Understanding natural design is a right brain/left brain exercise. We sense beauty and become inspired through the artistic right hemisphere of the brain, and understand the reasons behind natural design through the rational and analytical right hemisphere of the brain. This is oversimplifying, of course, but it does point out our varied ways of sensing the world. Van Gogh was undoubtedly right-brained in his perceptions of the world, while the fictional Spock was completely left-brained. When I come upon an element of nature that I don’t understand, my brain searches for reasons behind the beauty that I capture with my camera. Nature is filled with patterns that are governed by physics and evolution.
I live on small Fawn Lake in the Puget Sound region of the USA, a place renowned for rain. Our maritime winters are indeed moist, with a climate resembling England or Scotland. I maintain a rain gauge each year, and in a typical year we get about 65 inches of precipitation–mostly rain, but occasionally we get snow. In December 2008, 17″ of snow dumped on us, closing schools and businesses and making roads almost impassable right before Christmas, when people wanted to be out shopping. Then our lake froze over.
I was out of town for the holidays, but when I returned, I noticed a strange pattern on the frozen surface of Fawn Lake. There were hundreds of ice formations that looked for all the world like synapses in the brain: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synapse. These dendritic (think tree branches) formations each had a hole in the center with branching tentacles radiating out from the center hole. When I photographed them, the temperature was above freezing, and the water in the dendritic formations was liquid. It looks to me as if rainwater and meltwater flow from the tips of the tentacles to the hole in the center. But what caused these holes to begin with? And why are they fairly regularly spaced across the lake? Is water flowing into or out of the hole in the center? This inquiring left brain wants to know, and I would appreciate your suggestions. I will update this entry if someone has a definitive explanation.
This phenomenon has been observed before, and you can see pictures by other photographers from several locations at: http://flickr.com/photos/91347191@N00/109697496
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Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.