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Beauty,Spring 2005
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The Beauty of Ice

Tanya Corder

The soft rumbling of the bus began lulling me to sleep that comfortable Sunday afternoon driving back to Bryn Mawr from Poconos. My head found its nest on the glass window and then my eyes, too, began succumbing to gravity. In this ambiguous state between consciousness and sleep, my eyes stole one last glimpse of the rural mountainous landscape before fully surrendering. It was a meaningless stare, as I was not processing what I took in, however, the image before me refused to be neglected. I was unexpectedly awed- not into a sudden jolt of consciousness, but more of a relaxed appreciation that accommodated the mood. The image enhanced my comfortableness, and I let my thoughts flow as I fell asleep.

The image is still vivid in my mind the reddish brown unevenness of the mountainside covered by a contrasting, smooth, transparency of ice. It looked like a waterfall conveniently frozen solid. It was as if nature decided to create an approachable still-frame of flowing water in order to capture its beauty for all to admire. Because it looked like the water should have been moving, I literally felt like time had stopped for a brief moment. I initially began to wonder how water could be frozen in this falling form when it takes forever to freeze in the freezer. It would almost have to be frozen instantaneously. Then, I began to draw back into my knowledge of the properties of water and began wondering how a simple little molecule could be so multifaceted.
Appling Fisher's reasoning in Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences to the previously mentioned experience clearly demonstrates how an aesthetic experience incites wonder and search for explanation. Through this search, new instances of wonder are incited and more and more general conclusions can be drawn.

Many of the aesthetic qualities that Fisher ascribed to a rainbow were embodied by the icicles. Like rainbows, icicles are "rare experience[s]" that occur only in below freezing weather conditions under the right circumstances. Therefore, they form in winter months or in high altitudes where there is snow. Icicles form when snow melts and begins flowing down an incline. Despite the surface tension that contributes to keeping the water surface flat, gravity pulls the water down creating ripples that eventually freeze as the temperature drops again. The ripples are evident on the surfaces of all icicles. These ripples form the base of the icicle and the icicle grows as water continues to drip over the ripples and freeze in layers. The pointed tips of icicles are filled of mainly water within a frozen outer layer. At the very tip is the pendent drop appearing as if it is ready to fall. Icicles with smooth surfaces are the result of the water reaching temperature so cold that it dissipates into vapor (Heidorn 1-3).

I find this process in itself metaphorically beautiful. Although it is fascinating to believe that moving water could have frozen instantaneously, like the mythological explanation of a rainbow as God's covenant to Noah, the instantaneous freezing theory "tells us nothing about the sensory details" of the icicle it's ridges, it's point, it's shape, or why some icicles are smooth. Interpreting the formation romantically, I see it as a struggle of perfection with the overbearing force of gravity. The ridges symbolize the battle scars from the fight, and the tip is where all of the layers conjoin to give a sense of unity. This reaction was partly fostered from a new sense of understanding and appreciation that furthered the connection between me and the scene.

Also, analogous to the "geometric regularity" of the rainbow's semicircle, is the elongated conical shape of the icicles. The physical shape of all icicles is uniform. All apex angles are roughly 15 despite how long the icicles grow (Calder). This fact insinuates that each new layer that forms must be evenly distribution over the surface. A cone is made up of circular cross-sections of different radii ranging from 0 (the point) to tan 7.5 * the length of the cone (I came up with this conclusion using geometry). I find the shape of the cone more "geometrically regular" than that of the semicircle because a semicircle is incomplete. The perfection of the icicle shape is evident in the regularity of its growth and the fact that it is a consummation of a vast range of circles, which are perfect themselves. The semicircular bow is a display of only half the perfection.

The aesthetic quality that initially drew my attention was the ice's brilliance. Like the rainbows colors that "make a claim for attention, a claim for love in its most elementary form as a combination of attraction and excitement" (Fisher 35). The ridges, which can almost be viewed as imperfections of the icicles, actually enhance the icicle's ability to reflect light. The more ridges, the more surfaces light can hit and the more directions it can be reflected into. The afternoon sun reflecting off of the ice to create a sparkling appearance is analogous to the dispersion of light from a water droplet to form a rainbow. Both are manipulation of light to create a pleasurable effect for the eyes.

"Icicles may be exquisitely beautiful but other than that, neither ice dams nor icicles have any redeeming social value... Icicles and ice dams are deadly when they fall and destructive to the roof when they tear away" (Mckinlay). This view of icicles displays another group of characteristics that I, personally find beautiful danger and defiance. The fact that it is so beautiful yet can be such a molestation displays to me personality. Unlike rainbows that give off a more cheery aura, icicles are a little malicious- something most do not associate with beauty. Its defiance is in shown by how it defies the norms of beauty and how it defies gravity. It holds its position seemingly ready to fall, but does not until its ready. This defiance of rules is very characteristic of water in general.

Despite all of these truly aesthetic qualities, what I found most astonishing was that this breathtaking sight was simply frozen water. This is what really incited the wondering aspect of the experience. How could something so beautiful and seemingly complicated be the same thing that comes out of sinks, flushes down toilets, etc.? Water is unavoidably ubiquitous, which is the reason it does not incite a sense of wonder. However, when taking on the forms that occur conditionally like snow or rain, it makes the topic more questionable. These instances where water behaves unconventionally are what instigated this questioning of water.

The water molecule is shaped in the form of a wide 'V' with a 104.9 angle (note the shape similarity with that of the icicle). However, the nonbonding electron pairs on the central oxygen, which is located at the vertex of the 'V,' is what explains a majority of its physical properties. Water is more dense as a liquid then a solid, it is a universal solvent, it displays surface tension, it takes relatively high quantities of energy to change it's temperature as well as induce phase changes, and can act as both an acid and a base. All of these characteristics of water can be explained by the number of ways that water molecules interact with themselves or other molecules. Water can form London dispersion forces, ion-dipole, dipole-dipole, and hydrogen bonds. Therefore, water is a friendly molecule and likes to cling on to most charged molecules, whether it is negative or positive(Bell 1-60). These interactions are the means by which it displays its beauty to the world. For example, it the H-bonds among water molecules form snowflakes and icicles.

As the process came to a conclusion, I realized that like many others who experience this " 'Ah!' of wonder," I resorted to a database of information to satisfy my curiosity rather than contemplate full situation myself. I did not carryout any experimentation or even fully evaluate all of my observations; instead, I resorted to the work of others who have also been awed by the same situation, but came to their own conclusions through scientific means. After reading about the formation of icicles, I applied that process to my observations, but technically I missed out on the "chain of experiences built on ever repeated, small-scale repetitions of the experience of wonder." Discovering or coming to the answer of how they formed myself would have most likely magnified the experience. The same holds true for finding the reasoning behind the different properties of water. This is because it would have illuminated the conclusions that I had made after the fact during the process.

I also discovered that the beauty in the broader entity of water was far more reaching. For example, had a I began with an analysis of water's beauty, explaining the beauty of the icicle would have almost been effortless, and I probably could have used the basic properties of water to form my own conclusion of how icicles formed. However, I kept in mind that these properties of water were accumulated through observing more specific cases of water within nature, like icicles.

Lastly, if the qualities that most scientists believe make thought-provoking entities beautiful (symmetry, simplicity, regularity, rarity, and color) are universal, then icicles are far more beautiful in comparison to a rainbow. When bisected vertically, it is infinitely symmetrical unlike the circle. The water that makes up the icicle is a simple two-atomed molecule, while the light needed for a rainbow exists as a duality between particles and electromagnetic waves. There is far more regularity in the growth of an icicle in comparison with the formation of a rainbow. Lastly all of the colors of the rainbow are joined into the rays of white light that reflect back to you eyes from the icicle. How could anything be more beautiful?

Bell, Jerry, et. al. Chemistry: A Project of the ACS. W.H. Freeman and Company. New York. 2004.

Calder, Vince. Ask a Scientist: Environmental Earth Science Archive. Icicle Formation.

Heidorn, Keith C. Science of the Skies Icicles.

Fisher, Philip. Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. 1998. Havard University Press.

Mackinlay, Ian. Roof Design in Regions of Snow and Cold.

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