in the bayou, spring comes around mid-March, but no one takes it seriously. Within a couple of weeks, the temperatures are so hot that everyone has forgotten spring. It is like a ghost, barely there when it is there, and barely remembered when it goes. The season that came before spring is hard, by the way, to call winter. It just isn’t cold enough by northern standards. Some of the trees down here do drop their leaves in the colder months. Maybe they do it just for fun. The people and fauna and flora of the Louisiana bayou all have a tendency to quirkiness. The fact that some of the trees pretend to a more northern nature is looked upon with indulgence.

Everything is mixed-up in the bayou. Half the vegetation acts perennial, half acts deciduous or in some variation between the two. That’s the Creole way, the Cajun… More…

 

Wilson Alwyn Bentley was a snowflake man. So much so that he came to be known as “Snowflake.” Bentley was a Vermont man; it’s easy to understand his fascination with snow. I was just in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, last weekend. Driving down Route 2 at night with the high beams on as the light catches the white flakes rushing horizontally at the windshield creates the feeling of warp speed.

A couple of years ago, you could hardly get through a winter week without someone telling a version of the Eskimos-words-for-snow story. We’ve only got one word for snow, the story went, but those Eskimos have 20, or a hundred, or a thousand, depending on the yarn-spinning skills of the teller. Hm, we’d say, ain’t it interesting how much language determines experience and vice versa. It turns… More…

 

 

An army of dark clouds slid over Brooklyn today. They came from the north, whence come the wicked. We don’t know who sent them, but we don’t have to. Dark forces are dark forces. It was a Romantic painting in Kings County, New York, something, maybe, by J.M.W. Turner.

Charles Baudelaire once said, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling.” That’s a vague definition perfectly fitting to a vague subject matter. For all the use of words like “precisely” and “exact” it is neither. Romanticism, in short, barely exists. It is more of a mood than a movement. But what is a mood? It’s not a mental state exactly. Mood is more like the color of consciousness. But that merely adds vagary to vagary. Fact… More…

 

 

When I’m working on my computer, my nights tend to stretch until daylight, and that’s how the earthquake found my girlfriend and me still sleeping. We were jolted awake: The wardrobe door was banging, the walls were shaking, and the whole building was wobbling. Outside we could hear screaming and glass shattering. Momentarily, I thought of diving out of the window, then remembered we were on the fifth floor and decided to take my chance down the stairs. We reached the willow tree in the middle of the courtyard and stood there, transfixed, as the ground convulsed, the building swayed and rattled, and bits of concrete spewed out. I could smell dust. And as the ground juddered, for more than five minutes, the thought that I was going to die became more distinct.

Then it was over,… More…