Beautiful Hoarfrost and Other Random Thoughts

Last weekend, parts of Minnesota awoke to the beautiful sight of trees tricked out in white crystals.This effect is called hoar frost, but when the frost forms on objects like tree branches, apparently it’s also known as air hoar. In any case, the result was a magical array of trees of every shape and size, looking like someone’s idea of a fairyland.

Giliane Mansfeldt, one of our photo researchers, snapped a few shots of the dazzling view. Here’s one of them. Thanks, Giliane!

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© Giliane Mansfeldt

Then I started thinking about the word hoar. I’d only heard it in the context of frost. But apparently it’s been in use since the 1500s as an adjective meaning gray or white with age. Hoary is another way of saying the same thing. Samuel Taylor Coleridge used it that way in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone : and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

Coleridge (right, aged 23): now there’s an engrossing tale. Ran away to sea while young. Failed to take his degree at CambridSamuelTaylorColeridgege. Failed in his calling to the ministry. Failed in his marriage. Messed up his friendship with Wordsworth. Was addicted to opium…and lived the last years of his life in the care of a London doctor who didn’t seem to have done him much good. But he gave us some useful metaphors and quotations: like an “albatross around one’s neck,” “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” and the phrase “a sadder and a wiser man.”

And reminded us of the origins of hoarfrost!