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The intricacies and artistry of ice

New England may not have a Grand Canyon or something to match Yosemite National Park, offering a photographer grand vistas. But there is always your backyard, which may yield picture material - if you look close enough.

A few winters back, the ice on our deck caught my attention, the way the spaces between the boards made the ice form a repetitive pattern. Here or there a leaf was embedded in the ice, or stuck between the boards, giving the picture scale and supplying a counterpoint to the more-or-less geometrical composition.

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In Noanet Woods, only a couple of miles from my backyard, I found a wider variety of ice patterns waiting for me, with no evidence of human hands' intruding. In pursuing this subject matter, I learned a lot about what makes ice look the way it does. Obviously, the severity of the temperature has a lot to do with it, but also whether the water is stagnant or flowing. Snow that has melted and refrozen can create surprising textures.

Revisiting the same spots in consecutive winters, I also learned that no two seasons are alike in what they yield in the way of ice.

I used my bulky 4-by-5 view camera and a heavy tripod on my photographic forays. Shooting straight down on uneven terrain presented problems I had never expected. From roughly composing a shot to finally inserting the film holder for the exposure, I often had to keep one foot on a tripod leg to prevent the camera from tipping over.

In cold weather this can be tiring. It also limits your mobility for all the intermediate steps: changing lenses, taking light readings, fine-focusing with a black cloth over your head, and reaching for a film holder in the nearby knapsack. That's aside from freezing fingertips during the last fine adjustments of the camera.

There are moments, though, that make it all worthwhile. Not just later in the darkroom when you pull a richly toned negative out of the wash, but also when you are out alone in the stillness of nature, standing on a pond.

Suddenly this stillness is rent by the sharp sound of cracking ice, echoed by the hills around, and you feel the ice underfoot shifting just a bit. That's something no summer can give you.